Internet maven Rushkoff, whose previous ponderings (Why We Listen to What “They” Say, 1999, etc.) have delineated threat and thrill in cyberculture, now has news for millions of seriously observant Jews: they don’t get it.
Why are Judaism’s numbers slipping? The author’s readings of its history suggest strongly to him that the flock, not just the rabbis, is supposed to be personally in charge of interpreting scriptures and tenets and, thus, determining how a religion designed to evolve will evolve. Instead, he asserts, misplaced rabbinical strategies for recovering a growing body of “lapsed” congregants—stressing literal interpretations, resisting marriage outside the faith (to maximize procreation of faithful), and endless fundraising based on threats against a “chosen” people and their promised land, Israel—are having exactly the opposite effect. Moreover, Rushkoff laments, Judaism is being dislodged from its bedrock values, which he presents as “iconoclasm, abstract monotheism and social justice.” The road back? Rushkoff suggests no less than letting go of the “chosen” notion altogether (“Judaism is an idea, not a race”) and, with it, the fixation on Israel. Strong stuff, and laid on thick. While the author seems well grounded in historical interpretations of Jewish ideas (Freud is a favorite source), many will reject his claim that enough Jews concluded God must have had something to do with anything as horrible as the Holocaust to trigger a mass postwar return to “purity”—rigidity and formality—in liturgical practice. (The attendant notion, however, of post-Holocaust elevation of the Orthodoxy to the point of its ability to influence both domestic and foreign policy in Israel does have a certain intrigue.) Strangely, he makes little or no mention of the new Torah for conservative US congregations, the Yetz Hayim, annotated with accumulated archaeological data relegating major “historical” milestones in Judaism to the realm of myth—a minor but clear example of Rushkoff’s own plea to rabbis to finally treat their congregations as grownups.
Seriously contentious thinking, at times graceless and a little pushy.