March 4, 2000
I listened to an interview Friday morning of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (click here for a collection of his columns on ethics) by his friend Dennis Prager on KABC radio. The rabbi has just written the book that I was thinking of writing six years ago, when I decided instead to write a history of hardcore. Here is an excerpt from the rabbi's new book that I've taken from Amazon.com.
The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living
By Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
On Hearing a Siren
What is your reaction when you are talking with a friend and your conversation is suddenly interrupted by the piercing wail of an ambulance siren? Is it pure sympathy for the person inside -- or about to be picked up by -- the ambulance, or do you feel some measure of annoyance? Similarly, how do you react when you are awakened from a deep sleep by a series of clanging fire trucks or the wail of a police car?
I am embarrassed to admit that, along with many others, my initial reaction to such noises is often impatience and annoyance rather than empathy. My friend Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, known throughout the Jewish world as "Reb Zalman," suggests that whenever we hear the sound of a passing ambulance we offer a prayer that the ambulance arrive in time. Similarly, whenever our sense of calm is interrupted by fire trucks, we should pray to God that the trucks arrive in time to save the endangered people and home. We should also pray that no firefighter be injured. And when we hear police sirens, we should implore God that the police respond in time to the emergency.
Reb Zalman's suggestion is profound. By accustoming ourselves to uttering a prayer at the very moment we feel unjustly annoyed, we become better, more loving people. The very act of praying motivates us to empathize with those who are suffering and in need of our prayers. Furthermore, imagine how encouraging it would be for those being rushed to a hospital to know that hundreds of people who hear the ambulance sirens are praying for their recovery.
Speaking to a Jewish group once in Baltimore, I shared Reb Zalman's suggestion. After my talk, several people commented on how moved they were by this idea, but one woman seemed particularly emotional when she spoke of this suggestion. When she was ten, she told me, she had been awakened from a deep sleep by passing fire trucks. It was almost one in the morning, and now, twenty-five years later, she still remembered her first response: it was so unfair that her sleep had been ruined.
The next morning she learned that her closest friend, a girl who lived only a few blocks away, had died in the fire. Ever since, she told me, whenever she hears fire trucks go by, she prays that they arrive at their destination in time.
Loving one's neighbor is usually carried out through tangible acts, by giving money or food to those in need, by stepping in and offering assistance to a neighbor who is ill, or by bringing guests into one's home. But sometimes loving is expressed through a prayer that connects us to our neighbor, even when we have no way of knowing just who our neighbor is.
Week 1, Day 3 Tuesday
The Purchase That Is Always Forbidden
One may not buy wool, milk, or kids from shepherds. Nor may one buy wood or fruit from the watchmen of orchards. . . . [Even in instances where it is permitted to buy something], in all cases in which the seller asks that the goods be hidden, it is forbidden [to make such a purchase]. . . . -- Mishna, Bava Kamma 10:9
Common sense lies behind this ancient ruling. There is no way you can know for certain that the shepherds or watchmen have stolen the items from their employers, but common sense suggests that if they are offering for sale precisely those items they are paid to guard, they have probably acquired them illegally.
In modern terms, imagine that the checkout man at your local supermarket meets you on the street and tells you he can deliver dairy goods to your house at half the price you pay at the supermarket that employs him. You can't be certain that he is acquiring the products illegally, but nonetheless, Jewish law says that in such a case you should regard the person as guilty until proven innocent, and refuse to purchase food from him.
Similarly, one sees on the streets of many American cities people selling videos of recently released movies for a fraction of what they cost in stores. Since reason suggests that such films have been "pirated" (illegally copied) or stolen -- how else can one account for the cheap price at which they are being sold? -- Jewish law would prohibit purchasing them.
As a rule, otherwise honest people who buy stolen merchandise continue to regard themselves as honest, and certainly see themselves as being on a higher moral rung than the people from whom they have purchased their goods. Maimonides makes it clear that Jewish law does not share this view: "It is prohibited to buy from a thief any property he has stolen, such buying being a great sin, since it encourages criminals and causes the thief to steal other property. For if a thief finds no buyer, he will not steal" (Mishneh Torah, "The Laws of Theft" 5:1).
An actual, if less obvious, instance of dealing in stolen goods, the insider stock-trading scandal, occurred in the late 1980s in the New York financial markets; in that case, a financier paid employees of law firms and financial institutions to inform him when companies with which they dealt were going to be bought out. Knowing that the stock prices in those companies would rise substantially, the man bought shares and, over a number of years, made tens of millions of dollars in profit. When his scheme eventually was exposed, he, along with the people who supplied him with the information, was sent to prison.
