The Chosen

The Chosen Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-9

Book Two:

Chapter Five:

Reuven and his father return home to their three-story brownstone house on Lee Avenue. Manya, the family's Russian maid, warmly greets Reuven and offers him lunch, a massive affair with a great deal of food. Reuven goes to his room, which has New York Times war maps on the wall and pictures of Franklin Roosevelt and Albert Einstein. Reuven can hear his father typing in the next room, his study, but does not disturb his father. Instead, he watches children playing on the street outside and thinks of Mickey from the hospital and how the baseball game last Sunday seems so long ago.


Chaim Potok uses this chapter to clarify the importance of Reuven's stay in Brooklyn Memorial Hospital by indicating that Reuven has somehow changed since he entered the hospital. Reuven thinks about how the baseball game seems such a distant event, suggesting that much has changed since the game, most importantly Reuven's newfound friendship with Danny Saunders. This chapter also elucidates the family dynamic of the Malter household, in which David and Reuven live alone with the servant Manya. The Malter household is peaceful and warm, a situation that is somewhat idealized. This is not particularly significant in itself, but this will become more important as the Malter household contrasts with later descriptions of the Saunders household.

Chapter Six:

At dinner, David Malter answers some of Reuven's questions about Danny Saunders. He starts by describing to Reuven the Jewish situation in Poland: Poland actually encouraged the Jews to come to build up the economy, but a Cossack community led by Bogdan Chmielnicki started an uprising against the Polish nobles and their Jewish supporters lasting ten years. When this was over, the Jewish community of Poland was almost completely destroyed. After this uprising, many Jews believed this to be a prelude to the coming of the Messiah. Shabbtai Zvi claimed to be the Messiah and led a great number of Jews, but he was exposed as a fraud. After 1700 in Poland a man named Israel began Hasidism, and competing Hasidic sects also emerged with leaders called tzaddikim. Reb Saunders, Danny's father, is a tzaddik and will pass this position on to his son. David Malter then tells Reuven of a Hasid named Solomon Maimon who was unsatisfied by simply studying the Talmud and was never at peace because of the conflict between the narrow religion of Hasidism and the intellectual study he wanted. He tells Reuven that Danny Saunders has a mind perhaps greater than Solomon Maimon, but he is equally torn and lonely. According to David, the accident has bound Danny and Reuven together. Reuven tells his father how everything looks different now, and David replies that "it is a tragedy that your mother is not alive to" but does not finish the sentence.


The particular character traits that Danny and Reb Saunders will demonstrate stem in some sense from their historical background, which David Malter describes in this chapter. The historical information about Hasidism is important in several respects. First, it establishes the long history of persecution and adversity that Jews have faced during their history. This quality will become important as later historical information becomes a factor in the novel's events. The second important theme of this historical description is that of the importance and prominence of leaders among the Hasidic community. David Malter's description of Hasidism places great emphasis on the importance of Hasidic leaders (tzaddikim) within their communities, while nevertheless raising the possibility that these leaders may be fraudulent.

Through the story of Solomon Maimon, David Malter foreshadows the major conflict of the novel and makes clear a dominant theme of The Chosen, the conflict between modern intellectualism and traditional religion. David Malter (and, by extension, Chaim Potok) suggests that Hasidism cannot offer the intellectual fulfillment that a person such as Danny Saunders requires. The question of the novel thus becomes whether or not Danny can free himself from the stifling religious atmosphere of his culture to satisfy himself as a scholar.

David Malter's instructions to his son suggest the role that Reuven will play in the novel. He will be the friend to Danny Saunders as a safeguard against the dilemmas that plague Danny. This role that Reuven plays as narrator and support for Danny Saunders is a more passive one than could be expected, but it nevertheless allows for character development for Reuven, who remarks that everything now looks different.

David Malter's brief mention of Reuven's mother is an offhand insertion that seems out of place largely because of the generally content portrait of the Malter family. Potok has constructed the relationship between David and Reuven Malter as so strong that the idea that there is some loss or absence is jarring.

Chapter Seven:

The next day Reuven meets Danny's father. After synagogue, in which Reuven is one of the eight people called to recite the blessing over the Torah, Reuven goes home and falls asleep, and awakes to find Danny there. Danny invites him to his home, for his father wants to meet Reuven. Danny remarks that he is surprised to learn that Reuven lives only a few blocks away and yet he never knew him because his father doesn't like him to associate with outsiders. Reuven says that Danny's father sounds like a tyrant, and Danny does not disagree. Danny's father was a rabbi in southern Russia around the first world war. A band of marauding Cossacks murdered Reb Saunders' first wife and children; Reb was left for dead and his synagogue burned to the ground. He changed his name from Senders to Saunders when he immigrated to America with his followers. Reuven wonders how Jews can follow another person so blindly, but Danny says that his father is not just another human being.

