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Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism


Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism

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

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 on January 22, 2011

Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism
by Douglas Rushkoff

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2003
  • Genres: Judiasm, Nonfiction, Religion
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 0609610945
  • ISBN-13: 9780609610947