My Name Is Asher Lev is a novel by Chaim Potok dealing with the tension between tradition and individualism, religion and art. Asher Lev is a boy born into a Hasidic Jewish Family. Asher's father does not approve of his talent for painting and his interest in paintings of nudes and crucifixions. Eventually Asher becomes an apprentice of the artist Jacob Kahn, finds success and gains the approval of his family. However, after painting his masterpiece, a crucifixion depicting his mother's suffering, he is forced to leave.
This book explores conflicting traditions (in this case the tradition of Judaism and the tradition of art), father versus son, contentedness with one's life versus peace in the family (the Jewish value of " shalom bayit "), the traditional Jewish world versus secular America.
My Name Is Asher Lev explores the nature of suffering. The discrimination that Asher’s father has against Asher's artistic tendencies can be related to the suffering of the many Jews in Russia and Germany that were oppressed by the government. Just as they were oppressed and punished for their beliefs, Asher is negatively viewed by his father, his teachers, and his peers. Art isAsher’s real religion, and not only he, but his mother suffers for it. When Asher tries to portray his mother’s suffering, "[his] search for a motif reveals none powerful enough in [his] own tradition, and so [he] turn[s] to the central theme of suffering in the Christian tradition: crucifixion."
Asher Lev's pursuit of art is complicated by his upbringing and training to see Jewish perspectives on beauty. Via his training, Asher Lev explores aesthetic traditions of beauty.
The book title itself signals Asher's issue with self-identity. Jacob Kahn tells Asher, "As an artist you are responsible to no one and to nothing, except to yourself and to the truth as you see it."