B'nai Shalom

History of Early Proselyting of Jews by LDS

This lengthy page is condensed from a more lengthy PDF report: "A Survey of LDS Proselyting Efforts to the Jewish People", authored by by Arnold H. Green, a 1967 BYU Masters graduate. It is modified to make note of involvement of early Bnai Shalom people (not acting as part of B'nai Shalom) and others about which we have written biographies.

This describes activities before B'nai Shalom was organized. There is no current organized proselyting targeted to Jews. B'nai Shalom has absolutely no proselyting or "conversion" mission or activity.

Names Known in B'nai Shalom History

The following names familiar to B'nai Shalom oldtimers are mentioned, highlighted herein:

  • Al Ostraff
  • Lynn Hilton
  • Jerome "Jerry" Horowitz (His son is a board member of B'nai Shalom)
  • Rose Marie Reid
  • Irving Cohen
  • Alexander Neibaur (A descendant is a member of B'nai Shalom)
  • Sherm Young (no bio)
  • Harry Glick (one of the founders of B'nai Shalom)

Earliest Connections, Earliest Translation

Joseph Smith, dedicating the Kirtland Temple in 1836, prayed God "to have mercy upon the children of Jacob, that Jerusalem, from this hour, may begin to be redeemed; and the yoke of bondage may begin to be broken off from the house of David, and the children of Judah may begin to return to the lands which Thou didst give to Abraham, their father.”

The Church accordingly dispatched a pair of apostles to Palestine, though only one of them, Orson Hyde, completed the journey. From the Mount of Olives, he officially petitioned God to "restore the kingdom of Israel—raise up Jerusalem as its capital and constitute her people as a distinct nation and government.” Despite a popular LDS myth, Orson Hyde was most likely not Jewish,

1800s - Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, First Jew in Church.

Perhaps the first attempt to preach Mormonism to a Jew occurred in 1836 when Joseph Smith spoke of his religious experiences to Joshua Seixas, a Hebrew scholar whom the "brethren” had engaged to instruct at their "School of the Prophets” in Kirtland. Seixas listened cordially, but despite the Mormon Prophet’s prediction that he would "eventually embrace the new and everlasting covenant,”’ the Jewish scholar was not receptive to the Mormon Gospel.

Brigham Young, perhaps as a result of his belief that Jews were suffering under divine justice, felt that such missionary work would be in vain until the "second coming.”

Alexander Neibaur, the first Jewish person in the Church.

On one occasion, Brigham Young even declared that Alexander Neibaur, Mormonism’s first Jewish proselyte, was not really of Jewish descent because no real Jew could believe in Jesus; the fact that Neibaur accepted Christ was conclusive proof to Brigham that Neibaur was no Jew. This attitude prevailed through John Taylor to Wilford Woodruff.

Neibaur ( 1808-1883)* a German-Jew and already a Christian before encountering Mormonism, was baptized in 1838. [A descendant of Neibaur is currently a member of B'nai Shalom.]

In 1872, George A. Smith was sent to rededicate Palestine for the Jewish return. On his return, he made statements that the Mormon gospel was not well received.

Translations of Book of Mormon

Early Translation of Book of Mormon to Yiddish

in 1888, after an intense study of the New Testament, Rabbi Edward Joseph Isaacson accepted Jesus, was expelled from his congregation in Germany, and subsequently became converted to Mormonism.

Within a few months, apparently motivated by no more than the zeal of a new convert, he had completely translated the Book of Mormon into Yiddish. (Had it been published, the translation might have enabled many European and Palestinian Jews to read the keystone book of Mormonism.) In 1890, however, Isaacson left Utah in disrepute, and his handwritten manuscript has remained almost unnoticed in the Church Historian's Office.

Early Translation of Book of Mormon to Hebrew

About 1922, another Jewish convert to Mormonism, Herman Miller, completed a translation of the Book of Mormon into Hebrew. Although evaluated as adequate, the Hebrew translation, like its Yiddish predecessor, was never published and, at present, the manuscript even appears to be lost.

