Dennis Prager was in classic form this rainy Saturday morning, 2-14-98, as he spoke before 200 persons at his liberal Los Angeles synagogue on the week's Torah portion - Yithro (Jethro) which he says is the most important Torah portion. It contains the Ten Commandments.
Jews refer to the Ten Commandments as the Ten Statements. Ten Commandments is a Christian term. Jews and Christians also divide them differently.
The Jewish perspective begins with the verse: "I am the Lord thy God who took thee out of Egypt, out of the land of bondage."
Prager said he just realized how this tied in with his recent thinking on happiness. According to the original Hebrew, the phrase means that God did us a favor. Therefore, we should be grateful, and act out of gratitude towards him by doing His will.
Prager has no problem with those who do God's will because God said so, but he says that it is more happiness-inducing for us to do God's will out of gratitude.
DP pointed out that if God took the Jews out of Egypt so they could be free, then he was ethno-centric to racist. Rather, God took the Jews out of Egypt so they could do His will - take ethical monotheism to the world.
DP then moved on to the second statement - "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
Prager has lectured and written exhaustively on false gods. He notes that no one ever acknowledges that they worship a false god. The worshippers of Ba'al did not think they worshipped a false god. DP agreed with the Talmudic statement that he who denies false gods, it is as though he kept the entire Torah. [The Talmud says this about many things - if you do X or Y, it is as though you kept the whole Torah. It is a way for an individual Talmudic rabbi to emphasize a point.]
Prager says God is the source of morality. God is the one "ends" in life. Everything else in life is to be a means to God and His moral demands.
DP says he gets lots of mail from people who say that money is a false god. Prager disagrees. He points out that the greatest evils have not been committed to make more money. Prager holds Nazism and Communism as history's greatest evils. Prager understands that money is simply a medium of value, a means of exchange. True false gods include art, education and health.
Prager says that he gets the most negative mail about the seriousness of secondary smoke. His second source for negative mail is a misunderstanding of the Third Commandment, frequently translated "Do not take God's name in vain." Prager says that it is better translated "Do not carry God's name in vain." It has nothing to do with saying "God dammit." Rather, it is saying that one should not appear religious, should not carry God's name, and then do evil, for this discredits the best source for making a good world - God-based ethics. Orthodox Jews throwing feces on women praying at the Western Wall, or Christian inquisitors or Islamic terrorists harm religion far more than any group of atheists.
Prager says that he gets loads of negative mail from old Protestant ladies taking him to task for saying "Oh my God or Geez "
Prager wants to write a book one day on Stupidity and Religion. He says it would have to be published after his death or it might cause his premature demise. He referred to the Orthodox Jewish practice of writing God "G-d." Prager sarcastically said he wanted to outreligious the religious by writing God "---." Then he said, dashes would be idolatry. How much more respectful would it be to write nothing, just a blank for God's name. Prager says this "G-d" stuff was not the practice in Orthodox life when he grew up.
The fourth commandment is to keep the Sabbath. Prager says there is no nobility in him keeping the Sabbath. He does it for selfish reasons. It is his favorite time of the week. A time to put workaday concerns aside. He is convinced that all things being equal, Sabbath keepers have better health than those who do not keep the day holy. DP would love to be tested between 3PM Friday and 7PM, to compare the level of stress in his body.
DP says that he envies those who do not keep kochure but he feels sorry for those who do not keep the Sabbath.
Prager then talked about the Fifth commandment, to honor parents. He pointed out that at his shul as a kid, the congregation rose when the rabbi was given an aliyah (call to the Torah) even though many members of the shul wanted the rabbi fired. They were not honoring the rabbi, so much as his position. Same with the news media and its practice of rising when the President of the US enters a news conference.
[Prager keeps referring to the news media as the "press,' instead of acknowledging the large media contingent (TV and radio) of the new news media.]
P. gave several personal revelations during his talk. He mentioned that a psychologist who gave him therapy had recently died. While in therapy years ago, Prager had told him about some childhood trauma (age five). The psychologist told P. that he suspected that the event did not occur the way P. related it to him. Dennis said he had two reactions to the psychologist's statement. One, he wanted to punch him. Two, he thought about how we often choose to remember the past a certain way.
P. says he is deeply grateful to his parents that all his limbs are in tact. He says that most of us should be grateful to our parents for simply being alive, as it is so difficult to raise children. He remembered the time his son David announced, "I am a bird," and jumped out the window. P. said, "stupid me for not telling him that he wasn't a bird."
On Friday's radio show, Dennis said that he always sent his mother flowers on Mother's Day. The only day of the year that he does so. P says it is not normal for sons to overflow with love for their mothers and to constantly want to call, share feelings and send flowers.
Prager noted that the Fifth Commandment serves as a bridge between the first commandments which deal with man-to-God issues, and the last ones that deal with human to human issues. P. noted that this is a favorite foundation for rabbis to float away with eloquence.
P says that the most serious mistranslation of the Hebrew Bible, is to confuse the original "Thou shalt not murder" with "Thou shalt not kill." There are two words in English and Hebrew for killing. Immoral killing is murder. The sixth commandment refers to murder.
Prager then covered not committing adultery, pointing out the complexities in the matter while reiterating that a couple should confine their sexuality to their marriage, even if they wanted to play outside, and even if each gave the other permission to do so. Society would collapse without marital monogamy, says P.
Number eight. Do not lie in court. P. would like to see enacted the ancient Jewish principle that witnesses who lie in court receive the punishment that would've been inflicted on the plaintiff. For instance, if a person falsely and knowingly testifies that the plaintiff murdered, then the witness should be put to death.
As for "Do not covet." P. says to distinguish between wanting a house or wife or car similar to one's neighbor and not wanting one's neighbor's property.
As for stealing, P. was against it.
While Dennis preached, his five year old son Aaron ran around the synagogue chasing girls. A boy after my own heart.
My friend Chris responded to my post with this:
I hate to be the one to ask this question. But.
Are Dennis' activities on his Sabbath fair grist for unsolicited written commentary, for world-wide distribution?
Is it just me, or is it indeed an invasion of Mr. Prager's privacy to follow him into and then detail comments he makes at his Temple while teaching the Torah? Comments he himself did not reven ecord? If the writer were to confront/overhear Mr. Prager using the bathroom afterwards, would whatever he heard as well be open to reportage?
Prager cannot even teach Torah to members of his own synagogue without worrying what type of coverage he may be getting?
I am disgusted that things that Mr. Prager does in- and desires to keep-private not be respected. That someone would abuse the privaledge of knowing where Mr. Prager attends synagogue to further his personal financial/social wants is the worst. If Mr. Prager wanted this lecture public, he would have taped it to offer it publically- as he has done before.
I think it patently unfair to follow him into his schul and report what he does - good or bad. This is a religious and holy activity, and he has a right to have his Sabbath observance respected as private. Everything he does at all times is not for general public consumption.
This may have been something that other's wanted to hear. Some may have wanted to hear what he said to his wife or son afterwards as well. Is it fair to follow him from shul to eavesdrop to report that? To interview Prager's highschool buddies and post whatever sexually-explicit stories they may "seem" to remember?
Mr. Prager made clear to the writer in question -long ago - his desire that this type of activity stop. His assistant has also made clear her disapproval.
So have other of Prager's associates. Yet it continues, and indeed gets more egregious over time.
Where does it end, Luke? And where does the support for this gossip end from members of this list?