From my understanding of Judaism's perspective, purchasing information that the seller has no right to market is yet another way in which a person traffics in stolen goods. Very simply, if someone is trying to sell you something that is not his to sell -- whether goods or information -- you have no right to buy. As it is written in Proverbs (29:24), "He who shares with a thief is the enemy of his own soul."
Luke: Rabbi Telushkin writes a regular column on Beliefnet.com. Here's an excerpt from his latest column on prostitution and the Marry A Millionaire Fox TV show:
Although the show appealed to the lowest form of human greed, I don't automatically condemn it as immoral, probably for the same reason that your friends don't. The women who appeared on the program knew exactly why they were going on (to marry a rich man), and the man knew exactly why they wanted to marry him (because he was rich). Such behavior is greedy, even loathsome, but it's not, in my view, immoral.
Is prostitution immoral? In my view, it's not--in theory, anyway. (In practice, prostitution is very often immoral because it involves young women being abused by pimps; many of these women come from emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive homes, so the choices they make to become prostitutes are often not really free-will decisions.) I believe that prostitution is debasing to the human spirit and that it's unholy, because it transforms the act of loving into a business transaction. But if a woman freely chooses (that is, she could earn money doing other types of work) to accept money from a man in exchange for sex, I don't see the act in and of itself as immoral.
I realize that many people, particularly those on the religious right and feminists on the left, would disagree with me. I'm somewhat puzzled by the feminist objections, since feminists are committed to the belief that a woman should have the right to do what she wants with her body. Does that mean that a woman should have the right to do what she wants with her body only when she wants to abort a fetus but not when she wants to sell her body for sex? Again, I'm not advocating prostitution; it's about as unholy an act as I can imagine. I'm only arguing that if the relationship is entered into freely, it's not clear to me why this should be condemned as immoral.
Devil's advocate: While listening to Dennis Prager this morning, they were discuss the Bob Jones ban on interracial dating. The first person to call in was a seemingly smart, middle-class black woman that said she supports Bob Jones policy, because she doesn't want black men dating out of their race(although she herself said she wouldn't necessarily be opposed to dating a white man). And anytime the subject of IR dating comes up on these shows, the only ones you have that seem to oppose it are black women. Since you said you know many other middle class black women, do you find that these sentiments are representative? Are those black women that complain about not finding men just whiners for the most part or do you think there is any truth to what they are saying? Maybe they just aren't desirable because they don't act in such a way, but then maybe they are being shunned by black men and other men for no good reason at all, I don't know.
Dennis Prager praised the critically panned film "Hanging Up." He (and Mrs Prager agrees) said it was funny and good and nice, and an accurate portrayal of women and their concerns.
P says critics are jaded and simply nice entertaining films do not excite them.
Prager said what happened to the NY immigrant Amadou Diallo was a tragedy, not an evil. P. says the black and civil rights activists believe that malevolent police are too quick to kill black people.
P believes the killing was more tragic than criminal. P notes that four members of the twelve person jury were black.
But this does not mean that we can't learn anything from the tragedy.
Liberal New York Times columnist Bob Herbert writes: "The problems that the cops who killed Amadou Diallo have come to epitomize will remain: the humiliation and brutalization of thousands of innocent New Yorkers, most of them black and brown, by police officers who are arrogant, tyrannical, poorly trained and often racist."
In his second hour, Prager condemned Bob Jones University for banning interracial dating. Prager said that was unChristian and he asked conservative Christians to condemn this.
I, Luke, remember interracial dating being banned at the Seventh Day Adventist college I grew up on in Australia.
P condemned the liberal media for not pointing out how Bill Bradley's supporter, director Mike Lee, at one time refused to give interviews to white journalists. Lee says he gives an evil eye to black and white couples.
In his third hour, Prager discussed child custody after a divorce. Prager condemned how women who have primary custody are allowed to move out of state and away from the father of their kids. Prager said that he and his ex-wife Janet have had joint custody. Their son David spends one week at Dennis's home and one week at Janet's. And they've done this since David was four.
P says that therapists and psychologists who say that children of divorce should have only one home, rather than joint custody, "should die."
Prager has long said that he'd wait until his son was 18 before Prager discussed his divorce in depth.
