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Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism Hardcover – April 1, 2003

3.1 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Judaism is in danger of compromising the core values which have made this religion so resilient and enduring through the millenniums, according to author and NPR commentator Douglas Rushkoff. The strength and longevity of Judaism lies in its original values—iconoclasm, media literacy, its ability to encourage inquiry instead of obedience. But Rushkoff argues that these values have become dangerously compromised to the point where Judaism is now more concerned with adherence to a righteous path and unquestioning assimilation. Unless the Jewish community restores its emphasis on "inquiry over certainty and fluidity over sanctity," he believes it will be impossible to reach the numerous disaffected Jews who are struggling with the intense and sometimes terrifying challenges of modern life.

As a media watchdog and social commentator, Rushkoff (Coercion: Why We Listen to What They Say) is especially attuned to the negative affects of globalization and media technologies. One of his main gripes is that Judaism is starting to function more like a global corporation. For instance, instead of challenging the market culture’s influence over children, "Jewish outreach groups are hiring trend watchers to help them market Judaism to younger audiences," he writes. The good news, notes Rushkoff, is that Judaism also has a "Renaissance Tradition," in which it has faced similar crises in the past and successfully reorganized itself according to its original tenets. He sees the potential for such a Renaissance now, and even offers ideas on how this could come about. With its inflammatory premise and hard hitting message, this book is destined to stir enormous controversy and, ironically, a good deal of inquiry and debate within the Jewish community. --Gail Hudson

From Publishers Weekly

A self-styled "media theorist and social commentator," Rushkoff has written and lectured extensively about interactive technology. Here he applies Judaism to his questions about the Internet, since "Judaism is a religion dedicated to media literacy." Although he calls himself a "lapsed Jew," he spent a year studying relevant texts, attending synagogue and talking with rabbis and teachers. His findings are set forth in this book, which is, disappointingly, a repetitious and contentious polemic. Rushkoff believes that Judaism is a do-it-yourself religion based on iconoclasm, abstract monotheism and social justice. He examines and re-examines these ideas, commenting on Jewish history in general and American Jewish history in particular. He insists that Jews have to raise questions about Judaism rather than follow synagogues and Jewish organizations in their preoccupation with issues of assimilation and inter-marriage. In addition to criticizing what he calls "institutional Judaism," Rushkoff rails against Jewish mysticism and efforts to reach out to unaffiliated Jews as vain attempts to rescue Judaism from its "cultural sinkhole." He argues for a "renaissance" that would provide an "ethical, intellectual and spiritual template," creating a "dimensional leap"-vague terms that are all overused in this book. He repeatedly asserts that Jewish holidays and rituals are "borrowed and adapted," and that "in Judaism, nothing is sacred," thus opening the door to education and exploration. To facilitate such endeavors, he concludes with a useful discussion of sources for further research.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609610945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609610947
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Douglas Rushkoff is the author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now as well as a dozen other bestselling books on media, technology, and culture, including Program or Be Programmed, Media Virus, Life Inc and the novel Ecstasy Club. His latest book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity, will be published by Penguin/Portfolio in March 2016. He is Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at CUNY/Queens. He wrote the graphic novels Testament and A.D.D., and made the television documentaries Generation Like, Merchants of Cool, The Persuaders, and Digital Nation. He lives in New York, and lectures about media, society, and economics around the world.

Rushkoff's first book about digital culture, Cyberia, was canceled by Bantam in 1992 because they thought the Internet would be "over" by the time the book came out in 1993. It came out the next year with HarperCollins. When he told his publicist there about listing the book on Amazon, she replied "that sounds great! Is Amazon for the Mac or the PC?"

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
One of my oldest friends is a practicing Jew, despite being an Atheist. Judaism to him is a set of cultural practices handed down and revered from generation to generation--much like High School football in West Texas. He suggested, very strongly, that I read this book.

I knew I had to read it when I realized that the Amazon reviews of this book primarily boiled down to two types:

"LIES, LIES, LIES. (Even though the only lies I can point out are in intellectual details, not the core substance of his book.)"

"THIS BOOK OPENED MY EYES. I CAN'T BELIEVE A BOOK ON RELIGION IS SUCH A PAGETURNER."

While Rushkoff's work has a few flaws that I noticed, and probably a few more I didn't, this book is a very, very strong critique of not only modern Judaism, but of religious traditionalism in general.

