Potok, Chaim: The Promise
(researched by Shelley Fields)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Borzoi Book, published by alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 1969 Copyright (c)1969 by Chaim Potok Published simutaneously in New York and Toronto, Canada (by Random House of Canada Limited) Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York Source: 1st Edition
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first American edition is published in trade cloth binding. Source: 1st Edition
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
190 leaves, pp.[16] [1-2] 3-358 [359] [5] Source: inspection of 1st Edition
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The book is not edited or introduced.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
There are no illustrations.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The paper size is 21cm X 14cm 90R The text is clear, readable, and dark, evocative of Times New Roman, although a note at the back of the book reveals it as Electra. The print is medium, and the pages are not cluttered: 1 - 1.5 in. space around the text. Source: 1st Edition
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The paper used for the first edition book is thick, smooth, high quality white paper. The first edition that I surveyed is from the Jefferson Madison Regional Library, and it is obvious from the appearance of the pages (several pages are stained) that the book has been borrowed numerous times. The paper lacks any rips or tears, but at the edge of each page the paper has become very aged and yellow over the past 31 years. Source: 1st Edition
11 Description of binding(s)
The original binding was done, according to a note in the back, by Kingsport press of Kingsport, Tenn. Front and back covers: Black or navy trade cloth. Spine: Black or navy cloth. Spine has title, interwoven rule line and the author's name below the line, and the publisher's name at the bottom stamped in gold. A gold Hasidic design lies above the title, below the author's name and at the bottom of the spine just below the publisher. The same design is also inlayed across the front margins of the front cover. The dust jacket art consists of a void of white space, the lower corner of which holds a postage stamp-like drawing of three young jews, isolated and displaced with the cruel white space. Above the illustration are the words "A NOVEL BY THE AUTHOR OF THE CHOSEN" in red. Below this is "Chaim Potok" in black. Just under the illustration is "The Promise". All lettering is large, readable block lettering. The binding is 1.5 inches wide. Source: 1st Edition
12 Transcription of title page
[Hasidic design]|THE PROMISE|[Hasidic design]|Chaim Potok|[emblem of a running greyhound]|ALFRED A. KNOPF NEW YORK 1969 Sources: 1st Edition, Gaskell's A New Introduction to Bibliography
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Information on holdings are not available at this time. Sources: 1st Edition, WorldCat, Virgo Database, University of Pennsylvania Library Database, Yeshiva University Library Database
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
The jacket design of The Promise was created by Paul Bacon as noted on the jacket cover. --------------------------------- The book begins with two epigrams on pg. (unnumbered)15: "If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it? Good God, we would also be happy if we had no books, and such books as make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have are those books which come up on us like ill-fortune, and distress us deeply, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us." (Franz Kafka) "Master of the Universe, send us our Messiah, for we have no more strength to suffer. Show me a sign, O God. Otherwise . . . otherwise . . . I rebel against Thee. If Thou dost not keep Thy Covenant, then neither will I keep that Promise, and it is all over, we are through being Thy chosen people, Thy peculiar treasure." (The Rebbe of Kotzk) --------------------------------- A Note on the Type reads on pg. (unnumbered)360: "This book is set in Electra, a Linotype face designed by W. A. Dwiggins. This face cannot be classified as either modern or old-style. It is not based on any historical model, nor does it echo any particular period or style. It avoids the extreme contrasts between thick and thin elements that mark most modern faces and attempts to give a feeling of fluidity, power, and speed. The book was designed by Anthea Lingeman and was composed, printed, and bound by Kingsport Press, Inc., Kingsport, Tennessee". ------------------------------ Dedication on pg. (unnumbered)13: "TO THE CHILDREN Rena, Naama, Akiva" Source: 1st Edition
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
As found in WorldCat and http://www.bibliofind.com, The Promise was simutaneously published by Alfred A. Knopf (1969) in a book club edition. Chaim, Potok. The Promise. New York: Knopf, 1969. The OCLC Accession Number is 10672429
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
As found in Publisher's Weekly, October 13, 1969: First printing: 100,000 copies
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
As found in WorldCat and Eureka, editions found by different publishers include: The Promise published by Heinemann, London (1969, 1970, 1978); The Promise published by G.K. Hall (large print edition) (1969, 1998); The Promise published by Fawcett (1969, 1970); The Promise published by Associated Reprinting Co. (1969); The Promise published by Fawcett Crest (1969, 1982); The Promise published by Penguin (1969, 1971, 1980); The Promise published by Ballantine Books (1982)
