We had the great honor of interviewing Noam Neusner recently about his experiences growing up as the son of the most prolific author and scholar in history, Jacob Neusner. Noam offers here some sound advice and fascinating insight that every one of us should take to heart in our journey as scholars, parents, and friends.
TB: What can you tell us about your dad’s approach to writing?
NN: My dad wrote as if it was essential to his life, like breathing. Every conscious thought he had, which he felt strongly about, found its expression in the written form. He spent a few hours a day each day writing, and didn’t break his concentration. I don’t think he understood how anyone could suffer from writer’s block; he probably thought it was just a matter of having something to say.
TB: What impact did your father’s immense writing output have on you growing up, both positive and negative?
NN: My dad’s writing and his example was profoundly influential, in a positive way. I learned from him that anything worth doing took work, consistent work, over a long period of time. He spoke of book-writing like it was something that you had to do as a scholar, and someone who didn’t write books as a scholar was simply lacking in either the willpower or the ideas.
“Never the time”: He knew every scholar had the time to write (or do the equivalent in research). So that set a good example for me: time was never the enemy of productivity.
TB: What character traits would you say were picked up by you and your siblings from watching (or hearing) your dad at work and at play?
NN: My dad could be silly, and I think I inherited some of that; I know I inherited his frustration with pretentiousness and needless complexity. I learned from him to be fearless about expressing my ideas; while that got me into trouble every so often, on balance it’s been better to be fearless than fearful. My dad wasn’t afraid of anybody. That was nice to have in a father.
TB: What was it like being a kid in the Neusner household? Was your house a locus of theological discussion? Were you and your siblings encouraged to follow in your dad’s footsteps and become academics?
NN: My father did not tell us what to do with our lives, but he did want us to be productive, be professional and meet our potential. When I told him I wanted to become a rabbi, he didn’t discourage me, but I’m glad I didn’t go down that road, and I had to discover that by myself. None of us were geared towards academia; the closest I came was in 2007, when I taught a class in economic journalism at UNC Chapel Hill. He gave me excellent advice about teaching a college classroom, and I had seen him teach, so I knew what worked well with undergrads.
TB: What advice might you have for scholars regarding their family life and balancing work with kids, etc?
NN: The same advice I’d give anyone; children watch and notice everything. If you value your family, spend time with them and prioritize them. My dad did, and so we knew where his heart was, even when he was also involved with his work.
The Jacob Neusner Jewish Studies Bundle is nearly funded for production on the Logos digital library. You can take advantage now of especially low pre-pub pricing if you pre-order this 99-volume resource bundle for $399.99. That is 32% of the full digital price, and an amazing 87% savings compared to purchasing all 99 volumes in print.
Help get the Jacob Neusner Jewish Studies Bundle funded, and then begin your own journey into the massive corpus of works by this renowned scholar. May he inspire you to write and live without fear.