My Name is Asher Lev

by: Chaim Potok

Chapter 10

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.