In discussing the “Next Big Jewish Idea” question, I cited Douglas Rushkoff’s writing on business innovation and noted his book on Judaism, Nothing Sacred, which caused a bit of a stir a few years ago, and prompted significant criticism.
This criticism was echoed in our comments when I suggested finding a way to, once again, bring Rushkoff back into Jewish communal conversations.
Now it’s Rushkoff’s turn to respond. Douglas sent me an email response last night, which he’s graciously allowed me to post here.
Hi Daniel, and thanks for the post. It’s always nice to be invited into a conversation – or even to be considered for inclusion. The responses to your suggestion in the comments section kind of tell the story, though. Not the true one, but the one that keeps a lot of smart people from engaging in anything but truly local, face-to-face forums.
As for my own real recent history with Judaism: yes, I wrote a book called Nothing Sacred, after about four (adult) years of what I’d consider to be intense study – both of Torah, Midrash, Talmud, and history, as well as the current condition of Jewish culture. Like many of today’s Jewish writers, I was bemoaning what I saw as organized Judaism’s solipsism, and suggesting that Judaism was indeed interesting and relevant enough to stand on its own merits. No need to make it “cool” or to do things “just to get people in the door.”
Focus on the genuine inquiry at the heart of the practice, and we’d attract more people than by demanding “fidelity” in the form of allegiance to Israel or prevention of intermarriage.
Indeed, one of the main arguments of the book was that Judaism transcends race and place.
The theological argument of the book – the “nothing sacred” part – was based on the idea that Jews get their specific idols out of the way (iconoclasm) in order to gather around a more abstract notion of God (monotheism) all for the real job of social justice. So I made the point that Jews who were resorting to civil liberties or social activism instead of synagogue worship shouldn’t be seen as failures – especially when their experiences of synagogue didn’t offer them the opportunity to engage with ego-smashing inquiry or the rethinking of society’s dangerous underlying structures. And I offered examples from Torah of people taking the gods off altars – or creating empty tents – in order to engage with God. Protecting the empty space, because out of this engagement with one another – devoid of all idols – emerges the sacred. The “nothing” we get after all that difficult work is actually sacred.