Summary: Chapter 13
“But the eye that blinks, that is something.
A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something….”
(See Important Quotations Explained)
Danny and Reuven commence their studies at the Samson
Raphael Hirsch Seminary and College, an Orthodox Jewish institution where
the students’ time is divided between Talmudic and secular education.
Danny is placed in the highest Talmud class, taught by Rav Gershenson,
and quickly becomes the leader of the small Hasid community at the
school. Reuven is placed only one class below Danny. Danny, however,
is primarily concerned with his psychological studies, and he is
extremely distressed to learn that the psychology department at
Hirsch only focuses on experimental psychology, and that the head
of the department, Professor Appleman, criticizes Freud’s methodologies.
Reuven encourages Danny to talk with Professor Appleman about his
Reuven’s father grows increasingly sickly and frail,
but continues his passionate involvement in Zionist causes. He exhausts
himself by speaking at rallies, raising money for the Jewish National
Fund, and teaching adult education classes in Jewish subjects. When Reuven
expresses concern about this father’s health, Mr. Malter tells his
son that he is trying to do something meaningful with his life before
he dies, so that he will feel worthy of rest. Such blunt talk of death
stings Reuven, and David Malter reassures his son that he will see
a doctor for a checkup. The two continue talking, and eventually Reuven
declares that he is firmly committed to becoming a rabbi. David
Malter lovingly approves his son’s decision, but warns him that
American rabbis have a great responsibility to educate newly curious
Jews in the aftermath of World War II.
On a Friday afternoon, Reuven goes to the college library
and looks through some texts on experimental psychology. He begins
to understand Danny’s frustration with his studies. However, a few days
later, Danny tells him that after an hour-long talk with Professor
Appleman, he has come to respect Appleman’s opinions. Danny also
mentions that Appleman suggested he find someone to help him learn
mathematics, so Reuven agrees to tutor Danny.
The Hirsch student body becomes polarized
into two starkly opposed factions: those who support the Zionists
on one side and those who oppose the establishment of a Jewish state
in Palestine on the other. Day by day, tension grows between the
groups. One night, Reuven’s father delivers an influential speech
at a Madison Square Garden rally in support of the Zionist cause.
The day after the rally, Danny avoids Reuven entirely, and the next
day, he secretly tells Reuven that his father has forbidden him
to see or speak to Reuven, on account of David Malter’s Zionist
beliefs. This is extremely painful for Reuven, but when he denounces Reb
Saunders as a fanatic to his father, his father responds, “the fanaticism
of men like Reb Saunders kept us alive for two thousand years of
exile.” Despite his father’s words, Reuven remains deeply angry
with Reb Saunders and sad that his relationship with Danny appears
to be over.
Analysis: Chapter 13
Chapter 13 introduces a series
of conflicts between tradition and modernity. We see the novel’s
characters trying to preserve their traditional beliefs as they
encounter the modern world they inhabit. Danny is the first character
to deal with this conflict. His reaction to Hirsch’s psychology
department humorously introduces the inevitable conflict between
Danny’s upbringing and the world of modern intellectualism he wants
to enter. Danny has always seen psychology as a way of breaking
away from his tradition, but we already have seen that he only mastered
Freud after using the same method of studying he uses when reading
the Talmud. Danny’s arduous intellectual upbringing emphasized theory
and commentary, but left him ill prepared for the modern world’s
emphasis on scientific analysis and experimentation. Danny’s frustration
demonstrates that, despite his efforts to break away from his tradition,
he is unquestionably a product of that tradition.
The most significant conflict between tradition
and modernity occurs over the question of a Jewish state. As the
previous two chapters make clear, traditionalists like Reb Saunders
believe that, despite the tragedy Jews have experienced, they must
continue to observe scripture and wait for the coming of the Messiah.
The other position, held by David Malter, argues that modern Jewry
must give meaning to the horrible tragedy of the Holocaust by establishing
a modern Jewish state. The climax of this conflict between anti-Zionism
and Zionism is Reb Saunders’s prohibiting Danny from seeing or speaking
to Reuven following David Malter’s speech in support of Zionism.
Yet, at the end of the chapter, David Malter’s defense of Reb Saunders’s fanaticism
underscores the complexity of the conflict. The conflict between
tradition and modernity is something all the characters must struggle
with individually, and all Jews must struggle with as a culture.
No character simply chooses one side or the other; the reconciliation
of tradition with modernity is a process of balance and compromise.
David Malter’s speech at Madison Square Garden implies
a certain kind of fanaticism that parallels Reb Saunders’s zealous
behavior, including his refusal to speak with his son. Just as the
rabbi is fanatically opposed to the modern State of Israel, so too
is David Malter fanatically committed to its establishment—even
at the expense of his health. We again realize that on a personal
level, these two fathers are not as different as they appear to
When Danny worries about Professor Appleman,
Reuven displays his belief in open verbal communication by suggesting
that Danny go talk to his professor. Reuven’s advice is a product
of his upbringing, in which his father has lovingly educated him
using the spoken word. Reuven equates silence with loneliness, a
lack of communication, and the elimination of learning. In his thoughts,
he pities Danny for having to deal with his father’s inexplicable,
“bizarre silence,” which Reuven believes must be “torturing [Danny’s]
In David Malter’s speech to Reuven about the importance
of giving his life meaning, he refers to the image of the eye, which
suggests the centrality of the eye—and by extension, the centrality
of vision—to human life. Furthermore, the fact that he uses an eye
not as a symbol of looking but as an example of something to be
looked at introduces some complexity to the novel’s exploration
of vision. Here, David Malter suggests that vision operates in two
directions: the eye functions both to send and to receive information.
He implies that vision—seeing the world—is a reciprocal process,
a two-way street of giving and receiving.