ORLANDO, Fla.—The American Left’s tendency to enforce its ideological speech codes reminds commentator and radio host Dennis Prager of the Soviet oppression of Jews, which he studied in his youth. He calls this phenomenon totalitarian and “nightmarish.”
Prager studied Russian in school in order to study communism. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he traveled to the Soviet Union, helping Jews and hearing about their struggles. This foundation helped Prager sell plenty of bestselling books and launch his online video platform, PragerU.
“If you’d have said to me when I was in graduate school, ‘You’re learning about the American future,’ I would’ve thought you were out of your mind,” Prager told The Daily Signal on Monday at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Orlando. “But I studied communism and the Soviet Union, and it prepared me for what is happening in America today.”
“You can ask almost any person who lived in a communist country and they will say to you, ‘I can’t believe what I fled is now happening in America,’” he added.
Prager contrasted the leftist attempt to silence dissent with liberals’ willingness to engage in debate in the public square.
“Leftism, as opposed to liberalism or conservatism, is always tyrannical,” he said. “There is no example, literally not one, of the left taking charge of a country or an institution and [then] allowing dissent. There is no example. Whether it was the Soviet Union, or YouTube, or your local university. Dissent is suppressed by the Left, always. There is no exception. The moment a leftist allows dissent, he or she has become a liberal.”
“The tragedy of liberals is that they vote for the Left,” Prager added.
Prager said he sees the suppression of dissent “everywhere.”
It appears at “virtually every corporation, virtually every university, virtually every high school, virtually every media site.”
“When was the last conservative piece printed in a mainstream newspaper?” he asked, noting that The New York Times’ editorial editor, James Bennet, resigned amid outrage that he had published an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. Prager noted that Bennet’s “decades of exemplary service” did not matter.
The author and commentator lamented that many medical schools will “correct” someone who uses the term “pregnant woman,” insisting that he or she say “birthing person.”
“The drift to totalitarian speech in America is beyond frightening. It’s nightmarish,” Prager said.
He encouraged conservatives to take personal stands for truth and free speech, making small impacts that may compound into an avalanche.
“Well, let’s say you have a daughter in college or high school who’s on the swim team, the girl’s swim team. And a man who says he’s a woman competes,” Prager began. “Then you just say to your daughter, ‘You’re not participating. The school is making female sports a farce. And you shouldn’t be part of that. I’m sorry, my dear daughter. You worked your tail off to get onto the swim team.’”
“And ultimately, if none of the girls competed, it would end this attack on women’s sports and indeed on women,” he said. “But people don’t fight. That’s human nature.”
“Courage is the rarest of the good human traits,” Prager lamented. “Honesty is more common. Loyalty is more common. Kindness is more common. Courage is the rarest. But without courage, we’re doomed. So people have to fight. Look, my dream is that everybody took their kids out of schools and homeschooled them. Overnight, America would be fixed. That would do it overnight. If I could have one wish, that would be my wish.”
Prager addressed many other issues, including the threats to Israel, his approach to the six days of creation in Genesis, his recommendation that Christians practice the Sabbath and rest from work on Sundays, and his passion for the Torah that led him to write “The Rational Bible” commentaries.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Tyler O’Neil: This is Tyler O’Neil, managing editor at The Daily Signal. And I’m honored to be joined by a preeminent voice of conservative journalism and an outright conservative giant, Dennis Prager. Thank you so much for joining me.
Dennis Prager: Thank you, Tyler.
O’Neil: You first gained attention for interviewing Jews in the Soviet Union, and later grew to warn against the secular Jewish turn in the totalitarian Left. What aspects of the modern Left do you see that reflect that Soviet oppression?
Prager: So, to fill in for the listener what you’re referring to, when I was 20 years old, I was a student in England. And for the Passover holiday, I visited Israel and friends of mine who knew of me and knew I knew Russian and Hebrew. Russian I studied in college, Hebrew from my Jewish schools.
As a child, I was a sort of an ideal candidate to be one of those young people that the Israeli government sent into the Soviet Union to smuggle in religious items to Jews and to smuggle out the names of Jews who wanted to leave.
So they sent me for a month in September of that year for the Jewish High Holy Days. And then I went and began my lecturing and I’ve never stopped. So since 21, I’ve been lecturing publicly. I’ve been a public figure all of my adult life. It’s a strange life. …
So I would speak constantly on the subject of Soviet Jewry. The interesting thing is that I studied Russian in order to understand the Soviets, the enemy in the Cold War, to read Pravda. That was my goal—not Dostoevsky, not to be able to order food in a restaurant—to read the communist paper of Pravda and understand totalitarianism better.
