The Deal

From my biography of Dennis Prager:

After reading George Gilder’s book, Men and Marriage, one of the five
books he says that most influenced him, Dennis decided that he should
marry quickly. In the summer of 1980 he met the Brandeis-Bardin Institute
(BBI) nurse Janice Adelstein.

Though beautiful, Janice did not have a reputation for brilliance. "Don’t
get sick, remember who’s the nurse," was a joke at the time on campus.

Dennis and Janice married in the beginning of 1981. Two years later,
Janice gave birth to their son David.

"The [1980] election of Ronald Reagan affected my happiness,"
said Prager on his radio show March 2, 2006. "There was a chance
to turn this thing around."

In 1982, KABC general manager George Green, a secular Jew, told educator
Roberta Weintraub that he needed someone to host the public affairs Sunday
night show Religion on the Line. She suggested Prager.

"I had my first tryout on radio at KABC Radio on a Sunday night
in August, ’82," remembers Dennis, "and I was so nervous, I
was dripping [sweat]. And then, at 11 p.m., the program director [Wally
Sherwin] slips me a note, "Tell them you’ll be on next Sunday night"
— one of the happiest moments of my life, because I ached to get my ideas
out. I’m like a cow who has milk to give and I’ve been dying to give it
my whole life. So I was engaged in interfaith dialogue every Sunday night
with a priest, minister, rabbi for 10 years, and it is one of the things
that changed my life." (CSPAN Booknotes)

"I had a feeling that if I did well [on his radio debut],"
remembers Prager on his radio show January 3, 2006, "that it would
change my life."

In 1983, Prager and Telushkin published their second book: Why the
Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism
. They write in their preface: "Finally…our
thanks to Janice Prager who, despite her time-consuming work on a book
on Jewish moral values for children, was the single greatest source of
suggestions, criticisms, and morale boosting."

While running BBI, Prager gained a reputation as a strict disciplinarian
who kicked out students he found troublesome. Prager ejected musician
Sam Glaser for playing non-Jewish music. Another college student, a philosophy
major from Berkeley, was tossed for raising disruptive challenges.

This was an era when prohibitions on dating between staff and students
were considerably relaxed compared to today.

Himself not happy with strict oversight, Prager chafed under the BBI
board, frequently regarding it with contempt. Many on the board returned
his hostility.

In his speeches since working at BBI, Prager mocks his BBI board. He
tells one story of wanting to do singles weekends. Prager says the board
was shocked. What would we talk about? Prager said that knowing how the
board thought, he told them he’d take a week or two to study the matter.
Then Prager returned to the board and said they’d done a study and found
that the brains of single people were very similar to the brains of married
people. Therefore, Prager proposed a similar curricula – study of Judaism.
The board found his condescending manner obnoxious.

BBI hosted college students who would often put on skits. Shortly before
taking charge, Prager witnessed one skit that was deliberately filled
with the sounds of flatulence. Prager decided that once he took charge,
all student skits would have to be cleared before performance to make
sure they upheld Jewish norms of decency.

"[H]aving been a camp counselor and camp director for ten years,"
Prager writes on page four of his 1995 book Think A Second Time, "I
know that few things come more naturally to many children than meanness,
petty cruelty, bullying, and a lack of empathy for less fortunate peers.
Visit any bunk of thirteen-year-olds in which one camper is particularly
fat, short, clumsy, or emotionally or intellectually disadvantaged, and
you are likely to observe cruelty that would shock an adult."

In September of 1983, Prager left the Brandeis Bardin Institute. He writes
in his autobiography: "While the membership and I loved each other,
the heads of the board of directors and I did not. Indeed, I left BBI
largely because the president/chairman of the board [William Chotiner]
made life miserable for me. I occasionally reflect on where my life would
be today had he and others of the lay leadership treated me differently."
(Prager CD)

Joseph Telushkin writes on page 104 of his book Jewish Humor about Prager
and Brandeis-Bardin:

Several years ago, a friend of mine, who had directed a major Jewish
institution in California, was considering running for the U.S. Congress.
He met with a powerful Democratic congressman from Los Angeles [Henry
Waxman?], himself a very committed and active Jew, who advised him in
all seriousness: "If you’ve survived the political infighting in
Jewish life for ten years, when you make it to Congress, you’ll find
the atmosphere there much gentler."

