The United Jewish Federation of Utah hailed this week's announcement that the issue of posthumous proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims by Mormons has been resolved, allowing the two faiths to join forces on national and international humanitarian efforts.
"This agreement signifies an important step in Utah's interfaith relations," Martin Gelman, president of the federation that coordinates fundraising, planning and communal services for the state's Jewish community, said in a release.
Gelman praised the LDS Church's efforts to address the sticky issue through "open dialogue and mutual understanding."
Members of the Utah umbrella organization sat in on initial discussions last year between Mormon authorities and a visiting Jewish delegation, led by former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams.
At issue was the LDS practice known as "baptism for the dead" in which living people stand in for the deceased to offer that person a chance to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the hereafter. Mormons believe it is their moral obligation to do the temple rituals, while those on the other side can choose whether to accept the action or not.
The proxy baptism practice was deeply offensive to many Jews.
Representatives of the Utah-based church assured the Jewish visitors that a new computer system would make it difficult for members to submit names of Holocaust victims unless they were the direct ancestors of the submitters. The Jews, in turn, acknowledged and appreciated the LDS Church's efforts to eliminate the problem, which led to a joint statement by the two groups.
"At a personal level, it's really applaudable that we can find simple solutions to complex problems based on goodwill and friendship," Ron Zamir, the federation's vice president, said Friday. "Nobody wanted this to remain a sticking point."
But Mark Silk, director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life in Hartford, Conn., had a mixed response to Wednesday's Jewish/Mormon statement.
While he admires the desire of religious groups to be accommodating and get along with others, he wonders what might be lost in the process. Jewish victims of the Holocaust are , after all, the only group of people now exempt from the Mormon effort to baptize by proxy all those who have passed on.
"How far and under what circumstances," Silk asked, should one religious group defer its teachings or practices for another group, either in Salt Lake City or in Manhattan?
And, he wrote in his blog at beliefnet.com, "let's not pretend this is not a hard question."