Sunday, December 04, 2005

Gentiles

Mormons (or Latter-Day Saints as they call themselves) have been known to call non-Mormons — even Jews — 'gentiles'. They also believe that they have some kind of connection to Beney Yisra’eil, and that the Americas were settled by Israelites sometime before the Destruction of the First Jewish Commonwealth (Hhurban Bayit Rishon).

They also encourage their young men (and women?) to go out as missionaries and spread their religion.

Yesterday, Shabbos morning, there were two Mormon missionaries in shul. They approached me when I arrived, and said that a Jewish friend of theirs said that it would probably be okay if they visited this shul, but they just wanted to make sure that they were welcome. I had no idea what to do, since I usually go to a different shul (I was going to eat lunch by someone who goes to that shul). So I went looking around for someone in charge (bad idea when you don't even know who the rabbi is). Luckily, someone else found them and explained everything to them throughout davening (without disturbing the people around).

I thought it was okay that they were there. After all, they weren't at the shul trying to convert anyone (they were carrying Spanish copies of the Book of Mormon, indicating that they were probably out proselytizing to the local Spanish-speaking community) — they just wanted to see what Jewish prayer is like.

At lunch someone said that they should have been kicked out, because they're evil missionaries out to steal people's souls. I said that they're not so bad, since after all they're equal opportunity missionaries, out to convert everyone. They're not like Jews for Jesus, who specificly target Jews for missionizing.
Random Anecdote:
I was once on a bus in Brooklyn, when two Mormon missionaries got on. I really wanted to ask them why their religion is called "Mormonism" but I couldn't. Whenever I looked towards them, and saw their nametags, I couldn't avoid seeing that one of them was named Flanders. Yes, you heard me. Flanders. I could barely keep myself from laughing, much less ask a serious question of comparative religion.

So what do yall think?
Should the visiting Mormon missionaries have been kicked out of shul?

30 Comments:

Blogger Halfnutcase said...

mabye you should have said "welcome gentiles! we don't want you!"

12/04/2005 1:48 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Like i said, i personally didn't mind them being there. They were being all polite and just watching what was going on. I saw some other people shoot nasty glances in their direction, though.

12/04/2005 1:50 PM  
Blogger Habib said...

I think that they should be treated nicely until there is some evidence of proselytisation or preparatory work for same. In my old shul (the only Ortho shul for several hundred miles!) there were frequently visitors from various Christian seminaries etc who wanted to observe without any desire la`asot nefashot.

Mormons are called thus b/c they revere the Book of Mormon. Among themselves, I think they prefer LDS.

I guess, therefore, by the same token, that we should call Chabaddites "Tanyas".

12/04/2005 1:59 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Steg,

What schul was this (e-mail me privately)?

12/04/2005 2:21 PM  
Blogger Lab Rab said...

Echoing what Habib said, I think it really depends on whether this was an "in-town" shul or an "out-of-town" one. When I was rabbi'ing in Columbus we routinely had Christian groups or students come to shul. Ours was "the" Orthodox shul in central Ohio. In the NY area, though, you really have to wonder. How can someone live in NY and not know about Judaism?

To resolve all difficulties, a non-Jew who wishes to visit a shul during davening should call first to arrange the appointment.

12/04/2005 3:41 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Lab Rab:

Mormon missionaries get sent far away from where they're from for their "missions". I didn't ask, but these two guys were probably from Utah and had never seen a synagogue in their lives.

12/04/2005 3:47 PM  
Blogger MC Aryeh said...

I agree with Habib. Totally unrelated, but reminded me of this somehow - when I was at NYU, I had a non-Jewish friend who was the most WASPy-looking guy ever who always used to get offended when the Chabadniks standing outside never asked him if he wanted to put on tefillin...

12/04/2005 7:39 PM  
Blogger Tam said...

Hey, if they're not proselytising, let them stay. I'd love to sit next to them! It'd be nice to be sitting near someone who wasn't yapping away the whole time and respected the davening for once.

12/04/2005 8:56 PM  
Blogger BrooklynWolf said...

I, too, have to agree and say that as long as all they are doing is observing, then they're OK.

As to your other question, the church isn't called "Mormonism." It's called the Church of JC of Latter-Day Saints. Their holy book is the Book of Mormon (probably because of the angel Moroni).

The Wolf

12/04/2005 9:51 PM  
Blogger Habib said...

most WASPy-looking guy ever who always used to get offended when the Chabadniks standing outside never asked him if he wanted to put on tefillin
Habib's other half was offered a "shev`a misvot bene Noah" card by Chabadniks once. I was with her, wearing a kipa.

12/05/2005 12:03 AM  
Blogger shmutzy said...

Mormons, in general, are very kind people. The missionaries don't get in your face, or target specific people, or look down on you.

All the males have to be missonaries (from age 19-21ish, I think). The women have the option, around the same age, to go and be missionaries.

(I live down the street from a large Mormon family, so I know a bit).

I remember one time in shul looking to my left and seeing that nearly the entire left side of the room was filled with blond-headed people. I just figured it was a fluke - until the rabbi announced that it was a group of visitors from a nearby Methodist church.

Apparently this is pretty common where I am from, because the first time I was ever in a synagogue was when the church took my confirmation class to a local reform synagogue to "see what Jewish services are like."

Granted, our 13 year old minds had more fun laughing about the Hebrew transliterations than actually paying attention to the service, but I'd like to think it was a good experience.

As long as they are respectful and such, I don't think curiousity is something to push away.

