The Promise

by Chaim Potok

Book, 1969

Barcode

123457020

Call number

FIC POT

Collection

Publication

New York, Knopf, 1969., 358 pages

Description

Reuven Malter lives in Brooklyn, he's in love, and he's studying to be a rabbi. He also keeps challenging the strict interpretations of his teachers, and if he keeps it up, his dream of becoming a rabbi may die. One day, worried about a disturbed, unhappy boy named Michael, Reuven takes him sailing and cloud-watching. Reuven also introduces him to an old friend, Danny Saunders-now a psychologist with a growing reputation. Reconnected by their shared concern for Michael, Reuven and Danny each learns what it is to take on life-whether sacred truths or a troubled child-according to his own lights, not just established authority. In a passionate, energetic narrative, The Promise brilliantly dramatizes what it is to master and use knowledge to make one's own way in the world… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Joycepa
The sequel to The Chosen follows Reuven Malter as he studies for ordination (smicha). It’s the summer of 1950, 5 years after the end of World War II. On vacation, Reuven continues dating Rachel Gordon, the niece of a famous Jewish teacher and author who is considered heretical by the more
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traditional wing of Orthodox Jewry. Rachel, along with her 14 year old cousin Michael, is also vacationing at the same area as Reuven and his father. Rachel persuades Reuven to accompany her and and her 14 year old cousin Michael to a county fair. But the “fair” is in reality a carnival, and Michael, cleverly caught by a huckster in a con game run by an old Jewish man and realizing that the game is crooked, turns violent; Reuven and Rachel restrain him. Learning that Michael ha emotional problems, Reuven lout of compassion and a sincere liking for Michael, invites Michael to go sailing with him, and the boy forms a close bond with the quietly empathetic Reuven.

Back in New York, Reuven starts a Talmudic class under Rav Kalman, an extremely conservative teacher who is a survivor of the Shoah. Kalman is one of many such teachers brought over to the US as a way of preserving the Eastern European Jewish remnant; they and the Hasidim, also survivors, re changing radically both the daily life and the atmosphere in the yeshivas of the Orthodox Jewish community. Reuven immediately is repelled by what he sees as Kalamn’s fanaticism and rigidity, but the class he is taking is required for ordination, and he has to not just endure but win Rav Kalman’s approval if he wishes to obtain smicha.

Meanwhile, the Gordon family has requested that Reuven introduce them to Danny Saunders, who, even though he is still in graduate school at Columbia, is gaining a reputation as a brilliant clinical psychologist. Danny, Reuven’s oldest and best friend, becomes involved in Michael’s care as Michael’s condition deteriorates.

These two main threads—Reuven’s struggle with Rav Kalman and Danny’s treatment of Michael--become entangled.

The most remarkable thing about Chaim Potok's works is that he is concerned, not with the world without but totally with the world within Orthodox Judaism. The US can go through a world war, McCarthy can wreak his destruction from which we still have not completely recovered, but these are events that have meaning, yes, but are tangential to the world in which Reuven , his father, Rav Kalman, Danny, and others live. It is a world concerned nearly totally with morality--different views of how to live it, but that's the topic, and nothing else really matters.

Potok's language is gentle and utterly beautiful. It's a style that is dreamlike except when discussing Torah, and then a clean austerity enters. Potok is incredibly good at showing a gentile world what such Torah study is and what it means especially to Orthodox Jewry. Just as in other religions, there are struggles within the Orthodox world; Potok shows compassionate understanding for all sides involved. It is remarkable writing, done with great insight.

The resolution of the plot is utterly gripping; I have been less fascinated by best-selling thrillers or police procedurals. Again, Potok knows and loves the world of which he is writing and has the remarkable ability to make that world come alive and be real for those of us who would otherwise never know it existed.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member iayork
Excellent Reading and Sequal: This book, as well as "The Chosen", which was almost like an intro to it, were two of the best books I have ever read. While I found one of Potok's other books, "My Name is Asher Lev" thought provoking, yet quite disturbing, "The Promise" was still thought provoking,
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yet deeper, more complex, and not so disturbing. So for everyone who has read "The Chosen" and enjoyed it, they are bound to enjoy this book, which picks up with Reuvan Malter still in school studying to be a rabbi and his best friend Danny Saunders, almost a psychologist now who is about to embark on a very difficult case. Enjoy!
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LibraryThing member RRHowell
This is the sequel to The Chosen. It's not as good as that one, but still quite good.
LibraryThing member LyzzyBee
Acquired via BookCrossing 14 Aug 2010 - from Bridget

Sequel to The Chosen, and because I had it, I had to read it right away. I might not have enjoyed it completely as much as the first volume, but that's not to say it wasn't good. Danny and Reuven are growing in their respective paths, and the
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choices they have to make, as well as the promises they've made to themselves, their fathers, and their faiths, are thrown into sharp relief by their involvement with the Gordon family; Abraham, who writes on Judaism from a more liberal viewpoint and is reviled for it in the post-Holocaust retrenchment into more extreme forms of the religion which is happening at the time, and particularly Michael, his conflicted son. I learnt a lot about Jewish scholarship, and the textual work described is fascinating - and I loved the way it brought stability, pride and conflict into Reuven's life. His relationship with his father was beautifully drawn, and something I will remember for a long time. You wouldn't think that the minute details of someone studying to become a rabbi would be such compelling reading, but I found myself drawn into the quiet drama, as the time of reckoning drew nearer and nearer.

