In this chapter, Reuven has neither Danny nor Reb Saunders in his life, and after his father’s heart attack, he feels entirely alone. Rav Gershenson functions as a substitute for all these characters, filling a void in Reuven’s life. Therefore, by observing Rav Gershenson and what he means to Reuven, we get a better sense of what Reb Saunders, Danny Saunders, and Reuven’s father mean to Reuven.
Since he is Reuven’s Talmud teacher, Rav Gershenson functions most obviously as a surrogate for Reb Saunders. In Rav Gershenson’s class, Reuven is given insight into the Talmud, which he loves, and he is indirectly able to interact with Danny. Like Reb Saunders, Rav Gershenson uses silence as a tool of instruction. Yet Rav Gershenson’s silence seems different from Reb Saunders’s harsh refusal to speak to Danny. Rav Gershenson’s silence is gentle, it occurs in the context of classroom learning, and it serves to highlight a student’s lack of knowledge.
Rav Gershenson’s patient, loving approach to learning also echoes David Malter’s education of Reuven. Reuven himself makes this connection, commenting, “he taught Talmud the way my father did.” After his father’s heart attack, Reuven finds solace in his Talmudic studies. Studying for Rav Gershenson helps Reuven feel connected to his father, as he applies, celebrates, and reaps the rewards of his father’s patient teachings.
More subtly, Rav Gershenson’s class serves as a substitute for Danny in Reuven’s life. We understand exactly what Danny means to Reuven by learning how Reuven compensates for his absence. Danny has given Reuven a new perspective. Through Danny, Reuven has crossed into a world so similar to, yet so different from, the world where he always felt comfortable. Danny has broadened Reuven’s worldview and enabled Reuven to look at the world from multiple viewpoints. In Reuven’s Talmudic study, we see how Reuven’s relationship with Danny has initiated Reuven’s maturation. Reuven says, “I worked carefully and methodically, using everything my father had taught me and a lot of things I now was able to teach myself.” His father taught him the tools to learn far beyond the bounds of his upbringing, and Danny is the one who showed Reuven other ways of studying the Talmud.
The strength of Reuven’s analysis, which impresses Rav Gershenson, is its breadth the multiplicity of voices he includes. Reuven learned depth from his father, but from Danny, he learned to approach a problem from several different perspectives. In the end, Reuven does not even use his father’s methodology during his in-class explication, but instead uses Reb Saunders’s approach. From the start of his friendship with Danny, Reuven learned to look beyond superficial appearances, doubt his initial impressions, and search for multiple ways of looking at a situation. In Rav Gershenson’s class, we see how these lessons have impacted Reuven’s life.
Throughout the novel, Reuven criticizes Reb Saunder’s silent treatment of Danny. He also finds unbearable the silence Reb Saunders has imposed between Reuven and Danny. At the beginning of this chapter, Reuven says that he frequently met eyes with Danny, “but [their] lips exchanged nothing.” This comment implies the pain Danny’s silence is causing Reuven, and it also suggests that Reuven believes wordless interactions are meaningless. Yet the silence Reuven experiences throughout this entire chapter results in his most accomplished scholarship. Also, after Reuven restrains himself from shouting at the anti-Zionists, he says, “I was grateful for that silence.” He sees that words as well as silence can hurt and cause suffering, and he is glad that he restrained himself. Reuven is growing to understand that the difference between silence and speech is not as clear-cut as he initially believed.