5: Excerpt from “The Conversion of the Jews” by Philip Roth, 1958.
Philip Roth (born 1933) is an American novelist renowned for his intensely autobiographical fiction that provocatively explores and challenges Jewish and American identities. “The Conversion of the Jews” appeared in his first book, Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories. In the story, a Hebrew school student, Ozzie Freedman, asks his teacher, Rabbi Binder, difficult questions that are seemingly naïve, but touch upon troubling paradoxes of religious faith.
Suggested Activities: Ask your students to try to answer Ozzie’s questions as though they were his teacher. What kind of response would they offer to Ozzie in an attempt to teach him about Jewish faith and tradition? Then, ask your students to write new questions in the spirit of Ozzie’s questions. What are the paradoxes of religious faith that they find most troubling and baffling?
Ask your students to discuss: What does this passage tell readers about how Ozzie’s Hebrew school is taught? How does that compare to educational experiences your students have had?
Source: Philip Roth, “The Conversion of the Jews” in Goodbye Columbus and Other Stories (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1989) 141-142.