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.


A middle aged physician’s assistant who was distraught and rather bitter about his experience with today’s medical and nursing practice recommended this book to me. He argued that the sense of connection and caring has gone out of medicine and nursing. Health care training nourishes the intellect, but ignores the heart. As an illustration of how "education of the heart" can occur, he sent me a copy of The Chosen, saying that much of what he had learned about compassion he learned from this novel.

As Reb Saunders says, "A man is born into this world with only a tiny spark of goodness in him. The spark is God, it is the soul; the rest is ugliness and evil, a shell. The spark must be guarded like a treasure, it must be nurtured, it must be fanned into flame" (p. 263). Health care education should nourish the spark of compassion, rather than building a larger and stronger shell around it.

In the book Reb Saunders goes on to explain why he had agonized over his son’s moral education, "A heart I need for a son, a soul I need for a son, compassion I want from my son, righteousness, mercy, strength to suffer and carry pain, that I want from my son, not a mind without a soul!" (p. 264). Likewise, we want from our physicians and nurses a heart, a soul, compassion, righteousness, mercy and strength, rather than "a mind without a soul."



Place Published

Greenwich, Conn.



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