The Judeo-Christian values that shaped America during its founding years have created the best nation in known history for the Jewish people, according to radio host and columnist Dennis Prager.
These values were there from the nation's very beginning, he argued, with founder fathers like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin believing that their exodus from England echoed the Jewish exodus from Egypt in biblical times.
"They believed [this nation] was a second Israel," said Prager, who spoke at Temple Sinai in Dresher on Feb. 11. The columnist, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., in an Orthodox family, spent the weekend as the synagogue's scholar-in-residence.
During his talk, titled "America, the Chosen Nation," Prager went on to say that Jefferson submitted a design for the seal of the United States that depicted the Jews leaving Egypt. He even noted that before the year 1800, students could not get a bachelor's degree from Harvard University without learning Hebrew.
"Jews have been honored, not tolerated [in the U.S.]," he said.
Prager spent much of his lecture opposing what he believes is a widely held Jewish notion that living in a secular society is far better than living in a religious one.
"Jews, in their deepest gut, relate secularism with safety and religion with danger," he noted. "I understand, but it's a tragic error in the Jewish mind."
He used present-day European countries as examples of secular societies that are not particularly good for the Jews, and expressed his distaste with American Jews who want to transform their country with "Europe's secular image" in mind.
"It's a self-destructive idea," said Prager. "It's bad for America, and it's bad for the Jews."
He also noted that Nazi Germany was a secular society.
"Auschwitz was not built by religious people; it was built by secular people," he said.
But if the United States has been so accepting of Jews over the years and well into the 20th century, why were so many businesses hesitant to hire Jewish employees, questioned an audience member?
Prager retorted by comparing the treatment of Jews in America to their treatment in the rest of the world.
"Was it better for Jewish people in Europe?" Prager asked rhetorically. "Was it better for Jews in Arab countries?"
In the process of his talk, Prager also acknowledged that he was "the most hated man in America for a month" after his public criticism of Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison, a Muslim who used the Koran for his swearing-in ceremony.
"I never wrote against the Koran or against Keith Ellison or against Islam," he said defending his position. "I wrote that for the first time in American history, it bothered me that another religious text was replacing the Bible."
He then joked that since the controversy brought him criticism from both the Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, it had, at least, finally brought the two groups together.
Church and State
Prager also expressed his opposition to the argument that religious ideologies — like those that fuel the battles against abortion and same-sex marriage — have no place in politics.
"When Martin Luther King argued, almost solely on the basis of scripture, that human beings are all created in God's image and that there was no place in our country for discrimination based on race, was that legitimate?" he posed.
While Judaism is clearly not the dominant religion in the country, it is the Judeo-Christian model that has allowed the Jews here to thrive, he said, and he warned Jews against fighting to take religion out of politics.
"If we tamper too much with what made this [country] possible," he affirmed, "we will destroy the best thing that was ever made."