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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 27, 2006

Jewish-Mormon dispute over baptisms continues

By Jennifer Dobner
Associated Press

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    SALT LAKE CITY Jewish leaders in a dispute with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the practice of posthumous baptisms say there is new evidence that names of Jewish Holocaust victims continue to show up in the church's vast genealogical database.

    "We've been dealing with it for 11 years, since 1995, and we continue to deal with it," said Ernest Michel, a Holocaust survivor and founding member of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

    Posthumous baptism is a sacred rite practiced in Mormon temples to offer membership in the church to the deceased. Church members are encouraged to conduct family genealogy research and forward their ancestors' names for proxy baptism.

    Church President Gordon B. Hinckley has said the baptismal rite is only an offer of membership that can be rejected in the afterlife by individuals. "So, there's no injury done to anybody," Hinckley told The Associated Press last November.

    But Jews are offended by the practice and in 1995 signed an agreement with Mormon leaders aimed at preventing the names of Holocaust victims from being added to the genealogical index. The agreement would also have limited entries of other Jewish names to those persons who are direct ancestors of current Mormons.

    A cross-referencing of more than 1,500 Dutch Jews whose names should have been deleted from the church's International Genealogical Index remains in the database, Michel said.

    Over the past three months, the entries were matched by Salt Lake City researcher Helen Radkey against a 1995 list of deleted names provided by church leaders to Michel's organization.

    Michel, whose parents were posthumously baptized, said Wednesday that he is in talks with church leaders and hoping to discuss the latest findings.

    Mormon spokesman Mike Otterson said yesterday that no meeting had been scheduled, but that Michel has been encouraged to bring his concerns before a working group of church staff and Jews set up in April 2005.

    "One of the benefits of previous meetings is that we established an ongoing joint working group that would address what would appear to be any anomalies, or anything that appears to be slipping through our screening process," Otterson said. "That committee continues to meet and continues to be the best place for addressing these concerns."