The Conversion of the Jews

by Philip Roth

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In "The Conversion of the Jews," would this be a good thesis? Some feel that by taking a stand on hypocrisy and dying for a cause will reconcile secular issues with religious issues.

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There is some element of truth in this statement, but far more obvious is the conflict that this short story creates between tradition and free thought, and how Ozzie is successful in challenging tradition and "converting" the Jews by the threat of taking his own life. This is something that is symbolised strongly by the last name of Ozzie, which is "Freedman," and then also through the name of Rabbi Binder, which of course identifies him as the force of tradition. What Ozzie does in this story is to not only become a man by the time he jumps off the roof into the safety net of the community, but also clearly and successfully fight the cause of freedom against rigid tradition. Note how he associates Rabbi Binder with the forces of tradition:

Rabbi Binder was pointing one arm stiffly up at him; and at the end of that arm, one finger aimed menacingly. It was the attitude of a dictator, but one--the eyes confessed all--whose personal valet had spit neatly in his face.

The way Binder moves from being a "dictator" to a kneeling man who is ready to declare, out loud in public, in a way that makes it appear like a catechism, that he was wrong, shows the extent of Ozzie's triumph. There is also a slightly mocking simile used at the end of the story when the safety net into which Ozzie jumps is compared to an "overgrown halo," perhaps suggesting there is something divine about Ozzie's success and that God himself is against the forces of tradition and the way they are wielded by somebody like Rabbi Binder. This would make a much more substantial thesis statement than the one proposed in this question, as the story isn't really about dying for a cause; it is about growing up and defining your identity.  

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