Open Source Judaism

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In its narrow definition, a now defunct project by Douglas Rushkoff, explained in his book Nothing Sacred.



"A more ambitious, interactive, truly open-source interpretation of Judaism’s texts was the dream of Douglas Rushkoff, the creator behind the now-shuttered Open Source Judaism project. The idea was to open up the religion to disaffected Jews and use new media technologies to reinterpret the faith in a way accessible and relevant in the 21st century. “The entrance into Judaism is not a demonstration of faith,” Rushkoff said. “It’s the bar mitzvah. It’s that you can read the Torah and have a discussion about it with other adults.”

Rushkoff quickly attracted sponsors from among Jewish philanthropies who hoped he could help revitalize Jewish religious practice. Almost as quickly, under the weight of Rushkoff’s contentious personality, the self-described “iconoclast” attracted a lot of controversy. “Judaism was invented not to become a religion, but to have a corrosive effect on religion,” Rushkoff said. His book, originally to be titled Open Source Judaism, hit print with the far more provocative title Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism.

To some, fighting words. Rushkoff’s followers and those from more traditional interpretations traded insults and accused each other of betraying Judaism’s historic roots. The Internet bulletin boards set up to explore and discuss Jewish practice degenerated into flame wars. Representatives from Judaism’s splinter factions tried to hijack the debate and advocate for their own beliefs." (


From Maariv's Digital Minds Blog:

"Judaism is open source

Hartogsohn: Hey Douglas, so what is actually Open Source Religion and open source Judaism?

Rushkoff: I suppose the easiest way to say it is that open source religion is the contention that religion is not a pre-existing truth but an ongoing project. It may be divinely inspired, but it is a creation of human beings working together. A collaboration.

I wrote a book on Open Source Judaism, entitled Nothing Sacred, because I thought Jews in particular needed to reconnect with the open source ethos at the religion's core. For many completely understandable reasons, Jews often use Judaism to justify certain static conditions - presumptions about race, nation, and favoritism. There's a need to "lock down" the religion and understand its stories historically rather than mythologically. And this makes it impossible to actually *do* Judaism.

Judaism is a process of interaction, deliberation, and ethical action. It's the process by which we make the world a better place. This was a radically original and revolutionary idea a couple of thousand years ago. It was illegal to presume that human beings can actually alter the story of the world. But that's what the escape from Mitzrayim (Egypt) was all about.

This is the original open source idea: to learn the underlying codes of the world in which we live, and rewrite them together to serve us all better. To participate.

Hartogsohn: Is this an essentially Jewish thing?

Rushkoff: Now, I do think Judaism's sister religions, as well as those that derived from Judaism - such as Christianity and Islam - have open source tenets as well. But I don't feel they're quite as central as they are in Judaism. People in these other religions really are supposed to *believe* things. As I've come to understand it, Judaism is more about crashing beliefs than constructing them.

Hartogsohn: When we carefully scrutinize Jewish culture from the Talmud and to the way Jewish Halacha has been assembled and received over the ages we can see it is actually already open source. Is open source Judaism anything new, or is it just radical in the meaning of getting back to the roots of Judaism?

Rushkoff: It is as classical as Judaism gets. But Jews don't practice Judaism anymore. It is too scary in light of all that's going on in the world. Judaism is just as hard as Buddhism or any real spiritual path. And it is incompatible with the rationale that American Jews, in particular, use to justify their lives.

It's particularly difficult to justify Israel using Torah stories if you want to also use those stories allegorically. The whole idea that everything is up for discussion is too threatening to those who need to use the text for political reasons. And the enforcement of certain ideas tends to require unifying myths, rather than open ones. If you can get people to believe a particular story in a particular way, they are easier to control.

So the necessities of state and social control really are at odds with the fundamental teachings of Judaism.

Hartogsohn: You have stated before that you see Judaism as a product of media literacy. How is Judaism related to media and media literacy and what is the Jewish message in that aspect?

Rushkoff: To me, Judaism is a product of media literacy. Hieroglyphs were “priestly writing,” and limited to the priest and royal classes. The invention of the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet turned the greater population into readers and writers. So when God says to Abraham ‘you will be a nation of priests,’ he may as well be saying ‘you will be a nation who can read and write.’ Imagine that! A whole nation of people who have attained literacy. What would that mean?

It would mean a people who no longer simply react to the whims of their gods, but instead write their own laws, record their own history, and who take the very controversial stand that human action makes a difference. You have to realize, in pre-Israelite times, to say that human beings made a difference was blasphemy – heretical. For the Israelites to run off to the desert after desecrating Egypt’s highest gods (sacrificing a calf was illegal, particularly on April New Year’s Day when he was being revered) and then create a legal and spiritual system based on life – that was revolutionary. Lechaim is a naughty thing to say in a society based on death cults." (

Key Book to Read

Douglas Rushkoff. Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism.

More Information

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See our related entries on P2P Occultism and Open Source Religion, as well as background material on Participatory Spirituality and Relational Spirituality