‘The Promise’ and ‘My Name is Asher Lev’ tell the stories of young Jewish men. Chaim Potok fleshes out the straightforward plots of each by delving into the complex inner lives of his characters. He writes simply and directly.
Reuven, the main character in ‘The Promise,’ is studying to become a rabbi. Instead of relying on blind faith and traditional Talmud interpretations, he uses reason. One of his own instructors accuses him of heresy, but his methods of study are meant to reinforce his faith (and that of others), not dismantle it.
Asher’s desire to be an artist is in direct opposition to his father’s wishes. At the end of ‘My Name is Asher Lev,’ everyone he knows believes he has turned his back on his faith, but it’s still very much a part of him, both troubling and inspiring him. In spite of the conflict it brings, Asher keeps painting.
The beauty of these stories lies in their realism. Potok doesn’t present a black-and-white approach to faith, with fundamentalism and atheism in competition. He illustrates that faith is multifaceted, personal, and that it doesn’t have to look or behave in a certain way. Without vilifying religion or its adherents, his stories encourage independent thought.