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My Name is Asher Lev

Chaim Potok

Chapter 10

Chapter 9

Chapter 11

Summary

Asher spends the summer with Jacob Kahn at his house by the beach in Cape Cod. He enjoys the natural surroundings and spends much time talking with Kahn. Kahn tells him that artists need time to relax and reflect. Asher begins to have a greater understanding of the depictions of nature in artwork with which he is acquainted. One day Kahn watches Asher praying. Afterward, Kahn tells him that, though he used to, he no longer has the ability to pray.

Asher and Jacob paint near the sand dunes. Jacob teaches Asher methods of Cezanne and the Impressionists. They discuss the two-dimensional nature of the canvas and the importance of not trying to treat it as a three dimensional field.

In the afternoons, Kahn teaches Asher to swim in the ocean. Lounging by the beach reminds Asher of the time he spent with his mother, at the beach near the lake in the Berkshires. Afternoons, they paint alone—Kahn in his studio and Asher in his attic room or outside. They spend evenings in Town. Everyone along the street seems to know Jacob. He takes Asher to galleries and explains art to him in detail.

One day, in town, an artist approaches Jacob and Asher. He asks Kahn if he has seen his latest exhibit. He then tells Kahn that most of the money in the art world will be coming from Tokyo in the next decade. He says that he is contemplating a move to Japan in the near future. When the man leaves them, Jacob tells Asher that the man is a whore and tells him never to become one. Asher says that he will not. Jacob replies that he is already on his way. Jacob notices that Asher has tucked his payos, his earlocks, behind his ears, not because of some belief, but because he is ashamed of them and scared people will judge him for them. Kahn tells him that a good artist will not care what he looks like and will care only about the quality of his art.

On the Sabbath, Asher prays, reads the Torah and studies about Hasidic thought and the Hasidic way of life. Jacob sits by the beach and paints. On Tisha Ba'av, Asher fasts and reads the book of Lamentations that is traditionally read on that day. Tanya Kahn approaches him and asks when he will eat. She says he looks emaciated and tells him of her brother, who was very religious and who ws killed by the Nazis. She remarks that, "it did not do him much good to be so religious." Jacob comes out and he and Asher take a walk by the beach. Asher tells him he is fasting to mourn the destruction of the Temple and the six million Jews who perished in the holocaust. Jacob comments that fasting does not mean anything to him, as he cannot relate to it personally. He tells Asher he is happy that he has not given up the things that are important to him.

Kahn gets into a bad mood and will not come out of his room. Anna comes to visit, as do four other painters. Three days later, he and Asher are painting again. Toward the end of the summer, Asher and Kahn go to a number of galleries. Kahn talks about the way he, Picasso, and others revolutionized the world of art. At the end of the summer, a truck comes to pick up the work they have produced. Asher heads back to New York and his artistic summer in paradise comes to a close.

Analysis

This chapter ushers in an entirely new situation for Asher. He has never lived outside of a Hasidic home before. The summer spent at Cape Cod with the Kahns is his first extended encounter with the secular world. Also, the house on Cape Cod is a new venue for Asher to paint. It provides him a unique opportunity to focus all of his energies on painting in a completely supportive environment. Even when he was going to Kahn's studio in Manhattan, he had to go home at night, either to his parents or his Uncle Yaakov. In neither place was he totally free—his painting angers his father; his Uncle Yaakov, while more accepting, still insisted that Asher wear his ritual fringes while painting. At Kahn's beach house, Asher has an entire summer without anyone telling him how to behave, with no one forcing him to do anything that will interfere with his painting.

Interestingly, Asher has no real religious conflicts in this environment. He nonchalantly describes how he had his own food and cooked for himself in order to observe the dietary laws, that he observes the Sabbath, and that he fasts on the ninth of Av. At no time does Asher seem to consider deviating in any significant way from the prescriptions of Orthodox Judaism. Even though no one is directly forcing him to observe the laws, Asher is still very strongly tied to them. He believes in them as he always has and unflinchingly performs the actions to which his community has made him accustomed. It does not even occur to him to question the beliefs or attachments bestowed upon him by his community. Intellectually, he is still a child. Kahn recognizes this when, one day, Asher tucks his payos behind his ears when they go into town. Jacob knows that he has done this, not out of any belief, but because he is scared to appear too different. Jacob recognizes that Asher, in the only act that even hints at disobeying the law, is not acting out of any belief or intellectual struggle. Asher simply does not undergo such struggles at this point.

Jacob often talks to Asher about his personal view of religious matters. He lets Asher know that prayer and fasting carry no personal significance for him. Asher never really responds to these types of comments. We never see him react to Kahn's telling him that he once prayed but it lost meaning for him, or that fasting never made him feel holier. In telling him these things, Kahn seems to be trying to get Asher to think more critically about his own religious views. Asher does not seem able to appreciate what Kahn is saying, and he does not even seem to realize the implications that Kahn's experience could have for his own. He does not know how to respond to what Kahn says about religion.

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