6 Last date in print?
According to WorldCat, The Promise is still in print as of April 2000.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
This book was listed as the eighth highest selling book in 1969 in Hackett's 80 Years of Best Sellers, the list that notes top fiction sellers for the year. However, the book did not sell over 2 million copies to be included in the overall best sellers list.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
After extensive research into resources such as Publishers' Weekly, Hackett's 80 Years of Best Sellers, The Bowker Annual, and The Bestseller's Index the sales figures by year were unavailable. However, Publisher's Weekly did note that The Promise sold for $6.95 in 1969.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Advertisement from Publisher's Weekly, June 23, 1969. This advertisement was front and back occupying the entire space of both pages 17 and 18. (Page 17) Chaim Potok|THE PROMISE|A wonderful sequel to|The Chosen (Page 18) They are young men now - the two boys of The Chosen. . . Reuven Malter, studying to be a rabbi, fiercely confronted and challenged by a great orthodox teacher who would deny him his ordination. . . Danny Saunders, who tore himself from his destiny as a spiritual leader of the Hasids, risking the brilliant beginnings of his career as a clinical psychologist to save the sanity of a fourteen-year-old boy. As it follows each of them, disputing and aiding each other, to its superb double climax, The Promise is flooded with the same irresistible goodness and feeling, the same magnificent evocation of the life of the spirit - dramatically projected in marvelous scenes - that made Chaim Potok's first book one of the best loved novels of recent years. The Promise is bound to become another number one bestseller. Coming September 15th, $6.95 A Literary Guild Selection First printing:100,000 copies
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
Publisher's Weekly Volume 196, offers a Fall Reading List from various publishers. Alfred A. Knopf advertises The Promise to be released in September and to sell for $6.95. Also found in Publisher's Weekly in an advertisement dating June 23, 1969 is the notification of The Promise as a Literary Guild selection. In addition, Chaim Potok was awarded the Athenaeum Literary Award for The Promise in 1969, the year the novel was published. According to http://www.libertynet.org/athena/lit.html this prize was created in 1950 to praise the literary achievement among authors who are "bona fide residents of Philadelphia or Pennsylvania living within a radius of 30 miles of City Hall" at the time of their book's publication. "Nominated works are reviewed on the basis of their significance and importance to the general public as well as for literary excellence."
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
After extensive research, into sources such as James M. Salem's A Guide to Critical Reviews, Magill's Survey of Cinema, Magill's Cinema Annual, and The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures in the U.S. it appears that there were no performances of The Promise in other media.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
As found in WorldCat and Eureka, translations include: La promesse.(Trans. Nicole Trad Tisserand)Buchet/Chastel, 1978, 1997.French. Das Versprechen.(no translator given)R. Wunderlich, 1969, 1976.German. ha-Hav-ta-hah.(Trans. Ophira Rahat)[Tel-Aviv]:Modan, 1994.Hebrew. Yaksok.(Trans. Chae-lip Yi)Seoul:Ky*ongy*ong Munhwaw*on, 1977.Korean. La Scelta di Reuven.(no translator given)Garzanti, 1987.Italian.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
Searches in Publisher's Weekly, WorldCat, and Eureka did not indicate that this work was serialized.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
Searches in Publisher's Weekly indicated that The Promise is a sequel to The Chosen. The Chosen.Simon & Schuster, 1967.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Chaim Potok has emerged into the public consciousness as one of the leading Jewish American authors of his generation. He was born Herman Harold Potok on February 17, 1929, in New York City, the son of Polish immigrant parents. His father, Benjamin Max Potok, was a member of the Hasidic sect, and his mother, Mollie Friedman Potok, was the descendant of a Hasidic dynasty; together, they reared their children in a strictly Orthodox manner. Potok received his primary and secondary education in a yeshiva. By the time that he was eight years old, he had already begun to demonstrate a talent for painting. When this pursuit was discourgaed by his family and teachers, the young Potok turned to literature and was so impressed by the riches that he found in secular novels that he determined at the age of fourteen to become a writer, a decision which subjected him to misunderstanding and ridicule within the strict Hasidic world to which he belonged. After graduation, Potok enrolled in the Yeshiva University. He had gradually been drifting away from the fundamentalist Hasidism of his childhood; by the time he received his B.A. in 1950, he had broken completely with Orthodoxy. At that time, Potok came into contact with Conservative Judaism and, transferring to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, he completed his rabbinical training and graduated in 1954 as a