The resolution of the plots was satsifying, with more left for the future. Perhaps the work in the psychiatric hospital would have been more shocking to the contemporary audience; I found this the slightly less interesting part. But I'd love to know what happened next to Danny, Michael, and particularly Reuven.

I'm very glad I read these two amazing books, which I would not have come across, probably without BookCrossing, and certainly without the friendships I've made through BookCrossing!
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LibraryThing member schraubd
The word that I always associated with The Promise is "disturbing", and I mean that in the best possible sense. In some ways, I liked this book more than The Chosen (which I feel is slightly heretical). It takes on a considerably darker tone than its prequel, and introduces someone is far more of
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an unambiguous antagonist than existed in The Chosen. It is a testament to the author's exceptional ability that Rav Kalman manages to be full, robust character despite the fact that he is in so many ways utterly repulsive. Beyond that, there is little to say -- the book is stellar and I can't recommend it highly enough.
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LibraryThing member fingerpost
This sequal to "The Chosen" is only a hair below that book. It didn't quite make me cry, as "The Chosen" did, but it was close. Reuven and Danny are now at the end of college. Reuven, the modern thinking Jew working for smicha (needed to be a rabbi) in his school from a hard line Hasidic teacher.
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Danny is working as an intern essentially, at a treatment center for disturbed children, and suggests a radical treatment for a patient of his, who is very close to Reuven.
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LibraryThing member presto
The Promise, sequel to The Chosen, finds Danny and Reuven now just in their early twenties and approaching the end of their studies. The battle between Orthodox and Reformed beliefs continues along with its consequential effect on Danny and Reuven, and now coming into the arena in addition to
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Reuven’s teachers is Abraham Gordon, the uncle of Reuven’s girlfriend Rachel. Then Danny and Reuven have an additional problem to contend with: Abraham Gordon’s emotionally disturbed fourteen year old son Michael; the two boys become deeply involved, Danny in his role as a student psychologist and Reuven as Michael’s new friend.

As in The Promise there are plenty of discussions centred around the Talmud, but they are so well explained and presented that they are of interest even for someone who has little or no knowledge of such. But the real beauty of the story is the relationship between the characters. The two boys are remarkable individuals who by their modest and respectful attitude along with their devotion to their faith seem to endear them to all whom they meet. Danny and Reuven remain best friends and show complete trust in each other; Reuven’s active concern for Michael is very touching; and Reuven’s relationship with his father, the love and respect he has for him, is a joy to behold.

The Promise is a remarkable book, a fitting conclusion to the fascinating story which started in The Chosen. Extremely well written, it is an enjoyable, thought provoking and heart warming tale which I highly recommend.
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LibraryThing member astrologerjenny

This novel is set in the 50s, in the era of Joseph McCarthy, but it deals with another area of reactionary thought. It's about the Orthodox Jewish community in NYC, and how it is changed by the concentration camp survivors who make their way there after WWII.

The narrator, Reuven Malter, is a
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Talmudic student who is caught between the orthodox European Jews (who, after so much loss, can't accept any threat to their traditions) and the more liberal threads developing in the U.S. During his stormy education, Reuven befriends a young man who has been driven mad by the conflict between love and hate.

This book, a dramatic account of a community in flux, keeps returning to the relationships between sons and fathers. Reuven has the courage to move beyond rage into an acceptance of human frailty, which perhaps includes forgiveness of a god who has wronged his people.

The writing style is a bit sparse and Hemingway-esque, but the feel of the characters and the community comes through.
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LibraryThing member viviennestrauss
This book was a truly interesting journey into another place and time, I found it at times to read almost like a psychological thriller and others to be quite scholarly. One phrase near the end sums up quite well what I was thinking throughout - "there is a numbing sameness to the way religious
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zealots express themselves".

I will definitely read more of this author's work in the future.
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LibraryThing member fuzzi
"The Promise" continues the story of two friends, Danny the Hasidic and Reuven the Orthodox Jew, who we first met in "The Chosen".

Reuven is studying to become a rabbi, but struggling with open hostility from his teachers who oppose modern methods of explaining difficult passages in the Talmud.
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Without their approval, he cannot become a rabbi, yet he will not be dishonest about his beliefs in order to achieve his goals.

Danny is a psychology student at Columbia University. Part of his studies include working with emotionally and mentally disturbed children. When the son of Reuven's mentor and friend requires evaluation, Danny finds himself doubting his knowledge and abilities.

