Additional Resource

A Time to Listen and Learn

By Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles


This address was given at the semiannual Jewish-Latter-day Saint Dialogue, held June 5, 2019 at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Israel.

I am grateful for the beautiful rendition we just heard. Thank you Rabbi Melchior for your excellent talk. We commend you for your exceptional efforts to promote open dialogue between different strands of Israeli society, religious peace between leaders of all religions, and bridges of coexistence and justice between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. It is an honor to share this occasion with you.

I also express appreciation to those who have led this Jewish-Latter-day Saint dialogue, Rabbi Mark Diamond, Dr. Steven Windmueller, Dr. Andy Reed, Dr. Shon Hopkin and also Elder Richard Holzapfel who has helped move this event forward in so many ways. We also thank Dr. James Kearl and the BYU Jerusalem Center administration for making this event possible.

I am personally grateful to all of you who have helped with this interfaith dialogue and the activities this evening that bring Rabbi Melchior and me together. Thank you for your efforts.

This evening we also welcome the students, staff, faculty, and friends of the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.

It is important for us to gather, talk, share, and discuss matters of the heart and mind. This evening, I have titled my talk “A Time to Listen and Learn.”

As I considered this topic, I thought about what I have heard and learned before that may be of interest to you.

Not surprisingly, thinking about standing in this room with its breathtaking view of the Old City, my mind focused on the people, land, and history of the Holy City of Jerusalem. It is a sacred place honored by three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Each of these religions’ faith is grounded in a sacred book. Sometimes Jews and Christians are specifically referred to as the “people of the book.” For them, that book is the Bible.

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew Bible is the only text produced in the Ancient Near East that is still read today as a religious book that impacts lives in a modern world as it did in the ancient world.

Today, people, both Jews and Christians, apply its priceless principles and timeless teachings so they can live better and more fulfilling lives.

Think for a moment of the two great commandments “love the Lord” and “love your neighbor.”[1] These profound teachings represent the highest ideals and make the world a much better place.

And as you know, they are found in the Hebrew Bible produced several millennia ago.

The Hebrew Bible has had and continues to have profound impacts on people of faith throughout the world, not just Jews and Christians. Among those who read and applied the teachings of the Bible was Mahatma Gandhi, a practicing Hindu who also was a trained lawyer, an Indian activist who led the Indian independence movement, and the father of the nonviolence movement adopted by Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

It also has had and continues to have a profound impact on the secular world as well.

Because of my legal education and the majority of my professional life as an attorney[2] before being called as a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have been impressed that the Hebrew Bible is the only ancient Near Eastern text where leaders, including kings and queens, are routinely criticized by the prophets.

Some scholars see in this the foundational idea of the rule of law. If so, this may be one of the greatest nonreligious legacies the Hebrew Bible has given to those living in Western-style democratic and pluralistic nations.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the rule of law as “The authority and influence of law in society, especially when viewed as a constraint on individual and institutional behavior; (hence) the principle whereby all members of a society (including those in government) are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes.”[3]

The story of King David illustrates this point.[4] I will read it from The Jewish Study Bible featuring The Jewish Publication Society translation.[5]

And the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich, and one poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb which he had bought and reared; and it grew up together with him and his sons; of his bread it would eat, and from his cup it would drink, and in his bosom it would lie, and it was to him like a daughter. And there came a wayfarer to the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd to prepare for the guest that had come to him, and he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for the man that had come to him.” And David became very angry at the man; and he said to Nathan: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this is liable to death. And the ewe lamb he shall repay fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” And Nathan said to David, “You are the man. So says the Lord the God of Israel: ‘I anointed you as king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. And I gave you the house of your master and your master’s wives in your midst, and I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that were too little, then would I add unto you like them. . . . Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in His eyes? You have smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and you have taken his wife for yourself as a wife, and you have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.’”[6]

Nathan, in a modern sense, not only criticized David but also made it clear that David was not above the Lord’s law. Nathan did so without apparent direct consequences or harm.