Since at that time no significant body of jews spoke Hebrew, such a rendition of the Book of Mormon then would have had no practical value anyway, although it could be of infinite worth to contemporary LDS scholars, inasmuch as a Hebrew Book of Mormon may presently be desired.

There have been various translations made since. None are sanctioned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One particular story we've heard is that a rabbi completed a translation, and stated that it reads wonderfully in Hebrew to him who knows Hebrew.

Jewish Recognition in Utah

In 1865, Utah Jews celebrated Rosh Hashana on Temple Square.

Mormon Church President Joseph F. Smith laid the cornerstone tor Salt Lake's synagogue in 1903.

Utah, in 1917, became the second state of the Union to elect a Jewish governor.

By 1876, there were congregations of Jews in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Corinne, Bingham, Provo, and even Nephi, which were on fairly amiable terms with their Mormon neighbors. (Brigham helped them, and one of them lent Brigham $30,000.

See also http://www.mormonsandjews.org/history/ Utah_Jewish_history.htm.)

Their Mormon neighbors, however, made no recognizable attempt to proselytize them. Similarly, the LDS "Near Eastern Mission,” established in 1884, concentrated primarily on Armenians and Europeans, almost completely ignoring the Palestinian Jewish settlements.

Events In Israel

In 1917, on the heels of the famous Balfour Declaration, British General Edmund H. Allenby captured Jerusalem for the Allies of World War I. "No people on earth," responded a daughter of Brigham Young, "with the exception of the Jews themselves, have more cause for rejoicing and see more clearly the hand of the Lord in the redemption of Jerusalem from the oppression of the Gentile Turk, than do the Latter-day Saints."

Heber J. Grant, President of the Church from 1918 to 1945, was well-known for speaking out against anti-Semitism and not so well-known for being a booster of the Jewish National Fund,

Earliest Proselyting Literature and Thoughts

Rasha

Abraham Silverstein, a Christian jew edited a monthly publication entitled The Redeemed Hebrew. The November, 1925, edition of the paper included a letter which set forth a Canadian Rabbi’s reasons for denying to Jesus the title of the Jewish Messiah. In the same issue, Silverstein editorially invited Christian ministers to refute the Rabbi, who had signed his name "Rasha.”

Other Literature (B.H. Roberts)

B, H. Roberts composed three "replies to Rasha, the Jew” which were published in successive issues of The Redeemed. Hebrew. Roberts’ initial treatise attempts to establish that there exists a plurality of gods and that the New Testament Jesus was an incarnation of the Old Testament Jehovah. His second article reviews Messianic prophecies, while the third introduces "the new testimony for Jesus” contained in the Book of Mormon.

In 1932, the three articles were supplemented by additional material and published as a book entitled Rasha—the Jew.

No Jews became Mormons as a result of that literary appeal.

Visits to Palestine With Intent..

In the Near Eastern Mission, post-World War I proselyting also reached a few Jewish settlers. Mrs. Joseph W. Booth, widow of the mission president who died at Haifa in 1929, reported upon her return to Salt Lake City that Jews frequently visited her home and that a few of them had joined the Mormon Church. She qualified, however, that "most of the missionary work was done among the Syrians and Armenians.

In 1933, Apostle John A. Widstoe visited the Holy Land where he performed the fifth dedication of Palestine for the return of the Jews, and he installed Badwagen Piranian as the local mission president. Piranian was an Armenian raised in Switzerland. Apostle Widtsoe confided his intent to have the Book of Mormon translated into Hebrew" and instructed the new mission leader to proselytize the Jewish population. Piranian tried for over two years and, although there are indications that he was initially encouraged in the endeavor,"’ he gradually became convinced that it was impossible to convert Jews. Mission headquarters were subsequently relocated in Beirut and, except for a brief attempt to reach the Lebanese Jewish community by a young Jewish Mormon, Albert Ostraff, no more attempts were made before the mission was disbanded in 1950.

In the Near East Mission History (Church Historian s Office), under date of July 24, 1933, Piranian recorded in his Swiss dialect that various Jews were showing a genuine interest in Mormonism and were desirous of reading the Book of Mormon:

On May 14, 1948, England withdrew and the Republic of Israel came into existence.

