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Chosen Description

The action of The Chosen unfolds in the immigrant community of Williamsburg,
Brooklyn, against the backdrop of World War II. It is seen through the eyes of
Reuven Malter, a boy who would appear to have much in common with Danny, for
they are both brilliant, Jewish, closely tied to their fathers, and
near-neighbors who live only five blocks apart. Still, they attend separate
yeshivas and inhabit very different worlds. A baseball league is begun. When
Danny Saunders’ school plays Reuven Malter’s, the Hasids are determined to
show the apikorsim a thing or two and the competition is fierce. Danny’s
murderous hitting is remarkable, but when Reuven comes to pitch he does not back
away. A hard ball shatters his glasses and smashes into his eye, sending him to
the hospital for a week. At his father’s insistence, Reuven permits the
repentant Danny to visit him, and they become friends. Danny dazzles Reuven with
demonstrations of his photographic mind, with the quantity of scholarly work he
bears each day, and with the intellectual prowess of his English and Hebrew
studies?qualities greatly revered in traditional Jewish culture. Danny’s
revelations startle Reuven; he confesses he would rather be a psychologist than
accept his inherited role as spiritual leader of his father’s sect. Reuven’s
confessions surprise Danny; he reveals his desire to become a rabbi, though his
scholar-father would prefer him to follow his talent and become a mathematician.

Danny cannot understand how anyone would choose the very position he secretly
wishes to reject. At a time when conflicts are churning within him, Danny finds
Reuven as an empathetic listener who is highly intelligent yet safe?not a
Hasid, but a Jew who follows orthodox religious traditions without rejecting the
secular possibilities in the world around them. As the boys become friends,
Reuven begins to learn about Hasidism. He learns that there are tzaddiks who
were believed to be superhuman links between the people and God. In some sects
it was believed that a leader should take upon himself the sufferings of the
Jewish people. Such a leader is Reb Saunders. His ways and his teachings are the
ways of seventeenth century Hasids and it is this role that Danny is expected to
fill when he becomes the tzaddik. In the long initial visits that Reuven pays to
Reb Saunder’s congregation to be approved as fit company for Danny, Reuven
observes the way Hasidic philosophy permeates his friend’s life. Weeks before
the accident which brings the two boys together, Mr. Malter meets Danny in the
public library and begins to guide him in his search for knowledge of the world
through the “forbidden books” prescribed by his father. Mr. Malter tells
Reuven of Danny’s brilliant mind, his insatiable appetite for learning, and
the amazing speed with which he digests information. When the Germans surrender
and the existence of the concentration camps becomes known for the first time,
the two men’s reactions are characteristic. For Mr. Malter, overwhelming grief
is followed by a determination to counter the senseless suffering of the
millions who died with something meaningful: the creation of the state of
Israel. While Reb Saunders suffers, Danny struggles to educate himself in the
ideas of Freud and in the problems of contemporary Judaism. He combines the load
of schoolwork and the study of Talmud which forms the basis of his relation to
his father, with his own attempts to educate himself in his quest for identity.

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Reuven, too, is seen to spend many hours of his day in study. The novel begins
with Danny and Reuven as high school boys and concludes with their graduation
from college. Danny has decided to get out of the life that imprisons him; he
will take off the clothing and shun the trappings of the Hasid, go on to
graduate school, and become a psychologist. When he has resolved to do this, Mr.

Malter tells him he must prepare what he will say to his father. An arranged
marriage will have to be broken, the inheritance of spiritual leadership will go
to Levi, the tradition of six generations will have been broken, and Reb
Saunders will have lost to the world he hates and fears the son he most
treasures. Before Danny can confront his father, however, his father confronts
him. Using Reuven as a foil through whom to speak to his son, Reb Saunders
reveals that he knows his son will not become a rabbi. And so Reb Saunders
reveals his plan was not to train Danny to take his inherited position, but to
pass along the tradition of the tzaddik. So if Danny chose to reject the old
world, he would be prepared to enter the new one with a compassionate soul, not
with a brilliant uncaring intellect. Reb Saunders’ pain is made evident at the
novel’s conclusion. He has recognized his own limitations as Danny’s teacher
and has seen the Malters as a blessing: worthy guides for Danny. He also knows
that the Malters integrate Danny into the America he himself is cut off from,
and compassionate individuals in their own right, an essential feature in a


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