Prager and Telushkin portray Prager’s experience at Brandeis-Bardin as
that of the marty, but some of those who had to work with Prager felt
like they were the martyrs.

While Prager claims he quit, a Jewish Journal cover story in early 1986
indicated he was pushed out. Many on the board said Prager was a lousy

Sheldon Teitelbaum writes in the March 14, 1986 edition of the Jewish
Journal (the third issue of the paper):

At the time of Bardin’s death, [Prager] was 27 years old. According
to Dr. Victor Goodhill, a former institute vice-president, "He
was almost a small, younger Shlomo."

Prager, now a talk show host for KABC radio, says that Bardin had actually
asked him to succeed him as director of Braindeis-Bardin, mainly, he
says, "because I articulated the values he himself held — that
the Jewish role in the world is to repair it under God’s rule."
[Michael] Harris [Bardin’s assistant from 1961-71], however, argues
that, "Dennis was simply there at a time when Shlomo was most vulnerable.
He saw the end coming and he needed to pitch somebody." Prager’s
association with the institute was only a few years old and his appointment
was not to everyone’s liking. Indeed, says Goodhill, "There were
people on the board of directors who were violently opposed."

The sources of this opposition are numerous and complex. Goodhill maintains
that Prager was too young to successfully move into the slot vacated
by a man considerably his senior. As Prager himself observed, "Some
of the people on the board had children who were older than me."

But it was not simply Prager’s youth inspired controversy. Nor was
it Prager’s personal style, alternately charming and abrasive, inspired
and, some say, demagogic. Rather, implies [William] Chotiner [Brandei-Bardin’s
first president], perhaps Prager’s most vociferous critic, the issue
was nothing less than a fight for the soul and future of Brandeis-Bardin.

Chotiner’s case against Prager was based upon his conviction that the
type of Judaism Prager advocated was too rigid. If allowed to impose
his values upon Brandeis-Bardin, Prager would ultimately betray Shlomo
Bardin’s vision of the institute as a place for all Jews to enjoy. In
a sense, Prager concurs with this assessment, though he insists that
Chotiner was motivated by great personal animosity toward him."

Dennis Prager served as institute director for seven years, despite
the existence of a virtual split within the executive board as to his
efficacy. During this time, claim both Prager and his adherents, he
quadrupled the BBI membership. "I had the largest BBIs in history,"
argues Prager, "which raised more money in membership fees than
ever before. I was a superb administrator, and under my own administrator,
Bob Bleiweiss, the place ran like clockwork."

Even Prager’s opponents credit him with some accomplishments, specifically
the singles program which he initiated. But he had no staying power,
they say. "Under Dennis’s directorship," says Chotiner, "Brandeis
was a swinging door. We were picking 200 members one year and losing
150 the next." Chotiner is not alone in his contention that Prager
lacked intellectual depth. His critics argue that he was basically a
"three-speech man," and the membership grew tired of hearing
the same speeches time after time. Others grew weary of what they claim
were repeated bouts of vindictive, almost paranoid behavior by Prager.
But there are also those among Prager’s detractors who did not share
this view. Says Dr. Goodhill, "Dennis was a brilliant man. He was
also very courageous — there was never anything bashful about him.
I think that’s what bothered the older people on the board was the strong
and rather major dominance at the institute that Dennis wanted and did
exercise. We accepted that in Shlomo because it took that kind of personality
to get things going. And Dennis did have to be a one-man show!"

Unfortunately for the institute, strife and dissension within the board
over Prager’s leadership resulted in a brief but traumatic conflict,
between 1979 and 1981, over the actual decision-making process at Brandeis-Bardin,
which some called "elitist" and "un-democratic."