When Reuven enters Danny's home, he feels like an intruder. The hallway of Danny's house is crowded with black-caftaned men. Reuven tells Danny that he feels like a cowboy surrounded by Indians. The men part in rows when Danny passes through out of the catechism that one must treat the son like the father, because the son will eventually be the father. Danny introduces Reuven to his father, who asks Reuven how his eye is and if he knows Hebrew and Mathematics. During a meal after the afternoon service, Reb Saunders gives a speech about the Torah in which he claims that "the world kills us. The world flays our skin from our bodies and throws us to the flames." He refers to gematriya, a numerical frame of reference for the Torah. After he is done, Reb asks Danny if he has anything to say, and Danny corrects his father on a point. This is a Shabbat tradition in some Jewish homes in which a father quizzes his son on what he has learned. After Danny is finished, Reb reprimands him for only catching the first mistake and not listening afterward. Reb then turns to Reuven and asks him if he liked the gematriya. Reuven tells Reb about a mistake that he has found. There is a sense of relief, as if Reuven has passed some test with Reb Saunders.

Later, Reb tells Reuven that he has a good head and is happy that Danny has chosen him as a friend, but he worries because David Malter writes scientific criticism. Reb also admits that he is not always able to talk to his son. Danny explains to Reuven how finding mistakes in his father's speeches is a family tradition, a game that entertains Reb's followers, and admits that Reb is worried about Danny's brother. When Reuven returns home, his father reprimands him for coming home late. David Malter dislikes gematriya as nonsense numerology, but tells Reuven that Reb's questioning of Danny is not cruel, because learning must be public. David tells Reuven that Reb Saunders is a great man who could make a great contribution to the world if he were not a tzaddik.


The imposing and fearsome Reb Saunders dominates this chapter. He is a man of stern character who holds a steadfast conviction in the righteousness of his Hasidic beliefs, and imposes his values on all of those who enter his household. However, as the history that Danny gives about his father demonstrates, Reb Saunders' conviction in his faith has been earned through a long life of adversity and loss. Reb Saunders' personal tragedies place the Jewish history described in the previous chapter in a more personal context; Reb Saunders, with his seemingly archaic ways, is a symbol of Old World religious values and ideals, a representation of the Hasidic history.

The particular travails of Reb Saunders have rendered him a man who inspires great respect and awe among those around him. Reb Saunders therefore holds a view of a world that is cruel and unforgiving, one which, as he cites from the Torah, "flays our skin from our bodies and throws us to the flames." Reb dominates his followers, who blindly obey him, and keeps his son under strict control. Reb Saunders is undoubtedly a respected leader of those around him, but he is also a tyrant, as Reuven correctly senses.

The leadership position of a tzaddik is most significant in terms if The Chosen with regards to its effect on the relationship between Danny Saunders and his father. That Reb Saunders is a tzaddik and Danny will follow in his footsteps colors their relationship and causes Reb to treat his son harshly. This treatment is not random abuse, however, but rather systematic preparation.

Perhaps as interesting as Reb Saunders' behavior toward Danny is his reaction to it; his accepts his father's behavior not as abuse or even unfair treatment. For Danny, this is a normal part of his life and the interrogation he undergoes a longstanding tradition. Even David Malter casually accepts Reb Saunders' behavior toward Danny, justifying it under the premise that he is not raising a son, he is raising a tzaddik.

While the foundation of The Chosen is the friendship between Danny and Reuven, it is not the only relationship of importance. Besides the obvious parental bonds between the Saunders and the Malters, the connection between Reuven Malter and Reb Saunders merits attention. Reuven plays a distinctive role for Reb Saunders as an intermediary between him and his son. Reb Saunders admits that he cannot always talk to his son and uses Reuven as a line of communication; the reason for this lack of communication will become clear as the story progresses.

Although the two characters do not meet during the course of the novel, David Malter has strong opinions about Reb Saunders and, as will be shown later, the opposite also holds true. David Malter holds a conflicting opinion of Reb, whom he believes to be dogmatic and antiquated while still holding great awe for Reb's capabilities.

