Pupils and teachers


In our post-Freudian era, the teacher-student and father-son pairings, sometimes overlapping and metaphorically akin, carry great fascination. Think of it this way: Jewish tradition allows and encourages pupil to rise against teacher, disagree with him, and prove him wrong, up to a point. This is a Freudian moment, quite rare in traditional cultures. It is also a key to intellectual innovation, up to a point. We don’t know whether the rabbinical Jews could have broached modernity on their own without that mighty push from the outside world. But we do know that they were able to teach the modernizing world a lesson in good disputative education. Also—witness Marx, Freud, and Einstein—something about strong father figures, intergenerational rebellion, and rethinking old truths. Up to a point, we say, because rebellion had its limits. You could not throw off the whole business of God, faith, and Torah. If you did, you would be chased away. Even if you were as brilliant and beloved as Elisha ben Abuya, the fallen lord of Mishnaic learning who went over to the Romans, your name would be erased from record in punishment for your apostasy. But wait: Elisha’s wisdom was too great to obliterate, so he would still be quoted, and still appears in the Talmud, as “The Other.” Acher.

Amos Oz, Fania Oz-Salzberger - Jews and Words

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