Dennis Prager: ‘Holiness Protects Ethics’

In his 2004 lecture on Deuteronomy 14, Dennis Prager says: “There’s a tacit agreement in Jewish life between the observant and the non-observant — we both agree that the laws have no meaning.”

“It is a pain in my life because I so believe in Judaism and in the Torah that Judaism has become in certain areas so irrational.”

“The priests are in charge of the temple. They are the priests of Israel. You can’t qualify for it. You have to be born into it. It’s a terrific thing or otherwise there would be bribery and who knows what. There’s no politics. You can’t run for priest.”

Jacob Milgrom: “As God has restricted his choice of the nations to Israel, so must Israel restrict its choice of edible animals to the few sanctioned by God.”

Dennis: “Democracy is good for running a nation, but God does not run the world by democracy.”

“Jews do not survive the dropping of kashrut. They have not. They will not. It is the most ubiquitous act we engage in… If you start eating like everyone else, you’ll become like everyone else.”

“Holiness protects ethics. The ethical laws will be violated if the cushion of the holy ceases to function.”

In a lecture on Deuteronomy 13, Dennis Prager says: “You can tap into the miraculous (such as the Egyptian magicians) and it doesn’t mean that you are on God’s side.”

Do Christians and Jews worship the same God as Muslim terrorists?

“It may be the same God, but it is irrelevant. An American communist and an American Klu Klux Klanner and an American fascist all have the same president. So what?”

“Nine eleven changed Jewish life… The things that I can say in lectures to Jews now that do not elicit hoots and boos and derision is unbelievable. I could not talk about Jewish choseness before 9/11. Nowhere do Jewish audiences now find this bizarre. Real evil has confronted them. The centrality of Jew hatred in the world has made it evident that there may be some truth that Jews walk a different path. Any Jew with any Jewish identity is now prepared to hear this without laughing or bouncing the lecture fee. I am stunned. I speak more now in Jewish life than ever before. Sixty two Jewish communities last year and I don’t take all the ones I’m invited to. I can’t obviously.

“I say this almost all the time and it’s unbelievable to me. I’m pinching myself. They’re not yelling at me? They are giving this a standing ovation in Dallas? The largest group of Jews ever to convene in Texas I spoke to last year and I spoke about [Jewish choseness]. There is no other way to understand Israel and the centrality of Jews in the world and the hatred? I believe America is hated because it is the one society in history to affirm Jewish choseness. It is the one Judeo-Christian society in history… You latch on to the Jews, and you get the blessings and the hatred of a lot of people.”

Question: Why did 9/11 have this affect on Jews and not the Holocaust?

Dennis: “The Holocaust was so overwhelming that the only effect it had on Jews was to depress them. The evil was too great.”

“It’s not just 9/11. It’s the eruption of Jew-hatred and Israel-hatred and America-hatred so that all of it wrapped together is shaking people up. Not only can I say to Jews certain things that I couldn’t say before, but to non-Jews. I couldn’t talk about America being chosen before 9/11. I would’ve been dismissed as a kook and set off to some weird radio station.”

In early 2004, Dennis took his 11-year old son Aaron to Israel. “I wanted him to see Israel and it had some of the effect.”

“It is a very powerful thing for an identifying Jew to go into a world that is Jewish. You never have that experience [outside of Israel].

“Let’s take Hebrew. When he was watching Dragon Ball Z in Hebrew, I had a big smile on my face. He didn’t understand the dubbed language. For him to know that Hebrew is alive. It’s not just the language he’s learning for his bar mitzvah was a powerful experience. Wow, they even do cartoons. Not just Isaiah.

“One time he said, Dad, do you realize that five of the letters between one and ten begin with the letter shin? He was starting to think about the Hebrew language as he had never done before except under semi-coercion.

“He learned for the first time that there are people who want to kill Jews. It wasn’t abstract.

“We were taken, because of the nature of my work, to see the last bus blown up by the Palestinian terrorists in which eight people were murdered and many maimed. He didn’t have a supercilious attitude. He saw holes in the seats where human beings were maimed and killed.

“He told me at times that he was nervous when we drove by a bus. I’m happy for that. Life isn’t just Dragon Ball Z cartoons. He’s old enough now.

“He slept perfectly well at night. He didn’t have nightmares.

“He even worried about eating in any restaurant. He was happy when we went to restaurants where there weren’t a lot of people because he understood that they want to blow up a lot of people. I told him about choseness and that this is the price we pay but look at how everybody goes around normally.

“He saw the fence being built. He asked a tremendous number of questions.

“This was my 15th trip to Israel. It has always been a religious battery-charger for me. I am the battery-charger for a lot of people. People tune in to me and I charge them up as Americans, Christians, Jews, but I’ve got to get my batteries charged too.”

“My son [David] went there at the height of the terror and it changed his life. He said, ‘Dad, before I went, pretty much the biggest issue in my life was would the Lakers win another championship. And now the biggest issues in my life have to do with God, good and evil.’

“That’s pretty good for eight months abroad. That’s what Israel would do when you’re studying Torah in Jerusalem and you hear the blasts three times in a year, you hear people blown up. You take life seriously. There are epic battles going on with Israel as the fulcrum.”

In his 22nd lecture on Deuteronomy, Dennis says: “The trick in life is to learn from the normal. There’s not that much to learn from the abnormal.”

Dennis says he now reads the instruction manual to everything he buys because he finds it very helpful. He looks at the Torah as an instruction manual for life.

About Luke Ford

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