The Chosen

The Chosen Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-18

Book Three:

Chapter Thirteen:

Danny is thoroughly miserable in Samson Raphael Hirsch College, for his psychology professor, Nathan Appleman, has an intense dislike for psychoanalysis in general and for Freud in particular. Danny dislikes the focus on experimental psychology, wondering "What do rats and mazes have to do with the mind?" Hirsch College is near a large Catholic church, and the crucifix on the church lawn shines onto Hirsch. The other students look upon Danny with awe; he is placed in Rav Gershenson's class, the highest in the school, and Reuven is one below. The Hasidic students treat Danny as if he were their student tzaddik, but this does not make him happy. When Danny complains about Professor Appleman, Reuven suggests that he talk to his professor about his dislike of Freud. Danny tells Reuven that his father wonders whether they are still friends, for Reuven has not visited in months, for he is studying with his father on Shabbat afternoons. Reuven returns home to find his father ill. His father is not usually home at night, for he had become involved in Zionist activities and was attending meetings where he speaks about the importance of Palestine as a Jewish homeland. David Malter discusses the problems in Palestine including the Irgun, a Jewish terrorist group. He also discusses with his son the possibility that he may die, quoting God's statement to Moses that "you have toiled and labored, now you are worthy of rest." Reuven is upset by his father's discussion of death. Reuven does some study on psychoanalysis and finds that most of the books are dismissive of Freud, if they mention him at all. Reuven laments that Professor Appleman is torturing Danny's mind with experimental psychology, while Reb Saunders tortures Danny's spirit with his bizarre silence.

Before Danny goes to see Professor Appleman to discuss Freud, he yells at Reuven for not supporting him. However, afterward he apologizes and tells Reuven that Professor Appleman has a problem with Freud's followers and not Freud, whom he acknowledges is a genius. Danny's attitude toward Professor Appleman changes when he learns this. Reuven begins coaching Danny in math to help him with experimental psychology. During the early weeks of February, Reuven sees little of his father. Reuven finds it impossible to discuss David's health with him. Just like David Malter, Hirsch College becomes preoccupied with Zionist thought. Reuven joins a pro-Zionist religious youth group, while the anti-Zionist students remain aloof and disdainful. Danny did not join any Zionist group because he could not, considering his father. David Malter gives a speech claiming that the slaughter of six million Jews will only have meaning on the day a Jewish state is established. The next day Reuven finds Danny white-faced and grim. He does not talk to Reuven until they go into the bathroom together, where Danny admits that his father had read about David Malter's speech and had forbidden Danny to have any contact with Reuven. If Reb learns of any contact between the two, he will send Danny to an out-of-town yeshiva. Reuven calls Reb a fanatic, but Danny says that the fanaticism of men like his father kept them alive for two thousand years of exile, and if the Jews of Palestine have an ounce of that fanaticism they will soon have a Jewish state.


Chaim Potok uses the move from secondary school to college as a means to heighten the tension that Danny Saunders faces between his traditional Hasidic background and more progressive intellectual ideas. Potok describes this tension most clearly with Reuven's lament that Professor Appleman tortures Danny's mind with experimental psychology and Reb Saunders tortures his spirit with silence. While Danny expects to find fulfillment from psychology, he cannot receive this sense of ease from the teaching he is receiving; his father's lack of support gives him no comfort.

The major problem that Danny has with experimental psychology is that he approaches it with the same fervor that his father approaches Hasidic Judaism; he sees it not as a practical science, but as a religion that he must accept unerringly. Danny may hold more secular beliefs in Freudianism, but he frames those beliefs in an archaic manner.

Yet as this chapter makes clear, Danny must disavow his more parochial ways in order to achieve the success in psychology that he desires. This chapter is filled with signs that a broader mindset is both desirable and necessary. Hirsch college in itself is more open to the outside world, as shown by the symbolic intrusion of the crucifix as a shadow on the college. This represents the inability of the characters to ignore the broader Christian and secular society.

Potok also continues to deal with the political repercussions of the Holocaust in this chapter, as David Malter begins to demonstrate greater zeal for Zionism and his views are shared by most of Hirsch college. It is Zionism which is the critical point in Danny's and Reuven's friendship; while Reb Saunders will allow the other non-Hasidic influences that Reuven brings, he cannot accept that Danny associates with the son of such a strong proponent of Zionism. Yet there is the important point that Danny Saunders himself supports Zionism, but cannot demonstrate this belief lest he incur the great wrath of his father.

Potok raises the question in this chapter of what level of fanaticism is necessary or desirable. The fanaticism of Reb Saunders, for example, threatens the one meaningful friendship that his son has and tortures him with a bizarre silence; nevertheless, as Danny notes, it is this level of fanaticism that kept Jewish culture alive for millennia and, properly directly, may finally secure the Jewish state that David Malter desires. Potok seems to suggest that Reb Saunders has a necessary fanaticism that certainly does not have completely desirable effects but nevertheless is beneficial for all Jews.

