36 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2005
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. The book is has funny moments, heavy moments, and is quite the page turner for a non-fiction work. He writes in an engaging, anecdotal style that is clearly intended for a younger, more cosmopolitan audience.
What he presents is not something I can reformulate here, but think of all the books you've read that really angered or enlightened you. Why did they anger you? Why did they enlighten you? If you can see why the books that enlightened you seriously angered others, then you'll understand why this book is very meaningfully powerful and controversial.
29 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2003
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...
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2008
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.
20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2003
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.
Thus, Rushkoff proposes that the best and perhaps only path to the survival of Judaism, which feels itself to be in crisis in many ways, is a renaissance, where the central values are explored, internalized and appreciated above ritual in its variety of forms. He is not suggesting that Judaism discard all the cultural developments of the last two thousand years --- in fact, Torah is essential to his understanding of the tradition and for its continuation. However, a shift in perspective would allow creativity of thought, expression and self-understanding, and would open up Judaism to the so-called lapsed Jews and potentially introduce non-Jews to the Jewish worldview. Rushkoff therefore suggests what he calls "open-source" Judaism, which would operate similarly to open-source software; one would be free to take the ideas one needs, modify them in order to personalize them, and would then be encouraged to leave his or her own ideas, insights, and interpretations for others to explore. This is not cafeteria-style religion, however. Each person would be responsible for learning as much as possible about the religion and culture; the Jewish tradition of learning would not only continue but also become stronger and more personal.
All of Rushkoff's ideas are fascinating, from the emphasis on the core Judaic values, to his understanding of Jewish history, to open-source Judaism. NOTHING SACRED is a thoughtful evaluation of Judaism and, despite its grand concepts, is easy to read. This book will undoubtedly stir controversy, but in Rushkoff's scheme, that is not a bad thing at all. Dynamic debate, the personal versus the institutional, and active exploration are all part of the renaissance he is championing.
With implications for Jewish individuals (issues of observance and spirituality), families (intermarriage and assimilation), and communities (communal rituals and the relationship with Israel), NOTHING SACRED is an important addition to Jewish literature and thought. Rushkoff's theories will speak loudly and clearly to Jews disaffected and dissatisfied with the road contemporary Judaism has taken. It will also speak to Jews looking to engage more fully and deeply with their tradition. It should speak to all readers, Jews and non-Jews alike, as a call for conscious living, social justice, and cultural openness and acceptance.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2007
If you have studied Jewish philosophy or the history of Judaism at all, this book should not seem so horribly radical or offensive to you as it has seemed to some readers. I became very interested in Jewish philosophy after I took a course on it in college. Now, you can argue that college professors (and Rushkoff is one) are "Lefties" in general, and there's no good answer to that, but this book is no more blasphemous, no more divisive, and no more offensive than the course I took.
As Rushkoff himself emphasizes, aspects of Judaism have been reinterpreted and reinvented since the beginning. Texts which are now considered nearly sacred, like the Midrash, were written by men who thought about their faith. They were intellectuals, philosophers. Maimonides had new ideas in his day, and Spinoza's work was absolutely detested by the orthodoxy in his time. But in time, we see that philosophizing on Judaism does not have to be divisive. It can strengthen us and enrich us.
I don't usually go in for these "thought-provoking" books, and I read this book with as much skepticism and critical thinking as usual, but I loved it. If you aren't open to this kind of discourse about your religion, I guess you shouldn't read the book. But if you've ever wondered what it means to be Jewish today, and if you've ever said, "I'm a bad Jew!" even jokingly, this book was written for you.
on July 7, 2012
Douglass Rushkoff's understanding of software development often strikes me as profound, none more so than on page 222 "Many lines of code apply to situations that may no longer exist, but the essential purpose of the program must remain intact." Any experienced software developer recognizes the universal insight expressed there.
In fewer places, he reveals his unfamiliarity with the fundamentals of computer technology, for example on page 141 when he writes about "top-level machine language", where it would have suited his metaphor better to mention circuitry and processor design, or at least call it "low-level machine language".
But he hits the bull's eye when he identifies the revision control system as one of software development's most powerful concepts. Import Torah's revision history into github -- that's what he basically recommends. A fine recommendation indeed!
