ISP 2030 – Interdisciplinary Studies

Week #1 assignment – Applying the 5 Levels of Interacting with Texts to “If Not Higher” by I.L. Peretz

I.          Contextualization

·        Writer is I. L. Peretz

·        Piece is not dated, but it can be assumed it was written approximately between the late 1800’s thru 1915, in the days preceding Yom Kippur

·        It could be taking place in Poland since that is where the writer is from or possibly what was a village in the USSR

·        Historical context seems to be early 19th century Jewish history (early is Christ and before, for this ancient people)  A

II.        Summary

            The story is about the mystery of where the Rabbi of Nemirov goes and what he does during the Penitential Prayers in the days before Yom Kippur.  Everyone in the village seems to wonder where the Rabbi is during this time, but while the Jews of the village are content to assume the Rabbi is in heaven, the Litvak doesn’t believe it.  The Litvak tries to pretend that he doesn’t care where the Rabbi of Nemirov goes during the Penitential Prayers or what he is doing, but he secretly wants to discover the secret.  The Litvak decides to spy on the Rabbi, hides under the Rabbi’s bed and then follows him when he leaves, all the while believing that he, as a Litvak, is more clever that than others and is the only one who could accomplish this goal since Litvaks would never get caught or become tired waiting as others would.  The Litvak successfully follows the Rabbi and sees him pretend to be a peasant, chop wood and deliver it to a poor sick Jewish woman.  What the Litvak finds is that the Rabbi not only actually does the Penitential Prayers, he also helped out a fellow Jew and said the Prayers for the woman.  After seeing this, the Litvak comes to believe in the Rabbi and the Rabbi’s work.  Needs to include the all-important “if not higher”  A-

III.             Interpretation

The moral of the story could be that one needs to fully understand something before making judgment.  In the story the Litvak, and other Lithuanian Jews, rely on a commentary on the Bible, the Talmud rather than the Bible or the teachings of the Rabbi.  Because the Litvak only seems to rely on the Talmud, which is someone else’s views on the Bible, the Litvak doesn’t trust in the Rabbi or his practices. Similar to the discussion on the way television brainwashes viewers into believing things that may or not be true, the Talmud is also only commentary, not fact, and can lead people astray.  Once the Litvak himself investigates what the Rabbi does, he comes to realize that the Rabbi is indeed working for the greater good of the Jews.  That message may not have been conveyed thru the Talmud.A (but the more important message in my view is . . .)

IV.              Critical Evaluation

I think the underlying message in the story is a good one…learn the facts before judging.  It also has a good ending, which would be especially positive for Jewish people since it supports what they believe in.  I also think that the story keeps your attention since you want to know what the Rabbi of Nemirov is doing when he’s expected to be doing the Penitential Prayers and where he disappears to.  It’s nice that the story has a positive ending with both someone in need being helped and also the Litvak’s eyes being opened to the Rabbi’s mission.  I also think the story has a comic element to it, with the Litvak’s ultimate confidence in himself since he is a Litvak, while he has much less confidence in those that aren’t Litvaks.  The Litvak is portrayed as almost cocky in his confidence.

I do have some problems with the story.  First, I wonder whether the writer was a Litvak?  Do Litvaks ouch! only see themselves as part of that group, not individuals?  Also, some of the information is difficult to believe.  After the Rabbi dresses as a peasant, he stops in the kitchen and takes an ax from under the bed.  Why would there be a bed in the kitchen?  Regardless of where the bed is, why would an ax be under it when it would generally be stored elsewhere?  Also, the thought that no one else has a clue as to where the Rabbi disappears to is odd…the Rabbi leaves his home in the morning and we’re told that everyone else is up and about, how is it that only the Litvak was able to follow him, or even see him walking thru the village?  Finally, while I like what I perceive to be the moral of the story, if people spent all of their time trying to validate everything they are told, read, or see, what would ever get accomplished?.  I think that it is important for people to question things, but that there must also be trusted sources of information. Excellent example of critical thinking in action: A+

V.                 Assimilation

I think that I will use the message from this story to help remind myself that sometimes it’s important to dig deeper into things so that I fully understand them before making my own judgment.  Always believing what is portrayed on TV, in the newspapers or even what family and friends believes can cause problems.  We see it in everyday life where children grow up to have the same political views as their parents, assuming that since their parents voted one way, it was the right thing to do.  Without doing research, it is impossible to completely get an accurate understanding of the big picture and one could find themselves oneself fighting for something they don’t actually believe in. A- A bit more focus on yourself!

Overall, excellent:  A