Extremes Collide in My Name Is Asher Lev by: Chaim Potok

Topics: Hasidic Judaism, Art, Judaism Pages: 3 (1091 words) Published: January 23, 2007
Extremes Collide

In My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok writes about a young boy in a Landover Hasidic community in Brooklyn who is an excellent artist. Asher travels through childhood hanging onto his art, but when his art interferes with his religious studies, Asher's two worlds of art and Torah collide. Potok deliberately chooses the extreme icons and symbols of secular life, such as the world of art, on the one hand, and of Judaism, Hasidim, and the Rebbe, on the other hand, to intensify the contrast between them, because he wants to mold the characters into visions he has, and to show how different the two worlds are and how they conflict and interact.

The way Potok sets up My Name is Asher Lev is to make the two worlds of Judaism and Secularism conflict. He does this with the use of many key icons and symbols of the two ways of life. He employs extreme Jewish symbols and symbol-systems, such as Hasidism, the Rebbe, Asher's father, Gemarah, Shabbos, and very symbolic holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Pesach, to portray a barrier between Asher, his community, and the rest of the world. He then uses extreme secular symbols such as, Russia, art, and in art, crusifixions, nudes, and Asher's art mentor Jacob Kahn, to show the radical differences between the two. At one point (in book 3, chapter 10) Jacob says to Asher, "You are too religious to be an Abstract Expressionist..." ... "We are ill at ease in the universe. We are rebellious and individualistic. We welcome accidents in painting. You are emotional and sensual but you are also rational. That is your Landover background...." Potok makes Hasidim out to be a dying culture by telling stories about them in the past, and a big part of Asher's consciousness of his heritage, and his dreams and perceptions of his Grandfather (chapter 3, pg. 98). "He came to me that night out of the woods, my mythic ancestor, huge, mountainous, dressed in his dark caftan and fur-trimmed cap, pounding his way...
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