conservative rabbi with his M.A. in Hebrew literature. In 1965 he received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. It was during his fifteen-month military experience as a chaplain on the front in Korea from 1955 to 1956 that Potok began his first novel, a work which was never published, although it provided material for his later writings. The Chosen (1967), published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., was well accepted by the public, although reception by the critics was mixed; in 1982, this story was released as a major motion picture. Potok's second novel, The Promise (1969), was generally judged by critics to be inferior to his first work, and yet it too proved to be a tremendous public success. Readers and critics alike are in agreement that My Name Is Asher Lev (1972) is one of Potok's finest and most skillful works. In the Beginning appeared in 1975, followed by Wanderings in 1978 and The Book of Lights in 1981; the novel Davita's Harp was published in 1985. I Am the Clay (1992) was the last novel to precede Potok's childrens' writings, The Tree of Here (1993), The Sky of Now (1995) and Zebra and Other Stories (1998). All of the books listed were published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Although Potok's literary output is superimposed upon a rich background of Jewish life and experience, Judaism as such is not the overriding theme of his work. As an author, Potok is concerned specifically with illustrating what he calls "core to core culture confrontation," that is, the conflict that arises when a relatively closed, traditional culture such as Judaism comes into jarring contact with a culture governed by a different set of values. Such confrontations between worldviews can be seen clearly on varying levels with Potok's work. In The Chosen Danny Saunders is torn between his rigid Hasidic background and his desire for secular knowledge. The confrontation, however, is not restricted merely to a religious/secular dichotomy; Reuven Malter also suffers as his more liberal form of Judaism collides with the almost fanatical rigidtiy of the Hasidic world. The Promise focuses on the battle between Reuven's liberal scriptural exegesis and the ultra-Orthodox extremism of his teachers. Potok married Adena Sara Mosevitzsky on June 8, 1958. They have three children, Rena, Naama, and Akiva. He and his wife currently reside in Merion, Pennsylvania. Sources Consulted for this Assignment: Charles Moritz, ed., Current Biography Yearbook 1983, New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1998. Hart, James D., ed. The Oxford Companion to American Literature, 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Daniel Walden, ed., Studies in American Jewish Literature, Number 4 : The World of Chaim Potok, California: Ladybug Press, 1985. Linda Metzger, ed., Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, vol.19, 1987. Ken Shelton, "Writer on the Roof," BYU Today(April, 1983). Sam Bluefarb, "The Head, the Heart, and the Conflict of Generations in Chaim Potok's The Chosen," CLA Journal 14 (June, 1971).
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
The reviews of Chaim Potok's 1969 best-selling novel, The Promise, focus on the conflict between religious and secular commitments. In The Chosen, David Malter tells his son that man must make his own meaning. While a life span is nothing in the universe, what a man does with that brief moment is something indeed. That is the "key" to the sympathetic portrayal of those who strive to uphold the Hasidic and Orthodox traditions. Their strength, their rage have counted for something on the stage of history-have made it possible for the Jews to have a history at all. Most critics agree that meaning comes less in heroic choices than in the choices of ordinary life about one's history and tradition, about faith and love. Reviewers believe that it is in those who have chosen to make their own meaning that the promise is realized. Yet for Chaim Potok, the creation of meaning is not ex nihilo; it comes as a life is able to encompass its past as well as its present. An ordained rabbi with a doctorate in philosophy, Chaim Potok is viewed by critics as having an unusual background for a novelist-a potential liability which he converted into an asset. Almost all of Potok's reviewers conclude that while most contemporary American novelists avoid explicit engagement with ideas, Potok makes ideas come alive in the experience of his characters: intellectual conflicts and their resolution are at the heart of his fiction. Though Danny Malter's problems with wanting to live up to the freedom given him by his father are crucial to the narrative, The Promise is more than a story of parental and religious conflict according to The Times Literary Supplement, "The Promise is a moving, continually absorbing, account of how people come to terms with a puritanical background, discarding its (understandable) severities and deriving strength from its virtues." More than one review compares The Chosen to The Promise, yet The Chosen is less pensive and more comforting. The Christian Science Monitor's review states, "The Chosen was a simpler book than its successor. In The Promise, the author deals not only with the myriad worlds of Judaism, but also with the realm of psychology." The review goes on to state that the conflicts