Chaim Potok’s Insights into the Place of Faith in an Age of Faithlessness

Aug. 13 2020

In such books as The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev, the American novelist Chaim Potok (1929-2002), explores the lives and struggles of young men from the ḥasidic world as they find themselves drawn away from it. Wesley Hill, who left the devout evangelical Christian milieu of his childhood while maintaining his commitment to the Christian religion, has found that “Potok’s characters” have helped him “to understand [his] complicated feelings.”

But Hill finds particular relevance in Potok’s lesser-known Davita’s Harp, which is not a tale of the rejection of and return to religion, but of coming to religion from outside it. The eponymous heroine is the child of a secular Gentile father and a Jewish Communist mother, and finds herself anything but at home in a synagogue:

Yet in 1937, . . . after learning of her father’s death in the bombing of Guernica, where he had been working as a journalist, . . . Davita goes back to a synagogue and, finding herself in a kind of daze, says softly aloud the kaddish, the traditional doxology that asks for the sanctification of God’s name. Davita mouths the words in memory of her father. She can see the men’s side of the synagogue through the curtain. She watches the men rise.

Maybe it is because I think about [the French philosopher] Paul Ricoeur’s diagnosis of modern readers of the Bible and would-be believers in its God—“Beyond the desert of criticism, we wish to be called again”—that I am tempted to regard Davita’s budding curiosity about Judaism as one of the most immediately relatable entries into Chaim Potok’s work as a whole. A religiously observant life is less and less accessible or intelligible to modern Westerners, yet many of us remain haunted by its possibility. Even the demographic designation “nones” invokes religious sensibility by naming its absence, tacitly acknowledging that, even in the desert, faith’s echo can be heard. Davita’s halting entry into an observant life dramatizes a journey we too might take. Her story makes the prospect of finding a home within a religious tradition, even in a secular age, a live, beguiling one.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at Plough

More about: American Jewish literature, Chaim Potok, Religion

 

Is the Attempt on Salman Rushdie’s Life Part of a Broader Iranian Strategy?

Aug. 18 2022

While there is not yet any definitive evidence that Hadi Matar, the man who repeatedly stabbed the novelist Salman Rushdie at a public talk last week, was acting on direct orders from Iranian authorities, he has made clear that he was inspired by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s murder, and his social-media accounts express admiration for the Islamic Republic. The attack also follows on the heels of other Iranian attempts on the lives of Americans, including the dissident activist Masih Alinejad, the former national security advisor John Bolton, and the former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was held hostage by the mullahs for over two years, sees a deliberate effort at play:

It is no coincidence this flurry of Iranian activity comes at a crucial moment for the hitherto-moribund [nuclear] negotiations. Iranian hardliners have long opposed reviving the 2015 deal, and the Iranians have made a series of unrealistic and seemingly ever-shifting demands which has led many to conclude that they are not negotiating in good faith. Among these is requiring the U.S. to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety from the State Department’s list of terror organizations.

The Biden administration and its European partners’ willingness to make concessions are viewed in Tehran as signals of weakness. The lack of a firm response in the shocking attack on Salman Rushdie will similarly indicate to Tehran that there is little to be lost and much to be gained in pursuing dissidents like Alinejad or so-called blasphemers like Sir Salman on U.S. soil.

If we don’t stand up for our values when under attack we can hardly blame our adversaries for assuming that we have none. Likewise, if we don’t erect and maintain firm red lines in negotiations our adversaries will perhaps also assume that we have none.

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Create a free account to continue reading

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register

Read more at iNews

More about: Iran, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign policy