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My Name is Asher Lev

Chaim Potok

Chapters 6 and 7

Chapter 5

Chapter 8

Summary

Chapter 6

Asher misses his father and recollects many memories of him. He and his mother commiserate about this. Alone in the house together, they begin to talk more—she speaks more of her deceased brother, Yaakov. Asher begins to notice the immense amount of work his mother is doing, such as reading volumes of books and writing lengthy papers. The work generally focuses on Russia.

Toward the end of December, Rivkeh buys Asher oil paints. He takes to them immediately and spends a lot of time painting with them. Aryeh writes to Rivkeh asking how Asher is doing in school. Rivkeh asks Asher what she should write back. He responds that he does not care and thinks about the painting he is working on.

Asher's teacher scolds him in class for drawing rather than studying. He tells him he is an embarrassment to his father. The mashpia calls Asher into his office to talk about his problems in school. Uncle Yitzchok receives a letter from Aryeh and comes to talk to Asher about his lack of interest in learning. Asher's mother tells him that everyone is upset with him because a boy his age should be learning Torah and he is not learning Torah. Yudel Krinsky tells Asher that everyone knows that while his father is off bringing Torah to Jews all over Europe, Asher does not study Torah. Asher muses that drawing needs all his energy. He has no energy left for the Torah, since it must all be devoted to his artwork.

Asher and his mother visit the art museum together. He shows her some of the paintings that intrigue him and which he does not understand. He shows her nudes and she says she thinks it is against the Torah to paint them. Outside, she explains to him about the paintings of the crucifixion that they saw and tells him a little about Jesus. The next week, Asher goes back to the museum and sketches some of the paintings of Jesus.

Asher's father returns home for Passover and finds some of Asher's sketches of Jesus and of nudes. He is enraged. He questions his son's commitment to Judaism and tells him that such things are for the goyim (gentiles). Asher hears his father screaming at his mother and asks her about it. She says that he left her with the responsibility of raising him and she has, in some ways, failed. Asher's father explodes one morning at breakfast as Asher, ignoring his request, uses his fork to draw. Aryeh tells Asher that he must learn to control his desire to produce art.

When Aryeh returns to Europe, Asher decides to focus more on his study of Bible and Talmud in an attempt to appease him. Asher's marks improve and the adults are pleased. That summer Asher and his mother stay at the bungalow colony. The following summer Rivkeh goes to Vienna and Asher stays with his Uncle Yitzchok.

Chapter 7

Asher studies with the Mashpia to prepare for the meeting he will have with the Rebbe before he becomes a Bar Mitzvah, a fully fledged member of Jewish society, obligated in all the laws. Asher goes to the Rebbe's office and has a conversation with the Rebbe's right hand man as he waits. The Rebbe calls Asher into his office and gives him his blessing. He tells Asher that he should live life for the sake of God.

Asher leaves the Rebbe's office to discover a drawing of his face sitting on the chair in the waiting room that he had occupied. The drawing is signed, "Jacob Kahn, 1–10–56." Asher draws a picture of Jacob Kahn, signs it, affixes the date in the Jewish calendar, 26 Tevet 5716, and leaves the drawing on the chair Kahn had occupied.

As Asher leaves the building, Kahn comes outside and introduces himself. He tells Asher that the Rebbe is very clever—in designating Kahn to teach Asher, he is hoping Asher will not completely depart from the faith. Kahn explains that he is not a Torah observant Jew, but he has great respect for the Rebbe. Kahn asks Asher if he has seen has paintings in the museum. Asher responds that he has, but has not understood them. Kahn warns Asher that he is "entering the world of the goyim." Kahn tells Asher to study Picasso's Guernia and to call him in March.

Asher returns home, elated, and tells his parents what has transpired. His father is unhappy, but his mother responds that the Rebbe has decided that this is the best path. Asher sees his father as becoming detached from him, unable to deal with the path he will take. Asher goes weekly to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan and studies Guernica religiously. In the middle of March, he calls Jacob Kahn.

Analysis

Asher records the exact date—December 26, 1953—that he first uses oil paints. Other things that happen are not given specific dates in the book. This is to demostrate the immense significance the event holds in his mind. It stands out as something he remembers vividly, as opposed to many of the other memories that are sometimes hazy and never placed at such a precise moment.

Potok's use of Asher as a narrative is particularly useful in the scene where Rivkeh interrupts Asher while he is painting to ask about his father's letter concerning school. Being inside Asher's head, the reader learns much bout what Asher is thinking about the painting. Just as Asher, the reader barely notices Rivkeh Lev asking her question. The reader experiences Rivkeh as an annoyance, interrupting an important discovery about painting that Asher is making.

The community in which Asher lives is very tight knit—everyone knows everything that goes on. In this chapter, Asher encounters this in the form of many people talking to him about his studies. The litany of people that encounter Asher about his lack of interest in studying serves to emphasize how monolithic the Ladover community is. It also shows the extent to which this community is uniformly opposed to that which is so precious to Asher.

Asher muses that his father, in his absence, is more a part of his life now than when he was at home, since everyone is asking about his studies. Aryeh, being the one to have all these people talk to Asher, is portrayed as the paradigm of Ladover society. His ideals are aligned with those of the community and consequently opposed to Asher's. Not surprisingly, Asher begins to equate mainstream Ladover society with his father, seeing his father in his interactions with those from the community who would try to get him to give up art for Torah.

Chapter 7 is a major turning point in the life of Asher Lev. His interest in art has now been sanctioned by his community, and the Rebbe approves of his continued artistic work and development. For most Ladover boys his age, the major milestone is becoming a Bar Mitzvah, a fully participatory member of the Jewish community. For Asher, this is not paramount. His Bar Mitzvah celebration is an afterthought. He does not seem particularly excited or affected in any way by the change in his status from a minor to one who can participate fully in Jewish ritual. Rather, he is focused far more on the opportunity he will have to grow as an artist. This privileging of the artistic event over the religious one gives us an insight into Asher's character and foreshadows his future development, where art takes precedence over conformity to the standards of his Ladover community.

The power of the Rebbe is fully expressed in Chapter 7. He, not Aryeh, gets to decide what is the best path for Asher. The rest of the community accepts and reveres his decision, even if they do not understand it.

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