Philip Roth and Shabbat

March 7, 2014

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, March 7, 2014.

Philip Roth and Shabbat

Philip Roth is usually known for his iconoclastic fiction, and not usually known for writing about Jewish ritual in any sort of nostalgic way. Yet,  in his 1959 story “The Conversion of the Jews,” he writes with a sweetness not always seen in his work. 12-year old Ozzie coming home from a run-in with the rabbi at cheder (religious school) sees his mother getting ready to light Shabbos Candles and the description is classic:

Ozzie had planned to confess his latest transgression to his mother as soon as she came home from work. But it was a Friday night in November and already dark... and she went to the kitchen table to light the three yellow candles, two for the Sabbath and one for Ozzie’s father.

When his mother lit the candles she would move her two arms slowly towards her, dragging them through the air, as though persuading people whose minds were half made up. And her eyes would get glassy with tears. Even when his father was alive Ozzie remembered that her eyes had gotten glassy, so it didn’t have anything to do with his dying. It had something to do with lighting the candles.

Shabbat Shalom