Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Dec 1976
An address to Mormons, Non-Mormons, and Jews at the Jubilee Auditorium, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, May 2, 1976
My brethren and sisters—I use that as an inclusive greeting to all assembled, for it is a part of my faith that we are all children of one Father. To our Jewish friends I say, “Shalom Haverim,” which is to say, “Good evening, brothers.” It is a privilege and honor to be with you tonight.
Among some of my most cherished experiences and recollections are the fond association I have enjoyed in past years with the Jewish people in the United States and the land of Israel. I have visited Israel three times. I have met hundreds of government officials, farmers, business and trade people, and leaders in professions. No visits have been more impressive than the visits with David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, and Moshe Dayan.
During a luncheon given in my honor, chaired by Mr. Eshkol in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Mr. Ben-Gurion sent a handwritten note to me from the hospital, asking would I call on him if my time permitted. This I did. He was sitting in a rocker with one leg elevated as I walked into his hospital room. You may recall that some crank threw a bomb into Parliament and his ankle was injured. As we greeted each other, he said, “Would you mind if the press came in while we visit? They’ve been trying to see me, but I haven’t seen anyone except my wife and the nurse.” I told him I would have no objection. The press came in, and then he began talking to me and asking questions. He wanted to know what the attitude of the Mormons was toward the Jews. We had a most interesting conversation.
On my second visit to Palestine, I toured the entire country by small plane, helicopter, and automobile, and was shown every possible courtesy and consideration. I had a further meeting with Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, and then met with General Moshe Dayan, the man who had led their forces against the Egyptians.
Dayan, former minister of agriculture, gave a buffet dinner in my honor, served on the patio and lawn at his home. As we walked around the lawn, he told of the campaign they had against the Egyptians. He said in substance, “I’m not what people would call a spiritual man, but no one will ever convince me that there wasn’t a higher power with us as we met the Egyptians down on the Sinai.” I could not help but be reminded of Zechariah’s great prophecy: “Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place. …
My next visit was while serving my church as a General Authority over Europe in 1964. We had two congregations at Beirut, Lebanon. I was visiting those branches and wrote in advance to Mr. Eshkol, who had become prime minister when Ben-Gurion had retired. I indicated that I would like to come to Jerusalem again, and if his time permitted I would be happy to call and pay my respects. He wrote back immediately urging me to come and sent me a handwritten note from Ben-Gurion, asking that I set aside one night that my wife and I might spend an evening with them.
We had two visits with these men at that time. We spent an evening with Ben-Gurion and his wife in their apartment in Tel Aviv. Most of the time was spent in the library, where there were books from the floor to the ceiling on three walls. During the evening he said, “I want you to pray to God that he’ll spare me for a few more years. I’m writing a history of the Jewish people, and it will take time to finish it.” As we were leaving at the door that evening, he said, “You know, there are no people in this world who understand the Jews like the Mormons.”
Yes, there is a great affinity for the Jews by the Mormons. The Jews have endured great persecution and suffering. This we understand, for our people have also undergone severe persecution and extermination. Indeed, the man we revere as a modern prophet, Joseph Smith, was martyred for his testimony in 1844. In 1846 our people had to exodus from the United States because of the threat of annihilation. We settled in a desert region similar to the topography around the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. There we have developed our “land of promise.”
Yes, we can empathize with the suffering of the Jews, for we have co suffered with them. But our affinity toward modern Judah is not prompted merely out of mutual suffering; it is prompted out of a knowledge of our peculiar relationships together—relationships which claim a common heritage. Jeremiah has prophesied that in the latter times “the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together.” (Jer. 3:18.) My prayer is that because of evenings spent together like this one, this prophecy will come to be fulfilled. We need to know more about the Jews, and the Jews ought to know more about the Mormons. When we understand one another, then perhaps you will understand why Ben-Gurion said, “There are no people in the world who understand the Jews like the Mormons.”
Among the kindred doctrines of the Mormons and the Jews is our mutual belief in Jehovah, a God of revelation. We share a common belief in the Messiah who will come. We further hold reciprocal beliefs in prophets. We hold a common commitment to the return of the Jews to the “land of Jerusalem,” in fulfilment of the words of the ancient prophets. There are many other doctrinal and social similarities.
The foundation of the Church, which is sometimes referred to by non-members as the “Mormon” Church, is a belief in revelation—modern revelation by God of his purposes and directions to living prophets.
