Chaim Potok: The Chosen

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, is an oldy but goody. I believe this was my third time reading it. It’s a profound and very moving story about friendship, fathers & sons, and coming of age. It is also a fascinating look into the subculture of Hasidic Jews.

Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders live just a few blocks away from each other in Brooklyn, but they are growing up in completely different worlds. Danny is the son of an ultra-orthodox Hasidic rabbi or tzadik (wise man; messenger of God). The father is so venerated by his congregation that he has nearly royal status; and Danny, as the firstborn, is the heir-apparent. Danny lives in an insulated community: he speaks Yiddish, he studies the Talmud all day long, and he is kept from virtually any contact with the outside world at all. Reuven, on the other hand, is also a religious Jew, but much more worldly. His father is a writer whose ideas are in direct opposition to the Hasidic tradition.

Of course these two boys must meet, and they do. The story begins with a baseball game, and Reuven and Danny are on opposing teams. Danny’s team plays viciously, saying Reuven’s team are apikorsim (apostates) and they are going to kill them. In fact, they almost do — Danny whacks the ball straight at Reuven’s face, smashing his glasses and sending him to the hospital to have a shard removed from his eye. Danny comes to apologize, they make friends, and the rest is history. Their friendship survives a number of obstacles, not the least of which is their fathers’ bitter disagreement over Zionism in the post-Holocaust era.

There is so much to appreciate in this novel. I think what I love the most is the way the author presents opposing views in such a sympathetic way. While Reuven is appalled at the way Danny’s father treats him, the author is careful to show the father’s “side” of the story as well. Yes he is tyrannical, but his tyranny is borne of deep faith, love, and respect for the traditions of his culture. The arguments for and against establishing a secular Jewish state, too, are evenly presented. Potok does a fantastic job of using the various characters’ voices to portray opposite ends of the spectrum without siding with either one, leaving the reader to draw her own conclusions.

A great story. Much food for thought, even on the third time through.

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  1. I read a wonderful review of this book a while back and thought I need to get it. I did in cat get it but not read it yet.
    I does sound quite wonderful. It’s set in a world I’m not familar with but would like to explore.
    Your avatar is quite lovely btw


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