In a time when it “was good to be the king,”[7] when political leaders had the privilege of doing whatever they wanted to do, Nathan challenged King David in a way that would have been unthinkable in other ancient Near Eastern civilizations.

In addition to the rule of law, I also have an intense interest in religious freedom. I am particularly concerned that religions, religious leaders, and individuals of faith have protection from those in power when religious people speak and act according to their faith and accountability to God.

There is an interesting connection between Nathan’s encounter with King David and the challenge to King John in England[8] in 1215. Barons, bishops, and freemen forced the king to enter a peace treaty known as the Magna Carta, the Great Charter. It is profound in terms of its influence on democratic liberties. It is considered a “forerunner to the founding documents to the United States of America . . . and to the key articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published in 1948 by the United Nations.”[9]

It also reads, in part, “that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights in full and its liberties intact.” Further, the Magna Carta makes clear that the king is subordinate to both God and the law.

The crucial meetings leading to the Magna Carta were held at Runnymede, a meadow along the River Thames outside London, England. I visited the commemoration site in June 1962 while I was a young missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The beauty of the location and the significance of the Magna Carta made a strong impression on me. It was one of the reasons I decided to pursue law as a profession.

I see a direct line from the Hebrew Bible through English law to democratic societies today. Unfortunately, the rule of law and religious freedom function as a battleground in a modern war of words, ideas, and even military arms.

In addition to these thoughts about the Hebrew Bible, rule of law, and religious freedom, I also decided that it might be interesting to share some of the ideas that come from the Latter-day Saint sacred library.

Our library of scriptures includes the Bible and the writings found in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. These books represent our standard works—volumes of scripture officially accepted by the Church. These scriptures provide the framework for how members of our faith live their lives.

In 2016, my friend Robert Abrams, a four-time attorney general of New York, suggested to me that a delegation of Jewish leaders and several leaders of our faith, including Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and myself, should commemorate the 175th anniversary of Apostle Orson Hyde’s dedication of the Holy Land in October 1841. The Jewish delegation included former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Robert Abrams, and other prominent Jewish leaders. Some of our dialogue with each other was held in this magnificent facility.

Abrams, who had studied our people, indicated that he had discovered the following: “There are strong areas of common ground between [the Latter-day Saint] community and the Jewish community.” He stated, “Each has a fundamental focus on family; each places a very high value on education; each has a strong commitment to charitable giving; each demonstrates humanitarian concern and response when there are international catastrophes such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis around the globe; each has a history of disproportionate success due to ability, hard work, and determination; and each has been subjected to fierce persecution and prejudice.” As a side note, I told Robert Abrams at the time that although Latter-day Saints had suffered persecution and prejudice, there is no analogue, in all of history, to the Shoah or Holocaust, and there is no comparability to it.

I will cover most of the commonalities Robert Abrams listed. Because you are scholars, I will utilize our declared doctrine and our scripture canon to support these attributes.

The first I will mention is a fundamental focus on family. I know that this is a commonality between Latter-day Saint and Jewish families. Mary and I lived on the San Francisco Peninsula for 33 years, where we raised our three children. There were very few members of our Church who attended the schools our children attended. It was interesting that all three of them had several Jewish children among their closest friends. Our children found their Jewish friends had similar commitments to family, and it felt comfortable to be with them. Each of our children attended several bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs when they were 13 years old. They quietly cheered on their friends as they recited passages from the Torah as part of their religious duties and responsibilities.