exposed in The Chosen are elaborated on in The Promise. This mostly critical review finally says, "what is missing in Mr. Potok's second book is the joy and warmth that endeared the author to many readers. However, the critic cannot go without saying that "there is no doubt about its merits as a novel." One of the harsher critical remarks about The Promise is voiced by Curt Leviant, who comments in the Saturday Review, on characterization, "Although a host of figures appear in the novel, most of them, with the exception of Reuven's father and, less so, Rav Kalman, are stiff and phoney. The book's biggest phonies are Michael's aunt and his professorial parents." Bandler, however, maintains: "Judaism and the Jewish way of life are at the center of all his works, molding and motivating his characters and providing the basis for their way of looking at themselves, each other, and the world." Like many sequels, The Promise received mixed criticism from reviewers; New York Times Book Review contributing critic Hugh Nissenson describes the book as having "some discrepancy between Potok's intention and the realization of his theme." While New Statesman contributor Stanley Reynolds observes that Potok's prose "has a clarity and intensity of style which makes the interplay of characters and ideas take on a wholly appropriate allegorical significance," he maintains that The Promise is "a novel which follows a definite canon of clarity, and which enters a most difficult terrain of experience without stumbling upon the obscure." Nissenson concludes that, "despite an occasional technical lapse, Potok has demonstrated his ability to deal with a more complex conception and to suffuse it with pertinence and vitality. His promise is fulfilled." The Promise is a story of an Orthodox Jewish community in modern day Brooklyn. All critics applaud Potok for introducing countless readers to a fascinating new territory for fiction at once distinctive and universal in its appeal. SOURCES: 1) "Back to the Fold." Times Literary Supplement 3549 (5 March 1970): 241 2) Bandler, Michael J. "A Sequel to 'The Chosen'." Christian Science Monitor (16 December 1969): 13 3) Reynolds, Stanley. "Quipped the Raven." New Statesman 2033 (27 February 1970): 300 4) Nissenson, Hugh. "The Jews Have Long Since Embarked." New York Times Book Review (14 September 1969): 5, 21 5) Leviant, Curt. "Review of 'The Promise'." Saturday Review 38 (20 September 1969): 37-38
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
The reviews of Chaim Potok's 1969 best-selling novel, The Promise, focus on the conflict between religious and secular commitments. In The Chosen, David Malter tells his son that man must make his own meaning. While a life span is nothing in the universe, what a man does with that brief moment is something indeed. That is the "key" to the sympathetic portrayal of those who strive to uphold the Hasidic and Orthodox traditions. Their strength, their rage have counted for something on the stage of history-have made it possible for the Jews to have a history at all. Most critics agree that meaning comes less in heroic choices than in the choices of ordinary life about one's history and tradition, about faith and love. Reviewers believe that it is in those who have chosen to make their own meaning that the promise is realized. Yet for Chaim Potok, the creation of meaning is not ex nihilo; it comes as a life is able to encompass its past as well as its present. An ordained rabbi with a doctorate in philosophy, Chaim Potok is viewed by critics as having an unusual background for a novelist-a potential liability which he converted into an asset. Almost all of Potok's reviewers conclude that while most contemporary American novelists avoid explicit engagement with ideas, Potok makes ideas come alive in the experience of his characters: intellectual conflicts and their resolution are at the heart of his fiction. Though Danny Malter's problems with wanting to live up to the freedom given him by his father are crucial to the narrative, The Promise is more than a story of parental and religious conflict according to The Times Literary Supplement, "The Promise is a moving, continually absorbing, account of how people come to terms with a puritanical background, discarding its (understandable) severities and deriving strength from its virtues." More than one review compares The Chosen to The Promise, yet The Chosen is less pensive and more comforting. The Christian Science Monitor's review states, "The Chosen was a simpler book than its successor. In The Promise, the author deals not only with the myriad worlds of Judaism, but also with the realm of psychology." The review goes on to state that the conflicts exposed in The Chosen are elaborated on in The Promise. This mostly critical review finally says, "what is missing in Mr. Potok's second book is the joy and warmth that endeared the author to many readers. However, the critic cannot go without saying that "there is no doubt about its merits as a novel." One of the harsher critical remarks about The Promise is voiced by Curt Leviant, who comments in the Saturday Review, on characterization, "Although a host of figures appear in the novel, most of them, with the exception of Reuven's father and, less so, Rav Kalman, are stiff and phoney. The book's biggest phonies are Michael's aunt and