Jazzy writes about Prager on alt.radio.talk: "If you bother to listen to him PONTIFICATE what you come away with is his hate for women. He has actually stated that he believes males should be the "patriarch" of the home. He tries to sugarcoat it and make it seem benign but how many of you guys would like to your wives to be the "matriarch" of the home. Dennis Prager is a bag fat bag of stinky hot air."
Turner: "Ever since I can remember, Prager has taken the stance that porn is not a contributor to those who commit sex crimes. (rape, molestation, etc.) He doesn't believe that people can get addicted to porn. (does he know the number one sites that are hit on the web?) Since I heard him take that stance originally around 1994 on KABC-L.A. I lost the little bit of respect I had for him. Perhaps he has the addiction."
Prager asked: Who's more blind in love? Prager says men are more blind falling in love and women are more blind about staying in love.
Men fall in love with their eyes, a superficial way. But women often stay with men who abuse them.
Dr. Laura recently blasted "The Zone," Dr. barry Sears's low carbohydrate diet which Prager endorses.
Turner writes on alt.radio.talk: "Ever since I can remember, Prager has taken the stance that porn is not a contributor to those who commit sex crimes. (rape, molestation, etc.) He doesn't believe that people can get addicted to porn. (does he know the number one sites that are hit on the web?) Since I heard him take that stance originally around 1994 on KABC-L.A. I lost the little bit of respect I had for him. Perhaps he has the addiction."
Many listeners who enjoy Dennis Prager on KABC radio enjoy Phil Hendrie on KFI. Aaron Gross writes: The hard part was learning that he [Hendrie] was different from the rest of KFI's regular line-up that tends to say outrageous stuff they don't believe. It reminded me of the coaching my wife and I got before we went on (and won) the Newlywed Game years ago. The producers said flat-out, even if we agreed, to pile on the cheese and escalate any semblence of a spat for the audience. Rule #1: Never back down, even if your partner is right.
When I learned Hendrie was doing all the voices, I realized it was brilliant. It's hard to imagine his not losing his composure while switching persona. For the uninitiated, Hendrie's show starts with a "guest" (Hendrie through a voice modifier) with an outrageous premise (a school librarian who believes in corporal punishment for children who bring books back late; someone who is striking in support of the UPS drivers, who believes that the drivers ought to be able to honk from the street and have you go and pick up your own parcel; a 2nd grade teacher who has daily "field trips" to local businesses where the children get to "try" the work, like at a dry cleaner, small item assembly, whatever). Invariably, someone not familiar with the show gets sucked in and starts SCREAMING at the guest. One of the gimmicks used is that if someone is really irate, they'll be kept on hold a little while, so they'll be really steamed by the time they get on the air. Hendrie is a genius.
Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire?
Prager discussed the FOX TV show "Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire?"
While Prager of course viewed it as shallow and demeaning, he thought it touched on some important truths about human nature. That many women would be happy to marry a man if all they knew about him was that he was a multi-millionaire. And that many men would be happy to marry a woman if all they knew was that she was beautiful.
Prager discussed a column by Charles Krauthammer in his first hour. Kraut criticized Christopher Reeves for raising hopes about a cure for spinal cord injuries.
Then in his second hour, Prager discusses the need for men to be alone with other men. A caller suggested strip clubs. Prager did not realize that men talk to other men at strip clubs. The other alternative is religious groups, like synagogue mens clubs.
Singlemom writes on the Prager List to ChrisDnld about the KABC's low
ratings: "You also try to mitigate his responsibility for the KABC
tank because DP is only on for a few hours a day. What you also fail to
point out is that Prager has humbly boasted on air that he had a hand
in KABC hiring both Larry Elder and Al Rantel. That adds up to 10 hours
of KABC programming a day - "The Prager Troika"! And you neglect
to point out that Prager's show has been dropped in one or more of the
Jazzy writes: Prager's topics can be summarized as follows:
Feb 4, 2000
In the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, www.jewishjournal.com, the editor and publisher of New York Jewish Week writes about creating Bar Mitzvah buzz:
Consider what Marty and Phyllis Flashner did a couple of weeks ago in honor of their daughter Jill's bat mitzvah at Temple Sholom in Greenwich, Conn. In addition to having Jill deliver a D'var Torah and lead the services on Shabbat, the Flashners brought in Dennis Prager, the Los Angeles-based national radio talk show host and author, as a scholar-in-residence for the weekend, and the synagogue members are still raving.
"It was a way of thanking Dennis, and introducing our community to him and his ideas," explained Marty Flashner, a tax accountant. He said that Prager, whom he had never met, has had a powerful Jewish influence on his life over the last five years, through his writings and tapes, and has made him 'a serious Jew.'
