Talmud this Shabbat: When is Incremental Too Little, Too Late? When is Radical Change the Right Move?

Abolish. Dismantle. Defund. What are we to make of these verbs, and of the fervor with which they are offered? No justice, no peace, abolish the police! Are these verbs too aggressive, or is there a legitimate basis to them?

In her op ed piece in the Times this week, Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow,, and a preeminent authority on the purpose and effect of mass incarceration of African Americans, argues that tweaking the police has been tried, and it has failed spectacularly. She quotes another thinker who avers:

Look at the Minneapolis Police Department, which is held up as a model of progressive police reform. The department offers procedural justice as well as trainings for implicit bias, mindfulness and de-escalation. It embraces community policing and officer diversity, bans “warrior style” policing, uses body cameras, implemented an early intervention system to identify problematic officers, receives training around mental health crisis intervention, and practices “reconciliation” efforts in communities of color.

George Floyd was still murdered.

She argues that our entire criminal justice system must be not tweaked, but re-imagined.

The core argument of so many protesters is: Incrementalism is too little, too late. Been there. Done that. Does not work. We need radical change.

In our Talmud class this Shabbat, we will examine Jewish sources on this question of incremental vs. radical change. Not surprisingly, our tradition has canonized both voices. Our prophets fulminate: radical change, now. Our rabbis caution: evolution, not revolution.

Both voices are authentically Jewish. The sources, including Michelle Alexander’s piece, the Torah, the Talmud, the prophet Isaiah, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, are attached here.

Which voice is wiser for America now?

Shabbat shalom,