his professorial parents." Bandler, however, maintains: "Judaism and the Jewish way of life are at the center of all his works, molding and motivating his characters and providing the basis for their way of looking at themselves, each other, and the world." Like many sequels, The Promise received mixed criticism from reviewers; New York Times Book Review contributing critic Hugh Nissenson describes the book as having "some discrepancy between Potok's intention and the realization of his theme." While New Statesman contributor Stanley Reynolds observes that Potok's prose "has a clarity and intensity of style which makes the interplay of characters and ideas take on a wholly appropriate allegorical significance," he maintains that The Promise is "a novel which follows a definite canon of clarity, and which enters a most difficult terrain of experience without stumbling upon the obscure." Nissenson concludes that, "despite an occasional technical lapse, Potok has demonstrated his ability to deal with a more complex conception and to suffuse it with pertinence and vitality. His promise is fulfilled." The Promise is a story of an Orthodox Jewish community in modern day Brooklyn. All critics applaud Potok for introducing countless readers to a fascinating new territory for fiction at once distinctive and universal in its appeal. SOURCES: 1) "Back to the Fold." Times Literary Supplement 3549 (5 March 1970): 241 2) Bandler, Michael J. "A Sequel to 'The Chosen'." Christian Science Monitor (16 December 1969): 13 3) Reynolds, Stanley. "Quipped the Raven." New Statesman 2033 (27 February 1970): 300 4) Nissenson, Hugh. "The Jews Have Long Since Embarked." New York Times Book Review (14 September 1969): 5, 21 5) Leviant, Curt. "Review of 'The Promise'." Saturday Review 38 (20 September 1969): 37-38
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
INTRODUCTION The Promise by Chaim Potok enjoys wide popular acclaim from both Jewish and non-Jewish readers. The book was the eighth best selling novel of 1969. This book centers on the conflict between the religious life and the life of the imagination, but it is certain that this book is not bought--much less remembered--for the quality of its author's metaphysical speculations. A better clue to his popularity of The Promise lies perhaps in the fortuitous coinciding of timing and a talent in the genre, howsoever meager, which is capable of rising to an occasion it has suddenly come upon. That occasion is the rediscovery, in the culture at large and among his Jewish characters in particular, of "ethnic consciousness," and Potok has put this rising awareness to profitable use, spinning out tales that he knows so well of unassimilated "people of the book" to the delight of the many assimilated Jews who read him. CHARACTERS An ordained rabbi with a doctorate in philosophy, Chaim Potok has an unusual background for a novelist--a potential liability that he converted into an asset. While most contemporary American novelists avoid explicit engagement with ideas, Potok makes ideas come alive in the experience of his characters. The characters, their intellectual conflicts and their resolution are at the heart of his fiction. Each of Potok's characters in The Promise provide their own territory to be explored which makes this work of fiction more worthwhile and that much more appeasing to the reader. The intelligent and mysterious Danny Saunders draws the reader into The Promise's prequel, The Chosen. The title is a reflection of the traditional Jewish conception of the chosen people but also applies specifically to Danny. He has been chosen to succeed his father as leader of the Hasidim; yet his soul reaches beyond narrow Orthodoxy to a world of secular learning. For Danny, there is a kind of resolution in The Promise. As Reuvan observes, Danny had been so deeply rooted in Hasidism, had his soul so deeply knit with that of his father during those years of silence and pain that he could embrace the views of others (such as Freud and Darwin) and yet retain his rootedness. Reuvan is challenged by the new secular learning and by his own father's textual studies in the Talmud. His Orthodox world will never be the same. Reuvan seems always to be fighting: the sectarianism of the Hasidim, the anti-Zionists, and the teachers who reject textual criticism. In The Promise, Reuvan is unable to bring his two worlds together. He refuses to accept the insights of Professor Gordon and deny the faith, but he will not adopt his teachers' methods of Talmud study and commit intellectual suicide. He will again do battle with Rav Kalman, but next time it will be on an equal footing, as a rabbi from within the school. Rav Kalman is an angry and impatient man, passionately criticizing what passes for Judaism in the United States. He is portrayed sympathetically: He asks forgiveness of a student whom he has embarrassed, and he is concerned about Michael Gordon's health, though he writes the severest critiques of Abraham Gordon's works. He is a man whose life tradition is being threatened, and he strikes back pointedly, sarcastically. Events in The Promise swirl around young Michael Gordon. He sees in Reuvan an ally. If both have been branded traitors to Orthodoxy, at least both can take solace in each other. Michael is a symbolic lighting rod to which the contradictory forces inside Reuvan