"I send my kids to day school, I keep kosher, I put on tefillin every morning," he said, as a direct result of Prager's combination of traditional and innovative Jewish ethics and philosophy.
In preparing for Jill's bat mitzvah, Phyllis Flashner called a number of friends of friends in Greenwich to ask how much they spent for such a simcha. "The number she kept hearing was $35,000, for these big parties," said Flashner. "That just wasn't our style."
Flashner came up with the idea, instead, of bringing Prager as a scholar-in-residence for the weekend. "I wasn't trying to make a statement," said Flashner, "but it struck a nerve with peolpe that this is a better way to celebrate a young person's coming of age."
Luke: Feb 4. Prager spent his first two hours on miracles and alleged communication between the dead and living. Numerous persons called up with accounts of miracles or signs of divine intervention, including Prager's assistant Laurie Zimmet.
In the third hour, Prager hosted his oldest son David, who's just turned 17 yo. David expressed his gratitude that his parents rarely fought despite their divorce, for it makes him most uncomfortable when one of his parents criticizes the other.
David said he did not have a great love of learning.
Here's a good topic for a Prager show:
From the WSJ.com: ...Saul Bellow, whose forthcoming novel, "Ravelstein,"
is based on the life of the late political philosopher Allan Bloom, who
was Mr. Bellow's friend and colleague at the University of Chicago. The
novel, the 84-year-old Mr. Bellow's first full-scale work in more than
a decade, reveals that Bloom was a homosexual who died of AIDS, a truth
long kept quiet out of respect for Bloom's privacy.
I watched Prager deliver the sermon this morning at his temple, Stephen S. Wise. Public speaking is his strongest of many communications mediums.
He's an engaging speaker, full of self deprecating humor.
He made two main points today about the "Yitro" Torah portion which contains the Ten Commandments.
One. The importance of the Fifth Commandment, to honor father and mother. Prager finds it to believe that someone could honor God without honoring his parents. This commandment teaches us that there are things higher than ourselves worthy of honor.
Prager relayed some funny stories about raising kids. He says he is a soft father, perhaps too soft.
Though one time, at 3:30AM, for about the sixth time, he put his son back in his bed. And Prager threw his son into bed. His son replied, 'Dad, I'm not a baseball.' And Prager says he crumbled at that remark.
Prager plans to have his oldest son David on his radio show next week. David is turning 17.
"Yitro" was David's Bar Mitzvah portion. And four years ago, when Prager, at the Sephardic Temple on Wilshire Blvd, was called to the Torah to say a blessing in front of his son, Prager cried.
For two chief reasons. It was his son's Bar Mitzvah, and two, Prager believes that the Ten Commandments are the best solution to evil.
On his radio show Friday, a man called up and told Dennis that he could do a considerably better job of writing the Ten Commandments than the Biblical author, by including such admonitions as to love, and to pursue social justice.
Prager disagreed. His second main point today was that the five ethical commands are all phrased in the negative - do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie in court, do not covet. Prager says 'Do not steal' is the most important of all, and covers all Ten Commandments.
While it is not enough on a personal level to simply abstain from doing evil, says Prager, if all society kept the five ethical laws, we would live in a heaven on earth.
Prager said that prohibiting these five specific evils was far more morally effective than admonishing people to love. Prager says our society may be overdosing on love, as you can overdose on anything.
On his radio show Friday, Prager had his friend the psychiatrist Dr. Steve Marmer on for the second hour, the Happy Hour. They discussed the role of therapy in happiness. Dr. Marmer said that one third of therapists are destructive and one third are useless. Prager agreed.
They both agreed that virtually everyone could benefit from good therapy.
Dr. Marmer phrased it in terms of taking control of your life, like a captain guides a ship. Don't be held emotionally hostage. Find out what drives you.
SSW had a bigger crowd than normal, about 150 persons.
On his show this week, Prager praised Hopalong Cassidy's Creed for American Boys and Girls (hopalong.com).
When DennisPrager.com links to other websites, it does so within its
frame system which exposes him to liability. A Microsoft website was successfully
sued for doing something similar, because this method of linking adds
the content of other sites to your site.
Prager devoted a couple of hours to the question of should one be proud to be an American. What about all the bad things the country has done, like slavery.
Prager says it is good to be a proud American because this country has done more good than harm (when judged against the performances of other countries).
