“Give Me a Room and Food and I’ll Teach You Whatever You Like”-Monsieur Chouchani

 

"No one knew his name or his age: perhaps he had none. He wanted no part of what ordinarily defines a man, or at        least places him."  Elie Weisel
“No one knew his name or his age: perhaps he had none. He wanted no part of what ordinarily defines a man, or at least places him.” Elie Weisel

 

I’ve found it impossible to find out much about Monsieur Chouchani.  Just speculation about his real name and origins.  And despite his influence, no direct quotes. Admittedly, I’ve only given it a few hours, but none of that seems important anymore.  And though I looked for some sentence or phrase, some fragment of teaching in his own words that would help me to get a sense of the man, I’m done with that, too.  It isn’t what he said that matters; it’s the method of thought.

Emmanuel Levinas writes, in his FOUR TALMUDIC LECTURES, “Mr Chouchani……has shown us what the real method is capable of. He has made a dogmatic approach based purely on faith or even a theological approach to the Talmud altogether impossible for us. Our attempt must attest to this search for freedom even if it does not attest to a freedom already possessed.”  Levinas also wrote that Chouchani claimed to be able to give 120 different interpretations of [a Talmudic] phrase, whole literal meaning was, however, totally clear.  When teaching, Chouchani would demolish an interpretation and, drawing on a reservoir of rabbinic and secular knowledge, everything from ancient sages to medieval poetry to astrophysics, replace it with his own interpretation. Then he would proceed to demolish that one, and build another.  And another, and so on. In this way, compelling a sense of transcendence via  infinite exegetical possibilities.

This is worth thinking about.

More on Monsieur Chouchani at Ha’aretz