“In addition to everything else they do, words can be ambassadors of goodwill spreading the messages of a culture.” This statement by Joseph Lowin, the director of Cultural Services at the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, coincides with the thesis of Jews and Mormons: Two Houses of Israel: ” Jews need to know more about Mormonism, and Mormons about Judaism.” The authors, Frank J. Johnson (a Mormon high priest) and William J. Leffler (a Jewish rabbi) undertake to explain the differences and similarities between their respective religions in a frank and yet somewhat cordial dialogue. Apparently, the authors have corresponded with one another since they became friends at Dartmouth College in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Their book provides a much needed foundation for the spreading of goodwill between two unique perspectives.
The book contains eight alternating chapters on Mormonism and Judaism, with a ninth devoted to areas of mutual misunderstanding. Major topics include the backgrounds of each religion, the main religious ideas of each, the respective elements of life and practice, and views about the House of Israel. Both authors explain their own views in the discourse of their own religious heritage, but they are mindful of how those ideas or expressions will sound in the ears of the other. The discussion roams freely over many topics, sometimes revisiting issues hashed out on previous pages. Often the reader feels like an eavesdropper listening in on a sometimes blunt conversation between two spirited advocates who are not much aware of any audience. In addition to these chapters, there are three well-constructed appendices containing Orson Hyde’s October 1841 dedication of Israel, a midrash on Psalm 9, and the responsa.