Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor, Jewish Press
In April 2018, The Rational Bible: Exodus was published. The brainchild of Joel Alperson and Dennis Prager, it was the first installment of a commentary on the Torah by Dennis Prager, edited by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.
“As the title states,” Joel Alperson said at the time, “it’s a rational explanation of the Torah. We are attempting to give people a non-political, non-faith based, practical, accessible and meaningful explanation of the stories and laws in the Torah.
This month, the second installment, Genesis, is coming off the presses. Time to catch up with Joel Alperson.
What was the response to the first installment? Any reactions that were surprising?
The biggest surprise by far was that a book in the planning stage for over 15 years, an explanation of the Bible no less, became the number two book in America! We were stunned. We hoped it would do well, but never imagined it would do that well. One year later, it has 514 reviews on Amazon, 90% of which are five out of five stars.
Did the process change between the first and the second installment?
The process didn’t change much but we didn’t have to create that process for Genesis (the second volume) as we did for the first volume. For Exodus we had to consider the goal of the entire series, the format of the pages and the kinds of ideas we wanted to convey. Anyone who reads The Rational Bible (Exodus, Genesis and future volumes) will see, unlike most reference books, that it can be read easily, like a novel. And, believe it or not, the deep insights offered will be useful in one’s everyday life.
How do you personally grow from being involved with a project like this?
There are more ways than I can count. Reading and re-reading the Torah to gain a better understanding of its laws and stories is a huge benefit by itself. But Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin have given me a master-class in clear writing and clear thinking. Having the chance to challenge both of them and learn from them has been a tremendous gift. In a sense, I commissioned the explanation of the Torah I wish I’d had growing up. I hope to take the lessons I’ve learned from these volumes and pass them on to our children.
Are you still on schedule for all five books or is this more time-consuming than previously anticipated?
I wish we were. We’re way off schedule. But I remind myself how incredibly good these books are . . . even better than I had imagined, and I feel a little better. I remind myself that one hundred years from now, people won’t be thinking about how long it took to produce these books, they’ll be thinking how profound they are.
Can you share some examples of the questions that Prager poses in this second book? I remember him asking really great questions the first time around.
Sure. Even for those who aren’t religious or even if they don’t believe in God, I hope they’ll consider how compelling these topics are:
On the Question “Who Created God?”
Do Science and Genesis Conflict?
Why God Is Depicted in Male Terms
Marry and Become a Man
The Woman’s Desire for a Man
When Do Intentions Matter?
The Most Empowering Idea in Life
People Are Guilty for Their Bad Actions, Not Their Bad Thoughts
On Having Many Children
When Good People Have Bad Children
The Self-Destructive Pursuit of Fame
We Choose When to Feel Hurt or Insulted
Since Exodus was the first one published, which one is this year’s? I can’t remember if I asked you last year why you started with Exodus and not with Genesis.
Genesis is the second volume and it came out on May 7th. Dennis believes that the Ten Commandments are so foundational to creating a good world that he wanted to get Exodus out first.
Besides borrowing it from the Jewish Federation of Omaha Library, where can people get the book?
We’re excited that Costco has ordered over 25,000 copies. Otherwise, they can go to Amazon.
Or, if people want to get an autographed copy, they can order it from the Dennis Prager store.
I expect that Barnes & Noble and independent stores will also be carrying the book.