On page 133 he writes "A key premise of the open source software development model is that programmers relinquish ownership of their code." This statement seems to me not entirely accurate. Thanks to the revision control system, we never relinquish *credit*. And credit is the motivation that drives the majority of contribution to open source software. Let's not forget about `/usr/bin/git blame`. After all, Git never forgets about us, which is the whole point.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2009
Nothing Sacred is a fascinating look at the Jewish faith through the eyes of Douglas Rushkoff. Rushkoff's writing is characterized by a combination of deep intellectual reflection, systems and chaos theory, and media commentary - and Nothing Sacred is no exception. This book is worth a read if you're a Rushkoff fan, but is targeted towards those interested Judaism or of Jewish descent.
Personally, I fall into neither category, but read this book as a result of my being a fan of Rushkoff's Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back and Media Virus!. That being said I found the book to be interesting and felt that I learned quite a bit about the Jewish faith in terms of both benefits and shortcomings. Not being the target audience much had likely gone over my head and it was admittedly, a challenging read at times. I respect Rushkoff's willingness to share his spiritual journey and his reflection on that journey and commend him for his courage to write such a book, especially since the content may have ostracized him from members of his community.
If you are fan of Douglas Rushkoff, interested in religious discussion, or of Jewish descent this book is worth a read. Otherwise you may want to pass.
on November 24, 2013
Great discussions and thinking but it has a problem of trying to hold religion that is meant for the masses to be adapted to the elite thinkers for whom it would never have been presented as it is.
23 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2003
I think Howard Rheingold (Smart Mobs, Virtual Community) said it better than I can. Here's his review of this book:
"I read Nothing Sacred reluctantly, from a stance of deep skepticism, and learned to my delight and enlightenment, that this is truly a Jewish approach. Rushkoff uses millennia of Jewish teachings to reveal that God is indeed to be questioned not obeyed, created not worshipped, continually revised, reconsidered, and debated - not graven in stone. I truly believe this book might end up as one of the most important works of Jewish literature, worthy of comparison with Maimonides and Buber. Many will be outraged and even furious at Rushkoff for daring to revise the Jewish tradition of self-questioning. I thank him for helping me feel like a Jew again."
So when you read reviews like the fundamentalist, below, or even the orthodox extremists in some of the editorial reviews above, remember that they feel their God is being attacked and can't defend himself. Then they go nuts, and make stuff up. The reviewer from JPost suggests that Rushkoff is promoting a Socialist Presidential candidate - when there' s no mention in this book of anything of the kind.
Indeed, this book is worthy of comparison with Spinoza and Maimonides, who were also persecuted by the corrupt Jewish establishment for trying to share with the world that Judaism is actually a universal truth and not a racist sect. Or, at least it was meant to be.
17 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2003
This, of course, is not the only book to stress (sad that it needs stressing, these days) the humanity and wisdom of Judaism and its influence in making the modern progressive world. For me it's sad that the book needed to be written at all, but with the increase of Jewish (and fundamentalist Christian) zealotry and the apparent decrease in the intellectual tradition, these things have to be restated. In a changing world people always tend to fall back on know-nothingism, on 'faith' (that is, blinkered fundamentalism) and on anti-intellectualism. Both traditions have existed in Judaism since time began, it seems, but until recently the best tradition, the liberal tradition, has dominated America and Western Europe. Now it seems the old, fearful tradition is beginning to dominate US politics, if not the politics of the rest of the world, and that can only be a bad thing for the world and for Judaism. At a time when Israel's policies have fueled the incipient anti-Semitism of Middle America, we should be reaching out and speaking out, emphasising the great tradition of humane and progressive decency which is the core of real Judaism, not shaking our fists at our enemies and calling for God to strike them dead. Let those of us who respect and revere the great Judaic traditions of liberal thought and humane action emphasise what we stand for. One of the ways of doing this would be to buy this book, perhaps together with Martin Gilbert's Letters to Auntie Fori, and give it to as many non-Jewish friends as possible. Meanwhile we can only continue to assert our own broad-mindedness and traditions of liberal activism which helped create the best elements in modern America and, indeed, much of the world.