Study Guide

The Conversion of the Jews

by Philip Roth

The Conversion of the Jews Themes

Themes and Meanings (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Conversion of the Jews” is the story of the coming-of-age of a boy on the brink of manhood as defined by the Jewish ritual of Bar Mitzvah. Set in a modern American city where Jews are a tolerated minority, it raises questions about the continuing vitality of Jewish culture and about the coherence of a Jewish community within a pluralistic society. In Ozzie’s refusal to accept traditional dogma, it also takes a critical look at strategies to justify the ways of God to young men.

As befits his last name, Freedman, Ozzie is not tied to historical explanations for fundamental questions that he is confronting for the first time. Alone of all his classmates, Ozzie dares to challenge the authority of the rabbi, whose name, Binder, suggests his own fealty to tradition. Binder, a tall, handsome, and imposing man, is a sort of surrogate father to Ozzie, whose deceased father is commemorated by the ceremonial sabbath candles his mother lights each Friday at sunset. Ozzie is intoxicated by the sense of power he feels his defiant, independent stance can exert over the others. He sees himself as a lone champion of truth battling the obscurantist forces of tribal superstition. He is also asserting his own personal dignity against a condescending elder who is merely patronizing toward the young man’s quest for explanations.

When he climbs up onto the roof alone, Ozzie realizes that he has passed a turning point in his life and that there is no possibility of reversal. His mother begs him to come back, not...

(The entire section is 624 words.)

The Conversion of the Jews Themes

Hypocrisy
Ozzie is a truth-seeker who does not deal well with factual inconsistencies, especially in his religion. He is...

(The entire section is 1110 words.)