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 in depth.

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.