Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism

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9780609610947: Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism

Acclaimed writer and thinker Douglas Rushkoff, author of Ecstasy Club and Coercion, has written perhaps the most important—and controversial—book on Judaism in a generation. As the religion stands on the brink of becoming irrelevant to the very people who look to it for answers, Nothing Sacred takes aim at its problems and offers startling and clearheaded solutions based on Judaism’s core values and teachings.

Disaffected by their synagogues’ emphasis on self-preservation and obsession with intermarriage, most Jews looking for an intelligent inquiry into the nature of spirituality have turned elsewhere, or nowhere. Meanwhile, faced with the chaos of modern life, returnees run back to Judaism with a blind and desperate faith and are quickly absorbed by outreach organizations that—in return for money—offer compelling evidence that God exists, that the Jews are, indeed, the Lord’s “chosen people,” and that those who adhere to this righteous path will never have to ask themselves another difficult question again.

Ironically, the texts and practices making up Judaism were designed to avoid just such a scenario. Jewish tradition stresses transparency, open-ended inquiry, assimilation of the foreign, and a commitment to conscious living. Judaism invites inquiry and change. It is an “open source” tradition—one born out of revolution, committed to evolution, and willing to undergo renaissance at a moment’s notice. But, unfortunately, some of the very institutions created to protect the religion and its people are now suffocating them.

If the Jewish tradition is actually one of participation in the greater culture, a willingness to wrestle with sacred beliefs, and a refusal to submit blindly to icons that just don’t make sense to us, then the “lapsed” Jews may truly be our most promising members. Why won’t they engage with the synagogue, and how can they be made to feel more welcome?

Nothing Sacred is a bold and brilliant book, attempting to do nothing less than tear down our often false preconceptions about Judaism and build in their place a religion made relevant for the future.

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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 the Back Cover:

“This is one of the most important books I have read about contemporary faith and particularly about Judaism. It is uncompromising and honest and brilliant and true. It will be a painful revelation to many, but also, for all of us, a burst of badly needed intellectual and spiritual oxygen and light.”—Naomi Wolf

Nothing Sacred is provocative, exquisitely challenging, fearless, and brilliant. It is chock-full with ideas and insights that will change the way people look at their Judaism. It is, at the same time, a penetrating look, done with compassion, at what is wrong with contemporary Jewish life and an inspiring exploration of what is right about Judaism for the world.”—Rabbi Irwin Kula, president, CLAL, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

“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 worshiped, 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.” —Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs

“This is an extraordinary book. It is both analytical and passionate, rational and imbued by faith, calling on its readers to lend their minds, their hearts, and their souls to the construction of a Judaism that works for our times.”—Ruth Messinger

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