Contemporary Jewish Identity

The meaning of being Jewish in the contemporary western world constitutes the thematic heart of The Finkler Question. Posed as a question, the novel seeks an answer through every major character in the novel as well as many of its minor characters. The question is explored in its social and cultural manifestation and in its personal significance.

Julian Treslove believes that he is somehow meant to be Jewish, though his lineage is in no way Jewish. He learns Hebrew words, dates a Jewish woman, attends Jewish rites and ceremonies and takes on a position at an Anglo-Jewish museum. Through Treslove, a question is articulated regarding the historical nature of Jewish identity: Is it possible to simply become Jewish, without bearing also the history of the culture, especially its suffering?

A quite different question is presented in the character of Samuel Finkler, who is described by his wife as a Jew who holds others to an impossibly high standard, and who castigates Jews for failing to live up to those standards. A complex figure, Finkler is both a staunch and proud defender of the values of Judaism and a harsh critic of the people of the Jewish Diaspora, especially those in Israel.

Beyond the Jewish identity, issues embedded in each of these characters, the novel contains many conversations on the subjects of Zionism and Israel, Jewish identity, Jewish culture, violence against Jews and violence committed by Jews in Israel.

Jewish stereotypes are explored in The Finkler Question as well, with Treslove commenting in a prescient moment on his relationship to Jewishness:

Hard to go on feeling outrage for people who behaved to you exactly as they were accused of behaving to everyone else precisely because of which accusations you were outraged for them.

Treslove exemplifies the refracted and compounded problem of dealing with stereotypes while simultaneously generalizing about a culture, a religion and an ethnic group even in a positive light.

At issue here for Treslove is...

(The entire section is 879 words.)