Chapter Eight:

Reuven is a hero when he returns to school. His friends do not know about his new friendship, and Davey refers to "that snooty Danny Saunders." After school, Reuven meets Danny at the public library, where he finds Danny deep in study, reading Graetz's History of the Jews and learning how Dov Baer invented the idea of the tzaddik. The book sharply criticizes Hasidic Jews and tzaddikim as priests of Baal. Danny remarks that people are complicated, and he quotes a psychology book in which the author says that "the most mysterious thing in the universe to man is man himself." He also mentions psychoanalysis and how he is teaching himself German so he can read Freud in the original text. Danny tells Reuven how his brother had been examined by a doctor and has something wrong with his blood chemistry. Later, Reuven tells his father that Danny wants to read Freud, and asks whether Graetz is right about Hasidism. David Malter says that Graetz is not accurate, and there is enough to dislike about Hasidism without exaggerating its faults.

When Reuven visits Danny, Reb Saunders asks Reuven if he can tell him what Danny is reading, for he knows how much time Danny spends in the library and cannot ask his son. Reuven does not know what to say: he thought that Reb would confront David Malter about Danny's reading, not him. Reuven tells him how Danny met his father, who was suggesting books for him to read, but omits how Danny is studying German and planning to read Freud. Reb merely says "psychology, master of the universe, psychology, and Darwin" and says "I can no longer speak to my own son." Reb makes Reuven promise not to make a goy out of his son. Reuven tells his father about Reb's request, and Reuven tells him that Reb has already talked to Danny about his books through Reuven, but "it is never pleasant to be a buffer."


In this chapter, Chaim Potok returns to the idea of a historical legacy of Jewish life, with particular regard to Hasidic sects, by offering a different perspective on the history of Hasidism. The text by Graetz, History of the Jews, is important to the story to offer evidence that Hasidic sects are ostracized even within the Jewish community and that, as the outrageous claims that tzaddikim are priests of the devil show, this criticism of Hasidism is in some significant level unjust. The Graetz text is a symbol of this contempt for Hasidism among many Jews. Hasidism is certainly imperfect, but David Malter makes the important point that there is enough to dislike about Hasidism without creating new faults.

Potok also gives greater perspective on the mindset of Danny Saunders in this chapter through his reaction to the Graetz text. While both David and Reuven Malter approach the text from a more sociopolitical frame of reference, Danny perceives the text from a psychological viewpoint. This is particularly important to establish his dedication to psychology and psychoanalysis. This is bolstered by Danny's study of Freud; that he is learning German in order to study Freud proves his great fascination for the subject.

However, an interest in psychology places Danny directly in conflict with his father's values. The psychological mindset is far too modern and contradicts the religious perspective favored by Reb Saunders. Sigmund Freud thus, in this novel, symbolizes highly modern and highly secular values akin to those atheistic attitudes espoused by Darwin.

Reuven Malter yet again serves as the intermediary between Reb Saunders and his son, but his status as a 'buffer' takes on a fascinating dimension. As the person who is most likely to 'make a goy' out of his son, Reuven becomes responsible for sabotaging this very process. This suggests that Reb Saunders has a perhaps unintentional motive; he allows his son to associate with the more secular Reuven Malter and knows that Danny is studying on his own, as if implicitly condoning the behavior under the realization that the process of Danny abandoning his strict Hasidism cannot be stopped. While Reb Saunders' request could be a setup for narrative conflict, Potok does not develop the possible conflict between Reuven's duties to Danny as a friend and Reb Saunders' request; instead, this incident is more important to develop the idea that Reb Saunders has trouble communicating with his son.

Potok does, however, foreshadow later conflict with the comment about Danny's brother's illness. Whether his brother Levi is ill or healthy will determine a course of action for Danny, as will be shown later.

The comment that Reb Saunders makes lamenting that he can no longer speak to his son is ironic, considering the almost nonexistent communication between him and Danny. This suggests that Reb Saunders and his son speak to each other not through normal verbal means, but rather through different channels of communication.

Chapter Nine:

Reuven does not see Danny for an entire week, because he is busy with final exams. He calls on Wednesday and tells Reuven that he would be staying at home that summer, studying the Talmud and he would probably read Freud. Reuven calls Billy (from the hospital), but Billy's father tells Reuven that Billy's surgery was not successful and that Billy is now in Albany, where his family is being transferred. Reuven watches a spider catch a housefly caught in the nearly invisible strands of a web.


Potok uses this chapter primarily to allow the reader perspective on previous events rather than to push the story forward. Potok returns to the events of the hospital when Reuven calls Billy and learns that his surgery was unsuccessful; this reminds the reader of how far the story (and, by extension, the characters) have progressed in the past chapters. Also, by noting that Reuven does not see Danny for nearly a week suggests that the two are now quite close, for the fact that they do not see each other is a described as a change of events.

Since it is one of the bare details in this chapter, the spider and the housefly that Reuven watch could be taken as symbolic details. However, symbolic interpretations cannot be given too much weight; at best, the housefly can suggest how each of the characters is bound by invisible forces that limit their behavior.