Viewpoint: Judaism is Too Afraid Of Assimilation

The religion needs to stop using this frightened, scarcity-based logic to try to engage people. It doesn't work

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

Once again, we’re supposed to be wringing our hands. Every decade, another poll comes out showing that American Jews are more likely to “intermarry” and less likely to support controversial Israeli policies. This statistical one-two punch to Jewish preservationists becomes front page news—”Poll Shows Major Shift in Identity of U.S. Jews”—and Jewish philanthropies get the ammunition they need to press the urgency of the crisis: be more Jewish, or your generation will be to blame for extinguishing the everlasting light.

On one level, such crises work. Every convincing threat to Judaism and Israel leads to a strong bump in fundraising for both. But while it may yield more checks from ardent supporters, to the Jews in danger of further assimilation, such messaging begins to sound more like the desperate plea of an obsolete religion and culture than it is a relevant, compelling path to spiritual inquiry and ethical behavior.

A decade ago, when the last poll like this came out, I wrote a book— Nothing Sacred —arguing not to panic: Judaism was becoming an “open source” religion, and rather than moan at our assimilation, we should instead celebrate the incorporation of Jewish ideals into the culture at large. If we want to promote Judaism and its practices, we might need to transcend our rather primitive misconception of Judaism as a race.

(MORE: In the War Over Christianity, Orthodoxy is Winning)

It was Pharaoh who first called the Jews a “people”. The notion of a Jewish bloodline didn’t emerge until the Inquisition as a justification for executing even those Jews who had converted. And it was Hitler (repurposing a bit of Jung) who called the Jews a race.

As I look at history and the Torah, Judaism isn’t really a religion at all, but a path beyond religion. It was developed by the equivalent of recovering cult members, as a way beyond the idolatry and death worship of Ancient Egypt. Instead of “believing” things, a disparate amalgam of tribes (those mythic sons of Jacob), developed a living myth together – as well as a system of law that could be amended as civilization evolved. Everything from the Sabbath to the US Constitution came out of these insights and this continuous process of revision and renewal.

By applying the techniques of the census taker to the Jewish people (a practice actually forbidden in Talmud – we’re not allowed to count ourselves) the would-be protectors of Judaism are practicing a dangerous game with diminishing returns. Amazingly, when I suggested as much after the 1999 poll, I was banned from speaking at events funded by the most centrist of Jewish institutional charities.

Yes, the core tenets of Judaism are radical. They suggest that human beings are responsible for this realm. They insist that our racial labels, and even our nation states, are mere social constructions. The principles of Judiasm are as progressive as the ideas of Buddhism or the Tao —systems of thought that have attracted many of the Jews now being blamed for the current exodus.

MORERock Hashana: 10 Stars of the New Jewish Music

All Judaism needs to do is bite its tongue and stop putting this frightened, scarcity-based logic at the forefront of its effort to engage its people. Instead, spend as much time just doing and celebrating whatever Judaism means to you. The rest will follow.

Douglas Rushkoff is a media theorist and the author of many books, most recently Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now.

24 comments
___junie
___junie

Is it just me or is this article somewhat anti-semetic and biased? The sentence: "Once again, we’re supposed to be wringing our hands," is way too close to home characteristically to so many Jewish American immigrant women in books / poetry. I'm just a little confused. 

DavidHeller
DavidHeller

Judaism is not *too* afraid of assimilation, but perhaps assimilated Jews and Mr. Rushkoff are too afraid of Judaism, of being different from non-Jews.

scinfl
scinfl

Since Jesus IS the Messiah, then the most Jewish thing we can do is follow HIM. He died for the sins of the world, making it possible for us to claim the promises of eternal life. All else falls short. Read the Bible for yourself (See Matthew in the New Testament) and make an informed decision, not an ignorant one. 

DanBruce
DanBruce

It took me years to realize that modern rabbinic Judaism is not the same as biblical Judaism. Modern Judaism is Talmud Judaism. I have come to see that Christianity (defined as faith in Jesus as the promised Redeemer of Israel as described in the Tanakh) is the continuation of biblical Judaism, and is older than rabbinic Judaism by at least a century. The book of authority for Christianity is the Bible. The book of authority for modern Judaism is the Talmud. 