Understanding Developing

Dr. Lynn Hilton, an Early Proponent of Understanding

"It is my sincere prayer,” confided BYU instructor Lynn M. Hilton (who had earlier attempted to form an organization to prepare Mormons for Jewish proselyting), "that we will not be as reluctant to take the gospel from the Gentiles and give it to Israel as Peter was reluctant to do the converse in the meridian of time.”

In 1953, Hilton corresponded with Elder LeGrand Richards concerning a proselytizing effort among the Jews. About 1955, Elder Richards appointed Hilton to a committee to establish this program, an effort that flowered mostly in Southern California but that was canceled by direction of the First Presidency in 1959.

Note that Lynn married Nancy Goodstein who has been an earlier Bnai Shalom officer, and they were both regulars at the gatherings until recently. Lynn has a significant history involved with this subject, a lengthy church assignment in the MidEast, and is an author.

Literature and "Lesson" Development: Rose Marie Reid, Al Ostroff

Elder Richards had compiled some information on both Jewry and Mormondom, arranging it so as to impress the former with the latter’s theology. In 1954, Elder Richards published his compilation as "Israel! Do You Know?", whose thesis suggests that the Ephraimite-Saints currently administer the redeeming knowledge possessed anciently by their Jewish cousins. "The Gospel was restored in these latter days to the seed of Joseph,” he explained, "and they have the responsibility of carrying it to the Jews.” Although the other General Authorities were evidently reluctant to call a halt to the times of the Gentiles, they agreed to let Elder Richards set up experimental "Jewish Missions’’ in a few areas.

The largest Jewish Mission by far developed in Southern California. J. Leland Anderson was appointed "Coordinator of the Jewish Mission." Anderson’s assistant was Dr. Lynn Hilton, an early proponent of understanding; a young Jewish-Mormon attorney, who was persuaded to move to Los Angeles from Ogden, Utah. (Lynn and wife Nancy have been involved until recently.)

Apostle Richards, anxious for success, suggested to Anderson that "the best missionary with the Jews that I know of in the Church is Rose Marie Reid ... so I am sure it would be well to call her to assist in this work.

Rose Marie Reid outlined a monologue for explaining Mormonism to Jew's. When LeGrand Richards became acquainted with Mrs. Reid in 1954, he encouraged her to author a pamphlet as an introduction to his Israel! Do You Know?

The manuscript of her pamphlet became available to missionaries in March, 1956, but, due to a thorough review by the Church Missionary Committee, was not published until July, 1958. It was never really authorized by the LDS hierarchy. "I doubt if the Church will want to adopt it as a recommended Church program,” explained LeGrand Richards in April, 1956.

Although the lesson material was hailed by a majority of Mrs. Reid’s cohorts as a thorough guide for teaching Mormonism to Jews, a few felt it to be a bit complicated and complained that those lacking Mrs. Reid’s dynamic personality would have difficulty using it effectively.

A delegation of missionaries from Inglewood Stake wrote their own lesson plan and formed a "Jewish District" within their own stake mission. In the regular interstake Jewish Mission, however, Rose Marie Reid was put in charge of "preliminary training” of missionaries, most of whom had implicit faith in her.

The published lesson plan, which includes two volumes of visual aids, was printed in Salt Lake City by the Deseret News Press. Mrs. Reid combined the dialogue of her "first lesson" with thirty pages of suggestions for approaching Jews and printed it separately as Do's and Don'ts Before Teaching the Jewish People. Progress was made in developing filmstrip presentations of each lesson,

The pamphlet, Attention Israel is a dialogue between Mrs. Reid and "Eugene," an agnostic Jewish student who "recently graduated from Columbia University," Mrs. Reid leads Eugene and the reader through a discussion of Old Testament history', avoiding the question of Jesus and emphasizing the idea of Jewish-Mormon kinship through the tribes of Israel.

Another lesson plan was written in 1957 by Albert P. Ostraff and Farrel T, Miles, using, according to Miles, "the principle of testimony and simplicity; and no effort was necessarily made to avoid the mention of Christ.”

