The Chosen (1967)

by Chaim Potok

For a story so concerned with the American Jewish experience, Chaim Potok's The Chosen has universal appeal. In depicting the friendship of two boys, the relationship of fathers and sons, conflicts between faith and culture, and the search to find one's place in opposition to parental dictates, it conveys feelings to which every reader can relate.

Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders live only five blocks apart in 1940s Brooklyn but might as well be hundreds of miles apart, so different are their separate strains of Judaism. They meet at age 15 on opposing teams in a softball game, during which Danny hits a ball that injures Reuven. The incident turns out to be fortuitous: The two begin to forge a friendship that will help each of them mature and discover their callings in life.

Danny's ultraconservative father, Reb Saunders, expects him to become a Hasidic rabbi (a tzaddik) like himself, and Danny dreads telling him that he wants to be a psychologist. For spiritual reasons — he wants to teach Danny about suffering
through denial — Saunders doesn't even speak to Danny except during Talmudic study.

Reuven's widowed father, David Malther, is also an observant Jew, but he is more secular, a gentle teacher and writer who is rational about scripture and passionate for a Jewish state. Malther also contrasts with Saunders in how he relates to his son. In long conversations the two discuss just about everything.

The story continues until the boys' college years, through the discovery of Hitler's concentration camps and the establishment of Israel. It offers an accessible lesson on Jewish history and traditions. Potok himself came out of a Hasidic Jewish community in New York. He moved to the less orthodox Conservative Judaism and, like The Chosen's narrator Reuven, became a rabbi. After The Chosen introduced the American public to the Jewish experience, Potok went on to write more novels with Jewish protagonists as well as Wanderings: Chaim Potok's History of the Jews (1978).



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