We declare that secrets long since hidden through the ages have been revealed again through a prophet by the revelation of “a new and everlasting covenant” to Israel. That prophet’s name was Joseph Smith. These are the words of his own testimony:
“On the evening [of] the 21st of September, a.d. 1823, while I was praying unto God, and endeavoring to exercise faith in the precious promises of Scripture, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room, indeed the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire; the appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body; in a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded. This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God, sent to bring the joyful tidings that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled. … I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of His purposes in this glorious dispensation.” (History of ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 4:536–37)
From the very inception of this latter-day work, which claims to be a restoration of the covenants given by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this church has had a deep interest in the remnant of the house of Israel, the descendants of Judah.
Before Joseph Smith was killed, he dispatched a Jewish apostle by the name of Orson Hyde to dedicate the land of Palestine for the return of the Jews. This concern for a homeless people and the sending of this apostle was done at a time when the Mormons themselves were virtually homeless, having been dispossessed of their lands and possessions in Missouri.
Orson Hyde left on his assignment in the fall of 1840. He arrived in Palestine in October 1841. On October 24, 1841, he ascended the Mount of Olives all alone, built an altar to the Lord, and offered a dedicatory prayer. Here are some portions of that prayer:
“Thy servant … has safely arrived in this place to dedicate and consecrate this land unto Thee, for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants, according to the predictions of the holy Prophets—for the building up of Jerusalem again after it has been trodden down by the Gentiles so long, and for rearing a Temple in honor of Thy name. …
“O Thou, Who didst covenant with Abraham, Thy friend, and Who didst renew that covenant with Isaac, and confirm the same with Jacob with an oath, that Thou wouldst not only give them this land for an everlasting inheritance, but that Thou wouldst also remember their seed forever. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have long since closed their eyes in death and made the grave their mansion. Their children are scattered and dispersed abroad among the nations of the Gentiles like sheep that have no shepherd and are still looking forward for the fulfillment of those promises which Thou didst make concerning them. …
“Let the land become abundantly fruitful when possessed by its rightful heirs; let it again flow with plenty to feed the returning prodigals. … Incline them to gather in upon this land according to Thy word. Let them come like clouds and like doves to their windows. [This was uttered before the airplane was invented.] Let the large ships of the nations bring them from the distant isles; and let kings become their nursing fathers, and queens with motherly fondness wipe the tear of sorrow from their eye. …
“Let them know that it is Thy good pleasure to restore the kingdom unto Israel—raise up Jerusalem as its capital, and constitute her people a distinct nation and government, with David Thy servant, even a descendant from the loins of ancient David to be their king.” (HC, 4:456–57; italics added.)
On at least two separate occasions, leaders of the nation of Israel have requested that I relate to them the story of Orson Hyde. The first occasion was at the luncheon to which I alluded previously. Mr. Eshkol asked me to tell the luncheon audience about Orson Hyde and his visit to Palestine. I replied, “Do you mean that?” He said that he did. So I related that account to them.
Another occasion was my last visit with David Ben-Gurion. He requested, “I would like you to send me all the information you have about Orson Hyde and his visit to Palestine in 1841. I would like to include it in my history.” We subsequently sent that information to him.
Historically, we must recognize that this interest in the restoration of the Jews to their homeland is older than modern Zionism and the great work of Theodor Herzl and others. There were a number of Christian sects in the nineteenth century which held millennial views and saw the return of the Jews to their homeland as a “sign of the times” which would precede the second advent of Jesus Christ. The Mormon interest was and is more than this. Our concern and interest is a kinship to our Jewish brothers.
Our common heritage goes back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God reiterated to Jacob the same promises which were given to Abraham, and then gave Jacob the new name of Israel. His posterity—all those who descended through his twelve sons—were known by this designation. They were variously referred to as the “House of Israel,” “Children of Israel,” or “Tribes of Israel.” I emphasize that all of his posterity received the family name designation through the twelve sons. Today it has become common practice to identify only one of his twelve sons, Judah, with the family designation “Israelite” because they have maintained their separate identity.
As you carefully read the forty-ninth chapter of Genesis, you will find that Jacob, or Israel, pronounced blessings on all his twelve sons. Each was given a peculiar and distinctive blessing. Time will only permit a consideration of the blessings to two of these sons, whose blessings were preeminent above the blessings of the others. I refer to the blessings pronounced on Judah and Joseph. May I read first the blessing pronounced on Joseph:
“Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:
“The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” (Gen. 49:22-26.)