In Salt Lake City High Councilman Sherman Young was put charge of proselyting. "We will contact every Jewish family,” promised Sherman Young, "and they will all have an opportunity to hear the gospel or know that we have a friendly interest in them.” Over a three-year period, the "gospel” was heard by more than three hundred Salt Lake Valley Jews, several of whom attended LDS meetings but none of whom converted to Mormonism. The Salt Lake missionaries, however, spent much of their time with Latter-day Saint groups, explaining the Jewish-Mormon kinship and combating anti-Semitism among their own people.

Note that Sherm Young was an officer of B'nai Shalom later.

In Ogden, Utah, missionary work to Jews was made a part of the East Ogden Stake Mission. In 1955, Bruce Gibb composed his own set of thirteen lessons for presenting Mormonism to Jew's and, with a ten-man missionary force, he set out to contact Ogden’s fifty-odd Jewish families. Twenty of these were visited regularly, Gibb approximated, and two Jewish men were converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In San Francisco, former Bishop R. John Cummings and William Fred Grow were the sole participants in the Jewish Mission. Fred Grow estimated that primarily because of external influences (e.g., political affiliations or business and social contacts), some Mormons reflect negative secular attitudes toward Jews.

However, in a paper presented to the American Sociological Association in San Francisco, August 31, 1967, Dr. Armand L. Mauss of Utah State University explained that inasmuch as they identify themselves with Jews as "Israelites," Mormons are much less apt to exhibit anti-Semitic attitudes or practices than are members of other Christian denominations.

Dr. Mauss also found that, unlike other Christians who tend to become more anti-Semitic as they become more orthodox, Mormons tend to be less so, since orthodox Latter-day Saints would be more likely to subscribe to the "doctrine of Semitic identification.

And although there is a tendency for Mormons to believe that the historic Jew has been "punished” for backsliding, Dr. Mauss contended:

"...the Mormon theological outlook is not nearly so much concerned with recriminations for past misdeeds as it is with the future redemption of all Israelite peoples and their establishment in historic home-lands.

"If anyone can expect the wrath of God for their wickedness, it is not the Jews, but rather the Gentiles, who have rejected the Jewish scriptures and persecuted the Jews. The official teachings of the Mormon Church not only take a sympathetic theological stance toward Jews, but also imply that anti- Semitic behavior is tantamount to fighting against God.

" Despite this general tendency, however, the little anti-Jewish sentiment that does exist among Mormons continues to be embarrassing for both theological and humanistic reasons."

Dr Mauss has authored the book "All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage".

Portland (Oregon) Stake President C. Carlile Carleson, pursuant to a request by LeGrand Richards, delegated the task of supervising Jewish missionary work to L. A. West, a former member of the stake presidency. West and his seven companions obtained contacts by going from door to door in Jewish neighborhoods and, using Bruce Gibb’s "lesson plan," managed to convert a Jewish father and son before President Carleson halted the effort in 1957.

In New York City, a pair of Jewish Mormons were commissioned by stake authorities to approach the Jewish community. One of these, Dr. Irving H. Cohen, authored an eighty-two page pamphlet entitled "Jews of the Torah" (1957 and 1963), which attempts to demonstrate that modern Jewry has deviated from its Old Testament prototype and that Jesus was indeed the Jewish Messiah. Dr. Cohen and Albert Solomon employed the booklet as their guide for explaining Mormonism to Jews and as the introductory reading material for Jewish investigators. Cohen, whose special mission ended in 1962, has been influential in the conversions of several Jewish persons to Mormonism.

Back in Los Angeles in August, 1956, Leo J. Muir and Jerome [Jerry] Horowitz outlined a program of weekly meetings where more than a hundred missionaries met to study Rose Marie Reid’s lesson plan and to learn techniques for proselyting Jews.(Jerry's son has been President and as of 2013 has been on the Board of B'nai Shalom. )

Changes of Viewpoint and Approach

Some of the most important axioms were avoid mentioning Jesus at the outset; say "Jewish” rather than "Jew”; discourage premature Church attendance by Jewish contacts (lest the congregation sing "Onward Christian Soldiers”!); prevent Jewish investigators from reading the Book of Mormon too soon; emphasize that Mormons are Israelites; and tell Jewish people that Latter-day Saints have always supported Zionist aspirations in Israel.

