Philip Roth and Orthodox Jewry
Originally presented at Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob on Shabbat Naso, May 26, 2018.
Philip Roth, Towering Novelist Who Explored Lust, Jewish Life and America, Dies at 85. That New York Times obituary has an entire section entitled, Irritating the Rabbis, about his 1959 first collection of stories, Goodbye, Columbus. “It won the National Book Award in 1960 but was denounced…by some influential rabbis, … In 1962, while appearing on a panel at Yeshiva University, Mr. Roth was so denounced that he resolved never to write about Jews again. He quickly changed his mind…Gershom Scholem, the great kabbalah scholar, declared that [Portnoy’s Complaint] was more harmful to Jews than The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”The message Rav Hirsch had in the 1860s and 70s in Germany didn’t resonate in America until the 1960s and 70s, and his critique of the 19 century assimilating German Jewish community was echoed by Philip Roth’s critique of the 1950s American one.