Today, Utahns celebrate Mormon Pioneer Day – the day the Mormon pioneers entered the Utah Valley and said, “This is the place!” (July 24, 1847). Parades, celebrations, and time off work are the three favorite local aspects of the day. (Celebrated today this year because the 24th landed on a Sunday).
But even here in DC, I drank (oh the irony) to Mormon Pioneer Day. I have many reasons for this (“Any excuse to celebrate…”), but the one worth mentioning on this site is the strongly positive bond between Mormons and Jews. Given that I’m probably only one of ten living Jews born in Utah who has a Jewish blog, I feel it incumbent to expand on this relationship on this special Utah/Mormon day.
Five reasons why Mormons identify with Jews/Israel:
- Mormons believe they are direct descendants of the “House of Joseph.” Some say they are the lost tribe of Israel – either through descendants of the Tribe of Manasseh and the Tribe of Ephraim who migrated to America, or else through Tribe of Judah who came to America after defeat at the hands of the Babylonians (fall of first Temple, 586 BCE).
- “Misery enjoys company?” Mormons see in the Jewish people, a story similar to their own: a persecuted people who eventually won acceptance in America and have since risen to positions of prominence in many sectors (e.g., Mormons are disproportionately well-represented in Fortune 500 companies. See here, here, or here.)
Three pieces of evidence that Mormons care strongly for Jews/Israel:
- Utah Senator (and Mormon) Orrin Hatch wears a mezuzah around his neck, has written a Hanukkah song, and says “Anything I can do for the Jewish people, I will do.”
- Many Mormon buildings bear Stars of David (such as the Salt Lake Assembly Hall pictured here).
- Most polls show Mormons to overwhelmingly support Israel in its fight against terrorism and its strife with the Palestinian people.
Similarities between Mormons and Jews:
- Observant Jews and observant Mormons both wear extra clothing (tzitzit and garments)
- Both are usually forced into playing musical instruments by their parents.
- Both are supposed to read their holy texts (Book of Mormon / Pentateuch) once a year.
- Both have histories of polygamy (Mormons – Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century; Jews – 3,000 BCE ish).
- Both have a bunch of dietary laws.
A few similarities between the land of Utah and the land of Israel (countless shared names, but here are a few more prominent ones):
- Utah calls itself Zion. And Zion National Park is in Utah.
- Utah’s main river is the Jordan River. Diddo Israel.
- Israel has a rather large body of salt water (Dead Sea). Utah has the biggest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere (Great Salt Lake).
What about that baptizing Holocaust victims thing?
- Following the Holocaust, some Mormons baptized victims of the Holocaust. This practice does not make the baptized Mormon, rather, it gives the dead the option of becoming Mormon in the afterlife. The group of Mormons that did this felt all people should have this option.
- Mormon leaders reversed official policy on this practice and issued an apology.
- Jews and Mormons formed a joint committee to address this issue.
This is only the beginning (because I had to write this quickly). Please feel free to help me out and add more bonds in the comments section!