Jay Michaelson
A Conversation with Douglas Rushkoff, p. 3

JM (continued):
Moreover, for me, it is impossible to have a conversation about ethics without my own direct experience of non-unitive Divine reality entering into the conversation, because, for me, my ethics flow (hopefully generously) from that enlarged awareness. Your book has very nasty things to say about my brand of Judaism. I wear a red bracelet, but I didn't pay a dime for it; actually I got it myself on a pilgrimage to Rachel's Tomb in Palestine. I don't think it keeps away a magical evil eye; I think it is a reminder of the Oneness of all reality. I've never been to the Kabbalah Center, but I teach at Elat Chayyim, and I translate Kabbalistic texts for my students. I am a post-denominational, queer, multicultural, postmodern, mystical, meditating Jew. Where do I fit into your conversation? What beliefs of mine do I have to check at the door in order to participate? Do I have to pretend that your ontology is correct in order to join in?

Well, what you've said convinces me that I have terribly miscommunicated almost everything I meant to say with Nothing Sacred.

While I am just as upset about the Kabbalah Learning Center as I am about infantilized Reform Jews, I thought I had written an extraordinarily mystical take on Judaism. The entire notion of 'nothing' being sacred, and the divine emerging in that nothingness, is spiritual Judaism.

And I've counted at least 8 times in the book where I explain that any midrash I use or borrow in the book is not meant as a definitive explanation for some piece of Torah, but an example of a process that people can use to engage with Torah for themselves. Open source Judaism, as I've called it, is a process through which people arrive at their own midrashim. But people need to understand what midrash is, and that they're entitled to engage in it. I was modeling this behavior.

The important part of the book I'd have you look at again is the central metaphor of post-renaissance Judaism, where each person's point of view is resolved into a holographic, multi-dimensional, living Jewish reality. This is as trippy as you'd ever want something to be described. I don't see why you would think I am belittling spirituality when I simply don't think that the Jewish-named cults that popstars are joining reflect Judaism's potential.

Second thread: Mainstream and Margins

In media theorist's terms, I guess what I'm trying to do is show how Judaism is less about content than contact. The Torah, for example, can be understood as a way for people to interact - a tool for discussions. (That's why you're supposed to have ten people around to read it.) It is not an end in itself, but a means. Not a message as much as a medium. But I can't just say it like that - not to a group of people who might believe Torah is a message from God and only that. To such people, the assertion that the torah is a medium (or that God is a medium through which people can relate) negates the image of God that they hold as dear and real.

I agree with your position but wonder: Who are these people you're talking to? None of my friends who are rabbis, including Orthodox ones, believe these things. Torah is far less discursive than the Talmud, which audaciously states that law is to be decided by humans and not God, and which encodes in its textual structure the models for debating the text.

Come to any of my talks at bookstores or synagogues, and you'll meet plenty of people who feel this way. It happens largely because they are using Torah to support the land claim to Israel. Thus, it can't be discussed in allegorical terms. Interpretation can no longer be done, because an interpretation implies that we may not really know what it says.

Maybe the media question here is really one of _mass_ media and which audience you're talking about. Sometimes I forget that I'm talking to the Douglas Rushkoff I know from _Coercion_ and _Cyberia_, because I'm just puzzled how you can elide the dumbest of the Jewish mainstream with "contemporary Judaism." Who sets the rules for who speaks for contemporary Judaism? Granted, there is a large _am haaretz_ contingent that wants to hold onto the West Bank and will use Biblical texts to justify that. I find that idolatrous. But I think you are doing the large numbers of alternative Jews a massive disservice by completely ignoring us in _Nothing Sacred_. Why is Tikkun never even mentioned? What about Hazon, Dorot, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Deot in Israel, Jewish Renewal, the Havurah Movement, Netivot Shalom, and a thousand other groups who deeply engage with Jewish text in the service of really important social and spiritual transformation? Where is the Knitting Factory, Orthodykes, the Jewish Burning Man and Rainbow gathering groups, Mordechai Gafni and the Festival movement in Israel, the Hadar minyan in New York, neo-Hasidism, Pardes, the New Shul, Nathan Englander, John Zorn, Textual Reasoning, and Arthur Waskow? Largely through the Internet, in fact, these groups have created a matrix of alternative Judaisms which have nothing to do with the mainstream.

Now, of course, numerically, the mainstream is larger. But in your regular media criticism you are acutely sensitive to the interplays between dominant and subversive cultures. Why do you act as though "Jews" think what the squarest, dumbest, and most Establishment Jews think? There are teeming, lively, amazing Jewish subcultures -- and I've only mentioned a few of the cultures and figures above that I personally participate in or know (hence the East Coast bias..). This situation is no different from that of "American" culture, which you of all people know cannot be reduced to ABC, CBS, and Fox. What is going on?

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Image of sefirot: Tel Aviv University

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

about zeek




From previous issues:

Michael Shurkin

Faces of Death
Thomas Vinciguerra

Loneliness and Faith
Jay Michaelson

yom kippur
Sara Seinberg