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The Chosen  
First edition cover
First edition cover
Author Chaim Potok
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date 1967
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 146 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-671-13674-7 (first edition, hardback)
Followed by The Promise

The Chosen is the bestselling book by Chaim Potok published in 1967. It is about two teenage Jewish boys who form a friendship, though they come from different worlds. It is a first-person narrative from the point of view of Reuven Malter. It consists of 18 chapters divided into three larger sections.

Contents

Plot summary

The Chosen' tells the story of the friendship between two Jewish boys growing up in 1940’s Brooklyn. Reuven Malter, who has a mind for mathematics,wants to become a rabbi and follows modern methods of studying Judiasm. Danny is a genius son of a Hasidiac Rabbi, Reb Saunders, who expects him to take over his position as tzaddik eventually.

Plot

The Chosen is set in the 1940s, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City. The story takes place over a period of six years, beginning in 1944 when the protagonists are fifteen years old. It is set against the backdrop of the historical events of the time: the end of World War II, the death of President Roosevelt, the revelation of the Holocaust in Europe, and the struggle for the creation of the state of Israel.

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Baseball Game

They meet for the first time as rivals in a baseball game between their school teams that turns into a spiritual war. Danny's batting style is such that the ball is sent speeding back up the middle, and so he receives a reputation of trying to kill pitchers. Angered by unsuccessful attempts to hit Reuven's previous pitches, Danny hits a line drive toward Reuven, shattering his glasses and sending him to the hospital, with an injured eye.

Danny visits Reuven in the hospital, and Reuven at first rejects his attempts to apologize. Reuven's father, however, insists that he make peace with Danny, telling him "A boy like that needs friends." After a struggle a friendship develops between the two. Reuven learns about Danny's life, and finds that the Hasidic boy is very different from his expectations. Danny admits to Reuven "I wanted to kill you" when they played baseball together, but did not know why; after a soul-search, Danny realized he was jealous of Reuven's more conventional lifestyle.

Danny

Danny's phenomenal mind compels him to seek knowledge outside what is permitted by his father, and he spends his spare time reading voraciously in secret in the public library. (Danny tells Reuven about an older man he met there who has been recommending books for him to read; both are astonished when the man turns out to be Reuven's own father.) Danny does not want to inherit his father's position as leader of their sect, as is expected of him; he desires instead to become a psychologist. He learns to read German just to read a book by Freud. Another great conflict in his life is that his father does not speak to him, except when they study Jewish law together; this has been so since he was a toddler.

Reb Saunders

Reb Saunders welcomes Reuven as his son's friend, even though he disapproves of his father's work. "You think it is easy to be a friend?" Reb Saunders says to Reuven when they first meet. "If you are truly his friend, you will learn otherwise." Reuven does learn as he is put in the position of being a buffer between father and son. Although he deeply upsets Danny by informing Reb Saunders of his son's secular studies, Danny forgives him and their friendship continues. Reuven impresses Reb Saunders by his understanding of Jewish law and tradition. Reb Saunders impresses Reuven in turn, as Reuven sees the important role he plays to the people of his congregation.

Zionism

Reuven comes to experience the pain of silence himself, while the two young men are in college together. Though accepted as family after he stays with the Saunderses while his father is away, he incurs Reb Saunders's wrath when he speaks favorably of the struggle to establish a secular Jewish nation in Palestine, which Saunders vehemently opposes. When Mr. Malter makes a speech at a pro-Israel rally that makes the newspapers, Saunders forbids his son to speak to Reuven, or even mention his name. (Danny breaks this order once, to let Reuven know, but tells him "I won't go against my father. I won't!") The ban lasts for two years, during which time Reuven experiences anguish, rage, and depression (particularly after his father suffers a heart attack), before learning to cope with being alone.

Friendship resumed

Their friendship resumes after modern Israel is founded; Danny explains to Reuven that Reb Saunders has relented, since the new nation is "no longer an issue; it's a fact." Reuven finds that Danny has come to terms with the silence imposed by his father, having discovered that silence can be a teacher, and a source of beauty as well as pain. Danny himself waits in fear for the day following graduation, when he must tell his father that he does not wish to succeed him. (Reb Saunders already knows this to be true, after Danny receives an acceptance letter from Columbia University.)