So as I say, frequently, my field of study was communism and communist affairs, as they used to call it. I went to communist countries regularly. If you’d have said to me when I was in graduate school, “You’re learning about the American future,” I would’ve thought you were out of your mind.
But I studied communism and the Soviet Union, and it prepared me for what is happening in America today. You can ask almost any person who lived in a communist country and they will say to you, “I can’t believe what I fled is now happening in America.”
And people need to understand this, leftism, as opposed to liberalism or conservatism, is always tyrannical. There is no example, literally not one, of the Left taking charge of a country or an institution and allowing dissent. There is no example. Whether it was the Soviet Union, or YouTube, or your local university. Dissent is suppressed by the Left always. There is no exception.
The moment a leftist allows dissent, he or she has become a liberal. Liberals do allow dissent. The tragedy of liberals is that they vote for the Left. But that’s another matter. You didn’t ask me about that. So I hope I’ve combined all of your questions into that answer, but obviously, feel free to ask anything.
O’Neil: Yeah. Yeah, that notion of suppressing dissent, I’ve long followed and reported on the Southern Poverty Law Center doing that. But you mentioned YouTube and your experience with PragerU I think plays into that. Where do you see the suppression of dissent strongest in the United States right now?
Prager: Everywhere. Virtually every corporation, virtually every university, virtually every high school, virtually every media site. When was the last conservative piece printed in a mainstream newspaper?
The editor of the editorial page, who was with The New York Times I think at least two decades, was fired because he published a piece by a Republican senator. That’s all he did. An opinion piece. Not a news piece, an opinion piece. He was fired. The man had had decades of exemplary service toTthe New York Times.
You can’t get up in a medical school and many—now, I don’t know about every medical, but many medical schools now. And if you say “pregnant women,” you will very, very possibly be corrected and say, “In our medical school”—like University of Minnesota, like Columbia University—”we say ‘birthing person.’” Medical schools.
The drift to totalitarian speech in America is beyond frightening. It’s nightmarish.
O’Neil: And in the Jewish tradition, there’s this idea of Tikkun Olam, restoring the world, that the Jewish Left has really weaponized in advocating for the Left. Would you speak a little bit about how much of a betrayal of Judaism that is?
Prager: So, as I’ve often said, and I’ve written what might be, along with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, and we co-authored a book—I think it’s the most widely-read English introduction to Judaism. I’ve written a book on antisemitism, three volumes of a Bible commentary of the Torah, of the first five books. Been a committed Jew all of my life, founded a synagogue in Los Angeles. So I want that context clear here.
But I’ve often said Jews are the most religious people in the world. Unfortunately, for most of them, their religion is not Judaism. When Jews leave Judaism, meaning specifically God, Torah, Israel—the Jews have a trinity, so to speak, it’s not exactly the same as a Christian Trinity, but God, Torah, Israel is an ancient formula of what Judaism is. And when Jews abandoned that, they frequently found or lead other -isms: feminism, environmentalism, socialism, Marxism.
So they’ve retained the idea that we’re supposed to make the world better, but not through God-based, let’s say Ten Commandments. So they do it through non-God-based systems and it ends up really what the serpent in the Garden of Eden said, “Oh, you eat of the tree of knowledge and you’ll be like God.” And so what happens is, God is not the source of our rights and our obligations, but government is. And that leads to catastrophe in every instance.
But I just need to add, to be intellectually honest, every religion is facing this crisis. I mean, you have a pope in the Catholic Church who is largely a Marxist in his views and his social views. Obviously, not in private matters of abortion and gay marriage, but essentially has the—what was it called? Liberation theology in South America.
Among Protestants, the Anglican church has just come out for a neutered Bible, changing the words of the text. I mean, I don’t care if the text is Shakespeare. The fact that it’s a religious text is important. But you can’t change the words of a text. It’s lying. So it’s a tragedy for all our faiths.
O’Neil: And you mentioned that trinity—God, Torah, Israel. Israel just celebrated its 75th anniversary. We’re seeing massive protests against the Netanyahu government for its judicial reforms. We’re also seeing Iran allying with Russia and other rising threats to Israel. How do you see Israel at this pivotal moment in history?
Prager: So, it’s important to remember that there is only one country of the 200-plus countries in the world that is threatened with annihilation. The Jewish country called Israel, the size of New Jersey. It’s a little smaller, I believe, than El Salvador—or a little bigger. But it’s about the size of El Salvador.
The Arab world stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf. The Muslim world has 52 countries. But there’s no room for one Jewish country the size of New Jersey. It’s targeted for annihilation. And they proudly say that, I’m not reading into it. The raison d’etre of the Islamic regime is exactly what Hitler’s was, the annihilation of the Jews, in this case of Israel and Hitler’s case of Europe.
