A visit to the Mormon temple in Gilbert

ImageThis weekend marked the end of the public tours of the Mormon temple in Gilbert. Before they are officially dedicated, Church of Latter-Day Saints’ temples are only open to the public for a brief period, and after the dedication, the temples are only open to LDS members in good standing.

So, being a curious bunch, members of the Jewish News editorial staff were among the tens of thousands of visitors to the temple during the open house period, Jan. 18 to Feb. 15.

Our interest in seeing it was shared by many; the parking lot was full, and we were directed to a dirt overflow parking lot down the street. After waiting in line to get in one building, we watched an introductory tour video then walked in a line to the temple itself, where we donned booties over our shoes before entering.

The temple, which is more than 85,000 square feet, was elaborately decorated – parts of it looked like a fancy hotel. The stained glass windows and the celestial room’s centerpiece chandelier were especially beautiful.

As I walked up and down the stairs and in and out of the various rooms, I couldn’t help but think about one of the comparisons made in the introductory video: that the temple’s origin was based on the biblical temple in Jerusalem. But were there actually any similarities between the two?

For me, the Beit HaMikdash has seemed mainly theoretical. I know Jews mourn for its destruction on Tisha b’Av and pray for it to be rebuilt “speedily in our days” in traditional prayer services; but each time I’ve stood at the Kotel, I’ve had a difficult time trying to picture a large-scale model of the Beit HaMikdash behind it and the idea of offering animal sacrifices is completely foreign. It wasn’t until I recently read “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman that it occurred to me how much the destruction of the Temple changed Jewish life.

A publication from Christian ministries distributed by a man standing on the corner between the parking lot and the Gilbert Mormon temple – clearly labeled “Not an LDS Church publication” – listed some of the differences:

In biblical times, only one temple in Jerusalem was recognized; today there are currently more than 135 LDS temples across the world. The primary activity at the Jerusalem temple was the sacrifice of animals in accordance to the law. In the LDS church, the primary activity is “ordinances” for the living and the dead — such as weddings, sealing ceremonies for families and baptisms for the dead (click here for more differences).

One of the most controversial aspects of the Mormon temple, at least in the Jewish community, is the idea of baptizing the dead. On one hand, the Mormons’ genealogical research database can be helpful to those looking to discover more about their family. On the other hand, the idea that it could also be used to baptize said family members is disturbing. (In September 2010, LDS leaders agreed to halt baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims. But then in 2012, it was revealed that Anne Frank and the parents of Simon Wiesenthal were posthumously baptized by church members that year.)  Though church officials said individuals conducting these proxy baptisms are violating the church’s policy, the practice of proxy baptism still feels offensive.

To Mormons, the temple represents a sacred space and on March 2, the Gilbert Arizona Temple will be dedicated. There are three other temples in Arizona: in Mesa, Snowflake and the Gila Valley. A fifth temple, in Phoenix, is currently under construction, and a sixth, in Tucson, has been announced, according to a brochure distributed during the tour.

Although there are naturally many differences between the biblical and LDS temples – and of course Judaism and Mormonism – Rabbi Perry Tirschwell, executive director of the National Council of Young Israel, wrote last year in the Jewish Press about the similarities between Orthodox Jews and Mormons after a meeting between the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center and the church and its political leadership in Salt Lake City.

Following that lead, we want to thank the Mormon church for inviting us into their sacred space so we could learn more about our neighbors.

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One Comment on “A visit to the Mormon temple in Gilbert”

  1. Thank you for your beautiful review of the Mormon Temple in Gilbert. I am a former (Mormon) employee of the Jewish News and have always respected your views and your Jewish faith. I use to do the “classifieds” and the singles. Please say hello to all those that are still there at the paper.


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