Jay Michaelson
A Conversation with Douglas Rushkoff, p. 2

JM (continued):
You're clearly right that doubt and uncertainty make the zealots' positions more rigid. But what DO you do with the religious position of "God cannot be known except through miracle, and this text records miracle"?

Or, let me pose a harder hypothetical. Clearly from a rationalistic perspective, obtaining multiple views of truth is likely to increase the total amount of information. However, to the extent religion accesses non-rational (even trans-rational) parts of the self, isn't it possible that by refusing to enter into the conceptual universe of a single tradition -- a universe which includes the view that that single tradition has better access to truth than others -- you are forever going to miss the emotive, spiritual, communal, tribal essence of what religion is about?

Are all truths cosmopolitan?

It is true that the only people who will engage in a truly honest conversation about religion are those who believe that a truly honest conversation about religion will not hurt anyone or prove useless. Engagement requires at least the acceptance that conversation and negotiation can potentially be fruitful.

What do I do with fundamentalists who believe that God can only be known with revelation? Well, honestly, they're not my responsibility. I do think they can join in the conversation, because some of them might believe that God is not continuously revealing the Truth to them. Many Jews I've met believe that there was a revelation at Mount Sinai. But this does not rule out the possibility that we may not have completely grasped the truth as it was revealed. It is still quite possible that the profundity of what was revealed at Sinai will take yet more generations to unpack. And I see the best way of unpacking it being some form of collaboration.

The rabbis did, too, which is why they didn't want people studying Judaism alone. We've got minyans for that. And those who study Talmud are supposed to do it with at least a partner. These are not Rushkoff's Rules! I'm just reading the rules, and trying to make sense of them. Seems to me that the notion of maintaining a conversation, of commenting on Torah, and then commenting on people's comments, was not invented by me. It's not a controversial notion, at all.

As for all truths being cosmopolitan? No. But you are confusing Truth with a single human being's ability to comprehend and express the truth. As far as I'm concerned, no human being is capable of comprehending the Truth. Therefore, all individual human creature understandings of God, reality, etc., are flawed and, yes, provincial. That's why it's called a perspective.

Again, this is nothing new - it's the blind men with the elephant. And it's certainly not worthy of generating controversy and the boycotts I'm getting. It doesn't mean, as Jerusalem Report claims, that I'm an 'atheist.'

You are not an atheist. The people who think you are an atheist are idolaters, believing that their image of God is God. You are, it seems to me, a Reconstructionist, i.e., someone who believes that an ultimately unknowable God unfolds through non-supernatural means, including most importantly the best efforts of human beings interacting according to the rules of Judaism with the source texts that it provides. (I wish you'd engage more with Kaplan in the book, actually.) As your rabbi said (and I don't agree with this part): "God is your conscience." Certainly, in this view, the text is far less important than the procedure for interpreting and debating it. This is a consummately rabbinic view as well as a Kaplanian one. But I think you are much more fundamentalist than you really want to be. You exclude the possibility that non-rational practices have any place in discovering truth. You seem to insist (and please correct me if I've misread you) that your particular allegorical readings of the various Biblical texts are "the meaning" of those texts. Although you espouse Midrash in the book, what you're doing isn't Midrash, it's halacha. You're telling me that the text "means" this or that, and in particular, that it means a particular, 2003-flavor middle-left social liberalism. I happen to be more or less a liberal too, but I don't go around saying that Judaism "means" that. What about radicalism? Conservatism? All are present in the Biblical texts. Midrash accommodates this multiplicity of voices. Rushkoff seems to say you're either for labor unions, or you're misreading Torah/Jewish tradition.

I'll go along with your claim that it's the conversation that matters, but I don't believe the conversational ethos _itself_ engenders your particular form of social liberalism.

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Image of Mordechai Kaplan: Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

July 2003

Symposium on
Douglas Rushkoff's
Nothing Sacred

The Sacred and the Profane
A Conversation with Douglas Rushkoff

Reinventing the Wheel: A Review of Nothing Sacred
Michael Shurkin

They Gonna Crucify Me: A 'Lapsed Jew' Responds to Nothing Sacred
Ken Applebaum

Plus these other attractions:

Meditation and Sensuality
Jay Michaelson

Anything You Want to Be
Ben Cohen

Not Mentioned
Hal Sirowitz

Josh Graduates High School
Josh Ring

Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here

David Stromberg

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