Having Enough Faith to Question
How arguing for open source Judaism led me to see healthy institutions as ones that are open for debate
Back around the turn of the century, I wrote an article for Adbusters called “The Sabbath Revolt.” I was arguing for a “one-seventh rule” where we reserve one day a week for non-commodified activities. This idea of a day off each week was one of the first things the Israelite slaves gave themselves after escaping from Egypt. And seemed to me it could serve as a safeguard for the coming digital onslaught. If the algorithms and AIs were really going to program us into a new sort of slavery, perhaps withholding 1/7th of our time from them could give us enough pause to reflect and reset on our inherent worth.
The article got me a lot of attention, particularly from Jewish organizations dedicated to keeping the religion going. They were all concerned about declining membership in synagogues and Jewish day schools, and thought someone like me could help them bring Judaism into the era of MTV and the World Wide Web. “Digital Shabbat” might catch on, they suggested.
In speaking with them, though, I realized that most of them didn’t really understand what Judaism was all about. They had mistaken it for a religion — for a set of things to believe in. At least as I understood it, Judaism was originally meant as the way to get over religion. It was a set of practices developed by people who had just suffered through the death cults of the pharaohs. Their mythical patriarch Abraham smashes the idols and instead worships a more abstract, universal God, who slowly recedes and eventually disappears — leaving human beings alone to take care of one another and all living things.
For me, the spirit of the whole enterprise was captured in the image of the very first ark that the Israelites build in the desert (the one that shows up in Indiana Jones). It was just like the ones they had built as slaves in Egypt, except—unlike all of those—there was no statue of a god on the top. Instead, there was an empty space, protected by two cherubs facing one another. The idea was that God shows up in that empty space between two people, really engaging face to face. The “nothing” between us is truly sacred.