Potok also continues to parallel the relationship between David Malter and Reb Saunders in this chapter. Although Reuven condemns the silence between Danny and his father, Reuven and David Malter have a similar code of silence between them, for Reuven cannot speak to David about his poor health and the two find it difficult to discuss the possibility that David may die.

Chapter Fourteen:

Danny and Reuven do not speak for the rest of the semester. Reuven grows to hate Reb Saunders for this enforced separation, and this affects Reuven's schoolwork. Reb Saunders had organized some of the Hasidic rabbis in the neighborhood into a group called The League for a Religious Eretz Yisroel. The college feels this tension between the Zionists and those opposing a secular Jewish state, especially as news of Irgun terrorist actions arrives. The next year, when Reuven registers once again at the college, he sees Danny, who does not acknowledge him. He vows to forget Danny, but he is moved onto Rav Gershenson's Talmud class where Danny's presence is always felt.

Rav Gershenson is a gentle, kindly person, but he questions his students oppressively. Professor Gershenson calls on Reuven once, but no more than that while still asking questions of others. Meanwhile, David Malter becomes more and more sickly and skeletal. There is a strong sense of relief when the United Nations approves the Partition Plan for Palestine, and in subsequent weeks there is a relieving silence at the college. Reuven improves his grades from the previous year, receiving all A's.

However, David Malter suffers a heart attack and must stay in the hospital at least six weeks. Danny says nothing to Reuven, but throws him a look of consolation. Reuven lives alone, but the situation becomes better once several weeks pass and Reuven no longer fears that his father's death is imminent. During this time, Reuven devotes himself to studying the Talmud to prepare for the possibility that Professor Gershenson will call on him. Reuven prepares for one question, convinced that Professor Gershenson will ask him about it. He does, and Reuven gives an elaborate, complex answer. Some of the Hasidic students are in awe that an apikoros could know the Talmud so well. On the fourth day in which Professor Gershenson calls on Reuven with regard to this question, he asks Reuven a question he did not expect, and, in response, Reuven says that he is not satisfied with what the commentary said because it's pilpul. Reuven is somewhat frightened once he uses pilpul in a disparaging tone. After class, Professor Gershenson speaks to Reuven, and asks whether his father helped him, then tells him that he is not opposed to the methods that Reuven used, reconstructing the Talmudic text from the commentary, but asks them never to use them in his class.


For the first time since Danny visited Reuven in the hospital, Potok grants Reuven a more active role in the story as Danny recedes into the background because of his father's enforced ban on their friendship. This allows Potok to focus on Reuven, who so often cedes precedence in the story to Danny and Reb Saunders, and even his own father. This chapter centers to a great degree on Reuven's attempts to forget his friendship with Danny and to focus on his own studies. These attempts to disavow his friendship with Danny are complicated by Reuven's move into Rav Gershenson's Talmud class, but it is actually here that Reuven proves himself to be a scholar equal to the other characters.

Reuven's successful attempt to answer the question in Rav Gershenson's class represents in this story the assumption of identity by Reuven. Here he steps out from Danny Saunders' shadow and even his father's (Professor Gershenson suspects that Reuven had help from David Malter) to establish himself as more than a mere narrator and intermediary. That Rav Gershenson has barely spoken to Reuven or asked him a question since he entered the class is significant; it positions Reuven as a character who must gain his own voice in Gershenson's class, and thus also continues the theme of silence that runs through The Chosen. Reuven even gains the respect of the Hasidic students who doubt his knowledge of the Talmud, as he answers the question in a manner different from the way that his classmates would have done.

Events contemporary to the novel's setting once again come into play throughout this chapter, as Reb Saunders and David Malter continue to mobilize supporters to fight for their respective positions concerning Palestine. This foreshadows an eventual resolution to the conflict between the Saunders and the Malters, considering the historical inevitability of the establishment of Israel as a secular state and the end of Irgun hostilities.

Chapter Fifteen:

David Malter returns home in the middle of March, weak and gaunt. Reuven finally accepts the silence between him and Danny, but they begin to communicate with their eyes, nods and hand gestures. The Zionist agitation in the school continues, however, and a rumor sweeps through the college that a recent graduate had been killed in fighting around Jerusalem. Reb Saunders' anti-Zionist league essentially dies when a United Nations truce goes into effect and fighting in Israel ceases. In the late spring of that year, Danny approaches Reuven and asks him for help with experimental psychology.


