Virtual Talmud

It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman’s post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in postings over a time frame of days (rather than moments) predicated upon the belief in the value of and respect for alternative viewpoints.
We hope we have showed through our debates that Jewish tradition offers a rich resource that can help us find answers to all of today’s questions: from finding contemporary meaning in ancient Jewish rituals, to making sense of the political and cultural issues leading the headlines, to exploring our personal roles in repairing the world.

Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe it’s that blogging doesn’t lend itself so well to the longer and more thoughtful reflections we tried to put out, or that multi-person blogs do better when they involve ruthless smackdowns rather than nuanced responses. Whatever the case, I’ve certainly enjoyed the opportunity to enter into discussion with such thoughtful colleagues and, especially, to read your responses-–both those that were positive and those that were, perhaps, less so.
What I saw is that there is great interest in the topics we discussed, in using our Jewish lenses to look at contemporary life and issues to engage core questions of values and meaning. I saw passionate responses from readers that suggest, as is the case with me, that these questions aren’t merely of academic or intellectual interest but are issues that really matter, and the way we in which discuss them matters as well.

There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s advisors. She was right. I never should have cited those websites–they were wrong and I apologize to my readers for my misstep.
As I intimated in my first post the notion that Obama is somehow bad for the Jews is absurd based on what we know and what we have seen. All we as a community should be focused on is what the person has said and what he has done. While I am still unsure about a few issues and disagree with him on a few others, the more the campaign continues, the more I like what I hear and see from Obama. Many have already praised his talk on race as being indicative of the type of nuanced and complex yet straight and simple kind of thinking that this country needs, I would like add just a few points that have not been addressed.

As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the black and Jewish communities look to this period either with hope as a sign of what it is possible to achieve, or with disenchantment as proof of the other group’s faithlessness. The fact that so much of our dialogue–and so many of our organizations–are still rooted in this 40-year-old narrative makes it extremely hard to move forward: there’s just too much past to reconcile.
Obama cannot, as he was finally forced to acknowledge, transcend race. But as a child of the 1970s and 1980s, Obama can at least begin to reframe our conversations about race by bringing them out of that closed framework and into today. Personally, I thought his speech was very powerful and important, not least of all because he finally named some of the realities on the ground today rather than rehearsing old grievances. Yes, we need to recognize history, but we also need to move past it so we can clearly see and address the deep fissures and challenges our country is facing around race right now, rather than replaying the battles and resentments of yesterday.