Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Fighting for Torah

Here is one of my favourite lines from Chaim Potok's The Promise. The context seems to be a typical motif in Potok's work: the tension created within the Jewish community by the clash of modern, rationalistic, critical approaches to Bible, Talmud and spirituality with older, traditional certainties and modes of being. For a great quote on "those crazy Hasidim," go here. In this instance, the fiery and almost tragic figure of Rav Kalman embodies something of the latter approach (he's also a holocaust survivor). His counterpart and seeming nemesis is the intelligent, educated, and open-minded rabbinical student, Reuven. Reuven took his rabbinical exam with Kalman and refused to budge on his commitment to the validity of form criticism for Talmudic study. Yet, despite this seeming heresy, Kalman could not get over the intense love Reuven has for his subject matter: the holy Torah. He grants Reuven a position on the yeshiva faculty. Here's what he says to him afterwards:
I will be able to keep my eyes on you here," he said. "I could not have influenced your father. But you I can influence. Why should I give you to Gordon when I can keep you here? I have lost too many students. Too many ... I will take a chance on you, Reuven. I have given you my smicha and will keep my eyes on you to watch how you teach. We will have many fights. But they will be for the sake of Torah (1997: 340).
I love that.

P.S. For a series of quotes from this book, go here.

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