SALT LAKE CITY – Jews and Mormons decided Monday to jointly scrutinize a Mormon database that includes the names of thousands of deceased Jews — including Holocaust victims — who were given unwanted, posthumous baptisms.
A committee with members of both religions will study how names get into the massive International Genealogical Index (search) — which has an estimated 4 million entries — what processes are followed, and how greater order can be brought to the unwieldy listing.
The move lets Mormons "see what we can do that doesn't compromise our core beliefs and practices" while still addressing the concerns of Jewish leaders, said D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy (search), a high-ranking church leadership body. "We're going to do a lot of fact finding, and we will go from there."
"The church did not compromise its principles. The Jewish community didn't compromise its concerns," said David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee in New York, one of five leaders who met with Mormon officials Sunday and Monday.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (search) believes individuals' ability to choose a religion continues beyond the grave. Through its unique practice of proxy or vicarious baptisms, names are forwarded for baptism, and church members stand in for deceased non-Mormons. The church believes the ritual is required for the dead to reach heaven.
Researchers found the names of Holocaust victims in the church's massive index more than a decade ago. After Jewish leaders protested, the two sides signed an agreement in 1995, and about 380,000 names of Holocaust victims were removed.
The agreement also called for no further proxy baptisms of Holocaust victims, celebrities or people who are not relatives of those seeking the baptism.
But Jewish leaders claim Mormons continue to posthumously baptize Jews and Holocaust victims. They said the meetings Sunday and Monday followed a decade of frustration over what they called broken promises.
The 1995 agreement also called for the removal of Jewish names in the index. But Mormon officials maintained Monday the agreement didn't guarantee vicarious baptisms for deceased Jews would never occur.