The Book of Lights

The Book of Lights

by Chaim Potok

Gershon Loran, a quiet rabinical student, is troubled by the dark reality around him.

But to Gershon's friend, Arthur, light means something else, the Atom bomb, his father helped create.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.88
  • Pages: 370
  • Publish Date: September 10th 1997 by Ballantine Books
  • Isbn10: 0449001148
  • Isbn13: 9780449001141

What People Think about "The Book of Lights"

Chaim Potok finds his hook in the Jewish mystical study of Kabbalah. Kabbalah is rather heroic in ways that Kabbalists are not. Kabbalists are Jewish mystics who study the Torah. Such exegesis requires years of patient study in order to become intimately familiar with the various historical opinions and interpretations of every nuance of the Torah as Law. Kabbalists take the Torah no less seriously than Talmudic scholars. But like all mystics, secular as well as religious, what interests them is not historical opinion but novel connections which may occur not as the result of painstaking research but as spontaneous insight. It is the making of connections - among words, ideas, incidental comments, or events - that is what mystics do. This Kabbalistic spontaneity of interpretation appears as lack of discipline and egotistical eccentricity to Talmudic scholars. In Kabbalah the text of the Torah is interpreted through meditations on the Sefirot or divine names which call the world into existence. It's protagonist, Gershon, is a typical, garden-variety mystic: introverted, awkward, untalented in expression, appearing somewhat lost and perpetually distracted in a society which can only find him ill-suited to the routine tasks of making a living. Surprisingly perhaps, mystics may be obsessive but they are rarely 'en theos', that is they have little feeling of being infused in any special way by the divine; they are not enthusiasts. Like Gershon, they may appear to be apathetic simply because their talents of associative insight are so little valued. Death creates living memories, Gershon's life, which contains his parents' and cousin's deaths. Such ills are part of Potok's Kabbalah. Each Kabbalist has his own version of the meaning of the divine names and their connections. The concrete things he encounters from faulty boilers to crosses on the army's Jewish chapel have significance because they can be interpreted. Complete responsibility for one's interpretation of the situation is an aspect of Potok's Kabbalah. Kabbalah does not make better automobile drivers, soldiers, lovers, Jews, or better human beings. This is Potok's Kabbalah An editorial aside: Mystics only incidentally belong to religious groups. Some mystics, by birth or circumstances, get lucky and therefore famous in secular life. Potok knows how to play this game and so is able to avoid cliché: Some additional references for Kabbalah in literature:

One comes away with the feeling that any other characters or institutions that are touched by his characters are better for it.

But what I love about the book more than anything is how it reduces the atomic bomb to a motif in relation to its real subject, which is the mystical impulse in human nature. Not every human has this tendency, but Potok's main character does, and that makes him a literary rarity. The significance of the atomic bomb is not so much the appalling destruction of human life or the moral questions asked by its makers (although those subjects are discussed) but the light itself. The unbearable irony of the brightest light being the source of the greatest destructive power we've ever invented is Potok's main subject, but if my description is tedious, the novel isn't at all.

Gershon Loran and Arther Leiden are rabbinical students and roommates.

I re-read Potoks Book of Lights. I picked it up because Sunday I am preaching on light and I thought it would help me.

Because of this obsession, Arthur Leiden dies. Some years ago, I read other books by Chaim Potok. A page-long descriptive paragraph begins. I read a paragraph. I read a paragraph. I read a paragraph.

This is a very heavy, intense book, different in many ways from the other Potoks I've read.

I read this book earlier and didn't like it as much.

This one is certainly one of his more insightful and provocative- there were moments where his rhetoric tended toward broader, perhaps overly-romanticized statements-- but I don't care because I love him, and he can't do any wrong in my eyes.

After four years of study at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America he was ordained as a Conservative rabbi. A year later he began his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and was appointed scholar-in-residence at Temple Har Zion in Philadelphia. He became the managing editor of the magazine Conservative Judaism and joined the faculty of the Teachers Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary. The following year, he was appointed editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia and later, chairman of the publication committee. Potok received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.