Page 65 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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LOWIN / HERMAN WOUK AND THE LITURGICAL NOVEL
53
PARENTAL INFLUENCE
The father is another equation entirely. He knows how to be a
parent. He knows that it is only by indirection that the child’s
behavior will truly be affected. He shows both love and under­
standing, and most of all, confidence in the child’s good will.
Interestingly, during all the stages of his life, David had thought
that the most powerful influence on his character had been
zaideh, his mother’s father, the Rabbi from Minsk, who bursts on
the scene in the young boy’s eleventh year. Earlier in the novel,
Wouk had parodied the idea of “epiphanic” moments in litera­
ture, quoting an academic literary critic’s commentary on Peter
Quat’s description of Shraga Glutz,
The Smelly Melamed
: “Profes­
sor Levi Silverstein of Amherst, in a massive essay in
The New York
Review of Books,
made the definitive defense of old Peter, calling
the scene the ‘ultimate epiphanic moment of alienation in the fic­
tion of the Jewish experience.’ ” Wouk goes on to describe the
arrival of zaideh as the epiphany of Jewish authenticity. Here is a
man who does what Jews are supposed to do: he studies Talmud
and, by opening the world of the Sages to his grandson, makes
the Talmud his descendant’s lifelong avocation. Zaideh is true to
himself, “not trying to ‘make it,’ because there was nothing to
make, and nobody to make it for” (p. 305).
Zaideh also understands the ways o f a man with a maid,
observes his grandson’s sexual temptations with equanimity, and
feels no need to rush in with censorious disapprobation. This is
even more so the attitude of Goodkind’s father. What David
admires in his father is not the man who overworked so that his
son might “make it” in the
Goldene Medine.
What he appreciates is
his father’s sensitivity as a parent. When the son is tempted by
intermarriage, his father’s method is to use indirection and the
Jewish textual tradition to make his point. “One Friday night
after dinner, Pop came to me with a Bible open to a chapter in
Proverbs about “the strange woman,” the wanton who lures a
young fool into her bedchamber and seduces him with her wiles”
(p. 513). No words are spoken, perhaps, because learning a Jew­
ish text is supposed to affect behavior positively. When the father
wishes to speak directly to his son, he adopts the forms of tal­
mudic discourse. That is what is truly going on in the chapter
entitled “The Shoot Out,” in which the father demonstrates to