A Seder With a Side of Political Debate


In some synagogues, Democrats and Republicans have a hard time praying together. But at one upcoming Passover hotel program, guests will pray, eat and debate their political differences together for eight days.

At San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo Inn, Jewish right-wing writers Ben Shapiro and Dennis Prager will face off against liberal Orthodox social justice leader Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz in a series of debates on politics and Jewish law over the course of the holiday. Prager and Shapiro had participated in the program for the past five years but Upscale Getaways, the organizer of the program, said it wanted to add a differing perspective to enliven the program.

“It felt to us like Michael Jordan practicing on a court by himself,” said Ben Camille, one of the program directors, of Shapiro and Prager’s past lectures at the program. “Most programs are scared to do this kind of [political] stuff.”

Passover hotel programs, often run at luxury hotels where the bill for one guest can run into the thousands of dollars, are largely frequented by the Orthodox, many of whom are politically right-wing. While for some, skipping the cooking and cleaning involved in celebrating Passover is enough of a draw, many programs offer high-profile lecturers, bands and entertainers throughout the holiday. Upscale Getaways may be the first program to use politics to draw guests.

Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, and Prager, founder of the conservative online video platform Prager University, both have devoted fan bases through their radio shows and podcasts. Shapiro is a harsh critic of the left for embracing what he calls a culture of victimization and for rejecting Judeo-Christian values, and says the liberal Mideast lobbying group J Street is “dedicated to undermining American support for Israel and justifying left-wing hatred of the Jewish state.” Prager recently argued that the left has ruined “universities, journalism, male/female relations, children’s innocence, sports” and “late night television.”

Rabbi Yanklowitz, a founder of the Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek and the Valley Beit Midrash learning center in Phoenix, said he saw this as an opportunity to face head-on what he sees as Orthodoxy’s “political and religious slide to the far-right.”

“I’ve committed to not giving up on a progressive Orthodoxy that includes universalistic empathy within our halachic consciousness,” said Rabbi Yanklowitz. He said he suspected that the guests at the Passover program will mostly hold right-wing political views, but that it is necessary to engage in debate. “I feel we’re fighting for the soul of Orthodoxy, for the moral relevance of the Torah.”