The Conversion of the Jews

by Philip Roth
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What is the significance of the blood coming from Ozzie's nose in "The Conversion of the Jews"?

In the short story "The Conversion of the Jews" by Philip Roth, the significance of the blood coming from Ozzie's nose is its symbolism of a line being crossed by Rabbi Binder and by Ozzie. In hitting Ozzie and drawing blood, the rabbi has transitioned from verbal to physical abuse. This causes Ozzie to despair that his questions will not be taken seriously, snap under the emotional pressure, and run to the school roof.

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In "The Conversion of the Jews" by Philip Roth, the bloody nose that Rabbi Binder gives Ozzie comes at a crucial moment in the story. Roth has already established the character of Ozzie as being so argumentative that the rabbi keeps calling his mother to talk to her about Ozzie. However, the reason that Ozzie keeps arguing with the rabbi is that he has sincere questions concerning theology, and he feels that these questions are not being answered. This increasingly frustrates Ozzie, which makes him even more high-strung and short-tempered.

In one classroom incident, Rabbi Binder keeps taunting Ozzie until Ozzie starts shouting at him. The rabbi then flicks his hand out at Ozzie's cheek. The hand catches Ozzie on the nose, which initiates a nosebleed "in a short red spurt onto Ozzie's shirt front." The significance of the blood is that it shows Rabbi Binder's transition from being only verbally abusive to also being physically abusive. It is a symbol that the rabbi has stepped over the line and gone too far in his discipline. It also signals the moment when Ozzie snaps. He is being physically beaten for seeking truth from a person who should be able to give him some answers. As a result, he despairs that his heartfelt questions will not be taken seriously, at least by the rabbi who has just hit him hard enough to cause blood to flow, and so he gives up and runs away. His subsequent behavior on the rooftop probably would not have occurred if the rabbi had not lost his temper, hit Ozzie, and caused the nosebleed.

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