Of course, Obama's slide in the polls and Romney's moderate politics and comparative popularity among all voters might explain those numbers. But it's
also possible that -- consciously or subconsciously -- Jewish
voters feel more of a kinship with a man whose ethnic and religious
experience in American has a surprising number of parallels their own.
In April 2011, Romney's wife told
a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition that she felt at home with the group because, "Mitt and I can appreciate coming from another heritage." Certainly,
Romney's biography touches upon classic Jewish themes of cultural "separateness".
As journalist Benjamin Wallace-Wells observes of Romney's early career as a management consultant at Bain Capital: "Romney wasn't a Wasp. He never really talked to his co-workers about
his Mormonism, but he sometimes joked with Jewish colleagues about how their
religions made them all outsiders." The former Massachusetts governor has even picked up some lingo from members of the tribe, as Jews sometimes refer to themselves. In a speech at Yeshiva University in April 2007, Romney said will to succeed at Bain
despite his outsider status was pure "chutzpah."
The faith that Romney grew up in has many fundamental
differences from Judaism, to say the least. The LDS Church is more authoritarian; its members emphasize conformity, submission, evangelism, and religious hierarchy. In
contrast, the Jewish rabbinical tradition favors debate and rejects efforts to
convert others. Unlike Mormons, Jews also don't ask for secrecy to their
rituals and don't attempt to bar nonbelievers from their places of worship (even if they don't exactly welcome them, either).
But there are intriguing similarities. Both groups
theologically define themselves as "chosen" by God to fulfill certain
prophesies. Mormons believe that they are descended through biblical Israel (usually
through the tribe of Ephraim), making the Jews their "cousins". Like their
"cousins," they refer to outsiders as "gentiles." Both cultures value
education, oppose marriage outside the community, have strict dietary rules,
and place an emphasis upon observing the Sabbath. They even share a sartorial tie: the devout in both faiths wear special
But the most crucial similarity is the two communities' historical story of
suffering. In the 19th century, the Mormons were chased across
the U.S. by Protestant mobs and even subject to an "extermination order" in
Missouri. The Church's founder, Joseph Smith, was murdered by vigilantes in
1844. From 1857-1858, the U.S. Army actually occupied Utah. Israel's first Prime
Minister, David Ben-Gurion, is reported
to have told future LDS President Ezra Taft Benson, "There are no people in
the world who understand Jews like the Mormons do."
Of course, the Mormon experience comes nowhere close to
the Jewish history of persecution. But what's more important is that the average
Mormon thinks it does. There is
scattered evidence of anti-Semitism in LDS history, but the sense of a shared
theology and history has translated into a genuine fondness on the part of
Mormons for all things Jewish. The fourth elected governor of Utah
was a Jew (Simon Bamberger, elected 1916) and the LDS Church provided funds to build the first Reform Synagogue in Salt Lake City. Mormons are discouraged from proselytizing in Israel and, since 1995, Mormons have stopped posthumously baptizing Jews who have died (an act they continue to perform for everyone else).