Apparently, I’m not the only critic of Dennis Prager’s last column. In a follow-up piece, Mr. Prager presses the point that competence is a more important requirement for leadership than character.
I agree. But that is beside the point. I would much prefer a Bill Clinton in the White House than a Jimmy Carter. But far more than either I would prefer a Washington or a Lincoln, a Teddy Roosevelt or a Harry Truman.
To ask whether we are better off with an adulterous statesman or a virtuous bungler merely muddies the waters. Needless to say, we often have to choose between the lesser of two evils, but my objection to Mr. Prager is that he is rationalizing immorality into irrelevancy. We need moral leaders as desperately as we need capable governors. That we may have to make compromises when there is no Harry Truman to be found is an unpleasant fact of life, not a reason to diminish the value of virtue.
Mr. Prager goes on to prove, anecdotally, that not every case of adultery is as bad as every other. This is obviously true, just as not all acts of robbery are equal and not all acts of spilling blood are equal. But that is the point precisely. It is only when we have leaders of moral stature that we retain the ability to make meaningful value judgments and not slip into the moral anarchy that characterizes so much of our society by elevating “nonjudgmentalism” to the highest strata of virtue.
Regarding Biblical interpretation, Judaism operated for over 3000 years within a system of rabbinic authority built upon the authority handed down to Moses at Sinai. Separatist groups like the Hellenists, the Sadducees, and the Kaarites attempted to overturn those conventions with only fleeting success. They all disappeared, and authentic Torah tradition endured.
But their spiritual descendants keep coming back. The lessons of Jewish history rest upon a solid understanding of how the prophets and sages chose to transmit their teachings. We cannot reinvent them to fit the sensitivities of our times, although sometimes we have to try to find a new way of explaining them to which modern ears will be receptive.
Of those who have commented, some clearly have not read or do not care about what I wrote in the linked essay about David and Bathsheba. Others have offered explanations, even in David’s defense, that have no basis in Torah tradition that I know of. Oddly enough, the same people who would never argue against going to a doctor for medical advice, going to an accountant for tax advice, and going to a mechanic for auto advice, believe that they are fully justified in offering their own unschooled interpretations of manuscripts that have been analyzed and annotated by the most brilliant minds over the last hundred generations.
This is what we call chutzpah.
I have a lot of admiration for Dennis Prager. His ability to articulate common sense conservative values and politics without resorting to dogma or hyperbole is refreshing; his passionate defense of Israel against the groupthink of Western academics and politicians is reassuring.
However, even the best and the brightest sometimes wander off the reservation.
Read my rebuttal here. Then go to the JWR homepage to read Mr. Prager’s sincere but unconvincing response to his critics. More on that soon, I hope.
Rabbi Moshe Eisemann remarks — only slightly tongue in cheek, I believe — that the most destructive invention of modern times is the electric light bulb. Rabbi Eisemann is neither reactionary nor waxing nostalgic. He argues, with his characteristic elegance, that the blurring of the natural boundaries between day and night gave human society an indelicate shove down a slippery slope whereby all moral and cultural boundaries have become irretrievably eroded.
Historian Paul Johnson makes a similar point in the introduction of his History of Modern Times, wherein he observes that Albert Einstein unwittingly unleashed the forces of moral relativism with his theory of relativity. If the natural rules of the universe are malleable, why not the rules of right and wrong as well?
Now columnist George will reviews a book that illustrates how relatively small cultural phenomena either cause or signal a radical change in the course of human events. It’s worth a look.