Missionaries were instructed to visit synagogues or Jewish service organizations, and to go from door to door in Jewish neighborhoods. During 1957 and 1958, Mormon "missionaries to the Jewish people” in Southern California spent over 10,000 hours proselyting, delivered in Jewish homes over 1,200 lessons, and converted to their faith about thirty Jewish persons.

In March, 1959, the LDS First Presidency directed that henceforth all proselyting efforts to Jews should be channeled through existing stake missionary organizations, thus discontinuing the experimental Jewish Missions.

The directive suggested that each stake might assign two missionaries to prepare themselves to teach Jews, should they be "discovered in the normal course of proselyting,” but only a couple of stakes did this and these for just a very short time.

Church Missionary Department

In 1959, the Church Missionary Committee assigned Daniel Ludlow with Eldin Ricks, Daniel H. Ludlow, Ellis T, Rasmussen and Sidney B. Sperry to study the Rose Marie Reid lessons and the works of Eugene Hilton, Bruce Gibb and Artel Ricks that had been used in Southern California the previous decade. They expanded their study to the plans of Irving H. Cohen in New York.

That, in order to arrive at a unity of the faith with regard to the numerous "lesson plans” for teaching Mormonism to Jews which had cropped up during the era of the Jewish Missions.

However, rather than merely recommending one of the five, they determined to write their own set of eight lessons. Although these authors felt handicapped because they lacked direct association with Jewish people, they nevertheless possessed a keen understanding of Hebraic scripture and tradition, and their material will likely serve as the basis for instruction when the Mormons decide to proselytize the Jews in earnest.

The Jewish Mission leaders had became convinced by mid-1958 that a few of their converts were not being warmly received into Mormon congregations. Jerome "Jerry" Horowitz prepared lectures to inform missionaries about Jewish religious beliefs, and Rose Marie Reid, after proposing that all Jewish Mormons attend the same congregation, authored a Suggested Handbook for Use by the Integration Committee in the L.D.S. Church, a chapter of which itemized the special problems of Jewish converts to Mormonism.

Eventually, however, the search for a method of enabling Mormons to understand and to befriend Jews led to San Bernardino, California, where an LDS civic leader had already developed his answer to the same problem. His answer was a more subtle kind of proselyting which, in many respects, was not proselyting at all.

Instructing Mormons

In 1958, San Bernardino Stake Mission President Ken Dyal pondered a request to organize a mission to the Jews. Rather than conduct bona fide missionary work, however, he initiated a course of study to instruct Mormons in the history of ancient and modem Judaism.

As part of the instruction, moreover, his pupils visited Friday evening services in local temples or synagogues, sent greeting cards to Jewish acquaintances on Rosh Hashana, sponsored a troupe of LDS girls who learned and then performed Israeli folk dances, and set up a fund to establish an "Orson Hyde Forest" in the Holy Land, Dyal’s goal was to lead Latter-day Saints toward an understanding of Judaism and a genuine friendship for Jewish people, delaying missionary work until there developed "an adequate basis.”

"One or two Jewish friends who know that a Mormon acquaintance is willing to stand up and reprove the name caller,” he contended, "will do more for the eventual willingness of these people to hear our message than a thousand out punching doorbells.”

Through these and other contacts, the Los Angeles Jewish Mission, in January 1959, was converted into the "Understanding Israel Program."

The reorganized movement was governed by a "Coordinating Council” comprising Jerome "Jerry" Horowitz, Ken Dyal, Rose Marie Reid, Ned Redding, Harry Howard, Albert Ostraff and Janeli Warner, and was "advised" by John Russon and Wayne A. Reeves, presidents of the Los Angeles and San Bernardino Stakes, respectively. "This new program,” Russon explained, "supersedes all other activity among the Jewish people.” The Understanding Israel Program launched an effort to teach Dyal’s lessons to representatives of Southern California wards who would, after the end of the course, return and enlighten their own congregations.