12/05/2005 1:35 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

I'm very sceptical.
Why should Mormon missionaries visit a shul? To widen their horizon? Because of their interest in comparative religions? The only credible answers I can find are
a) they want to make contact with possible victims, just as they use to start a casual conversation (first) about non-religious matters with you in the bus, or
b) they want to learn about Jews in order to apply this knowledge later on for the same pupose of mission.

They don't come there for (kosher) prayer, or even for curiosity or academic reasons.

That doesn't mean they aren't friendly.

12/05/2005 3:02 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

As I understand it, Mormonism is a much more clear case of עבודה זרה even than Christianity. They believe in a multiplicity of gods, and that you, too, can become a god if you are good enough. (The guy who became god of our universe, le-shittosom, was originally a really good guy on Planet Kolob.)

On the other hand, this might be reconcilable with certain kavvonishe beliefs in Judaism...

12/05/2005 9:55 AM  
Blogger Habib said...

In any event, any religion that would stop me from drinking coffee is a non-starter for me...

12/05/2005 10:29 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

mormon girls are hot.
and if they don't fall asleep during the drasha i say they are keepers.

12/05/2005 11:31 AM  
Blogger The Observer said...

One day the Mormon missionairies knock on the door of the local Chabad shaliach. He warns them that there isn't any chance of converting him, but if they want to come in and chat, they're welcome to. (If nothing else, it'll be a period of time when they won't be bugging any other Jews with their mishegas.)

So in they come, pull out their felt board, and start in on their spiel. Eventually they wind down and he asks them a simple question:
"If I don't believe any of this, or follow any of this, but I'm a good person, will I go to heaven?"

After some hemming and hawing the missionairies are forced to admit that, no, not a chance.

Replies the rabbi, "Too bad, because according to Torah, you would."

12/05/2005 2:11 PM  
Blogger Habib said...

Mormonism is a much more clear case of עבודה זרה even than Christianity. They believe in a multiplicity of gods

Thus, if you convert to Mormonism, you are still counted as a Jew le'shittat the National Jewish Population Survey. If you convert to another monotheistic religion, you are out (unless you still practice Judaism as well):
(http://www.ujc.org/content_display.html?ArticleID=83784 )

12/05/2005 3:18 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Habib--

That's bizarre. Are you sure we have read it correctly? Perhaps the writers of the page consider all non-Jewish religions to be inherently non-monotheistic. (I wonder how they would argue this about Islâm.)

12/05/2005 4:29 PM  
Blogger Habib said...

It's pretty clear (in black-and-white).

If you think about it, it is possible to capture their reasoning.

Someone who, e.g. undertakes baptism can be said to have renounced Judaism, as they are mutually exclusive. The same with Islam: monotheistic religions are mutually exclusive, so if you take up another you can't profess Judaism anymore. On the other hand, some New Age hippy type who accepts, say, Buddhism, may still feel that they are Jewish on some level.

12/05/2005 5:20 PM  
Blogger Tovya @ Zion Report said...

the mormons don't bug me too much, they are generally respectful and leave when they know they are not welcome.

i mean don't get me wrong, they are still missionaries, but better than other groups.

so i guess if they had honest intentions, no big deal. but then again they could have been scoping the place out for future work, so who knows?

12/05/2005 6:01 PM  
Blogger Camp Runamok said...

BTW, Steg, why do you have a problem with the name "Flanders"? It is the former name of the region of Europe now occupied by Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland (the "Low Countries). FWIW, didn't the geographical "Flanders" gave rise to the language "Flemish"?

Not so risible in my humble estimation.

12/06/2005 11:54 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Camp Runamok:

Nothing to do with the region known as Flanders. Everything to do with the Simpsons character known as Flanders. Click on the link!

12/06/2005 1:14 PM  
Blogger Habib said...

Also, nothing to do with the beautiful WWI poem:

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

12/06/2005 1:28 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Flanders is the region from Dunkirk (Duin Kerke) to the mouth of the Schelde river (in Zeeland Province, which is south of R'dam) along the coast, extending inland about half-way toward Brussels, which is smack-bang in the center of the ancient province of Brabant, now divided into Antwerp, Brabant, and Limburg (all three Belgian), and North Brabant (in the Netherlands). Brabant, in mittn drinnen, means something roughly like fine place or nasty people (can't remember which) in whatever language the word Brabant come from.

Antwerp Province, which is the western split-off of the Brabant, is considered Flemish - the isogloss separating Flemish from Limburgish runs right through the Kempen region (Netherlands and Belgium), leaving some pretty rip dialect incomprehensibility in its wake.

Flemish is a catch-all term for the Netherlandish dialects of Belgium, but also a political term (ever since the Battle of the Golden Spurs, when the Flemish burgers won another round for civilization).

Understandily wandily, rabbosayerino?

12/06/2005 6:35 PM  
Blogger Anonymous the Cat said...

Are there any Mormons in Flanders?

12/06/2005 7:32 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Flanders? LOL

As per your question, its difficult to answer. But I will say that typical, scripted reactions to certain situations are not always appropriate. Sometimes it pays to examine a new situation and see if it really is the same old situation as our instinct may lead us to believe.

12/07/2005 1:19 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Yes, there are Mormons in Flanders. But they are vastly outnumbered by Jews and Muslims... not to mention the Catholics.

Alles voor Vlaandren, en Vlaandren voor G-d (all for Flanders, and Flanders for G-d). As they say.

By the way, word verification shows 'vaxmalta' - either a brandname for a milk product, or a bad Latin coat of arms slogan.

12/07/2005 5:45 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

No, that was the winner of the 1976 contest "Best Paraffin Model of an Island Country".

12/08/2005 5:48 AM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

IMO, they can stay as long as they do not become distruptive.

12/11/2005 5:56 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

BTW, Lipman, ROTFL!

12/11/2005 8:08 PM  

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