The Chosen: Summary, Characters & Author

Instructor: Jenn Baudreau

Jenn has taught high school English literature and writing; her masters degree is in Teaching & Learning from Colorado State University.

How do you reconcile Orthodox Jewish religious teaching with the secular world around you? That is a question that author Chaim Potok, along with some of the characters in his popular novel, ''The Chosen,'' face. Read on to learn more about this novel and the interesting man who wrote it.

Main Characters

The Chosen revolves primarily around two teenage boys and their fathers. It takes place in New York City as World War II is ending. This historical context plays an important role in the novel, as consequences from the war impact decisions made by the novel's protagonists.

Reuven Malter: Rueven is the narrator in the novel. He is a traditional Orthodox Jew who enjoys mathematics, but strives to become a rabbi when he grows up. He lives with his father, David Malter, and attends the Jewish high school where his father teaches. He plays on his community's softball team, which is how he winds up meeting Danny Saunders.

Danny Saunders : Danny is a brilliant young Hassidic Jew. He has a photographic memory. His father, Reb Saunders, is the influential rabbi in his community. Danny is obligated to take over the role of rabbi when he grows up, but his dream is to study psychology. His father 'raises him in silence', speaking to him only when they study the Talmud. Although it's forbidden, Danny covertly reads secular novels.

David Malter: Mr. Malter is Rueven's father. He is a traditional Orthodox Jew. He is also a teacher and an activist in support of Zionism, the movement for Jewish sovereignty in Israel. He suggests books to Danny to read and then discusses them with him. As the novel goes on, his health declines as a result of his tireless involvement in the Zionist movement.

Reb Saunders : Reb Saunders is Danny's father. He is the pious and zealous religious leader of his community. He treats Danny differently than he treats anyone else, including Danny's younger brother. Reb Saunders speaks to Danny only while questioning him on the Talmud. At all other times, he treats Danny with silence. At the end of the novel, we learn the reason Reb Saunders does this.

Plot Summary

At the start of the novel, Rueven and Danny are fifteen years old. They meet each other when their softball teams play against each other. Danny's softball team is comprised of Hassidic Jews, while Rueven's is comprised of traditional Orthodox Jews. These religious differences wind up fueling anger and competitiveness between the two teams, and the game becomes a sort of holy battle. While Danny is pitching and Rueven is at bat, Rueven hits a line drive that hits Danny in the face, smashing his glasses and almost blinding him. Danny is taken to the hospital. Later, Rueven comes to the hospital to ask Danny's forgiveness. This rocky beginning winds up leading to a strong and important friendship between the two boys.

Danny confides to Rueven that while he's obligated to become a rabbi when he grows up, his dream is to study psychology. He tells Rueven about how he goes to the library to read secular books recommended by a man he meets there. They're both surprised when they learn that the man is Rueven's father, David Malter.

As the novel progresses, Rueven gets to know Reb Saunders, who is impressed with Rueven's religious thoughtfulness. When Rueven's father gets sick, Reb Saunders invites Rueven to live with them while Mr. Malter recovers. Reb Saunders sometimes uses Rueven as a way to talk to his son, since Reb Saunders refuses to talk to Danny directly.

Danny and Rueven both wind up attending Hirsch College in Brooklyn. Danny studies pyschology. He has some conflicts with his professor but eventually comes to greatly respect and be influenced by the professor's teaching. Rueven studies to become a rabbi. While the boys are in college, the Zionist movement is gaining traction. Reb Saunders vehemently opposes the movement, while David Malter is an outspoken supporter. After David Malter gives an influential speech in support of the movement, Reb Saunders forbids Danny to speak to Rueven anymore. Unwilling to disobey his father, Danny complies, which leaves Rueven feeling devastated.

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