Our Church doctrine on family is rooted in the Hebrew Bible’s first commandment to Adam and Eve in Genesis to multiply and replenish the earth and the sacredness of fidelity between a wedded husband and wife. A concise statement included in our modern-day revelatory canon reads as follows: “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God, and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations. . . . The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.”[10]

The second commonality is why we place such a high value on education. As described in our newsroom page, “Education lies close to the hearts of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and resonates with many of the other values [we] hold dear. Latter-day Saints love learning and are dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge. [Our] commitment to education, both as a principle and as a practice, is evident in [our] beliefs, teachings, and everyday activities. [We] affirm that education is a broad, lifelong pursuit with a variety of vital purposes. [We] have a unique understanding of what education is—a principle that recognizes the human soul as well as the intellect. Moreover, members of the Church have a tradition of education that is rich and longstanding, something [we] cherish and continue to maintain. Because [we] believe that education deserves [our] best efforts, Latter-day Saints afford it significant resources and energy.”[11]

Some of the scriptures that are at the basis of our commitment to educating the heart and mind are as follows:

  1. “The Glory of God is intelligence.”[12]
  2. “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”[13]
  3. “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.”[14]

Latter-day Saints have admired the Jewish community’s commitment to education. In every sphere of learning, the Jewish people have not only excelled but also have helped expand the boundaries of knowledge that have blessed the world. They have been a “leaven” in the age of discovery, exploration, and advancement.

The third commonality that Robert Abrams shared is “[E]ach has a strong commitment to charitable giving, [and] each demonstrates humanitarian concern and response when there are international catastrophes such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis around the globe.”

Again, a series of scripture verses highlight why Latter-day Saints are keenly interested in humanitarian efforts. Newsweek magazine described our faith in light of our efforts to take care of others:

No matter where [Church members] live, they find themselves part of a network of mutual concern; in [the Church’s] theology, everyone is a minister of a kind. . . it is a 21st-century covenant of caring. . . . This culture of taking care of one’s own almost certainly has its roots in the many decades of persecution the faithful endured on their long journey.[15]

It is not just other members of our Church that we reach out to in our efforts to make the world a better place. A University of Pennsylvania study reported the following:

Overall, researchers found that members of [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] are the most ‘prosocial’ members of American society.” “Regardless of where they live, they are very generous with their time and money,” [Ram Cnaan, a professor at the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania], an expert in faith-based social services and the lead researcher, said. “Through a theology of obedience and sacrifice and a strong commitment to tithing and service, Latter-day Saints are model citizens.”

One of the [Church’s] basic beliefs is that its members are called by God to serve others. Thus, practicing members of the . . . Church act under the belief that they are called to give time and expertise to church, society, and humanity. . . . Researchers found that active members of the . . . Church volunteer and donate significantly more than the average American. When it comes to the time they spend volunteering. . . . [a Latter-day Saint] contributes as much as seven times more than that of the average American.[16]

Here are a few of the many scripture verses that inspire Latter-day Saints to share time and money with others:

  1. “And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.”[17]
  2. “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”[18]

One area that Robert Abrams did not mention, but one that I believe is equally applicable and very important, is happiness and optimism. Another series of scripture verses from our canon highlight why Latter-day Saints emphasize these traits:

  1. “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”[19]
  2. “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”[20]

Added to these verses is something attributed to our founding prophet, Joseph Smith: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”[21]

As a result of these teachings, Latter-day Saints are often identified, along with American Jews, as the group that has the highest sense of well-being in the United States.

Several years ago, the Gallup organization released the results of a massive study on the link between religion and happiness, surveying nearly 700,000 people. According to this study, Latter-day Saints and Jews tied for first place, with a nearly 70 percent “Well-Being Index Composite Score.”[22]

Researchers wanted to know why Latter-day Saints score consistently high in these studies.

Psychology researcher Elisa Hunter told religion researcher and Church member Jana Riess several possible reasons why Latter-day Saints reflect happiness in their lives.[23]

  1. A pro-social orientation: “A lot of research suggests that [Latter-day Saints] are the most pro-social group in America.”

  2. A focus on family: The Church “has a large emphasis on Family Home Evening, family prayer, family meals, and family rituals. A review of 32 publications suggests that family rituals and routines are associated with childhood health, academic achievement, and improved marital satisfaction.”

  3. Purpose and meaning: “There is a substantial relationship between an individual having purpose and meaning in life and [his or her] well-being. [The Church of Jesus Christ’s] doctrine offers its members an explanation for the purpose of life.”

