By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Jewish Journal on 27 May 2003


Douglas Rushkoff, author of the controversial new book, “Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism,” will speak at Temple Israel on Thursday, June 5 at 7:30 p.m., during the evening Shavuot service.

Rushkoff is one of America’s most popular culture critics. His commentaries air on CBS’ Sunday Morning and NPR’s All Things Considered, and he hosted a PBS Frontline documentary, The Merchants of Cool, about corporate America’s marketing efforts toward teen-agers. He regularly appears on TV shows including Larry King Live and Politically Incorrect.

In his new book, Rushkoff offers an analysis of the role of religion in America today that has already sparked heated debate both within and far beyond the Jewish community. Rushkoff said that Jewish institutions “appear frozen in their protective crouch, desperately counting their remaining constituents and wondering why young people are intermarrying and ‘assimilating’ at such alarming rates.”

With organized Judaism focused on its own survival, rather than the substance of Judaism, organized Judaism turns off many Jews.

“Some of our best people are doing Judaism at the ACLU, because they’re finding it hard to do Judaism within Jewish organizations,” Rushkoff said.

Rushkoff – recently named by one newspaper as the ‘‘provocateur of Judaism” – argues that “Judaism is not simply a religion to be believed in, but one to be considered, discussed, and evolved. Jewish texts and rituals are not closed, but open to commentary, disagreement, and even revision.”

Using computer software terminology, Rushkoff said that Judaism is a medium for the development of an open source value system.

Rushkoff recognized that his message is not always well·received within the organized Jewish community, and he understood why.

“Like any institution that believes it is under terrible threat, many Jewish institutions have become obsessed with preserving themselves rather than the ideas or processes they were created to protect,” Rushkoff said. “What use is a synagogue building if Judaism isn’t practiced inside it? What use is philanthropy dedicated to Jewish continuity, if the only continuity it promotes is the fear of intermarriage?

“We in the 21st century have such a primitive, flat, literal understanding of Judaism – we are so very distanced from anything resembling Jewish-ness – that we can’t imagine something being passed on or continued that we can see or touch,” Rushkoff added. “So if our kids want to start a havura and debate Torah with their friends, we still see that as a loss because they’re not going to synagogue. Officially, because they’re not ‘affiliated’ with a synagogue, they count as ‘lapsed Jews.’”

Still, Rushkoff does not have a shortage of audiences for his sometimes-controversial perspectives.

“As for a message, I guess I’m just asking people to engage in honest conversation about Judaism and Jewishness, and to arm themselves with the education and experiences they need to have these conversations,” Rushkoff said. “If I need to have a message, like some prophet does, then it would be that we must not prepare for the Messianic Age, but enact it in the present. Judaism happens now, not in some future moment. The minute you are preparing for some future God-like moment is the minute that you can rationalize hurting someone else.”

Temple Israel’s Robert Glazier, vice president of religious affairs, said he believed that Rushkoff is a natural to speak at the landmark Miami shul.

“Judaism is in a transition period where things that worked for a long time don’t seem to work so well anymore,” Glazier said. “Some synagogues, including Temple Israel, are trying to figure out what’s next. Douglas realizes this transition period and has some ideas what is to come.”

Temple Israel of Greater Miami is located at 137 NE 19th St. For more information, call (305) 573-5900.