Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Prager's Problems

Dennis Prager annoys me. Prager is the conservative ideologue and moralist who promotes what I would describe as the equation of Judaism with conservative values. He’s one of those moralist people who, conveniently enough, doubles as Republican hack. (His favorite books include the anti-Kerry screed, Unfit for Command His latest piece, entitled What American Jews need to think about this Rosh Hashanah came to me via the Congregation Sons of Israel listserv (my hometown shul in Woodmere). The sum of his thesis is that American Jews should do teshuvah (repentance) for their reaction to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion”, which he asserts was anti-Christian. (How much is David Limbaugh paying him?) We Jews should also, according to Prager, take this High Holiday time to acknowledge that American Christianity has been a blessing for American Jews. (How much is David Limbaugh paying him?) I made this response on the listserv:

I find this article insultingly smug. Prager too often comes across as just another Republican hack and as a Jewish spokesperson for the Christian Coalition. American Jews do not owe American Christians any apology. Jewish communal organizations were right to express concern over a movie thatdepicted crowds of Jews chanting for the death of Jesus and Pontius Pilate as a sympathetic figure; I saw the movie and can attest to its perniciousness. I don't recall many saying serious antisemitic consequences would result from the film. We would be naive, given our history, to trust anyone to the extent that Prager suggests we should trust conservative Christians.

Prager writes:

The prevalent idea among American Jews that a secular, rather than a Judeo-Christian, America is better for America, let alone for its Jews, is so obviously wrong, only the irrational can hold it. For proof, ask the Jews of France.

Prager is wrong. The agenda the Christian Right supports is at oddswith Jewish practice. Jews do not support a comprehensive ban on abortion. We do not, by and large, support the anti-constitutional and anti-freedom idea of state-sponsored school prayer. And we do not support the Christian right's blatant campaign of incitement and hatred against Muslims and Arabs, which has included agendas to convert Muslims to Christianity and the promotion of anti-Muslim zealots in a manner similar to the way anti-Jewish zealots were promoted by the Christian right a half-century ago. Prager's argument against a secular society is particularly short-sighted; in a France that is now ten percent Muslim and growing, the long-range choices are not between a secular society and a Judeo-Christian one, but a secular society and a Christian-Muslim one where Jews would almost certainly be less safe. France's failure to protect its Jews has many causes, but the country's secularity is not one of them. Indeed, the implication of Prager's argument is that it would be better to maintain a Judeo-Christian society (which, let's face it, is really a Christian society) in a country with six million Muslims is to marginalize those Muslims even further than France's supposedly secular society has already done so. This would result ingreater violence directed toward France's Jewish citizens, not less.

Prager writes:

[T]he majority of Jews have substituted liberalism for Judaism, andthis has been a Jewish and American calamity. Given Jews' professional success and social activism, Jews tend to have an influence on society quite disproportionate to their numbers. Unfortunately, though, nearly allthose Jews who attempt to influence society have little or no connectionto Judaism. They are guided far more by The New York Times and its valuesthan by the Torah and its values. And they ask, "What do I feel?" far morethan "What do 3,000 years of our world-changing religion teach?"

I have no idea what Prager thinks the values of the New York Times are. I suspect Prager is guided more by the values of the New York Post and Wall Street Journal editorial pages than he is by Torah values, which he has made a practice of expropriating for conservative causes in the same way some left-wing Jewish activists have done for liberal causes. (A particularly jarring example is his defense of the death penalty.) Liberalism is responsible for our ability to live comfortably as Jews in this society. No less. The Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s allow us to enforce our ability to live in this way. The conservatives that Prager fronts for were by and large anti-civil rights, and we would suffer if they ever gained control of the Congress. If the views of the Christian right prevailed, we would have less freedom, not more, as government would become deeply entrenched in the game of dictating moral values to the country. This is anathema to free society, which trusts citizens to make their own decisions so long as they do not encroach upon the rights of others.

Prager writes:

We must face the fact that American Jewry is declining in numbers because Jews are not taught Judaism, not because Jews are becoming Christian. . . Jewish concern with Christian missionizing is therefore both un-American (in a free society, everyone is entitled to spread his message) and lazy (it is the Jews' obligation to keep Jews Jewish, not the Christians').

This is a straw man argument; no one has claimed that Christian missionizing is a bigger problem than deficient Jewish education. For Prager to claim that it is un-American to worry about it is really uncalled for, particularly when it takes such forms as converting unsuspecting seniors in nursing homes and misguided college students.I think we ought to worry about our own transgressions, instead of listening to a demagogue who would expropriate Rosh Hashanah toattempt to equate liberalism with sin.

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