Later I shall comment on the interpretation of this blessing as it affects the relationships of the present-day Mormons and Jews; but first it will be instructive to review the history of the descendants of Israel after they came into the land promised to Abraham as “the land of Canaan … an everlasting possession.” (Gen 17:8))
For a time, the confederated tribes were a united monarchy under Saul, David, and Solomon, but ultimately, they divided into two major kingdoms. The kingdom to the north—which comprised 10 1/2 tribes, including the descendants of Joseph—retained the designation Israel. The kingdom to the south—made up primarily of the tribe of Judah—adopted the name of Judah. (See 1 Kings. 11:31-32; 1 Kings 12:19-24.)
The northern kingdom, Israel, was subsequently taken into captivity by the Assyrians 721 years b.c.e., or Before Common Era. The Old Testament contains no history of Israel, nor of Joseph’s descendants after this date. Are we to believe that God’s promises to Joseph were for naught, that the prophecy of his posterity being numerous, “running over the wall,” being sorely persecuted, and going to the “utmost bound of the everlasting hills” would not be fulfilled?
“Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:
“Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.
The record of Joseph has been brought forth in this day to Joseph Smith by a messenger sent from God. That record is called the Book of Mormon, named after one of the seed of Joseph who abridged the records of his people. The record tells the account of a colony of Israelites, descended from Joseph, who left Jerusalem before its great destruction during the Babylonian siege under King Nebuchadnezzar. It tells how these descendants of Joseph came “over the wall”—a metaphoric expression which denoted a barrier to them. That barrier was the great ocean between the continents of Asia and the Americas. This record tells how they were guided by the hand of the Lord to the land of America, a land of promise to Joseph and his descendants, a land “of everlasting hills.” It tells how Joseph’s posterity became very numerous upon the land until they filled it with a mighty nation. All this was in fulfillment of Joseph’s blessing! The Book of Mormon further records the destruction of this mighty civilization because of their departure from the commandments of the God of Israel.
The records of these people lay buried in the earth for centuries. Then in 1827, a heavenly messenger turned them over to Joseph Smith. They were subsequently translated from their ancient reformed Egyptian writing into the English language and were published to the world in the year 1830.
The Judean prophet Ezekiel had declared that these records were to be “one in thine hand.” I witness before you the fulfillment of that prophecy—the record of Judah in one hand, the record of Joseph in the other—one in our hands today.
But what about the prophecies that pertain to the house of Judah? The northern tribes of Israel were not the only ones to be dispersed according to prophecy. Judah, the southern kingdom, was also to be scattered:
“And the Lord said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, my name shall be there.” ( 2 Kings 23:27) italics added.)
The history of the scattering of the nation Judah is so well known as to be regarded proverbial. Under the seizure of Babylon, the nation was taken into exile. A remnant returned to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple after the Persians came into power. Since that time, except for a short period of independence under the Maccabbees, Judah has been under the yoke of foreign domination: the Macedonian Empire; the tripartite government rule by Egypt, Syria, and Macedonia; Syrian domination; then the Roman rule, and a final dispersion among all nations.
Time will not permit extensive comment about the depth of the suffering and their persecution among many nations. Some of the most evil of those deeds were perpetrated upon the remaining Jews in Palestine in the name of Christianity during the Crusades. Will Durrant has correctly written of this sad chapter of human suffering, “No other people has ever known so long an exile, or so hard a fate.”
I remember standing on the ruins of what was the largest Jewish ghetto in Europe in the Jewish section of Warsaw, Poland, in August 1946. There we were given a description of what had transpired as being somewhat typical of that which had gone on in various parts of Europe through the establishment of the medieval ghetto.
Here 250,000 descendants of Judah had lived prior to the war. Under the Nazi rule, through forced labor, Jews were required to build a wall around the ghetto. Later some 150,000 Jews from other parts of Europe were brought into that area. The Germans first tried to starve them out, but when that did not work, they transported over 310,000 Jews to the extermination camps. When Himmler found that there were still some 60,000 Jews alive in the ghetto, he ordered their “resettlement.” When they forcibly resisted, the German S. S. General Stroop ordered the tanks, artillery, flamethrowers, and dynamite squads on the ghetto. The extermination which was to have taken three days lasted four weeks. The final report by the general read, “Total number of Jews dealt with: 56,065, including both Jews caught and Jews whose extermination can be proved.” This report left 36,000 Jews unaccounted for which were no doubt claimed by the gas chambers. (William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Publishers, 1965, p. 1272.)
