I, Ahasuerus: Monsieur Chouchani in Israel, 1952–56

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In October 1952, a mysterious man boarded a ship sailing from Marseille to Haifa. In the previous several years he had been living in France, where he was known as “Monsieur Chouchani” and taught Talmud to Elie Wiesel and Emmanuel Levinas, among others. Once in Israel, he went by the name “Ben Shoushan.” In neither country did anyone know his true identity, but all who met him were astounded: Chouchani/ Ben Shoushan appeared practically omniscient, he spoke an astonishing number of languages, and he gave the impression of someone who had come from a different time in history. In this article, I reconstruct Monsieur Chouchani/Ben Shoushan’s time in Israel between 1952–56. I claim that in order to understand his story fully, one needs to read it against three contexts: Israeli history of the early 1950s, the biographies of the people Chouchani/Ben Shoushan attracted, and the ancient legend of Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-78
Number of pages30
JournalJewish Social Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies


  • Elie Wiesel
  • Emmanuel Levinas
  • Monsieur Chouchani
  • Wandering Jew


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