Prager, Dennis

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PRAGER, DENNIS (1948– ), U.S. author, radio commentator. Prager was born in Brooklyn, n.y., and received his B.A. from Brooklyn College in 1970. He did his graduate work as a Fellow at the Russian and Middle East Institutes of the Columbia University School of International Affairs and was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from Pepperdine University in 1996. He taught Russian and Jewish history at Brooklyn College (1972–73); and following a trip to the Soviet Union to meet with Soviet Jews, during which he brought out names of those wishing to emigrate, and brought in Jewish religious and cultural materials, he was sent out to speak on the plight of Soviet Jewry by the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, who named him their national spokesman. In 1976, Dr. Shlomo *Bardin appointed Prager to succeed him as director of what became known as the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, California. During his tenure (1976–83), bbi programs enjoyed unprecedented success, attracting up to 1,000 people on the Sabbath and some 90 college students to attend the Brandeis Collegiate Institute. He also launched a singles group, leading to several marriages, and a group for interfaith couples to bring them closer to Judaism.

In 1982 Prager became a radio talk show host on kabc Radio in Los Angeles. For 10 years, he conducted a weekly interfaith dialogue on radio with representatives of virtually every religion in the world. Beginning in 1985, he began writing a quarterly journal, Ultimate Issues, which in 1995 became the bi-weekly The Prager Perspective. As his popularity increased, his radio show was nationally syndicated by the Salem Radio Network in 1999. The following year he discounted the newsletter and began writing a weekly column, syndicated nationally by Creators Syndicate and appearing in newspapers throughout North America. His radio show, now broadcasting from krla in Los Angeles, is heard on approximately 100 radio stations in the United States as well as over the Internet.

Prager's reputation in the Jewish community was built largely on the success of his first book, Eight Questions People Ask about Judaism (1975), which he authored with Rabbi Joseph *Telushkin. Their self-published effort was so well received that prominent publisher Simon & Schuster picked up its revised version, with one added question. Nine QuestionsPeople Ask about Judaism remains in print, has been translated into nearly a dozen languages, and is one of the most widely used introductions to Judaism in the world. Their second collaboration, Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism (1983) was revised in 2003 to reflect more recent global developments.

Prager's first solo book, Think a Second Time (1996), is a collection of 44 essays on as many topics. He then wrote Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual (1998), which became a number one bestseller on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list. His The Case for Judeo-Christian Values appeared in 2006.

Prager's writings have appeared in major national and international publications and won significant awards, including the Amy Foundation First Prize and the American Jewish Press Association's Excellence in Commentary Award for his columns in Moment magazine (2005). An eloquent speaker, Prager lectures to Jewish communities in North America and abroad about 50 times a year. He also often speaks to Christian groups – especially those identified with fundamentalism and evangelism – with whom he shares a common worldview.

From 1992, Prager taught the Bible verse-by-verse at the *University of Judaism. He also led a weekly Sabbath service for a small congregation he defined as "Hassidic Reform." In 1986, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the U.S. Delegation to the Vienna Review Conference on the Helsinki Accords.

In 2002, Prager produced a documentary, Israel in a Time of Terror, telling the story of the Intifada from the standpoint of Israelis under the daily threat of terrorist attacks. He also wrote and produced three comedy videos on values: For Goodness Sake (directed by Hollywood director David Zucker); For Goodness Sake ii, and Character: What It Is and How to Get It.

Although Prager describes himself as a "passionate centrist" and a "JFK liberal," he is a critic of contemporary liberalism (and of the Democratic Party) and has become identified with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. His outspoken support of many of the Bush administration's policies – he considered running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican with White House backing in 2004 – as well as his ties to conservative Christian ideologues have caused him to become a more controversial figure in the Jewish community. He was the first to break with the Christian right in regard to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, indicating that he wished the film was never made. His break may have given some cover for those Jews on the right who oppose the film. Moreover, unlike most of the Jewish mainstream, he defends references to God, the Ten Commandments, and the Christian cross in public facilities such as schools, parks, and courthouses and has criticized the stance of the *Anti-Defamation League on the issue of church (religion) and state.

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]