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Onward Christians' Rabbi
Netty C. Gross / New York
HOLY WARRIOR: 'Christianity is not a threat. Secular ideology is.'
(The Seattle Times/Alan Berner)
(April 24, 2000) Denounced by the Jewish establishment, adored by the
evangelical right, Daniel Lapin preaches that only church values can save
America from 'ferocious secular liberalism'
Listeners tuning into Dixie Rising," a Nashville-based radio show which
describes itself as being for "Southern patriots" and broadcasts to "all
quarters of Occupied Dixie," were treated to a most unusual, if not
baffling, interview one day last year: an Orthodox rabbi castigating
American Jewry for failing to recognize the positive power of
"America," declared South African-born Daniel Lapin, "is primarily a
Christian nation, and I am grateful because it is those Christian
foundations which have allowed Jews to prosper. Christianity is the one
power left which can save America."
Lapin, who lives on Mercer Island, near Seattle, added that the majority
of American Jews had abandoned the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, ceased
to be guided by Judeo-Christian values and, instead, embraced "ferocious
secular liberalism." And these Jews supported abortion, radical homosexual
legislation, a weakened military, gun control and church-state separation.
The loquacious 53-year old Lapin has been a star of the hard Christian
right for a decade. "He loves being the frum rabbi with the big black hat
and the wife with the wig in a sea of Christians," chuckles a Lapin
friend. But Lapin is dead serious. He told The Jerusalem Report that
he's "completely comfortable" blowing the horn of Christian
Jews have made a colossal error, he says, in not recognizing the
exceptionally tolerant nature of down-home American Christianity. "Jews
tend to fight battles with a rear-view mirror," he argues. "There are
fundamental differences between Europe and the U.S. Here no Jew has ever
been robbed, raped or murdered by an American leaving church. The number
of Jews who actually convert to Christianity is very small. But the
number of secular Jews who assimilate is very high. Christianity is
not a threat to Jews. Secular ideology is."
In the end, he asks, what's important to Jews? Kosher food, prayer and
circumcision. "The bottom line," he maintains, "is that all these things
are under threat of abolition. Not by religious Christians, but by secular
liberals, many of whom are Jews! You've got animal-rights activists in
Sweden banning ritual slaughter. The Anti-Defamation League and their type
continuing to fight prayer in schools. And Jewish children's rights
activists trying to ban the bris milah."
In 1991, Lapin, a former Los Angeles pulpit rabbi, founded Toward
Tradition. Board members include conservative radio host and film critic
Michael Medved, known for his "family values" attacks on Hollywood.
Five years later, Lapin formed the Cascadia Business Institute, which
handles the sale of his "America's Biblical Blueprint" tapes and markets
the rabbi's services as a lecturer to businesses, church groups and
conservative organizations. In 1996, Lapin became a talk show host on a
weekly conservative Seattle-based radio station, which broadcasts to 40
U.S. cities. Later that year, at a time when religious right-wing groups
like the Christian Coalition dominated Republican Party politics, Lapin, a
pal of TV evangelist Pat Robertson, addressed the GOP national convention
in San Diego.
Lapin claims that Toward Tradition is growing, with chapters in 26 states
and 20,000 members - although his website only mentions 6,000. Half his
members, he says, are Orthodox Jews. The rest are unaffiliated Jews plus,
he says, "a few very courageous Reform and Conservative rabbis who are not
afraid to take positions against things like homosexual marriage."
Lapin's book, "America's Real War: An Orthodox Rabbi Insists that
Judeo-Christian Values are Vital for our Nation's Survival," recently
published by Multanomah Press, a Christian publishing house, has sold
about 60,000 copies. He commands about $15,000 per lecture.
"He's a gifted speaker, teacher, writer and public figure," says Medved,
adding that he doesn't share all Lapin's views. But most U.S. Jewish
communal leaders insist that Lapin, whom the ADL's national director Abe
Foxman agrees is "probably America's most prominent Jewish far-out
conservative," is vastly overstating his Jewish impact While he has, they
say, found a unique niche for himself as the rabbinic darling of Rush
Limbaugh and other hard-right talk show hosts, his appeal to Jews is
minuscule. Christian right-wingers are his main supporters. And even in
that community, adds one inter-faith specialist who works with
evangelicals, he has failed to capture the mainstream.
