Monsieur Chouchani

Lots of excitement is instantly surrounding recent news about the trove of notebooks by Monsieur Chouchani. The legendary Monsieur Chouchani was the teacher of Elie Wiesel and Emmanuel Levinas. Born in Russia “around the turn of the twentieth century,” he died in Uruguay in 1968. Almost nothing is known about him, including his first name. Ilan Stavans writes about him here, with reference to his book, The Seventh Heaven: Travels through Jewish Latin America (2019). This piece here in Yisrael Hayom (Hebrew) is interesting, but if you read carefully between the lines, the corpus of notebooks feels like a nightmare. According to this at the JTA, Chouchani’s writings are “difficult to decode and contained everything from his thoughts, to memory exercises, to mathematical formulas and original ideas in the field of Jewish thought.” The notebooks went to Shalom Rosenberg and they are now available to the public, assuming their rightful place in the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. But what if, but what if, but what if Monsieur Chouchani turns out to be nothing more than a cipher, a lunatic-charlatan? What if the thinking remains undecipherable? What if there’s no there there behind the legend? What if it;s gibberish? Reports so far have said nothing by way of actual ideas. Waiting to see if the notebooks get published in Hebrew and translated into French and English.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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2 Responses to Monsieur Chouchani

  1. dmf says:

    wanna bet that people will cut & paste these into collages that find a receptive audience regardless of what the contents turn out to be? the Author-ity certainly didn’t die…

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