As we stood on the crumbled brick and mortar and the rubble some fifteen feet deep, with only the spire of one burned synagogue showing—no other building in that vast area—we were told that thousands of bodies still remained under the rubble of those once great buildings in this section of Warsaw.
I have visited some of the concentration camps, the mass graves, and the crematoriums where, it is estimated six million of the sons and daughters of Judah lost their lives, reducing their world population from seventeen to eleven million.
I have been impressed to tears as I visited some of these wanderers, those persecuted and driven sons of our Heavenly Father, my brethren of Judah. Yes, the prophecies regarding the dispersion and suffering of Judah have been fulfilled. But the gathering and reestablishment of the Jews was also clearly predicted.
This predicted gathering has three phases: the gathering of Israel to the land of Zion, the American hemisphere; the return of the Ten Tribes from the north countries; and the reestablishment of the Jews in Palestine which had been long ago predicted by the prophets in these words:
“And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isa. 11:11–12; italics added.)
“For, lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, … and I will cause them [plural] to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.” (Jer. 30:3; italics added.)
I have witnessed this spirit work upon the Jews. In 1946, I was impressed as we interviewed many to find how determined they were to return to Palestine. As they would come to the relief agencies and the displaced-person camps to get temporary help, we would ask them why they did not settle nearby, and often would invite them to stay. But most had but one desire—to return to the land of their fathers.
“And it shall come to pass that they shall be gathered in from their long dispersion, from the isles of the sea, and from the four parts of the earth; and the nations of the Gentiles shall be great in the eyes of me, saith God, in carrying them forth to the lands of their inheritance.
I saw the fulfillment of this prophecy with my own eyes in war-torn Europe in 1946 when ships of Great Britain smuggled the Jews to Palestine in response to the powerful spirit of gathering. The Mormon people understand this spirit.
“And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.” (2 Nephi 25:15-17)
Since 1948, the people of the world have witnessed a marvelous drama taking place before their eyes; and yet it is a miracle that has gone rather unnoticed and unappreciated. One of the greatest events in history is the literal gathering of the Jews to their homeland from “the four corners of the earth.” It is, as Isaiah prophesied, “a marvelous work and a wonder.” (Isaiah 29:14.)
In 1950, I said, “There has been much confusion over the Palestine question—much talk of division of the land, of quotas, import restrictions—but out of it all I cannot help feeling that we will see a complete fulfilment of the prophecies which have been made regarding this people. These prophecies are in rapid course of fulfilment before our very eyes today.” (Conference Reports, April 1950, p. 77)
“Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.” (Genesis 49:8–12.)
The great blessing to Judah is that it contemplated the coming of Shiloh who would gather His people to Him. This prophecy concerning Shiloh has been subject to several rabbinic and Christian interpretations and the object of considerable controversy. The interpretation given this passage by the Mormon Church is one based on revelation to modern prophets, not on scholarly commentary. It was revealed to Joseph Smith that Shiloh is the Messiah. (See JST, Gen. 50:24.)
“And this is the will of your great Elohim, O house of Judah, and whenever you shall be called upon to perform this work, the God of Israel will help you. You have a great future and destiny before you and you cannot avoid fulfilling it; you are the royal chosen seed, and the God of your father’s house has kept you distinct as a nation for eighteen hundred years, under all the oppression of the whole Gentile world. You may not wait until you believe on Jesus of Nazareth, but when you meet with Shiloh your king, you will know him; your destiny is marked out, you cannot avoid it. It is true that after you return and gather your nation home, and rebuild your City and Temple, that the Gentiles may gather together their armies to go against you to battle … ; but when this affliction comes, the living God, that led Moses through the wilderness, will deliver you, and your Shiloh will come and stand in your midst and will fight your battles; and you will know him, and the afflictions of the Jews will be at an end, while the destruction of the Gentiles will be so great that it will take the whole house of Israel who are gathered about Jerusalem, seven months to bury the dead of their enemies, and the weapons of war will last them seven years for fuel, so that they need not go to any forest for wood. These are tremendous sayings—who can bear them? Nevertheless, they are true, and will be fulfilled, according to the sayings of Ezekiel, Zechariah, and other prophets. Though the heavens and the earth pass away, not one jot or tittle will fall unfulfilled.” (Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, Bookcraft, 1964, pp. 509–10)
“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come.” (Genesis 49:10.) We see the fulfillment of the Shiloh prophecy this way: Judah came to power when David was exalted to the throne. Even after the division of the northern and southern kingdoms, the kings of Judah sat on the throne. Following the Babylonian captivity, “lawgivers” were provided to the Jewish remnant who returned to Jerusalem. Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah are examples. Subsequently, the Sanhedrin was established, and it continued as the ruling body of the Jews until the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews. From that time, the Jews had no lawgiver to whom they could turn. Shiloh had come. He was Jesus of Nazareth, who was later crucified as “King of the Jews.”
