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

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Editorial Reviews 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: #1,477,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Winner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values. He sees "media" as the landscape where this interaction takes place, and "literacy" as the ability to participate consciously in it.

His ten best-selling books on new media and popular culture have been translated to over thirty languages. They include Cyberia, Media Virus, Playing the Future, Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism, and Coercion, winner of the Marshall Mcluhan Award for best media book. Rushkoff also wrote the acclaimed novels Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy and graphic novel, Club Zero-G. He has just finished a book for HarperBusiness, applying renaissance principles to today's complex economic landscape, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. He's now writing a monthly comic book for Vertigo called Testament.

He has written and hosted two award-winning Frontline documentaries - The Merchants of Cool looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture, and The Persuaders, about the cluttered landscape of marketing, and new efforts to overcome consumer resistance.

Rushkoff's commentaries air on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR's All Things Considered, and have appeared in publications from The New York Times to Time magazine. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for The New York Times and Guardian of London, as well as a column on wireless for The Feature and a new column for the music and culture magazine, Arthur.

Rushkoff founded the Narrative Lab at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and lectures about media, art, society, and change at conferences and universities around the world.

He is Advisor to the United Nations Commission on World Culture, on the Board of Directors of the Media Ecology Association, The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, and as a founding member of Technorealism. He has been awarded Senior Fellowships by the Markle Foundation and the Center for Global Communications Fellow of the International University of Japan.

He regularly appears on TV shows from NBC Nightly News to Larry King and Bill Maher. He is writing a new monthly comic book for Vertigo, and developed the Electronic Oracle software series for HarperCollins Interactive.

Rushkoff is on the board of several new media non-profits and companies, and regularly consults on new media arts and ethics to museums, governments, synagogues, churches, and universities, as well as Sony, TCI, advertising agencies, and other Fortune 500 companies.

Rushkoff graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received an MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts, a post-graduate fellowship (MFA) from The American Film Institute, and a Director's Grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has worked as a certified stage fight choreographer, and as keyboardist for the industrial band PsychicTV.

He lives in Park Slope Brooklyn with his wife, Barbara, and daughter Mamie.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 45 people found the following review helpful By GavinFarrMedia on April 28, 2005
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.)"


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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29 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Steven Meyers on August 19, 2003
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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Raymond Jepson on January 13, 2008
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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21 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on June 14, 2003
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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