Listening to Dennis Prager on KABC radio beginning in August of 1988 turned me on to Judaism. I read Prager’s book The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism and by December of 1989, I had decided to convert.
With a lifelong tendency towards extremism, I initially decided that I wanted to be holier than Dennis Prager. Dennis didn’t pretend to be anything he wasn’t. He didn’t pretend to be Orthodox. He just didn’t have an Orthodox temperament. He wasn’t a saint. He’d played the field as a single man. I wasn’t going to be like that. I was going to be holier.
I gave up masturbation. Following the Orthodox practice, I refused to shake hands with women. I grew a beard and wore a yarmulke and tzitzit around my parents home where I was living from 1989-1993 while I struggled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Dennis Prager struggled with prayer. I read some books on the Jewish approach to prayer and they turned me on before I did much praying from the siddur (Jewish prayer book), when I realized how much drudgery it was. The inspiration only went so far. I decided I’d use prayer time in shul to study Torah, just like Dennis Prager does.
I started meeting girls and I gave up my chastity and found myself having a great time playing the field. I quickly saw that I was not only not holier than Dennis Prager, I was considerably less holy.
I tried to fence myself in by studying more Torah and observing those Torah laws that weren’t too inconvenient. I figured I could cheat on the sexual guidelines so long as I was strict and pious in everything else. I’d be 612 (613 commandments are traditionally ascribed to the Torah).
So did I feel any guilt about being less holy than Dennis Prager? Not really. I figured that so long as I was in the ballpark of what Dennis prescribed I was doing fine.
I came to Judaism by following the personal example of a moderate man and so I never got too down on myself until I blew up my relationship with Dennis in early 1998 (by blogging about him) and that led me to therapy and to eventual realizations about my deep-seated intimacy disorder that manifested in various emotional addictions.
Life lets you know what you’re good at. In the face of female temptation, it was quickly apparent that I was not cut out for moral leadership. Instead, like Rousseau, I found I did better at writing confessional literature.