Saturday, July 27, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Hot Talk' Radio Rabbi Sees Role For The Right -- Conservatism Unites Faiths, Says Daniel Lapin

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

"Good evening to the Western Washington region and Puget-opolis," Rabbi Daniel Ephraim Lapin says.

Conducting the air in rhythm as his "bumper music," "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," fades, he says, "I, your host, your friend and your rabbi, tell you we are in a culture war."

Lapin stands behind the KVI console, sandy-bearded, sporting a black velvet yarmulka, today's newspapers splayed, computer screens blinking with news feeds, microphones aiming at his lips.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he says via satellite to about 50,000 listeners in some 30 cities. "There is a cultural clash in this country. Not between Christians and Jews. Not between men and women. Not between rich and poor.

"Certainly not between blacks and whites. But a clash between those who accept God's laws in the village square and those who reject them." The rabbi does not fear a Christian nation.

Welcome to "The Rabbi's Round Table."

The show on the conservative "Hot Talk" radio station runs Sunday and Monday nights from 9 to 11 p.m. And lately, Lapin sits in for dismissed host Mike Siegel in the daily noon to 3 p.m. slot.

But Lapin's reach extends beyond Puget-opolis.

Lapin enjoys a growing national reputation as a speaker who brilliantly spins Talmudic parables into conservative themes. He commands up to $15,000 for his daylong lectures to businesses, church groups and organizations such as the Washington Family Council.

The appeal is novel: A charming Torah scholar who loves fundamentalist Christians. Conservative values, he proclaims, are America's salvation.

Lapin created Toward Tradition, a national alliance between conservative Jews and conservative Christians, on Mercer Island.

Bob Dole, Dan Quayle and William Bennett wrote to express their enthusiasm for the rabbi's work. His close friends Clarence and Ginny Thomas host him during his frequent trips to Washington, D.C.

And now, Lapin is scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention in San Diego next month. He will broadcast "The Rabbi's Roundtable" from there on Aug. 12, and he will offer the closing prayer at the evening events on Aug. 13.

In the KVI studio, callers' names pop up on Lapin's screen: John from Oak Harbor. Todd in Silverdale. Rod on the car phone. Most of his 12 to 15 callers per hour are Christians.

"Amen, Rabbi," one caller says. Another says, "Amen, Rev'rend."

"Thank you, George from Snohomish," Lapin says. "Thank you very much, indeed."

From South Africa to a California beach

Rabbi Daniel Lapin was born in South Africa in 1947, the son, grandson and nephew of Orthodox rabbis. From age 10, he studied at The Menorah School in Britain. He returned to South Africa and taught Talmud, physics and "maths" at Johannesburg's Yeshiva University.

He embraced Jewish Orthodoxy's strict Torah laws but rebelled against its traditional insularity from the gentile world. He scuba-dived. He sailed. Lapin put on black leather and motorcycled across Africa, breaking bread with Xhosa and Watusi tribal leaders and still keeping Orthodox dietary laws.

Here in the United States, he made his own community that would vivify his notions of the pleasures of Torah life. With his close friend, Michael Medved, film critic and host of Sneak Previews, he formed an Orthodox congregation in the shell of an old temple on the beach in Venice, Calif., calling it the Pacific Jewish Center.

Medved is slated to assume the noon to 3 p.m. slot on KVI.

In California, Lapin and Medved attracted unaffiliated Jews and even some Hollywood celebrities such as Barbra Streisand and her family to their shul.

Politics and religion began to mix when PJC became, according to Lapin, the first synagogue in the country to endorse Ronald Reagan for president.

Lapin accepted no salary as rabbi. He supported his family with a real-estate business. He invested his own and some congregation members' savings in the business, and when the California real-estate market collapsed in the late 1980s, the business lost an estimated $2.3 million.

The dawn-to-midnight demands of his congregation, his moribund business, the terminal illness of his parents and his own growing family brought the rabbi to the brink of emotional collapse. He was bankrupt and burned out.

In March of 1992, Lapin, his wife and their seven children moved to Mercer Island.

"Some men take a mistress after their midlife crisis," Lapin says. "Some men buy a sports car. I moved to the Pacific Northwest."

A new effort, Toward Tradition

Toward Tradition burst on the national scene on Dec. 16, 1994, shortly after the Republican sweep of Congress, with a $17,610 advertisement on the op-ed page of the New York Times: "Mazel-Tov Speaker Gingrich," it said. "We know all about 10 Point Contracts."

"What bothered me tremendously," Lapin says, "was a tendency in America to view Jews as on the side of the villains. To see Jews as on the side of depravity instead of decency, on the side of taxation and regulation instead of small-business independence. To believe that Judaism endorsed homosexuality. There was a tendency to see Jews as hostile to religion."

He feels conservative Christians cleave closer to Torah teachings than do liberal Jews. He feels much safer in a Christian community than in one with no religion at all.

National and local Jewish leaders and rabbis cringe as Lapin finds common cause with those who would tear down the wall between church and state.

Lapin dismisses those who attack him as liberals. But many organizations that oppose his efforts and his views, such as B'Nai Brith's Anti-Defamation League, are anything but.

"I'm very depressed my views should outrage my fellow Jews," the rabbi says, looking rather pleased.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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