DeanJackson
DeanJackson

The author writes, "Instead of “believing” things, a disparate amalgam of tribes (those mythic sons of Jacob), developed a living myth together – as well as a system of law that could be amended as civilization evolved."

Did Romans accept the Jewish Deity to be a myth? Not when Jesus began His three-year ministry. Romans then knew that the Jewish Deity was, in fact, verifiable. You see, for three-years Pilate refused to arrest Jesus and His disciple, while the Jewish authorities in both Galilee and Judea followed suit, refusing to execute Jesus and disciples for gross blasphemy under the Law of Moses. For a Roman governor  persons such as Jesus were considered seditious and immediately cut down by Roman mounted infantry, yet Pilate refused to touch Jesus! It wasn't until Jesus entered Jerusalem with the mob on the Sunday before Passover that the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem knew that Jesus was signaling that it was time for Him to die, this is when the Sanhedrin moved on Jesus, but not Jesus' message; note: The Sanhedrin refused to arrest and execute Jesus' surviving eleven disciples! In fact, after Pilate is recalled to Rome the next nine Roman governors of Judea (before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD) are also protecting Jesus' disciples, meaning it wasn't the ad hoc policy of each new Roman governor of Judea to protect Jesus' disciples, but Imperial policy by the Emperor himself! 

Thanks to Jesus, and the behaviors of Roman/Jewish authorities towards Jesus and His disciples, we know that the Jewish Deity is fact! 



Karl
Karl

2% of the US population calls itself Jewish. Why not not cover heart wringing polls about Armenians or Belorussians. I know because they don't make up at least 10% of Congress, and both of our California Senators. And god knows how much media power and wealth. The real story is not being covered here. Instead of another suck up article to the monied classes why not a controversial story about how 2% of the population accumulated so much money and influence. If Time is owned by people identifying as Jewish I understand completely, but then you are a part of the problem you can't report on. If 2% of the US population was Danish and they had the same influence on every aspect of our society you would have a hard time not tripping over stories and jokes and anecdotes about that interesting fact. Maybe we are prisoners of our recent history, the terrible 30s and 40s. But as the decades pass the story will eventually become fair game. 

Channah
Channah

@scinfl See what MichaelMarinsky wrote below.  As someone who turned away from Christianity and it's concept of Jesus is holy---I completely agree with im.

MichaelMarinsky
MichaelMarinsky

@scinfl - Hercules is the son of Zeus and a human woman, Alcmene. It's a myth changed for a different civilization. The resurrection is based on the Egyptian god Osiris.

EPA18
EPA18

@DanBruce What DanBruce says here is a false depiction of what he calls "modern judaism."  The Talmud  is a fuller explanation of what is in the Bible.  Without it, Jews would not know how to obey the Bible's laws.  It was given to Moses.   Christianity is certainly NOT a "continuation of "biblical Judaism" and Jesus is most assuredly not described at all in Tanakh as the "promised Redeemer of Israel.".

Channah
Channah

@DeanJackson ''we know that the Jewish Deity is fact''

You gotta be kiddin!  There is no hard fact at all given.  Christians can be so bumble headed when it come to their Jesus.  Jesus was a man.  He caused a lot of commotion.  He was crucified (as were thousands of criminals and misfits).  He died.  End of story on Jesus.  The next chapter is made up by people (Paul particularly) who enjoyed the limelight of preaching.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@DeanJackson You DO realize that nothing you wrote has been historically verified, right?  The people (except that Jesus character) existed, but the events you describe never happened.  There is no secular historical evidence to support anything you asserted.

What you read to create your little story was the cherry-picked conglomeration of a bunch of guys who had to take a rather wide assortment of myths written by dozens of anonymous authors over four centuries to create some kind of consistency (because there wasn't a lot since each author of a "gospel" wanted to put their own spin on the myth), add the stuff from the Torah they needed to create some kind of rationale (at least something a bit more consistent than what they had) for the whole thing and sell it as an "official religion".

Think of it as Gone With The Wind, with Rhett Butler as Jesus and Scarlett O'Hara as Judas.  You know - historical fiction.  That's all the Bible really is.

So what you just posted was complete drivel.  And to go one further, the entire myth of Jesus has been scientifically proven to be unfounded.  Jesus was supposed to be the "Redeemer" for man's "Original Sin".  Genetics and evolution both prove there never was an Adam and Eve.  Without them, there never was the garden, the snake, the fruit or "original sin" and no need to be redeemed for it and no need to believe in a redeemer for pretty much anything at all.