Nelson writes on alt.radio.talk:
"Anyone catch the recent Dennis Prager show where he was talking about Communist countries and the court systems. First, he got very upset and hung up on a caller who stated that someone would have about as much of a chance at justice in a Chinese court as the Cuban boy's family would in an (anti Castro) court in Miami. I found Prager's reaction to be quite interesting since he spends a considerable amount of time bashing the U.S. courts. His favorite phrase is about the CONTEMPT he has for the court system.. He sure did an about face on the issue with this caller.
"Later in the same show he did a bit of blowing his own horn when he said "if any of you wonder how I'm so knowledgeable about Communism, it's because I studied it for my master degree at Columbia". One of Prager's favorite themes is how inept the university system is and how higher education actually makes you stupid. So, apparently everyone who gets a masters degree or doctorate becomes unable to think rationally---except for Dennis, who becomes an expert in his area of study. Amazing!"
Doug Hill writes on the Prager list: DP is fond of the G.K. Chesterton quote: "When people stop beleiving in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything." The article below offers some empirical data that argues things are a lot more complicated (if not simply otherwise) than Chesterton's quote.
AMHERST, N.Y-- Are people who are devoutly religious also believers in
UFOs, ESP, and psychic ability? Conventional wisdom has tended to answer
"no," but a new study published in the January/February 2000
issue of Skeptical
Prager deplored a talkshow host in Buffalo asking Mrs. Hillary Clinton if she had always been sexually faithful to Bill. Prager says public figures should boycott members of the press who ask them about their sex lives.
In his third hour, Prager discussed the return of the girdle. Not one caller thought this was a bad thing.
January 19, 2000
By Tom Looney @ http://www.radiodigest.com:
Mr. Morality Pants Says What?
Recently, while preaching loquaciously on the air about his micro-macro view of the world, KABC's Dennis Prager once again took liberal potshots at the 1960s. "You can't name me anything positive that came out of the 1960s," Prager mantra'd. (Note to self: Send Dennis Prager a picture of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon ... and Martin Luther King, Jr. marching through Selma ... and Hazel baking cookies for Mr. B.)
One caller phoned into KABC and asked Prager, "What about the music?" "I'm not really familiar with the music of the 60s," Prager socially retardedly retorted. "I spent most of my free time studying and listening to classical music back then."
What a doofus. Can you just picture him, hurrying to class wearing his pointy-toed loafers, humming Bach with a yamika on his big ol' head?
Dr. Laura, who also went to college in the '60s, says she never did drugs, even though they were all around. (She wouldn't lie, would she?) Thank God for big favors, though. If Dennis Prager and Dr. Laura spent their college days like normal people, gobbling down LSD, smoking pot and listening to Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, we'd be stuck each day listening to Royal Oaks on KABC and Barbara Whitesides on KFI.
The socially retarded "outside-looking-in" chip on both of their shoulders is what makes Prager and Schlessinger and most good talk show hosts intriguing to hearken. In order to do three or four hours of preaching, nagging, punchlining, pontificating, opining and improvising about social and political issues every day, it's necessary to have some "serious issues" yourself! Despite my looney barbs, I listen to both of them all the time.
Jan 3, 2000
About two years ago, Prager did a show on Y2K. Prager said he is almost never alarmist, but this Y2K problem sounded like something worthy of becoming alarmed about. Now we know Y2K has turned out to be a dud.
Prager pointed out that he had no subsequent shows on Y2K. He relied on his common sense that it seemed worthy of attention.
Prager wondered what type of person buys a generator and hoards food and who doesn't? Prager did not buy a generator or hoard food or withdraw lots of money from his bank.
Prager wondered if the $500 billion spent on the Y2K problem was excessive as Russia spent hardly anything and did not have Y2K problems.
In his second hour, Prager strongly opposed criminalizing the creation and viewing of computer generated child porn. Prager believes that viewing of pornographic images is but a man indulging his fantasies, and is not inherently harmful. Prager opposes child porn because of the damage it does to the children posing.
Prager wrote an essay opposing Harvard's firing of the Divinity dean who was found with thousands of pornographic images on his Harvard-owned computer. Prager finds this crackdown on porn images frightening. Perhaps it is just frightening or threatening to Prager personally?
Prager took a call from Rick, a professional photographer on the way to a porn shoot. Rick supported the ban on computer generated child porn images because it would allow people to take pictures of the real thing, of children, and then claim the images were computer generated. And there is no way to prove the difference if you don't have the photo negative.