There’s a statement in the ancient Jewish Haggadah—the Haggadah’s the Passover service, the Seder service. And I’ve written a commentary on that, too, called “The Rational Passover Haggadah.” There’s a statement there, which is about 1,800 years old. And every generation—I’m translating in my brain from Hebrew—they arise. They stand up or arise to annihilate us. Not to oppress us, not to persecute us, not to enslave us, to annihilate us.
That’s the difference between antisemitism and every other ethnic hatred. A lot of groups are hated by other groups. That’s the universal human condition. It’s not good, but it’s not gas chambers. Jew hatred is the only annihilationist or exterminationist hatred. I believe it’s because the Jews are the chosen people and reflect something that the annihilator wants to get rid of. But whatever one’s reason, that’s just a fact.
So I just want to make one thing clear when I said “God, Torah, Israel,” which is, the way it’s formulated in Jewish text, it means Israel as the Jewish people, not Israel the country. Because it was God, Torah, Israel for 2,000 years when there was no Jewish country. So I just wanted to make that clear.
O’Neil: Yeah, no, and that’s helpful. Where do you see the struggles and the hope for the state of Israel as separated from, as you rightly noted, the Jewish people as a whole?
Prager: Well, I’m only separating in terms of the what “God, Torah, Israel” meant. There is no separation. I mean, the Torah of Judaism and, for that matter, of Christianity—I mean, no Torah, no Judaism, no Christianity. The first five books are the basis of everything. Love your neighbors as yourself, love God, the Garden of Eden, the Ten Commandments, I mean, it’s all there. And the rest is really extrapolation of that.
Anyway, Israel, the country is central. Many of the laws can only be practiced in Israel, like the Jubilee year. So there’s no honest way to separate Israel, the country, from Judaism. It’s the holy land. I mean, there’s no way around it. That’s what God chose as a place for his people to reside.
Now, of course, there’s also the political fact of Israel. And all those listening to this need to understand something that is very hard for non-Jews to understand. Jews are a religion and a people, not an ethnicity. There are black Jews, half of Israel are Arab Jews or Middle Eastern Jews, there are Iranian Jews. You can convert to Judaism. If Jews were an ethnicity, how could you convert? You can’t convert to an ethnicity.
But it is a people, just like America. American is not an ethnicity. American is a people. The parallel is exact. And you can have religious Americans and you can have atheist Americans. So, too, you can have religious Jews and atheist Jews. I wish they weren’t atheist Jews, I wish they took God seriously, but they’re Jews. I mean, there’s no way around it.
So Israel is an entity with people of every opinion, just like America is a place of people of every opinion. I’m not particularly worried. I’m not happy about the demonstrations, but it just shows it’s a vibrant democracy. And I am more worried, I remain more worried about Iran, and now Iran and China, than I am about internal conflicts in Israel.
O’Neil: You mentioned the Torah as the constitution of the Jewish people, a parallel I think many would resonate with and very much agree with. Some have looked at Genesis 1 through 11 as sort of a preamble to that constitution and as a defining worldview setup for that constitution that has impacted history in myriad ways.
But I was wondering, from a Christian perspective, there are many different interpretations of Genesis 1 to 11 that many Christians have, whether it’s not quite allegorical, but perhaps saying that the seven days are an example of God bringing order to the world, whether or not they’re literal days. How would you approach those sorts of issues?
Prager: I don’t have an axe to grind on whether people take six, seven days literally. I don’t, because the word “day” in Hebrew, which many Christians know, is “yom,” means exactly what it does in English. If you say, “In Lincoln’s day,” nobody says, “What do you mean? What day are you referring to?” Well, it means his time period.
I mean, let’s say the Torah were bound to modern science. Let’s say, “OK, so, in the first 3 billion years, God did this.” So then you would have a Sabbath every 14 billion years. And much of creation, believe it or not, is actually geared to creating the Sabbath. It’s the only ritual in the Ten Commandments.
This is an interesting issue that I raise when I speak with Christians, which is very regularly. I have asked priests and ministers for 40 years, “Do you believe that Christians are bound to the commandment of keeping the Sabbath?” And there’s no way to predict their answer. It’s not based on Catholic or Protestant. It’s not based on conservative or liberal. So I have no way to predict. And it’s been 50/50. Fifty percent have said, “We are,” 50% said, “We’re not.”
All I am here to say is it’s a massive loss in Christian life, the loss of the Sabbath. If it’s Sunday and it’s really obviously then commemorating the Resurrection, not resting from creation, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that a day of the week is set aside that is different, because God wants you to make a different day. And the loss in America is palpable.