  4. Autonomy and agency: The motivation that drives behavior has a significant impact on well-being. Behavior that is self-motivated results in more positive outcomes. . . . [the Church’s] doctrine emphasizes agency, autonomy, and free-will.”

  5. Physical health: “There’s a lot of research, of course, on the negative consequences of smoking and drinking. The Word of Wisdom [the Churches’ health code] includes a range of healthy behaviors and supports the general idea that there’s a deep connection between our bodies and our minds. . . . This emphasis on health may explain in part why [Church members] have lower risk for cardiovascular disease and live, on average, 5 to 10 years longer than other people.[24]

I am grateful for the many areas where we share values that I believe are heaven blessed.

Let me share one more verse that provides Latter-day Saints a distinctive view of God—a loving God, a God who weeps.

Within a few months of the organization of the Church of Christ in April 1830, Joseph Smith recorded a sublime revelation, now found in the Pearl of Great Price. My friends, Terryl and Fiona Givens, highlighted for me the significance of a verse from this revelation that portrays a God whose heart beats in sympathy with ours, who set His “heart upon us before the world was formed, who fashioned the earth as a place of human ascent, not exile, and who has the desire and the capacity to bring the entire human family home again."[25]

This verse reads, “And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep? And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? . . . The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands . . . and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency. . . . and . . . commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood. . . . Misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”[26]

This seems to indicate that it is not just His children’s wickedness but their “misery” and not just their disobedience but their “suffering” that cause Him to weep.

To me, this scripture provides a window into God’s heart, mind, and soul—He is our living, loving Heavenly Father, and we are His children. As noted, He weeps with us as we suffer and rejoices as we do what is right in His sight. In my mind, I can imagine the tears shed as a result of the Shoah or Holocaust. He is a God of empathy who does not have a hand in what causes the suffering. He is the great consoler.


Thank you for your attention this evening. I hope my remarks were of some interest to you as we join together to seek understanding and build respect between our two communities. It is a time to listen to one another and learn from one another. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to do so.

As an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I repeat the priestly blessing as found in the Hebrew Bible: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.”[27] Amen.


[1]. Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

[2]. I spent the last few years of my career as a health care executive.

[3]. Oxford English Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

[4]. 2 Samuel 12.

[5]. The Jewish Study Bible: Featuring the Jewish Publication Society TANAKH, trans. by Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, Michael Fishbane (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

[6]. 2 Samuel 12.

[7]. A popular phrase coined by the American Jewish filmmaker Mel Brooks. History of the World, Part I is a 1981 American anthology comedy film written, produced, and directed by Mel Brooks. Brooks also stars in the film, playing five roles: Moses, Comicus the stand-up philosopher, Tomás de Torquemada, King Louis XVI, and Jacques.

[8]. Pocket Magna Carta: 1217 Text and Translation, (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2016).

[9]. Ibid, 2.

[10]. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, September 23, 1995.

[12]. Doctrine and Covenants 93:36–37.

[13]. Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.

[14]. Doctrine and Covenants 88:78–79.

[15]. Elise Soukup, “The Mormon Odyssey,” Newsweek, October 16, 2005;

[16]. Jill DeSanto, “Penn Research Shows That Mormons Are Generous and Active in Helping Others,” Penn Today, April 17, 2012,

[17]. Doctrine and Covenants 52:40.

[18]. Moses 7:18; emphasis added.

[19]. 2 Nephi 2:25; emphasis added.

[20]. Doctrine and Covenants 130:2.

[21]. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 225–56; see

[22].Frank Newport, Dan Witters, and Sangetta Agrawal, “In U.S., Very Religious Have Higher Well-Being Across All Faiths.” Gallup, February 16, 2012; See also,

[23]. Jana Riess, “5 Reasons Why Mormons Are Happier, Says Researcher,” Religion News Service, July 5, 2015; See also Elisa Hunter, Master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

[25]. See Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), flyleaf.

[26]. Moses 7:28–37; emphasis added.

[27]. Numbers 6:24–26.

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