“Judah Must Return,” Ensign, May 1972, 94
The setting was a hotel dining room in Jerusalem. Because I was a foreigner in a group of Jewish guests of the hotel, one of them asked what had brought me to Israel. I explained that I was studying Hebrew. Considerable interest seemed to be manifest in my having come from the United States to study their language, and as the conversation progressed I remarked, “I believe you will be pleased to know that the church I belong to—the ‘Mormon’ Church—has long been interested in the ingathering of the Jewish people.”
“Is that so?” one of the diners inquired. “Tell us about this interest.”
“In the early part of the nineteenth century,” I began, “Joseph Smith, the prophet founder of this Mormon Church, predicted that in this day and age the Jews would return to Jerusalem. In fact, in 1841 Orson Hyde, one of his associates in the leadership of the Church, made a special trip to Jerusalem. When he got here he went out to the Mount of Olives and offered a prayer, which we regard as a dedicatory prayer, in behalf of the Jews, that they would be moved upon by the spirit of the return; in behalf of the climate and soil, that they would be favorable to the support of a large population; and in behalf of the political governments of the world, that they would cooperate to make the Jewish settlement possible.”
I hadn’t meant to deliver a lecture, but the whole group had stopped eating and was listening intently, so I continued.
“Furthermore, I believe you will be interested to know that Joseph Smith not only prophesied the Jewish gathering but also predicted that there would be a temple built here in Jerusalem before the coming of the Messiah.”
I was referring to Joseph Smith’s prediction that “Judah must return, Jerusalem must be rebuilt, and the temple, and water come out from under the temple … and all this must be done before the Son of Man will make His appearance.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 337.)
My reference to the future temple brought a surprising response from one man, who I later learned was a rabbi. With obvious hostility he declared, “Why, not even the most ambitious Jewish dreamer visualizes the prospect of our ever building a temple!”
Just then the telephone rang, and someone informed the rabbi that the call was for him. Not until he had stepped out did it occur to me to say:
“By the way, isn’t there a prayer in your prayer book that you have been using every Friday night over the centuries in behalf of the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and in behalf of the restoration of your ancient temple?”
The dining room was suddenly very quiet. Finally someone spoke up and said, “Yes, that’s true.”
“Then may I add my faith to your prayers,” I replied, “that the time will come when Joseph Smith’s prophecies and your prayers will be fulfilled, and there will be a temple standing here in Jerusalem before the coming of the Messiah?”
A woman said, “Sometimes it does seem as if Providence has directed the ingathering of the Jews.”
I told the group I was quite sure that that was true.
Afterwards I thought how very strange it was that a stranger from a distant land should be telling them that God was helping them, when somehow they should have been telling me.
I left Israel in the early part of October 1956, about three weeks before the outbreak of fighting that followed the Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal. I returned to my studies at the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia and one day found myself repeating to a quite different audience the things that I had said at the dinner table in Jerusalem. It was at the close of an anthropology class. The professor, Dr. Raphael Patai, noted for his books and articles on peoples and customs of the Middle East, was speaking.
“Mr. Ricks, in your studies of the backgrounds of the Zionist movement, who have you found to be the first pre-Herzlian Christian Zionist?”
Because Theodor Herzl was the founder of the Zionist movement in 1897, he was asking whom I had found to be the first Christian advocate of the Jewish return before 1897. I told him that I had found somebody who went back to the year 1830.
“Eighteen-thirty!” was his startled response. “Why, that was more than fifty years before the Zionist movement began.”
“Yes,” I replied. “I know it. I know it very well.”
“Who on earth could that have been?”
“Joseph Smith, the founder of my church,” I answered.
“Do you mean to say that as early as the year 1830 your Joseph Smith was advocating the Jewish return?”
“Yes, sir. Furthermore, I think you will be interested to know”—and here I was quite conscious of the fact that I was repeating essentially what I had said to the dinner table guests a few weeks earlier in Jerusalem—“that in 1841 he appointed one of his associates in the leadership of the Church to go to Jerusalem to dedicate it to the return of the Jews.”
“Did he go?” he asked.
“Yes, indeed, he did go.”
“What on earth did he do when he got there?”
“He went to the top of the Mount of Olives and offered a prayer, which we regard as a dedicatory prayer, in behalf of the climate and soil that they would support a large population, in behalf of the political governments that they would cooperate, and in behalf of the Jews themselves that they would be moved upon by the spirit of the return.”
In astonishment he turned to a rabbi classmate of mine and exclaimed, “Who knows but what it helped!”
I told him I was quite sure that it had helped.
Dr. Patai left the college the following spring and became full-time research director of the Herzl Foundation in New York. In his new capacity he wrote, asking me to come to New York and present a paper to his organization entitled “Zionism and the Mormon Church.” I was also invited to bring two “prepared discussants” who could help answer questions and corroborate my statements. In response to the invitation, Dr. Ellis Rasmussen and Dr. Paul Andrus joined me in the venture. The paper was well received and was afterwards published by the Herzl Foundation as a chapter in its yearbook. (Herzl Yearbook Essays in Zionist History and Thought, vol. 5, pp. 147–74.)
As an aftermath of the presentation, a Jewish gentleman accosted the three of us and said, “What you have told us today is something amazing and new. Now, what I wonder is why you don’t tell the whole world about it.”
We informed him that our church had been trying for decades to tell the world our message, but that the world hadn’t been overly anxious to listen.
“What I mean,” he said, “is why don’t you publish a little pamphlet or something and distribute millions of copies all over the world. Since the Suez crisis last year the Arabs have been threatening again to drive the Jews of Israel into the sea, and maybe your church could get its message, that God has ordained the Jewish return, broadcast far enough and fast enough to tilt the balance of world opinion at this crucial time.”
We thanked him for the suggestion, although we somehow knew that the kind of salvation the restored Church of Christ had to offer the Jews was not political but spiritual.
These and other experiences have left the writer with the impression that Joseph Smith’s prophetic role in relation to the gathering of the Jews (only a hint of which this article provides) is a powerful witness to his prophetic inspiration. And since the Jewish return is part of the prophesied preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ, this modern phenomenon suggests that the Lord’s coming may not be far away.