A striking and often poetic style, a penetration into the modes of human behavior, and a concern with the question of form and substance -- a common battleground in all established religions pulls this philosophical novel about Orthodox Judaism and departures from it, out of the special interest category into the general. The Old Man (nameless, a shred of dehumanized humanity) holds the position of shamos in a synagogue serving a small, closed world of old men in a poor, transitional section of New York City. Then the urgent idealism of one of the members, Zitomer, bursts upon the congregation, but his exhortations fall on deaf ears in this world of old men stranded by habit, bound by common histories, by bitterness. Rabbi Davis, weary realist, understands only too well the of reformers, and offers no encouragement. An unlikely creature is touched, however, by Zitomer's breath of life as the Old Man -- a shell of hatreds, a thief, one who has renounced his son -- almost moves to clap his hands and sing, but the birds of evil come home to roost and salvation is denied. On the ""special interest"" level is the author's view of contemporary ""Jewishness"" -- that the removal to America was another step away from the content of Judaism; that the meaningless ritual of the old leads, in America, to bitterness, estrangement; that the young people have diluted their uniquenss into a meaningless conformity. Only in the half-moment when the Rabbi enters the empty synagogue is the ancient sanctity commemorated. A beautifully conceived, unhurried work with a few thunderbolts for those still on the Woukswagon.