Mormons and Jews

As in many creeds, Mormons trace their religious heritage to a man from Nazareth, born in Bethlehem and crucified in Jerusalem. Their deep connection to the land of Jesus Christ, whom they regard as the son of God and their personal savior, can be observed from the limestone campus of the Mormon-funded Brigham Young University and its perch on Mount Scopus overlooking the eternal city. The stunning performance hall of the Utah-based university's Jerusalem branch, reopened this January after terrorism and war shut it for six years, is likely the most frequent contact most Israelis have with the institutions of the American-born faith to which Mitt Romney adheres. Though the connections between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - the official name of the Mormon church - and the Land of Israel are strong, relations with Jews haven't always been as positive. Some haredi politicians have accused the church of proselytizing, forcing the school administration to sign letters pledging that such activity wouldn't occur. There has also been long-standing tension between the two communities because of Mormons' retroactive baptism of Holocaust victims. In the proxy baptisms, church members stand in for the deceased non-Mormons in a ritual the church sees as an affirmative practice that offers the dead the opportunity to reach heaven. But it is a practice deeply offensive to many Jews, who have been working with the Church of Latter-Day Saints to heal the wounds of this activity - particularly those stemming from its exposure after earlier promises that it would end. Controversy has not been limited to Mormons' dealings with Jews. The faith emphasizes family, commitment to the church and sobriety, but has come under attack for other attributes. It once condoned polygamy, banned blacks from the priesthood until 1978 and continues to keep many of its records and rituals secret. However, most of the current contention connected to Mormonism stems from some evangelic Christian circles that have denounced the religion as a cult and not a Christian faith. Mormonism began in America in the early 19th century when the religion's founder, Joseph Smith, published the Book of Mormon. The book, which is considered scripture by the faith, is said to be the translation of golden tablets an angel provided to Smith along with special clear stones which he used as glasses to translate the otherwise inscrutable ancient hieroglyphic text. The tablets told the story of an ancient Israelite civilization that God sent to America, as well as lessons Jesus taught while visiting America after his resurrection. Smith, who also revised the translation of the Bible because he felt earlier generations had been corrupted and made certain mistakes, was murdered by zealots while running for president in 1844. Brigham Young then led the followers of the faith to Utah to escape further persecution. In addition to these divergences from the traditional Christian approach, the faith also makes doctrinal distinctions about the nature of divinity, the creed of belief and the routes to heaven, all of which has fueled antagonism from certain quarters of longer-established Christian denominations. Yet its ranks are growing. The church, which encourages missionizing, has some seven million adherents in America, or 2 percent of the population. Abroad it claims around 13 million - the same estimate some use for the number of Jews worldwide.