Chaim Potok

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The Chosen

Potok, Chaim

Last Updated: May-12-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


During World War II two Jewish teenagers in New York meet under unfortunate circumstances. Reuven Malder is the pitcher and Danny Saunders the batter in a baseball game between two rival yeshivas. Danny, the son of the rebbe (or tzaddik) of a strict Hasidic sect, lines the ball straight to Reuven, hitting him in the eye. Later, Danny visits Reuven (the son of a Jewish scholar) in the hospital and they become close friends. The story takes us through the next five or six years of the boys’ lives, as the World War ends, the Holocaust is revealed, and the Jewish state in Palestine is born in dissension and violence.

Danny is destined by tradition to follow his father as tzaddik of his community, but he really desires to become a secular psychologist. Reuven is gifted in mathematics, but his desire is to become a rabbi. From his father Reuven learns about the historical roots and practices of Hasidism. At Reb Saunders’s synagogue, he experiences Hasidism in practice, especially the practice whereby the Reb makes an intentional mistake in his sermon every week and challenges Danny to identify the mistake and elucidate it from the Talmud and commentaries.

Reuven learns to hate Reb Saunders, who strangely never talks to his son, except when they are studying Talmud. Danny and Reuven both attend Hirsch College. At one point Reuven’s father, David Malter, openly supports the creation of Israel and Reb Saunders, who is violently anti-Zionist, forbids Danny to speak with or associate with Reuven.

Meanwhile, Danny has never spoken with his father about his plans to attend graduate school in psychology. Finally, the rebbe asks to see Reuven and for the first time in a year the three men meet in Reb Saunders study. The rebbe explains that he has known about Danny’s plans all along. He also explains why he raised his son in silence--it was to teach him to listen to silence, to learn compassion, to develop a soul to go with his magnificent mind.

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