Though Nathan Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs at the
Orthodox Union, questions some of Lapin's rhetoric, he sees a certain
value in having the rightist rabbi around. "There are a set of issues
which we agree with him on," he says, "like school vouchers, and
federal aid for textbooks in parochial schools. And it's probably a
good idea that Jews and Judaism are represented all across the
But that's pretty much where the compliments end. American Jewish
Committee executive director David Harris acknowledges that "there is
increasingly a lively discussion within the Jewish community on
once-sacred issues such as church-state separation." But Lapin's
group, he says, has radically different views from almost everybody.
"We don't begrudge them their opinions, but I think they are
extremely short-sighted. Jews are barely 2 percent of the population.
Any breakdown in the balance between church and
state is obviously not going to work in favor of minorities. We could
easily get put at risk and our standing jeopardized."
Indeed, Lapin's rhetoric is so rabidly neo-Christian, says one critic,
"that you close your eyes and think he's a Jew for Jesus." In an article
last May in the conservative American Enterprise Institute Magazine,
entitled "Misrepresenting the Holocaust," Lapin accused the Holocaust
Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., of "promoting hatred of Christians."
Lapin was enraged that a museum film mentioned that Hitler had been
baptized a Catholic, and quoted the Fuhrer saying that by killing Jews he
was "finishing the Lord's work."
In 1998, Lapin was one of the few Jews who agreed to speak at "Israel's
Jubilee," a controversial event in Orlando, sponsored by the Christian
Alliance for Israel, and boycotted by Jewish leaders objecting to the
participation of missionary groups that target Jews and of Messianic Jews
who accepted Jesus as their savior.
ON THE FACE OF IT, THERE WAS nothing to suggest that the rabbi, a graduate
of non-hasidic, Lithuanian-school yeshivot who landed in America in 1973
from Johannesburg, would turn into the White Fang of conservative Jewish
Lapin says he'd planned to visit the U.S. for three weeks, but was quickly
struck by Americans' deep religious fervor. "I began to understand," he
says, "that the Founding Fathers, religious Christians, saw themselves as
separatists, reliving the steps taken by the Hebrews to the Promised
By 1977, Lapin found himself in Los Angeles and had hooked up with Medved.
Together, the pair sensed the growing interest in Judaism among
unaffiliated young Jews. Taking over a moribund Orthodox synagogue on the
Venice Beach boardwalk, they established the Pacific Jewish Center. The
synagogue prospered, attracting stars like Barbra Streisand, who
celebrated her son Jason's bar mitzvah there and hired Lapin as a
consultant for her film "Yentl."
Meyer Denn, former executive director of the Pacific Jewish Center,
remembers Lapin as a "powerful, charismatic rabbi who had a major,
positive impact on hundreds of people, like myself and my brother, who until they
met him knew nothing of Judaism." But he also concedes that Lapin
frequently clashed with his congregation. "There were arguments over
different things, including halakhic interpretations and accusations that
he was trying to shape himself into a cult figure," Denn says.
Lapin, who also ran a real estate business investing his own and
congregants' savings, left the synagogue in 1991 under a cloud of scandal.
By his telling, his business, with losses of over $2 million, went
bankrupt because the California real estate market collapsed.
"There was a lot of bitterness directed at Lapin," recalls a former
congregant of the shul, which continues to function. Lapin lost touch with
Streisand and left Los Angeles. He says he chose Seattle because he'd
developed an interest in sailing and "Seattle is to sailing what Jerusalem
is to Judaism." Medved soon followed. By 1997, a group of about 50
"Lapinites" had mushroomed on posh Mercer Island (home to, among others,
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), establishing a small Orthodox community
around the rabbi.
"Once there," Lapin says, "I became interested in the broader implications
of the Torah's thoughts on issues like the separation of church and state.
Sincere, religious Americans, I began to realize, had been bludgeoned into
Medved, though still supporting Toward Tradition's goals, is skeptical.
"All the zeal Daniel put into turning Jews onto Judaism became redirected
to turning them on to conservative politics," he says. "To build a Torah
audience around a political issue is very hard to do."
Despite the consistently liberal voting pattern of American Jews, Lapin
predicts that Toward Tradition is on the verge of becoming a legitimate
alternative organization of national significance.
And if not? "Then I know I will have done my bit, by at least showing
sincere Americans that there are some Jews out there who think like them."
Rabbi Daniel Lapin is the founder of "Toward Tradition". His
website is located at:
He also has a website at:
As an interested point of interest, there is a Hebraic Heritage
newsgroup member who works with Rabbi Daniel Lapin when he produces
his radio program in the state of WA.
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