Excellent novel about people and their relationships, especially when complicated by polar opposite beliefs in religion.
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LibraryThing member Stormydawnc
I've never found The Promise quite as compelling as The Chosen, but it's still ALMOST just as good, with a lot of the same characters and themes.
LibraryThing member Maggie.Anton
Almost as good as The Chosen, but I didn't find the psychology as compelling as the Talmud. Also disappointed that Reuben didn't end up with a wife as well.
LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
For me this was a glimpse in at a moment in time and a world or clash of worlds. Orthodox-but-assimilated Judaism in repressed-but-optimistic postwar America, leafy walks and healthy physical activity and a chair in theology and Cornell and marrying a girl with chestnut hair and you don't know if
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McCarthy and Red China are gonna presage the end of it all but you feel like in the end, after all, humanity has weathered its storms; and up against it the new arrivals from the old world, both the awakened Orthodox with their living (and livid) HaShem and their dead world and the Hasids, whose disengagement from the mainstream lets them reanimate that dead world in their hermetic communities in places like Brooklyn. And then, a live wire around which the characters are all so careful and that periodically lights up and makes the narrative writhe and dance, historical trauma--and its nauseous blossoming over the generations and the inevitable laying open of the tradition and the history by that peculiar Jewish–gentile discipline, psychoanalysis. The intellectual content here was hard to get purchase on, since I lack the level of conversancy to approach it from within while from without, too often, it yields only platitudes like "People need people, people need shared experience." So for me, this was a very well done rendering of a place-time-ethos, let us say a period piece, and one that gave rise to that familiar uncomfortable envy that I always feel at that that serious, prosperous, intellectual Central European Jewish culture--uncomfortable because while that urban Danubian thing is the part of my Austrian heritage I've always identified with, it's a part I can't illegitimately, genealogically claim: I come instead from the Alpine matrix that produced both courtly Grüß-Gotting old men and brownshirts, and given the history that we all know it's queasy of me at best and deeply twisted at worst to be--what I guess I am!--any kind of Judaeophile. Potok did me a solid in that sense, reminding me that the "Wien ist anders"/"wir Patrioten im Urwald" kind of divide that queers my heritage is paralleled by a kind of shtetl/shul divide, and I should just sit with it and not be a weirdo and remember that everyone's relationship with their heritage (like everyone's with their parents, a fact I'm only sort of belatedly acknowledging in my own regard, stay tuned for a future review perhaps) is complicated and ambivalent. This book is a drama of complicated ambivalence.
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LibraryThing member jnwelch
This continues Reuven and Danny's story from The Chosen. Reuven's at Hirsch University studying to be a rabbi, and Danny's is studying to be a psychologist while interning at a mental hospital.They’re both interested in Rachel, the attractive daughter of a liberal analyst of the Talmud (his
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writings are considered a danger to Orthodoxy), and both become involved with her troubled nephew Michael, who ends up in the mental hospital where Danny is. Reuven has to square off against his teacher Reb Kalman, a Holocaust-survivor fiercely attached to established views of the Talmud, and opposed to more progressive views of Danny and Danny's learned father. Kalman has the power to deny Danny his becoming a Rabbi, and that battle is high energy. I liked that story thread a good bit more than Michael's.

The second half of the book was much more involving, and the book ended up being a very good read, even if it falls short of the exceptional The Chosen. The contrast between Hasidic Jews, Orthodox Jews, and more progressive Jews is fascinating, and Potok is so good at steeping us in the conflicts. Here's a quote from Reuven as he reacts to being among the Hasidim:

"It was strange enough being on those streets during the week. But on Shabbat, when I could feel them making the very air tremulous with exultation, when I could see them in their respective garbs, most of them in fur-trimmed caps, some in dark suits, some in white knickers, all of them walking quickly, sometimes in groups, sometimes alone, sometimes the father accompanied by a troop of male children - on Shabbat it was particularly strange, and I felt myself to be an uncomfortable outsider who had somehow been transported to a world I once thought had only existed in the small towns of Eastern Europe or in books about Jewish history. They were my own people, but we were as far apart from one another as we could possibly be and still call ourselves by the name 'Jew' - and I never felt as distant from them as I felt that evening walking along Lee Avenue with my father to the synagogue where we prayed."
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LibraryThing member astrologerjenny

This novel is set in the 50s, in the era of Joseph McCarthy, but it deals with another area of reactionary thought. It's about the Orthodox Jewish community in NYC, and how it is changed by the concentration camp survivors who make their way there after WWII.

The narrator, Reuven Malter, is a
Show More
Talmudic student who is caught between the orthodox European Jews (who, after so much loss, can't accept any threat to their traditions) and the more liberal threads developing in the U.S. During his stormy education, Reuven befriends a young man who has been driven mad by the conflict between love and hate.

This book, a dramatic account of a community in flux, keeps returning to the relationships between sons and fathers. Reuven has the courage to move beyond rage into an acceptance of human frailty, which perhaps includes forgiveness of a god who has wronged his people.

The writing style is a bit sparse and Hemingway-esque, but the feel of the characters and the community comes through.
Show Less

Language

Original publication date

1969

ISBN

1400095417 / 9781400095414

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