Summary: Chapter 8
When Reuven returns to school, his friends treat him like
a hero, but he feels they are acting immature. After school, he
takes a trolley to the public library to meet Danny. He finds Danny
on the third floor, where the scholarly journals and pamphlets are
located. Reuven does not want to disturb Danny so he sits down at
another table and reviews symbolic logic in his head. He is still
not permitted to read because his eye has not healed completely.
Reuven joins Danny at his table so that he can hear him
read aloud from Danny’s book, Graetz’s History of the Jews. Graetz’s harsh
denunciation of the Hasidim distresses Danny. Graetz argues that
many tzaddiks, especially one whom Reb Saunders has taught Danny
to revere, were con artists who took advantage of their followers.
Reuven reminds Danny that he should not necessarily take Graetz’s
scholarship to heart. Danny then tells Reuven about the psychology
text he has been reading concerning dreams and the unconscious.
Danny says he has been studying German so that he can
read Freud, and Reuven is astonished, thinking about the parallels between
Danny and Solomon Maimon. When Reuven tells his father about Danny’s
activities, David Malter marvels at Danny’s curiosity and capacity
for learning at such a young age. Later that week, Reuven’s father
confesses that he isn’t sure whether it is ethical to give Danny
books to read without his father’s knowledge. At the same time,
he recognizes that no one will stop Danny from reading and takes
solace in the fact that, through frequent discussions, he will help
Danny digest the material.
That Shabbat, Reuven goes over to Danny’s brownstone,
where he meets Danny’s mother and beautiful sister. Danny and Reuven spend
the afternoon studying Talmud with Reb Saunders on the third floor
of the house, which bears a striking similarity to Reuven’s own
home. At first, the depth and intensity of the discussion between
Reb Saunders astounds Reuven, but he soon realizes that, although
Reuven lacks the breadth of Danny’s knowledge, he is Danny’s equal
Reb Saunders and Danny reach a stopping point in their
discussion, and Reb Saunders sends his son to get some tea. In Danny’s absence,
Reb Saunders reveals to Reuven that he knows about his son’s secret
reading at the library and studying with Reuven’s father. Reb Saunders
asks Reuven to tell him what Danny has been reading, as he cannot
ask his son directly. Reuven is unsure what to reveal, but he tells
Reb Saunders everything except that Danny is learning German, wants
to study Freud, and has read books on Hasidism. Later that evening,
Danny walks Reuven home. Reuven confesses that he told Reb Saunders
about Danny’s library visits, and that Reb already knew about them.
To Reuven’s surprise, Danny is relieved that his father knows.
Danny explains that his father has raised him in silence.
Ever since the age of ten or eleven, his father has talked to him
only when they study Talmud together. Reb Saunders says that through
silence, Danny will learn to look into his own soul for answers.
Danny admits that he finds his father’s methods of parenting perplexing, and
Reuven agrees. Back at the Malter house, Reuven tells his father about
Reb Saunders’s silence. Although Mr. Malter seems to be familiar
with that tradition, he refuses to explain it to Reuven. He does,
however, say that Reb Saunders is using Reuven as a buffer through
whom he can talk to Danny.
Analysis: Chapter 8
Chapter 8 relates two separate
study sessions: Danny and Reuven’s secular session at the library
and their Talmudic session in Reb Saunders’s study. The beginning
of the library session again underscores the way vision functions
within the novel as a metaphor for seeing the world. Reuven is struck
by the depiction of Homer’s blindness in the mural in the library
entrance. He is particularly sensitive to this portrayal because
of his earlier eye injury, and he empathizes with Homer’s handicap.
Danny thinks that Reuven is asleep and rouses him in a scene that
echoes Danny’s first hospital visit to Reuven in Chapter 3.
In that scene, Danny stood at Reuven’s bedside and waited for him
to wake up. Once again, Danny’s presence forces Reuven to open his
eyes and change his view of the world.
At the library, Danny’s perspective changes when he reads
the depiction of Hasidism presented in Graetz’s History
of the Jews. That book, published in six volumes in 1846,
was the first attempt to write the history of the Jews from a Jewish
point of view. Graetz’s contention that Judaism is a historical
phenomenon that develops in time was rejected by his more Orthodox
contemporaries, including Samson Raphael Hirsch, the namesake of
the college that Reuven and Danny later attend.
Graetz’s harsh words about Hasidism reinforce our sense
of tensions within Judaism. Graetz argues that the Jews were formed
by history and have developed throughout history. This perspective
is problematic for more religious Jews, such as Reb Saunders, who
see themselves as the inheritors of the religion of their God-chosen ancestors.
This tension between an evolving Judaism and a static Judaism can
be seen in the contrasting opinions of David Malter and Reb Saunders,
as well as in the Zionist and anti-Zionist movements. Even more
generally, such a tension is a part of any culture that struggles
with a changing world and a desire to remain true to its history
and traditions. Also notable at the library is the way Reuven finds
Danny’s life to uncannily parallel the life of Solomon Maimon, a
young Polish Jew who lived in the second half of the eighteenth century.
Solomon Maimon studied non-Jewish literature after the Talmud could
not satisfy his hunger for knowledge, and as a result of his heresy,
he died rootless and alone. Potok’s inclusion of Maimon in the story
provides suspense, as we hope Danny does not meet the same fate
as his predecessor.
The geography of Reb Saunders’s apartment replicates
almost exactly the layout of the Malter’s apartment, reinforcing
the parallel nature of the two father-son relationships. Yet, where
open communication exists between David Malter and Reuven, silence
exists between Reb Saunders and Danny. Therefore, true to his father’s prediction,
Reuven finds himself in the uncomfortable role as a go-between for
Danny and Reb Saunders. All parties involved are glad that Reuven
and Reb Saunders’s conversation takes place. Reb Saunders is curious
to learn what books Danny is reading, Reuven feels compelled to
educate Reb Saunders about his son’s behavior in the library, and
Danny is relieved to find out that his father knows about his library
visits. The fact that breaking the silence makes everyone involved
feel better implicitly undermines the value of Reb Saunders’s practice
of silence toward his son.
Summary: Chapter 8