Sunday is virtually indistinguishable from any other day. Where I live, and I think it’s all true all over the country, Sunday, … you might find the most traffic of any day. It is actually busier than it is on a Monday. The highways in LA are busier on Saturday and Sunday than they are on Monday, and they’re busy on Monday, obviously.
So this loss is a tremendous one and I want Christians to think seriously about that question. Aside from which is just a very almost funny thing, for the Christians who feel that they are not bound by the Sabbath commandment, and I fully respect that position. That means that for Christians, there were nine commandments.
O’Neil: That’s strong and thought-provoking. I also had another question on the Pentateuch. Moses’ death is recorded. And obviously, the tradition says that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch.
There are also multiple stories that are told again and again in the Pentateuch. You have the very modern and I think rather wrong-headed view of this documentary hypothesis, which seems to cherry-pick words and try to construct an almost evolutionary version of the text. That doesn’t seem to make sense from the tradition that I’m aware of.
But how would you address authorship issues in the Pentateuch and how much does that matter?
Prager: What matters is whether you think, ultimately, God is the author, which I do, of the Pentateuch. I mean, other parts of the Bible are inspired, but not at least from the Jewish tradition. And I think logically, the first five books stand as primus inter pares, first among equals. And as I write in my introduction to my commentary on the Pentateuch, “The Rational Bible”—the fourth volume hopefully comes out next year, then I have one more to go.
O’Neil: I was going to ask about that.
Prager: Yeah. So, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done by far. But in any event, also, of course, the most rewarding, which is usually the way it works in life.
So my belief is that, ultimately, God is the author. However, beyond that, I take no position on how God did it. Did he dictate it to Moses? If you want to believe that, it’s like if you want to believe in the six days literal, I have no issue with you. I have no idea how it was transmitted. I know how the Ten Commandments were transmitted because it’s written.
So I don’t have a position because I don’t know why a position on that is important. If God is the ultimate author, it doesn’t matter to me how he did it. As I write, I don’t care how it was done. I care who did it.
And when you drop ultimate divine authorship of the Torah, then it becomes a man-made document. And by definition, you will treat it differently.
“Oh, I don’t like the law.” I mean, there’s a law in Deuteronomy, a man cannot wear women’s clothing. If that comes from God, you got to take that seriously. If it doesn’t come from God, then you get drag queen story hours for kids in elementary school.
God clearly wants the male, female difference clearly represented in the human race. And when God makes the human, he said, “God created the human being, male and female, he created them.” Why would those words be necessary? Because that’s the way the divine order is. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the trans movement and all of leftism is ultimately a rebellion against the Bible and its outlook.
O’Neil: And so, talking about leftism, silencing dissent, returning to the subject with which we began, how would you encourage conservatives, be they Jews, Christians, or just general American conservatives, perhaps even some in other faiths, to respond to that silencing of dissent? What do we do and how can we remain faithful in such a difficult time?
Prager: Well, let’s say you have a daughter in college or high school who’s on the swim team, the girl’s swim team. And a man who says he’s a woman competes. Then you just say to your daughter, “You’re not participating. The school is making female sports a farce. And you shouldn’t be part of that. I’m sorry, my dear daughter. You worked your tail off to get onto the swim team.” And ultimately, if none of the girls competed, it would end this attack on women’s sports and indeed on women.
But people don’t fight. That’s human nature. Courage is the rarest of the good human traits. Honesty is more common. Loyalty is more common. Kindness is more common. Courage is the rarest. But without courage, we’re doomed. So people have to fight.
Look, my dream is that everybody took their kids out of schools and homeschooled them. Overnight, America would be fixed. That would do it overnight. If I could have one wish, that would be my wish.
O’Neil: Well, thank you so much again for joining me. Where can the people follow you and look for those forthcoming chapters of “The Rational Bible”?
Prager: I would invite people to read the reviews on Amazon. There are 5,000 reviews on Amazon of my Bible commentary. It has strengthened the faith of the already faithful Christian and Jew. And it has brought a lot of people to take God seriously because I only use reason. My vehicle to God is 100% rooted in reason. I’m not saying it’s the only vehicle to God, but that is mine.
I try to explain everything. Most people read this stuff and their eyes glaze over. But I show the greatness and the relevance, hopefully. It’s called “The Rational Bible.”
Of course, there’s PragerU, Prager University, which has a billion views a year, mostly young people around the world. You should pay your kids to watch our videos. … You should, as I always say, I don’t know how to raise kids without bribery. So I am example of a parent who paid his kid to do good things.
I’m a behaviorist. I want you to do good things. If it’s animated by a $10 bribe, fine. But anyway, they should watch our videos. You listening should watch them too, hopefully. That’s at PragerU. And at my website, dennisprager.com, you can see, and at The Daily Signal, my column every week.
O’Neil: Great. Thank you so much for joining me.
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