The longstanding silence between Danny and Reuven ends in this chapter, but before it does the two characters break the ban on communication through gestures and unspoken words. This neatly parallels the silence between Danny and his father, in which the two speak only concerning the Torah but nevertheless are able to communicate on a more substantive level. Reb Saunders' edict against the Malters ends primarily because of political changes that render the conflict between Reb and David Malter obsolete. This at the very least demonstrates that the usually inflexible Reb Saunders is capable of allowing pointless conflicts pass; this is a quite important point, for it shows that Reb Saunders may be capable of accepting events beyond his control, such as those relating to Danny's future.

Chapter Sixteen:

Reuven tells Danny "welcome back to the land of the living," while Danny says that the ban has been lifted. Reuven asks Danny how he takes the silence, but he has no answer. Reuven calls Reb Saunders crazy and sadistic, but all Danny can say is that he is entitled to his opinion.

Danny and Reuven resume their old habits of meeting at his synagogue, riding to school together and eating lunch together. Danny admits that if he ever wants to make a valuable contribution to psychology he has to use scientific methods, for the Freudian approach doesn't provide a method of accepting or rejecting hypotheses, but he does want to work with people and not rats. In June, Danny's sister gets married and Reuven is the only non-Hasid who attends the marriage. Reuven notices that Reb Saunders looks aged. The next time that Reuven sees Reb Saunders, he asks Reuven why he wasn't coming over anymore on Shabbat afternoon, but does not mention Zionism.


The resumption of Danny's and Reuven's friendship demonstrates several interesting character details concerning Reb Saunders and his son. Reuven's reaction is generally unremarkable; he accepts Danny's friendship once again but condemns Reb Saunders for the edict. The reaction of Danny, in contrast, is fascinating because he does not even criticize his father for preventing his friendship with Reuven despite his obvious anxiety and dismay over losing Reuven. Danny's reaction is not even stoic; it is in some sense a denial of his own emotions. Reb Saunders also has an interesting reaction to the resumed friendship; when he sees Reuven after such a long absence, he says nothing and behaves as if nothing has changed. The most significant point in Reb Saunders' casual conversation with Reuven is that he asks why Reuven no longer visits on Shabbat; this is another example of Reb Saunders' coded and indirect means of communicating, for he in essence is inviting him and in fact ordering him to visit on a Shabbat afternoon.

Chapter Seventeen:

Danny and Reuven begin their last year of college together. During lunch one day, Reuven tells Danny a mild anti-Hasidic story he heard and a remark that "the tzaddik sits in absolute silence, saying nothing, and all his followers listen attentively." Realizing what he has said, Reuven apologizes, but Danny tells him that "there's more truth to that than you realize. You can listen to silence." Danny tells Reuven that his wife has been chosen for him, an old Hasidic custom.

Reuven attends the bar mitzvah for Danny's younger brother, Levi, who becomes violently ill the next day. Reuven tells his father about Danny's plans to get a doctorate in psychology, and Reuven wonders whether Danny will abandon his Judaism, and says that Danny is now like a person waiting to be let out of jail and has only one desire. Reuven laments the way that Reb Saunders treats Danny, but David Malter says that he cannot explain what he doesn't understand. Danny learns that his brother is suffering from a blood disorder, which greatly depresses him. He is applying to Harvard, Berkeley and Columbia but has not told his father in order to avoid explosions at every meal. Reuven asks Danny whether he will remain an Orthodox Jew, but he says that he cannot practice psychology looking like a Hasid.

David Malter speaks to Danny about his plans, and advises him to think carefully of what he will say to his father. Danny says that he is not angry with his father and understands what he is doing. Danny receives acceptance letters from each of the three schools and realizes that his father knows what is happening but does not say anything. Danny tells Reuven how Reb is silent with him, but not Levi or his sister. He also tells how Reb has asked again why Reuven no longer comes over on the Shabbat. When Reuven tells his father how Reb has asked about him, David tells him that he must want to talk to him about Danny and advises him to go on Passover.


Once again, Potok shifts the story away from Reuven Malter and returns the focus of The Chosen to Danny Saunders and his relationship with his father. As Reuven's and Danny's discussion indicates, the silence between Danny and his father still does not prevent communication, thus reiterating the theme of non-verbal communication with which the novel deals. There is an implicit understanding between Danny and his father that allows this communication to occur that neither David Malter nor Reuven can understand, yet this understanding is what allows Danny to have the more forgiving attitude toward his father than the one held by Reuven toward Reb Saunders. The reason for the silence, as Potok indicates in the chapter, is Danny's training as a tzaddik, for Reb Saunders does not use a similar tactic for Levi or Danny's sister.

Reuven also experiences this indirect level of communication with Reb Saunders, whose question of why Reuven never visits on the Shabbat is a way of asking Reuven to visit him. Considering the role that Reuven plays as a buffer between Danny and Reb Saunders and as a means for the two to communicate, this foreshadows significant communication between Danny and his father concerning his future.