While I disagree somewhat with his state intent and the leap he makes from his critique to get to his conclusion, he writes a very compelling case against what is held as established Jewish tradition. Many of the spears of hypocrisy that people throw at the religious right are melted down and reformulated into bullets which Rushkoff shoots at modern Judaism with alarming ease and accuracy.

His core point is that modern Judaism is in crisis. Essentially, his largest criticism is that Judaism is more about the preservation of traditions and the concept of a "chosen race" than it is about the preservation of faith. It is more about ensuring intermarriage and raising Jewish families than it is about understanding or debating the core precepts of Jewish faith.

While I believe he diverts slightly from what I picked out as his core point, the book is nonetheless an enlightening read from any standpoint of the situation.
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Format: Hardcover
Rushkoff presents a thesis that the main tenets of Judaism are iconoclasm, radical monotheism, and social justice. Using this framework, he then suggests that many have gone astray by their preoccupation with issues such as Jews as a "people" or intermarriage.
This work is ambitious and well-written. However, it is not really as radical as the author has packaged it. For instance, the final chapter of his book emphasizes how practicing Jews must become more versed in Torah to revitalize and re-invent rituals. This is common belief in the Reconstructionist movement. He also underscores the critical role of social justice and universalistic themes -- which are hallmarks of Reform Judaism.
Actually, I agree with many of his assertions, but find it odd that he doesn't connect these themes into the major movements which currently espouse such ideals...
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Format: Paperback
In the world which I inhabit, that of progressive secular college educated types, the bible is about as popular to read as the latest Rush Limbaugh book. I understand how this happened. The religious traditions and interests of the Christian churches and Jewish synagogues are antiquated. These religions no longer speak to the fears and concerns of modern people. That's what makes Nothing Sacred so refreshing. Douglas Rushkoff takes the basic ingredients of Judaism and reinterprets it to speak to the contemporary.

Rushkoff's basics for Judaism is abstract mono-theism, iconoclasm and social justice. He makes a compelling case for this foundation. The author then gives a brief history of how each ingredient has been interpreted and re-interpreted throughout history. The last section, he lays out his ideas on how to make Judaism (and in my opinion, Christianity) valid today.

A few notes, Rushkoff is best known for his books on marketing, culture, market research. This book reflects that, in how he is arguing for Judaism to abandon a Microsoft business plan, for one more like Wikipedia.

Also, the author notes how many Jews are turning to Buddhism and other eastern religions. I believe this is because it doesn't come with the historical baggage of Abrahamic religions (church scandals, sex scandals, fascism, holocaust, inquisition, etc. all in the name of god). Also, when these religions are introduced to westerners, the introductions don't include all of their baggage. Therefore, westerners are welcome to read what they want into zen tales or the Tao Te Ching. Rushkoff is really pushing for the same kind of fresh look at the Torah, minus our baggage.

To sum up, I didn't think someone could inspire me to want to read the old testament...but Rushkoff has.
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Format: Hardcover
Scholars who call for a reexamination of a religion or tradition in order to preserve or strengthen it often call for a stricter interpretation of scripture, a stronger commitment to observance of ritual, or perhaps an infusion of spirituality or the mystical. However Douglas Rushkoff, in his evaluation of and suggestions for the future of Judaism, questions its current manifestation in its entirety. He asks if the Judaism that is practiced in modern homes, temples and synagogues, the Judaism that is promoted by modern Jewish organizations, is in fact a viable and authentic Judaism at all. In NOTHING SACRED: The Truth About Judaism, Rushkoff takes the difficult stance that today's Judaism has strayed far from the principle themes and values that are actually the core of the tradition.
Rushkoff asserts that, as Jewish communities bemoan the loss of Jews through assimilation and intermarriage, and as the religion is split into factions divided over levels of religious observance, Jews labeled as "lapsed" or "secular" are in reality the ones carrying on the tradition in its purest, healthiest form. Three core values, according to Rushkoff, are at the center of Judaism: iconoclasm, abstract monotheism, and social justice. Through an examination of Jewish history and philosophy, he convincingly demonstrates how these three values are the foundation of Judaism and are most crucial. This rethinking of Jewish history and belief led Rushkoff to conclude that Judaism grew from an Egyptian labor movement that transformed itself over time and through contact with other cultures. Transformation, then, should be welcomed as a vital and positive force, not something negative or threatening. Transformation can refresh and revitalize Judaism.
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