Christian history has emphasized the point that the Jews as a nation rejected their Messiah. Overlooked has been the fact that many Jews did believe him to be the Messiah. Among those Jews who did so were his twelve apostles and thousands of other Jews who were converted by their ministry. We declare that after his ministry in Palestine, the resurrected Messiah personally visited the house of Joseph in this land of America, taught them, blessed them, and renewed the everlasting covenant with them. His ministry to America is recorded in the Book of Mormon.
You will recall the episode of Joseph and his brethren in the Old Testament, and how he was sold into Egypt. You will remember that, because of a famine in the land of Canaan, his brethren were compelled to go to Egypt to purchase corn from the granaries. Joseph had risen to the position of governor over the land and was in charge of those granaries. One of the most touching scenes recorded in the Torah is when Joseph made himself known to his brethren: “I am Joseph your brother …” (Genesis. 45:4.)
To you, our friends of modern Judah, we declare, “We are Joseph, your brothers.” We claim kinship with you as descendants from our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We belong to the same family. We, too, are the house of Israel.
The brethren of Joseph in times past came to him during a famine for physical sustenance. Today there is another famine in the land, “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11.)
Of far greater value than the physical sustenance that Joseph of old provided his brethren is the sustenance that modern Joseph has to offer modern Judah today. We offer freely bread to eat and water to drink. I repeat, our interest in Judah is one of kinship, for we are your brothers. We come with a message and say, “We have ‘living water’ from its true source and well, which, if a man will drink it, ‘shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.’ ” (D&C 63:23.)
In Jacob’s blessing to Judah, he declared: “Judah is … as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?” (Genesis 49:9) We come as messengers bearing the legitimate authority to arouse Judah to her promises. We do not ask Judah to forsake her heritage. We are not asking her to leave father, mother, or family. We bring a message that Judah does not possess. That message constitutes “living water” from the Fountain of living water.
Our prophet, Joseph Smith, was given a commandment by the Lord to turn “the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews.” (D&C 98:17.) We are presently sending our messengers to every land and people whose ideology permits us entrance. We have been gathering Joseph’s descendants for 146 years. We hope you, who are of Judah, will not think it an intrusion for us to present our message to you. You are welcome to come to our meetings. We display no crosses. We collect no offerings. We honor your commitment to your unique heritage and your individuality. We approach you in a different way than any other Christian church because we represent the restored covenant to the entire house of Israel.
Yes, we understand the Jews, as David Ben-Gurion said. We understand them because we belong to the same house of Israel. We are your brothers—Joseph. We look forward to the day of fulfilment of God’s promise when “the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel.” (Jer. 3:18.)
As one who, by special assignment, has been given authority in the house of Israel today, I ask the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bless my brethren of Judah and have mercy on them; that the land to which Judah has returned after a long night of dispersion shall be fruitful, prosperous, and become the envy to her neighbors; that the nation Israel shall be delivered from all her oppressors and enemies; that Judah will “draw water out of the wells of salvation” (Isa. 12:3) and fulfill all those prophecies that God declared through his prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, even that prophecy through Zechariah that “the Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again” (Zech. 2:12).
I witness to you, my brothers and sisters of all the house of Israel that I know that the God of Heaven presides over the destinies of all his children. I witness that He has set his hand a second timeto recover His people from the four corners of the earth to the lands of their inheritance. I testify that Hehas restored his new covenant with Israel. I know the Book of Mormon is a truthful account of God’s dealings with the house of Joseph, that its testimony is true, and that it is the Word of the Lord to the Gentiles, Jews, and all the house of Israel. I further witness that Joseph Smith was what he represented himself to be, a prophet of the living God and a messenger of the new covenant to Israel. I would urge all to give heed to the message given by God through him.