Monday, March 19, 2012

FOOTNOTE-Joseph Cedar's wonderful new film

I am still pondering this one. Though the reviewers I've read have seen this as a film that shows the Jewish art of learning for learning's sake - Torah Lishma - I think it is more about the problems of learning that begin and end with a footnote. Having been in footnotes myself in books and articles and also being proud of them, I definitely, empathize with the father Eliezer. But I also relate to Uriel the son, who is able to go beyond the infinitesimally small and expand learning so that people today can relate.

This tension very much exists today. We want to know and learn quickly. We don't want to take the time for research. We want everything to relate to our times and we get frustrated or bored when the problems of the past aren't my problems. I also get frustrated with the phrase "make it relevant." I am a big believer in context and I think that learning must be as much as possible from a contextualized perspective. I think we settle for easy answers and basically we like knowledge when it affirms views that we already have.

But learning in order for it to truly be new knowledge must be unsettling and disturbing. It must jar our usual mental processes and bring us to new conclusions. And this is where the movie FOOTNOTE creates the tension. The learning of the father gets stuck in the infinitesimal and the learning of the son, which becomes wisdom is that just knowing the truth is not always what is right.

It says in the Talmud that two scholars studying together "sharpen each other's minds in the study of the law for the sake of truth." But that sharpening can be a dangerous weapon wielded against others. FOOTNOTE beautifully shows this tension and also shows the dire consequences of learning that are hurtful and create barriers which enslave rather than frees us.

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