Jay Michaelson
A Conversation with Douglas Rushkoff, p. 4

I'm not sending people to conservative shul or Skirball or anywhere. I'm just letting them know that they can access these texts for themselves, and get into the conversation. Yes, I've stressed humanism because I saw it as my job in the book not to turn people back to Judaism, or to show them where they can access cool Jewish stuff, but to recontextualize our behaviors in the secular world AS Jewish. I'm saying that it's not the object of the game to get people to behave more Jewishly. It's our job to accept all these great behaviors as Jewish. Change the boundary condition around this thing. Then the whole world becomes Jerusalem.

So - from your POV which is, as I see it, coming from the opposite perspective (not the opposite sensibility, but the other side of the same object) you're asking questions about why I've included or belittled certain things.

I'm writing from the perspective of someone completely outside Judaism.

Yes, I could have told people that there are valuable resources [in the Jewish community and the mystical traditions]. But the presentation of pshat, alone, is already more controversial than most Jews can accept: you're saying Moses's wife was black????

Third tread: Judaism and/as Social Justice

A lot of the people I've been speaking with lately are [..] afraid that if Judaism becomes primarily concerned with social justice, it will lose its particular roots, and get lost in the "same ethics" as every other religion.

I'm not reducing Judaism to ethics. I'm measuring its success by its ability to make the world a better place. There's a difference.

I do think many religions do strive to make the world a better place. Before Judaism (and, perhaps, Hinduism) the notion of human beings having the ability to make the world a better place was heresy. We were to depend on the gods, alone, for any improvement. So, as I see it, Judaism's big initial contribution was to make human beings the adults on the planet, responsible for their actions, and capable of manifesting the divine through action.

This required Jews go from following commandments to 'hearing' commandments to interpreting commandments to actually generating commandments. Open source Judaism means getting down into the code of the commandments, realizing they were developed by human beings (working divinely) and bringing ourselves to the place where we can engineer them to the next level. (Not just to our 'liking' or to make them 'easier' but to continue the Jewish project - the painstaking effort to move into conscious, responsible, adulthood.)

So I'm trying to show how much great, evolutionary, non-exclusive, pluralistic, and radically collaborative traditions there are in this Jewish process.

I get the idea of pluralism - better lawmaking - making the world a better place, but do you have any room for debating the premise of your evaluative mechanism? On a first-order basis, obviously you do; we can engage in a lengthy debate as to whether stem-cell research makes the world a better or worse place from a Jewish perspective, and that's what it's all about. But you seem to elide "making the world a better place" with "social justice." What about union with God? What about environmental justice? Or, to take some values I might not want to argue for, what about fulfilling the collective-historical (or collective-mythical) destiny of nations? Someone could very well argue for ethnocentric, chosen-people Judaism on the basis that a "better world" is one in which people live out their Volk's distinctive destiny. What is your response to the mystic, radical Green, and patriot?

Would you evaluate a work of art according to whether it makes the world a better place in terms of social justice? Hopefully not -- that's not what a lot of art does. I do think that art can stimulate the individual soul to become more sensitive, attentive, and respectful of beauty -- all values that in turn lead to more social behavior. But is the social behavior piece the criterion for evaluating the art? Or might there be other yardsticks of the Good?

I don't reduce making the world a better place to social justice. It's just the most tangible contribution Jews have made in the 20th century - and an easy yardstick for your progress.

We can surely make the world a more spiritually aware place. Environmental justice is a form of social justice (particularly if we stop, say, Bronfman's parent company Vivendi from starving people of their water rights in South America). It's extraordinarily Yiddishkite. Look at the environmental rules in Torah for the support of the topsoil. It's as progressive as what the Native Americans were doing.

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Image: Nat'l Chavurah Committee

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:

Plague Cookies
Mica Scalin

The Mall Balloon-Man Moment of the Spirit
Dan Friedman

Abraham Mezrich