Conversion by Proxy

by Carrie Bornstein, Acting Executive Director

When I first saw the headlines about Anne Frank’s posthumous baptism, I thought it odd, to say the least. Days later, the news came about Daniel Pearl. Thankfully the Mormon Church later released this letter clarifying its policy that such baptisms by proxy should not include names from certain “unauthorized groups,” including celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims.

I read with interest, therefore, this article in Friday’s New York Times (in which our own Rabbi Moshe Waldoks from Brookline was quoted) that describes exactly how these baptisms take place. “In proxy baptism,” the article explains, “a living Mormon immerses himself or herself in a baptismal font on behalf of a dead person.”

This got me thinking. How might it work with a mikveh? And could it enhance our sense of Jewish peoplehood as a result?

We’ve done really well with Nobel Prize winners. Doing just fine on Wall Street; Hollywood, too. I know we are not a proselytizing religion… but, couldn’t we use a few more athletes as a people? Or how about some lumberjacks? Or just one US President?

The challenge is that the majority opinion generally agrees with Rebbe Hayyim bar BorBor, who states that all people, living or dead, can only undergo immersion for conversion with one’s own guf ba’mayyim, body in the water. Though our organization is blessed with passionate and talented staff and volunteers, the logistics of exhuming bodies was just too complex.

At Mayyim Hayyim, however, we believe in opening up this ritual in new ways not previously imagined. Thankfully, a rare manuscript found in Melbourne (circa 1120 c.e.) describes an alternate, albeit unorthodox method for posthumously converting just about anyone.

Yada, yada, yada, a few blessings, 250 gallons of rainwater, and some life-sized cardboard cutouts later, I am proud to report that Mayyim Hayyim has already posthumously converted to Judaism: seven former NFL players, three lumberjacks, and yes, TWO former US Presidents.

All that, plus two of our family’s past goldfish. It just seems better that way.

This blog post is brought to you by the upcoming holiday of Purim.

Carrie Bornstein is Mayyim Hayyim’s Acting Executive Director.  She also takes the holiday of Purim, and its mandates of “v’nahafoch hu” – a celebration of things getting turned upside down – very, very seriously.  Follow her on twitter @carolinering.

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