> With Our Compliments: Leader's Discussion Guide for As A Driven Leaf

About the Foreword

Chaim Potok's foreword to As A Driven Leaf was specially commissioned for Behrman House's reissue of this masterpiece of Jewish literature.

The foreword is a significant addition to this edition of As A Driven Leaf. While Potok's brief essay certainly provides a graceful introduction to the novel, it offers even more to the reader who has already completed the book. You may choose to return to the foreword after finishing the book, to discuss some of the issues raised by Potok.

  1. Potok draws attention to Milton Steinberg's various Jewish affiliations. He was ordained as a Conservative rabbi, and studied under the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Mordecai Kaplan. How do various movements within Judaism differ in their interaction with the larger surrounding culture? Might Elisha's story have been told differently by a Reform author? An Orthodox author?

  2. Potok asserts that the novel's central drama--"a conflict between religious and pagan ideas, between faith and reason, between postulates of creed and science"--is one that speaks to all of Jewish history. What are some of the parallels in Jewish history that Potok has in mind? What are contemporary examples of this drama in Judaism today? Are the central characters in these cases more or less sympathetic than Elisha?

  3. According to Potok, Elisha is a literary stand-in for Steinberg himself, who also sought to find a harmony between faith and reason. In Potok's words, the author and his protagonist shared a belief that "philosophical reflection was the beginning of piety, and that without a worldview one could never stand firmly on the ground of faith." How does Jewish tradition reconcile religious belief with intellectual pursuits? In what ways does Judaism succeed, and fail, in this attempt?