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February 21, 1986 - Image 17

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-02-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


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should of course think about philosophy,
but it seems an odd way to earn one's liv-
"But what about teaching, Marta?" my
father, the eternal peace-maker added,
"Don't you think it's important to have
people teaching philosophy?"
"Well yes, that's true. But I suspect
that most of them don't think of them-
selves primarily as teachers, but as think-
ers, professional thinkers, however strange
that sounds. Well, we can ask Rose here.
What do you fancy yourself, a teacher or
a philosopher?"
"A philosopher of course. The need for
professional training in philosophy is no
different than anywhere else, no different
than in medicine. People think they can
just jump in and start philosophizin&and
that they'll make sense. They rarely do. It
takes technical training."
"Oh? I disagree very much, as you
know, with this emphasis on technical
training. Instead of humanizing the math-
ematical sciences they try to mathematize
the humanities. Translating into a lot of
complicated symbols doesn't show the
truth of what you're saying."
"But it does often show its meaning-
"Oh really? Yes,. I can see how that
might often be true."
Impossible woman! What was wrong
with her? Her kindling point was usually
so frighteningly low, but tonight she
would not burn. She wouldn't even flicker.
(The explanation would haveteen obvious
to anyone not occupying my vantage
point. She was, quite simply, very happy
to see me.)
I had no more patience. I abandoned my
hopes for a smooth transition.
"Mother, there's a question about ethics
that has been bothering me."
There. I had opened the door. Now I had
to walk through.
"Yes? Tell me about it. Perhaps I can
You've always said that the moral obli-
gation is nothing but the obligation to be
logically consistent. But why do we, have
to be logically consistent?"
"I must say you surprise me. Such an
anti-rationalist question. And after a seme-
ster of college. The answer is, of course,
that the truth is important. And logical in-
consistencies can't be true. If you ask me
why the truth is important I can't give you
a non-circular answer. Anything Lsay is
going to presuppose the importtuice of
truth, as all rational discourse presupposes
it. And this impossibility of anon-circular
answer is itself the answer."
"I don't understand a word you're say-
ing," exploded. "The Truth! The sacred
lofty ,Truthl What's the Truth? Where's
the Truth? Let me see you point to it.
What does it mean to say 'The Truth is im-
portant'? What cognitive content can it
possibly have? It's nonsense. And the

same with all the other so-called truths of
your so-called theory. You claim to be so
rational, but you're only emoting. Eter-
nally emoting. And I'm sick - to death of
My speech was not delivered in that cool
voice of detached reason I had so dili-
gently rehearsed. Instead it tore out of me
with a force that amazed me, sweeping me
The effect was immediate. My mother's
face had the same capacity for instan-
taneous transformation I have observed in
my infant daughter. (I often find myself
wondering whether this is a trait char-
acteristic of infancy, or whether it is
something my Marta has inherited from
her grandmother, along with her name.)
My mother had never raised her voice to
me, and she did not do so now. As always
her eyes did all the screaming.
"Positivist." Her introduction was not
the usual one. There was outrage and con-
tempt, but it was muffled by sadness.
"After all that I have taught you, you
speak that way? You lose everything in
one semester of college? Have you so lit-
tle substance that at your first exposure
to the jargon of these anti-thinkers you
I had no answer. The brilliant argu-
ments cramming my head only the night
before were all gone. My head was so
hollow it felt like it was floating away from
the rest of me. The numbing fog of shame
and guilt was settling back over every-
thing. I dimly saw my father sitting there,
staring out at us over' the wall of his
sadness. My mother's voice burned
through the haze.
"You disappoint me. You disappoint us
all. You are not worthy to be named after
Raizel Kaidish."
Soon after my wedding, when my moth-
er was fifty-six, she learned that she had
cancer of the uterus and had no more than
six months to live. She reacted to her im
pending death as if she had been prepar-
ing for it her whole life, as indeed she had
been. She looked at it with her customary -
objectivity: Yes, she was relatively young,
and there were kill many things that she
'would have liked to experience, particu-
larly grandparenthood. But that she, a
Jew from Berlin, had been given these past
thirty years was a fact whose response was
gratitude, not the greedy demand for yet
more years.
She never complained. Her greatest
worry was the mental pain her illness was
causing my father and me. She died as I
had always known her to live: with super-
human discipline and courage.
A week before she died she told me that
it had been she who had informed on
Raizel Kaidish. She asked my forgiveness.


Reprinted with permission. from New Tradi-
dens 2 published by The National Havurah

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