Prager has long despised the Jewish Journal, and regularly given vent
to his feelings on this matter publicly, usually expressed in political
terms. For example, "it is the most left-wing Jewish newspaper in
the country."

David Margolis writes
in the Jewish Journal
in December 1992:

The seven years of Prager’s tenure in Simi Valley, however, were filled
with conflict between himself and the Brandeis board, whom he accuses
of treating him "miserably." At Brandeis, Prager says now,
not without bitterness, "I learned that many Jews are uncomfortable
with paying another Jew to do something Jewish."

Or was the problem, as some board members complain, that he tried to
make BBI into an Orthodox institution? Prager acknowledges trying to
push individuals toward greater observance, in a marked change from
Bardin’s non-religious orientation that was sure to threaten and antagonize
many. But he castigates the view, which he ascribes to much of the non-Orthodox
community, that keeping kosher and not working on Shabbat define someone
as Orthodox.

Even his critics acknowledge that Prager succeeded in exciting many
young people about Jewish observance and bringing them into the Jewish
community. But that enterprise had its down side as well. He developed
"followers," explains one BBI insider during those years,
but he turned off many people by leaving no room for “intelligent disagreement.
His bullying antagonized a lot of people."

Some students back up that view of Prager as a bully. One believes he
was tossed from the institute for his vigorous and public disagreements
with Prager on intellectual matters.

Rabbi Telushkin writes about Dennis in his 1996 book, Words That Hurt,
Words That Heal

A friend of mine hosts a radio talk show. Although he passionately
espouses often controversial political views, he makes it a point never
to insult callers who dispute his positions. Rather, he listens carefully
to what they say, and always responds courteously. He told me that he
reads every letter from his listeners, particularly those written by
people who clearly abhor his views.

If my friend sounds unusually open to others’ criticism, that is an
acquired trait. In his early days as a public speaker, he often fended
off his critics with sarcasm, biting wit, and occasional anger.

In late 1983, Prager replaced the retiring Hilly Rose on AM 790 KABC
from seven to nine p.m. during the week (except Friday night).  Initially
the station balked at giving Dennis Friday night off, but he refused to
do the show if it would force him to violate the Sabbath.

Prager wrote a regular column for the now defunct Los Angeles Herald
Tribune. He wanted to write a weekly column for the Jewish Journal but
Editor Gene Lichtenstein thought Prager was not a good writer. Gene liked
Dennis in person but found his writing pompous.

Dennis became convinced that he was turned down because of differing
politics, even though Gene regularly published somebody far to the right
of Dennis — Orthodox Rabbi Dov Aharoni.

In 1985 Dennis launched his personal journal of thought, the quarterly
Ultimate Issues, which never quite achieved 10,000 subscribers. It became
The Prager Perspective in 1996 and folded in the year 2000. "I
wrote it because I never wanted to be edited…" (Prager CD)

In 1985 and 1986, Prager received commendations for his journal from,
among others, William F. Buckley, Richard John Neuhaus, Martin Peretz,
Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, Rabbi Norman Lamm, and Rabbi Jakob J. Petuchowski.

Prager began selling cassette tapes and eventually VHS tapes of his lectures
through Ultimate Issues. "It was actually the Ayatollah Khomeini
who made me aware of the power of tapes. If he led an Islamic fundamentalist
revolution through tapes, I figured, why not do the same for Judaism and
ethical monotheism?" (Ultimate Issues, Jan – Mar 1991, pg. 11)

In August 1986, after visiting Afghanistan and publishing an essay about
it in Ultimate Issues, Janice initiated a divorce.

Many of Prager’s Orthodox critics whisper that the moral leader was secretly
an adulterer and philanderer and that his sexual sins caused his divorces
and his alienation from Orthodoxy.

These accusations have always been presented to me without evidence.

"Of course I am committed to it [sexual fidelity]," said Prager
on his radio show Dec. 9, 2009. "How could I do this show if I weren’t?"