So although your little pseudohistorical reminiscence down Things That Never Happened lane through the offices of a 1900 year old myth was entertaining after a fashion, so was Gone With The Wind.  And unfortunately for your myth, rather than establishing any facts for it, like Gone With The Wind, science has proven it's just made up stuff.

But your post does prove Ben Franklin's assertion that the first casualty of religious faith is the ability to think rationally and logically.  You posted an excellent example of irrational thinking by relying solely on one highly questionable, scientifically discredited, pseudofactual resource for your information and drawing what you believe to be a valid conclusion.  

Congratulations on that.

MichaelMarinsky
MichaelMarinsky

@Karl - how 2% of the population accumulated so much money and influence

As an officer in the International Jewish Conspiracy™, with subterranean offices in New York and Jerusalem, I am authorized to tell you we are monitoring your internet.

Watch your back. 



SkolVikes88
SkolVikes88

@Karl You got it right Karl.  SO much attention, so little of the population.  How about making an article of this type and apply it to race instead?  Forget religion.  Races are more interesting and while it's en vogue to say it's only the "white people" that don't integrate, it's actually quite the opposite.

DeanJackson
DeanJackson

@MichaelMarinsky @scinfl, Roman subjects outside of Judea/Galilee didn't accept the Gospels' narratives because they were myths, they were accepted because Roman subjects outside of Judea/Galilee already knew about Jesus and accepted as true the otherwise inane and childish Gospels' narratives that has:


(1) Pilate refusing to arrest Jesus for three years;


(2) when the Sanhedrin brings Jesus to Pilate for adjudication, Pilate is hesitant to do so;


3) after Jesus is executed, Pilate inexplicably doesn't also execute the remaining eleven disciples, and


(4) the next nine Roman governors of Judea are also replicating Pilate's inexplicable behavior towards the surviving eleven disciples, who are still attracting large crowds and claiming to perform miracles.This means that it wasn't ad hoc policy of each new Roman governor to follow Pilate's example, but Roman Imperial policy from the Emperor himself, 

Thanks to the particular way Rome administered its provinces (which all Roman subjects knew from personnel experience), where Roman governors immediately arrested and executed charismatic persons such as Jesus (and followers), we know (1) Jesus existed; and (2) that Jesus was who He claimed to be. 

Unlike Hercules, who was a figure said to have walked the Earth in bygone ages, Jesus was actually KNOWN to have walked the Earth, otherwise the Gospels would have been seen for what they were, childishly bad forgeries whose authors didn't know how Roman governors behaved towards charismatic persons and their followers. 


"The resurrection is based on the Egyptian god Osiris."

Sure it is:

http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2012/is-jesus-simply-a-retelling-of-the-horus-myth/




DanBruce
DanBruce

@EPA18 @DanBruce I accept that you believe that an oral tradition was given to Moses and that it essentially became the Talmud, but when the Children of Israel entered the promised land, Joshua "... read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that iswrittenin the book of the law" (Joshua 8:34), and the Israelites vowed to keep the Law based on that reading. Notice that everything necessary was written and nothing is said about any oral tradition passed down from Moses (maybe Joshua did not know about it?). Modern rabbinical Judaism is based on the fiction of an oral tradition. The Bible itself is the only authority for Jews and Gentiles.

DeanJackson
DeanJackson

@Channah says, "There is no hard fact at all given."

I just proved the existence of Jesus and that He was Who He said He was, but you're in such a state of cognitive dissonance the proof went right over your head! Well, that's okay. My proof will slowly creep into your conscience.


"Jesus was a man.  He caused a lot of commotion.  He was crucified (as were thousands of criminals and misfits)."


You obviously didn't read my comments, did you? Jesus certainly did cause a lot of commotion, yet unlike the others who preceded and followed Him, causing, commotion, Jesus was the ONLY one that (1) a Roman governor wouldn't touch; (2) even after Jesus enters Jerusalem with a mob, Pilate still refuses to intercept Him and the mob far from Jerusalem(!); and (3) Jesus' followers are allowed to live and continue to spread chaos and perform miracles under the next NINE Roman governors (before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70), meaning it wasn't ad hoc policy on the part of each new Roman governor of Judea to allow Jesus' disciples to live, but Imperial policy ordained by the Emperor himself.