The inevitable communication between Danny and his father, in whatever form, will concern the increasing tension between Danny's religious duties and his secular interests; Potok builds the tension between these two opposing forces throughout this chapter, as Danny is accepted to college while the possibility that Levi can take his place as tzaddik becomes doubtful. The choice that Danny is prepared to make is one of deep importance; it is not merely a question of whether he will be a tzaddik, but whether he will remain a Hasid. By choosing to become a psychologist, Danny will disavow his religion and culture. Yet Danny is prepared to abandon his Hasidism in order to pursue a psychology doctorate; the final question that remains at the end of this chapter is how Reb Saunders will face this decision.

Potok leaves the question of Reb Saunders' reaction to Danny's decision ambiguous. Although Reb Saunders is an exacting man capable of harsh treatment of his son, there is good indication that he may accept Danny's decision. At the very least, he is aware that his son plans to attend graduate school, having seen the acceptance letters that have arrived at his house. This establishes that Reb Saunders knows more than he states explicitly; what he does know will be the subject of the final chapter.

Chapter Eighteen:

On the first day of Passover, Reuven visits Reb Saunders and enters the third-floor study. Reb Saunders asks what Reuven will do after graduation. Reuven indicates he will have another year to study for smicha and then will go into the rabbinate. Reb Saunders tells Reuven that he and Danny will go separate ways and he has known it for a long time. Reb further states that Reuven may never understand what he has done and may never stop hating him, but he knows how he feels. Reuven feels that Reb is indirectly speaking to Danny. Reb Saunders also tells Reuven that a man is born into the world with only a spark of goodness that is God, while the rest is evil, a shell. According to Reb, "Anything can be a shell . . even a great mind can be a shell and choke the spark." Reb Saunders speaks about the importance of knowing pain, which makes us aware of how frail and tiny we are. That is why he treats Danny the way that he does. Reb says that Reuven was sent to Danny by God when he was ready to rebel, and that he knows that Danny will be a psychologist, but all his life he will be a tzaddik, for all the world needs a tzaddik. Reb then calls his son into his study with Reuven, and asks him whether he will shave off his beard and earlocks when he leaves. He nods in assent. Reb Saunders says that "Today my Daniel is free . . . I must go . . . I am very tired" and walks out of the room. Danny and Reuven both weep for his years of suffering. When Reuven returns home, his father says that Reb Saunders' way is not the right way to raise a son, but perhaps the only way to raise a tzaddik.

Reb Saunders announces to his followers that Danny will study psychology, and the reaction of the Hasidic community at Hirsch is one of surprise. Danny visits Reuven before he moved into a room near Columbia University. He has shaved off his earlocks and beard. David Malter asks Danny whether, when he has a son, he will raise him in silence, and Danny replies that he will, if he cannot find another way.


In the final chapter, Chaim Potok finally explains the rationale behind Reb Saunders' treatment of his son. While it has been already established that the silence was part of Danny's training as a tzaddik, Potok allows Reb Saunders to give the philosophical rationale behind the decision to treat Danny in such a manner. The silence was a means to pare Danny down to the part of him most close to God, even if it means denying him those qualities that make him excel yet could draw him farther away from his relationship with his deity. The silence and harsh treatment were intended to teach humility and obedience, not to Reb Saunders but to God himself; Reb trained his son to be a tzaddik in a more general sense, not simply to be the heir to his position of leadership. This explanation is not altogether satisfying, and indeed could not be considering the emotional trauma inflicted upon Danny, but it effectively reconciles Reb Saunders' treatment of his son with the information that he has held about his son.

The important revelation of this chapter is that Reb Saunders has realized for years that his son will not follow in his footsteps and even implicitly engineered this through allowing him to become friends with Reuven and overlooking Danny's studies and other information without confronting him about it. This reinforces the idea that Reuven serves as the intermediary between Danny and a more secular society, and reconciles the dilemma presented in the previous chapter that Reb Saunders must know that Danny has been accepted to college.

The Chosen provides an ending that seems definitive for Reb Saunders, whose statement that he is "very tired" recalls David Malter's quote about Moses in reference to death. There is a sense that Reb Saunders' task is complete, and his exit from the room after speaking to Reuven and Danny can be taken as an expression of this finality. With this statement, Reb Saunders does not simply free his son from his control, he frees himself.

Both David Malter and Danny Saunders reiterate their commentary on Reb Saunders during this final chapter, essentially forgiving him for his behavior toward Danny. David Malter once again claims that this may be the only way to raise a tzaddik, while Danny offers the ambiguous statement that he will raise his son as his father raised him, unless he finds a better way. Potok uses this as a statement that Reb Saunders' behavior toward Danny has been cruel and in some sense abusive, but perhaps a necessary way to ensure that his son is the dedicated leader and intellectual that he has turned out to be.