On his radio show Dec. 2, 2009, Dennis Prager said: “Conservatives read
divorce statistics as an immediate indictment of the morality of a society.
I see it more as tragedy than as evil. I don’t have this image that people
just divorce at the drop of a hat. Maybe they exist. I never met them.
Everybody I know who divorced divorced after hell, after years of therapy,
of trying and hell, including me.”

Says Dennis: "The week my marriage broke up [8/86], I was fired
from my daily radio job, I had no money to speak of and was living at
my friend’s [director Jerry Zucker] house because I could not afford an
apartment." (Prager CD)

After the divorce, it appeared that some sort of arrangement was made
between the Pragers and the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC). Janice was
immediately hired as a fundraiser and in exchange Dennis agreed to speak
for the center. He had no money at the time and this helped him with the
alimony and it gave them a speaker who attracts lots of people to attend
co-sponsored events at places such as the Stephen S. Wise temple.

Janice kept her last name of Prager. She dressed provocatively in her
new role, to the delight of the YULA boys next door who’d ogle her. She
particularly favored skintight pants that left nothing to the imagination.

Rabbi Meyer May had a guy by the name of Sidney Green who would groom
Janice and the bimbo squad who worked with her. They’d dress sexy and
go to parties and try to hook in male donors. They had a list to contact.
The number one girl at this task was Janice. They would send her to Palm
Springs or wherever there was money to be raised. She got a paid membership
at a pricey workout place thanks to the SWC.

Janice loved to tell spicy stories about the men she met. Janice said
that prior to her marriage she worked as a nurse in a fertility facility
where her job was to distribute erotic magazines to the male patients
and then collect the semen. It appeared she was doing a very similar service
at the SWC.

Janice’s relationship with Rabbi Meyer May was close. She could walk
into his office any time without announcement or a knock on the door.
He might be heavy at work as she stuck her head in but he was always glad
to see her. She’d open herself up to him emotionally and physically, stretching
her legs out over the sofa or chair. She’d open her mouth wide and say
"Meyer, I am so thirsty." You felt like you were watching a
porn movie.

At such moments, Rabbi May would say, "I’ve had enough of work.
I want to play." And he’d stay with Janice behind closed doors.

They’d go everywhere together, including trips. At times Janice would
appear to be high. Rabbi May got extremely moody and would gain and lose
weight dramatically.

Rabbi May would change his staff like socks but Janice always stayed
and she kept getting better salary and titles.

Rabbi May never wanted to go home. His frequent flier miles exceeded
rabbis Hier and Cooper until Rabbi Marvin Hier told him to cool it.

Rabbi May would watch TV much of the day, favoring the girly crime dramas
such as Charlie’s Angels. He’d still be in his office at 1 am. At home
he did not have a TV. At home he lived like a Hasid. At work, he could
do what he liked.

At the time, Janice lived across the street from the SWC.

Realizing that something was wrong with his life, Dennis entered therapy,
which lasted almost a year, with the late psychiatrist Samuel Eisenstein.
During his few intense sessions, Dennis at one point doubled up with pain.
Another time, when he related a traumatic story from his childhood, Dr.
Eisenstein replied that he doubted the story happened the way Prager described
it. Dennis wanted to punch him. (Related by Prager at a Sabbath morning
sermon he gave at Stephen S. Wise Temple in the Spring of 1998.)

Dr. Eisenstein published this letter in the Oct – Dec, 1990 edition of
Ultimate Issues:

I read with great interest the article, "Judaism, Homosexuality
and Civilization." I was very impressed by the Jewish aspect of
your work and also the way you dealt with the psychological problem.
You managed to convey clearly where the issue stands at present. Of
course, there will be psychiatrists who will disagree with you, but
this usually doesn’t seem to bother you.

In the Summer 1987 edition of Ultimate Issues, Prager writes that his
four year-old son David, in the six months during which his parents separated,
became obsessed with making and shooting toy guns. David asked his dad
if there were "bad monsters." Dennis said yes. David proceeded
to kill them.

After six months, David said he did not have to kill any more bad monsters
and showed no further interest in guns and shooting.

On May 13, 1987, Janice Prager sued Dennis Prager (Case Number: D191749).

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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