A few years ago, I decided to start working my way through Chaim Potok’s Jewish novels again.

English: Chaim Potok, Miami Bookfair Internati...

I hooked into Potok when I was assigned to read The Chosen in a high school American lit class. It is what also hooked me into things Jewish, which led me to convert to Judaism, which is why after I accepted Messiah I eventually became messianic Jew/Torah-observant believer. So in some ways, a reading assignment at a Catholic high school has determined several aspects of the past 25-plus years of my life.

After The Chosen, I caught up with Potok’s other novels out at the time—The Promise and My Name Is Asher Lev—and then continued to follow him as his other works came out. That was a period in my life when I routinely would finish a book and, if I had really liked it, would flip back to page 1 and start over again. I did that with Potok’s books, so rich were they in Jewish thinking and storytelling.

I rarely spend time on fiction anymore, though, trying to devote my reading time—what little of it there is with a job and three children at home and other responsibilities—to Scripture and related material before picking up a novel. However, Potok’s Jewish novels (I’m distinguishing them from his novels based on his Korean War experiences) are more than just fiction. They teach about Judaism and they expose the lifeblood that runs through the Jewish people’s veins, much more so than, say, a Leon Uris, and—can I say this?—as much as an Isaac Bashevis Singer.

So a few years ago, I decided to revisit Potok’s novels in order of publication for a couple reasons: to experience them after having learned much more about Torah and Jewish studies over the past several years; and to experience them after having lived much more of life.

I plowed pretty quickly through The Chosen and The Promise, but when I was about two thirds of the way through Asher Lev, I became sidetracked with other responsibilities and put aside the Potok books. Recently, however, I was able to resume reading them, and will be sharing here how I see them at this later juncture in life. Right now, I’m kind of stalled between In the Beginning and The Book of Lights. I own the former, so was able to read it at leisure. The latter, however, is from the library and I’m not such a fast reader, so may have to check it out a couple times before I get through it. (Plus, I’m about to start leading a HaYesod class and also have to do a lot more preparation for our new Shabbat meeting arrangements, so I may be completely stalled for a while. We’ll see.) So I will at least give my thoughts on The Chosen, The Promise, My Name Is Asher Lev, and In the Beginning. That’s halfway through the set.


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