The YOVAIL Dancers

In I960, Mrs. Mildred Handy was called by her bishop in San Diego, California, to teach a series of lessons for adults in the Mutual Improvement Association (MIA). Recalling her contact with Ken Dyal and using his material, Mrs. Handy outlined a course of study on the "House of Israel.” Later, she composed her own set of thirty lessons, which she employed in subsequent "Understanding Israel” classes.

Mrs. Handy’s contribution to Dyai’s idea was an increased association of Jews with Mormons, brought about via programs of drama, dance and cultural exchange. "I wanted to develop a learning program,” she later wrote, "that would go beyond mere theoretical study and provide a real understanding through literal experience.” Her main vehicle in accomplishing this was a folk dance group christened "The Yovail Dancers,” which was transplanted from San Diego to Los Angeles when Mrs. Handy became "Adult Study Leader” in the Pasadena Stake MIA. Her principal duty was the supervision of Understanding Israel classes in the various wards, but her consuming interest was the Yovail Dancers.

The group grew to include over sixty LDS teen-agers who learned, then performed, traditional Jewish and Israeli folk songs and dances.

By linking biblical, ghetto, and modern steps with an explanatory narrative, Mrs. Handy told the Jewish story from ancient to contemporary times. She called the presentation "Fire of Israel,” and her dancers displayed it before Jewish spectators at the Westside Jewish Community Center, the Shrine Auditorium, the Pasadena Civic Auditorium where they received standing ovations from 6,500 people.

The group contacted BYU to set up the overseas tour, and Robert Taylor asked Daniel H. Ludlow to direct it. Performing during July 1964, the troupe swept Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheba, Zurich and Paris. with singing and dancing routines.

Abba Eban, famed Israeli statesman and deputy to the prime minister, awarded the dancers the Israeli peace medal, only the second one given, Pope John XXIII having received the first. Guri Kadman, the mother of Israeli folk dancing, was visibly touched and wept at a performance. The clean-looking young people impressed the nation. In Jerusalem, the LDS dancers received the "Pilgrim’s Medal” from the Israeli Government; and in Beer Sheba, Clifford I. Cummings of the Pasadena Stake Presidency was invited to explain Mormonism to the audience.

Although direct proselyting was not a part of their itinerary, the young dancers conceived of their activity as having missionary value. Mrs Handy felt that the manifestation of Mormon interest in Jewish culture, along with the mingling of the two peoples, would generate a climate of mutual understanding, a prerequisite for successful missionary work.

Following the tour of Israel in 1964, the Yovail Dance group was disbanded by Pasadena Stake leaders who evidently feared that the mushroom activity might conflict with existing Church programs for youth.

Organized Proselyting Closed - 1964 to 1976

Since 1964, there seems to have been a dirth of organized attempts by Mormons either to convert Jews or to win their friendship, although there have undoubtedly been some which have escaped the author’s attention.

Likewise, there have likely been other instances prior to 1964 wherein Latter-day Saints, individually or collectively, have tried to get their Jewish cousins to see the light as they see it. Those cited above, however, appear to be the major ones, and they serve as an adequate basis for the following conclusion: the Mormon Church has neither officially nor on a large scale undertaken to carry its message to the Jewish people.

The sporadic endeavors hitherto attempted have largely been initiated by individual Church members and, while most have been tolerated, none have been encouraged by the Church leaders. For their part, the "Brethren” apparently feel that the "times of the Gentiles” are lingering on, and thus additional time will be required "to turn the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews".

After the Arnold Green writing: Restart in 1976.

In 1976, Harry Glick was called as the chairman of a special committee that wrote training manuals, used by those teaching people of Jewish ancestry. Harry was one of the founders of B'nai Shalom.

There was an additional proselyting effort. Allen Steele, who had extreme love and respect for the Jewish people and who knows "The Gospel" very well, served two of these missions. We have known others. Those missions were terminated in the late '70s.