In an interview presented in Edward Abramson’s book Chaim Potok, Potok says that a “teacher should be somebody like Reuven Malter’s father. In many ways he exemplifies the Jewish adventure.” David Malter represents the ideal American Jewish father. He combines religious rigor with scientific inquiry and a love of knowledge, all of which he tempers with his overwhelming love and respect for his son. Throughout the book, David Malter displays a profound tolerance of and respect for a variety of traditions. His open-minded spiritual and intellectual rigor represents the balanced perspective that both boys want to achieve. He is an individual who understands the importance of relationships and reciprocity, and he values and accepts the dual perspectives of tradition and secularism.
David Malter’s perfection makes him the novel’s most one-dimensional, static character, but his character does evolve in one crucial way. After he learns about the Holocaust, we see him change from a gentle, mellow father into an impassioned Zionist activist. David Malter states his motivations for his ceaseless Zionist activity clearly in Chapter 13, when he explains to Reuven that a “man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life.” This statement reflects David Malter’s growing feeling that it is not enough to wait passively for biblical prophesy, as Reb Saunders does. Rather, David Malter feels it is up to mankind to actively give meaning to the world and make sense of the horrible suffering of the Holocaust. As Sternlicht explains, the only way for David Malter to make sense of the Holocaust is for the Holocaust to incite the Jewish people’s return to the ancient land of Israel. Unlike Reb Saunders, David Malter believes that religion should impact politics, and that it is important for Jews to actively engage the outside world.
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