and Danny are drawn. Perhaps the universal issue of fathers and sons demonstrate the real love in the novel. If Reb Saunders' tearful explanation of why Danny was reared in silence is not wholly plausible, there is a bond of love between this father and his son that is almost palpable. In The Promise, Danny finds himself wanting to live up to the freedom given him by his father. Danny is fearful of making a mistake and so violating his father's blessing. The novel itself could as easily, if not originally, have been called Fathers and Sons. For it is as much about the old split between the fathers and their offsprings as it is about the conflicts between religious views and personalities. The sons have been molded by the fathers, though in the case of Danny that influence is a negative one. For Reb Saunders is a fanatic, or at least has those propensities; he represents the archetypal, God-intoxicated Hassid. And it is he who has caused Danny to grow into a tense, coldly introverted personality. Reuven's father, on the other hand, is the tolerant (albeit religious) humanist, opposed both in mind and in heart to the cold scholasticism of the Saunderses. GENRE In addition, interest in the genre of the novel contributed to its popularity. Potok's novel was considered a psychological realism. The theme of the novel is man making his own meaning. While a life span is as nothing in the universe, what a man does with that brief moment is something indeed. That is the "key" to the sympathetic portrayal of those who strive to uphold the Hasidic and Orthodox traditions. Their strength, their rage have counted for something on the stage of history--have made it possible for the Jews to have a history at all. Meaning comes less in heroic choices than in the choices of ordinary life, about one's history and tradition, about faith and love. It is in those who have chosen to make their own meaning that the promise is realized. Yet for Chaim Potok, the creation of meaning is ex nihilo; it comes as a life is able to encompass its past as well as its present. Potok is troubled by the growing influence of the right-wing Orthodoxy upon American Jewish life. The book presents a clear and compelling view of orthodox Jewish life in America following the war years. It broadens the reader's understanding of the wide spectrum of Judaism, which ranges from the most conservative to the liberal. It is invaluable in providing all readers, particularly young ones, with social, political, and religious history. CHAIM POTOK'S BACKGROUND Potok's Judaic background has provided him with a wealth of material for his novel that in turn contributed to The Promise's popularity. Because of his Jewish heritage, Potok is frequently called an American Jewish writer. Although he understands the need for such labels, he prefers to be described as "an American writer writing about a small and particular American world," he says in an essay in Studies in American Jewish Literature. Quoting James Joyce, he explains to Millie Ball in the Times Picayune: 'in the particular is contained the universal.' When you write about one person or set of people you know, if you dig deeply enough, you will ultimately uncover basic humanity. Readers admire this familiarization; they can trust what has been written. Yes, maybe more appealing than the book itself to readers is its place in the author's development. Potok once seemed to be the writer for whom the American Jewish community had been waiting--an educated Jew who knew Jewish life from the inside and could give it authentic representation. As against the second-generation sons and daughters who inhabited most American Jewish fiction, figures estranged from the culture of their parents, with attitudes ranging from indifference to contempt, he presented a generation still raised in traditional homes and only tentatively facing the challenges of the Enlightenment. CONCLUSION Potok's novel, The Promise, enjoys wide popular acclaim from both Jewish and non-Jewish readers, perhaps because his individual characters and their situation represent the universal. The questions which are asked and the conflicts which are portrayed are not solely Jewish phenomena--they apply to anyone whose culture suddenly collides with other systems which are fundamentally different, and therefore threatening to one's own view. With the war just ending, the book's content expressed through the genre captured the audience's attention. The challenge which meets the reader on the pages of Potok's writings, the implicit plea for openness, flexibility, acceptance, and the courage to find one's own synthesis in spite of all social opposition and cross-cultural blindness, rings true to any reader; it stretches far beyond the specifically Jewish setting, that his background provided him, of the novel to touch the broad pool of shared human experience. References Charles Moritz, ed., Current Biography Yearbook 1983, New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1998. Hackett, Alice Payne. 80 Years of Best Sellers 1895-1975. 1976. New York: Bowker. Leviant, Curt. "Review of 'The Promise'." Saturday Review 38 (20 September 1969): 37-38. Studies in American Jewish Literature, number 4, 1985. Times-Picayune (New Orleans), February 25, 1973. http://www.lasierra.edu/~ballen/potok
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