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September 1, 2015 / 17 Elul, 5775
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Lessons Orthodox Judaism Can Learn from Mormons

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Recently, I read an incredibly insightful article in The Atlantic about Mormons and their approach to Facebook and the Internet for their missionaries (The Facebook of Mormon). I highly recommend the article. I’ve written in the past that I think there are many similarities between Orthodox Judaism and Mormonism. Whenever I see an article that talks about how Mormons deal with social issues, I try and see if there is anything we can learn from their approach.

In this instance, I was blown away by some of the things I read in the article. Indeed, there is a lot for us to learn.

For starters, their three concerns over Internet use are the same as ours. Wasting time, pornography, and safety. These concerns come from Mormon authority figures. But the younger people wonder how those are any different than the concerns of every day life. I’ve heard the exact same arguments in our community.

Both communities value using books to study their texts. Computers and digital devices are seen as the less preferable way for younger people to study. Computer and Internet use is either extremely limited or prohibited altogether.

But here is where we diverge. Some influential Mormons thought that it might be wise to equip missionaries with digital devices and Facebook accounts to help them convert the unconverted. But before they made a policy decision about it, they actually tested the proposal. A group of missionaries was chosen for the trial. Some were given digital devices and Facebook access and others just used the old fashioned equipment. The results were conclusive. The devices helped significantly.

We don’t have real missionaries and we have different goals. But so much of our policy is based on long-held assumptions or old ideas. We certainly don’t test new ideas. We just have faith that our rabbis are smart enough to know what’s best without hard data. We need data. Let’s test whether limited Internet access and digital libraries will help our Yeshiva students and Kollel members be more productive and more prolific. If it helps, then we should implement it. If not, leave the status quo. We rely too much on faith in people and not enough on data. We don’t even try to obtain data, let alone use data in our policy making.

Mormons also have a sense of nostalgia for the old ways and so there was some resistance to new ways. This is familiar to us as well. But Mormons are also very goal oriented. They want results. And if the new way yields better results, the nostalgia is no longer worth preserving. The reason we cherish old ideas is because we think that they are good ideas. But if better ideas come along, we should adopt the better ideas.

Above all, it seems, Mormons are optimistic about how technology will help them. They aren’t afraid that Mormons will read about Judaism or atheism and jump ship. They have confidence in their religion, despite its challenges in the face of modernity. They believe technology is here to help them. So far, it is helping them.

Another principle that sounded familiar to me, was the self sacrifice that Missionaries make for the sake of their beliefs. It really hard to go to an unknown place and teach uninterested people about your religion. The missionaries are not given a stipend by the Church and live very meager lives. But they all say that it was the happiest time of their life. We have a similar ideal, but our communal wealth and standard of living has changed much of that in recent years. I can still hear my 9th grade rebbe talking about his Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Ruderman, reminiscing that in Slabodka they ate one meal a day. It was “stale black bread and an onion.” Our children live in luxurious palaces compared to the children of our great grandparents. But we still theoretically idealize the simple life. Just so few of us live it.

About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.

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5 Responses to “Lessons Orthodox Judaism Can Learn from Mormons”

  1. Does not your GOD THE ONE TRUE LIVING GOD TELL YOU THAT YOU ARE TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN> YOU ARE Not to go to other gods

  2. my rebbetzin (i am only really a rabbi because i married such a chashuva rebbetzin) is an ex-Mormon (now basically Satmar-esque with the shpitzel etc.), and she always says frum yidden can learn a lot about how to organize chesed projects from the Mormons – but still she says i spend wayyyyy to much time (mostly in Torah discussions) on facebook – she is probably right…

  3. Rena Gold says:

    I see many parallels between the Mormons as you describe them here to the Lubavicher Rebbe’s emissaries around the world. Here are the excerpts that I felt were especially valid and illuminating:

    “They have confidence in their religion, despite its challenges in the face of modernity. They believe technology is here to help them.

    “Another principle that sounded familiar to me, was the self sacrifice that Missionaries make for the sake of their beliefs. It is really hard to go to an unknown place and teach uninterested people about your religion. The missionaries are not given a stipend by the Church and live very meager lives. But they all say that it was the happiest time of their life.

    “It’s worth mentioning that the Mormons have a central authority that makes determinations for all Mormons. Apparently, everyone listens. “

    May the Rebbe’s emissaries have much hatzlacha in their holy work, that their light dispel all the darkness, including that of their nemesis as detailed here.

  4. Eva Feld says:

    Rabbi b'chol hakavod, Rabbi, the Mormons came from us Jews. Of course they adopted many of our basic values. Their pages of history are bloodied by persecution and condemnation. The Mormons too have witten some ugly pages which will remain unmentioned. The Mormons are to be admired for their valujs and concerns about children and their faith. They, like us,have their "fundamentalists" i.e, Colorado City, AZ . One of the most beautiful Mormon Temples that I visited was in Southern Iowa near Bear Lake. the hospitality and welcome received was memorable and warm including the Hayden organ concert that we were invited to attend. Alas, we couldn't. We were on our way to Jackson Hole in WY . It was beyond memorable.

  5. Eva Feld says:

    B'chol hakavod rebbetzin Kotakowski for haing converted from the Mormon to Satmar. I admire you. I am a Jew by birth and would not know where else to find so much spirituality. One cannot but admire the Mormons and what they have accomplished in the relative short lied religion born and bred, suffered and persecuted and the Mormons fought back bloodily and forcefully. They learned it all from us Jews, they came from us and they studied well. Then there is Colorado City … fundamentalists to the max writing a nasty chapter in what is basically a peace seeking religion. Yes, at it is a religion in the full sense of the word.

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