Clearer now concerning the special nature of Jesus in the eyes of the Romans and Jewish authorities?


"The next chapter is made up by people (Paul particularly) who enjoyed the limelight of preaching."


Since Peter was the head of the Church, and both Peter and Paul died at the approximate same time, your observation already sunk into the quicksand of its nonsense. 

DeanJackson
DeanJackson

@DeweySayenoff says, "The people (except that Jesus character) existed, but the events you describe never happened.  There is no secular historical evidence to support anything you asserted."

In fact, thanks to the existence of the Roman Empire, and our knowledge of what happened to persons such as Jesus who attracted the attention of large crowds, upsetting the Pax Romana (the Roman governor immediately cut down such individuals along with their followers), the only way Roman subjects living outside of Judea/Galilee would accept the Gospels' narratives that they knew from personal experience were false, where,


(1) Pilate refuses to arrest Jesus for three years;


(2) when the Sanhedrin brings Jesus to Pilate for adjudication, Pilate is hesitant to do so;


3) after Jesus is executed, Pilate inexplicably doesn't also execute the remaining eleven disciples, and


(4) the next nine Roman governors of Judea are also replicating Pilate's inexplicable behavior towards the surviving eleven disciples, who are still attracting large crowds and claiming to perform miracles.This means that it wasn't ad hoc policy of each new Roman governor to follow Pilate's example, but Roman Imperial policy from the Emperor himself,


is if the otherwise childishly forged Gospels' narratives were known to be true! This is how we know (1) Jesus existed; and (2) that Jesus was who He claimed to be. In other words, thanks to the particular way the Roman Empire was administered, we have proof that Jesus was the Messiah...God.


You see, because there was a Roman occupation in Judea, both Roman and Jewish authorities had to maintain their silence on whom they knew Jesus to be, hence the dearth of Roman/Jewish literature on Jesus.




Karl
Karl

@MichaelMarinsky @Karl I think you're being funny. But the Israeli Lobby and Mossad do terrify me. I can see how my comment could look uncaring, I'm not a care bear, but you should be warned, that my reaction and that of many people when we are feeling threatened is to double up and post on a dozen sites things you don't like instead of just one. Scaring people makes them angry and people already posting obviously take their anger out on comment boards. You wrote that in a joky way and I'm not taking umbrage so this is more a teaching moment for you. What I'm saying is that like when they bombed Britain they made them angry they didn't make them put up white flags. The more fear anyone causes someone else to feel, the more the folks who are scared, are either going to hide or the angrier they get. That's the moral behind the dragon teeth legend. Scaring people can have the opposite reaction to the one you want. And that's why Israel and states that foolishly follow its example keep finding more enemies popping up like in a video game. I already watch my back and anything that smells like a threat tends to make me start angrily posting 24/7. You can't scare people like me into silence. We don't behave that way. But teaching lessons aside, if you meant it in a joking way you can see I overreacted to the "watch your back" part. In the USA we have to live together and we have to live together as fellow citizens and no one should be threatening anybody else. I project that to foreigners too. They shouldn't have to live in fear of what we as a nation might do. We are too powerful, so it aint fair.

Channah
Channah

@SkolVikes88 @Karl 

Judaism and race do not correlate.  Thee are very few people left of the bloodline of the people of the Jewish race.  If you looks, Jews are white, black, yellow, brown, and every shade in between.  They have wide eyes, slant eyes, light eyes and dark eyes.  Judaism is a religion and not a race.

Karl
Karl

@SkolVikes88 @Karl That's very kind of you but I typed that thinking only 2 million folks in the USA were Jews, but 2% means 6 million and that's not as small a number. Two million vs. six million means I was off. This sounds dis-ingenuous but I commented on a lot of stuff this morning. Got a cold. A lot of what I said still holds water but for some reason I was writing that, thinking two million or concentrating on the 2% thing. But if you stick to 2% it is still a tiny minority, the problem is the US population is exploding so 2% of a billion will be 20 million! in no time and Jews are not really contributing to that problem at all, you know the big 70s version of global warming, the population explosion. They are the poster children on that issue, no over-population among American Jews!