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Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism Paperback – March 23, 2004
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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 valuesiconoclasm, 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 cultures 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.
Top customer reviews
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.
I'll admit it.
And I'll credit Mr. Rushkoff's book with pushing me in the right direction to relearn it.
Most surprising to me throughout this book is that just when something really irked me and I thought Mr. Rushkoff was writing something "bad for the Jews," he'd come back with some epiphany that shows his true reverence and compassion for the religion.
Oddly enough, this theology primer's a page-turner, and I'd recommend it to anyone remotely interested.
As one professionally trained in Christian Theology, I find this approach very refreshing and appropriately uncomfortable. As I read pages, my mind kept saying "and this applies to non-Jews as well." Anyone from the three traditions that see their roots in the story of Abraham should find this a really thought provloking read.
There are portions that do drag a bit, but read through them because there is always a wonderfull insight following the slow portion.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
All ideas shared in the book are a fine presentation, better said compilation of thoughts by Conservative and Reform...Read more