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Abstract

In his article "Jewish History, US-American Fictions, and 'Soul-Battering' in Roth's 'Conversion of the Jews'" Sandor Goodhart discusses Philip Roth's story in which an innocent question raised in a Hebrew school discussion in the early 1950s gets wildly out of control. It leads the student into a screaming fight with his Rabbi, which propels the child into a confrontation with his mother, which in turn leads to a second violent confrontation with the Rabbi (who ends up slapping the child), and the episode culminates in a rooftop exchange over the synagogue where the boy’s thought of escape is suddenly converted into the desire to jump (in response to an unruly and increasingly agitated mob below). If the story is finally transformed in Goodhart's view into something else — one of disaster averted rather than disaster enacted — then the process of revealing to its readers the build-up of that transformation from questioning to violence may teach them something about postwar the US-American suburban Jewish community that sustained similar violence abroad (albeit on a vastly amplified scale) and that functions now in this context as a kind of powder keg or time bomb.