Father and son reconciled

Reuven again finds himself a buffer between father and son when, in the novel's climax, the two friends learn Reb Saunders's purpose for raising his son in silence: Reb Saunders had discovered early on that his son's dawning intelligence was far outstripping his sense of compassion for others. He wanted his son to understand the meaning of pain and want, so he shut him out emotionally. Finding the grown-up Danny indeed had a heart, and cared deeply about other people, Reb Saunders was willing to give his blessing to Danny's dream of studying psychology. "He will be a tzaddik for the world," Reb Saunders tells Reuven. Saunders then finally, after many years, truly talks to Danny, asking him to forgive him for the pain he caused, bringing him up as he did. The words finally spoken, he leaves the room, and both boys burst into tears..[1]

Ending

Danny visits Reuven on his way to Columbia University, his Hasidic locks shorn and his clothing up to date. Reuven has definitely decided he wants to be a rabbi, and is going on to study at a yeshiva. Danny tells Reuven that his younger brother Levi will take his place as his father's successor, and his own relationship with Reb Saunders has completely changed. "We talk now," he says quietly. Danny is finally set free, and Reuven and Danny taste profoundly the pain in life, and the consolation of deep friendship. Danny goes on to study psychology.

Main characters

  • Reuven (Robert or Bobby) Malter, a Modern Orthodox Jew teenage boy. Smart, popular, has a head for mathematics, and his father wants him to be a mathematician when he grows up.
  • Daniel (Danny) Saunders, a Hasidic teenage boy. Brilliant with a photographic memory. Interested in psychology, particularly Freudian psychoanalysis. Feels trapped by Hasidic tradition, and particularly his role as next in line to succeed his father as Rabbi. He really wants to become a psychologist.
  • David Malter, Reuven's father. Talmudic scholar, teacher, Zionist. Considered a heretic by fundamentalist Hasidim. Supports the creation of the state of Israel because of his belief in the Messianic Age rather than a literal Messiah.
  • Rabbi Isaac Saunders (Reb Saunders), Danny's father. Rabbinic sage and tzaddik. Rebbe (spiritual leader) of a Hasidic sect, which role is dynastic (passed on from father to son). Moved his congregation from Russia to the United States before the Communist Revolution. He is against a secular Jewish nation-state, because he believes this supersedes God's will.

Major themes

External themes

While the story is taking place, many references are made to outside events, including World War II, the Holocaust, and the founding of the State of Israel. Potok reveals the reactions of different groups to each of these events.

Literary themes

Literary themes within the book include widespread references to senses (especially sight), the pursuit of truth in a gray world, the strength of friendship, and the importance of father-son relationships. Many themes common to Potok's works prevail such as weak women and children, strong father figures, intellectual characters, and the strength and validity of faith in a modern secular world. Potok accentuates the importance of silence, and its form as a medium of communication. Throughout the book, there are numerous instances where both Danny and Reuven both receive and process information in a non-verbal form. Potok explicitly introduces this topic by alluding to the relationship between Danny and his father, where there is no verbal communication except for argumentative discussions of a religious nature. The two-year long silence between Danny and Reuven, imposed by Reb Saunders, is also rich in communicative interactions between the two friends; however, it effectively shows the constraints that silence can impose between individuals.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The Chosen was made into a movie in 1981, and a short-lived off-Broadway musical was produced in 1988. It closed after a week of performances. The book was adapted into a straight play by Potok and Aaron Posner and premiered at the Arden Theater in 1999. Potok wrote a sequel titled The Promise.

Release information

  • 1967, USA, Simon and Schuster (ISBN 0-671-13674-7), Pub date 28 April 1967, hardback (First edition)
  • 1967, UK, Heinemann (ISBN ?), Pub date ? ? 1967, hardback

Notes


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