They say he dressed in rags. That he appeared with no warning, and disappeared just as quickly. That he was fluent in many languages, and equally so in the texts of multiple religions. That his mastery of science, math, and philosophy was unparalleled. That he taught Torah to the great thinkers Emmanuel Levinas and Elie Wiesel, who names him as one of his most influential teachers. He was known as M. Chouchani. But nobody knows his real name.
Who was this enigmatic scholar? Journalists have tried to answer this question in the Israeli newspapers Maariv, Yedioth Ahronoth, and Haaretz. The French journalist Salamon Malka wrote a book about him, called Mister Shushani: The Riddle of a Teacher of the 20th Century. And now, the Tel-Aviv-based filmmaker Michael Grynszpan is producing a film about his life and teaching. And yet we still know little.
But until then, we are left with the words on his gravestone, in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he died in January 1968: “The wise Rabbi Chouchani of blessed memory. His birth and his life are sealed in enigma.”