Jewish Conversion Theory Philip Roth’s “The Conversion of the Jews”

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Previous research on Philip Roth’s short story “The Conversion of the Jews” (1958) has focused on the protagonist Ozzie’s personal struggle with Judaism as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah. However, during these lessons, Ozzie asks provocative questions that challenge the foundation of Judaism. Roth confronts the reader with two interpretations of Judaism: a canonical one, personified by Rabbi Binder, and Ozzie’s more radical approach. Operating outside of clearly defined theological parameters, Ozzie’s naïve attitude opens Judaism to fresh, non-Jewish interpretations and asks such provocative questions as whether a conversion to Christianity can be an answer for modern Jewish Americans. Although Ozzie chooses Christianity as a myopic solution for his identity struggle, Roth knows that conversion is not really an option. In search of an American Judaism that fits Jewish Americans, this study, like Ozzie himself, will meet at the crossroads of theological doctrine and literary criticism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-41
Number of pages14
JournalPhilip Roth Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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