The Chosen

by Chaim Potok

Hardcover, 1967

Call number




Simon & Schuster, 304 pages


The story of two fathers and two sons and the pressures on all of them to pursue the religion they share in the way that is best suited to each. And as the boys grow into young men, they discover in the other a lost spiritual brother, and a link to an unexplored world that neither had ever considered before. In effect, they exchange places, and find the peace that neither will ever retreat from again.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Joycepa
The Chosen is the story of two boys, Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter, who meet for the first time on a ball field in New York city at age fifteen during the early days of World War II. The are on opposing teams. Danny deliberately iams a hard-driven ball at the pitcher, Reuven, and the ball hits
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Reuven in the eye with such force that Reuven is hospitalized with a concussion and the possible loss of the sight in his eye.

As serious an event as this is, the drama is heightened further by the fact that these are not just “ordinary teen-age American boys, but rather young Jewish yeshiva students from different traditions—Orthodox (Reuven) and Hasidic (Danny) that coexist with one another uneasily at the best of times. In fact, it is at least partly the tension between Orthodox and Hasidim that drives Danny to deliberately injure Reuven.

What follows within that context is an utterly remarkable story that reveals the rich diversity of Jewish life and traditions in a tiny area of the Williamsburg neighborhood of New York during a time of great tension, and later of the realization of the horror of the Holocaust. Danny is caught by centuries of Hasidic tradition; his father is the rabbi of an extremely conservative Hasidic group, and Danny is his utterly unwilling heir. Reuven has no such problem, but after the revelations of the death camps, in a real sense nearly loses his father, who is working tirelessly for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

The growth of these two boys into adulthood, each with his own burden to carry, is told quietly but with incredible insight and compassion for all sides. The characters are beautifully and sympathetically drawn, and the denouement is unforgettable, as the anguish of a father for his son is portrayed in the nearly unbearable cost each has paid for the rescue of a soul.

This is no ordinary coming-of-age book. It is an understated but powerful picture of a way of life that most Americans never encounter. Though written in 1968 and set during World War II and its aftermath, there is no sense whatsoever of datedness either in the writing or in the characters and their situation. It’s an intense story, told gently, but with great impact, and one you return to again and again over the years. I have read this book at least a half dozen times in 40 or so years, and will read it again. The story is timeless.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
This was a wonderful story of love, family and friendship. Set in the Jewish community of Williamsburg in Brooklyn during the waning years of WWII teenagers Reuven, a modern Orthodox Jew and Danny, a Hasidic Jew have an inauspicious meeting that leads them to their warm but certainly unusual
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friendship. Their fathers play a large role in the development and then the brief destruction of their friendship.

As their friendship developed the boys would spend most of the weekend studying the Talmud. The fact that teenagers would spend so much time, endless hours, studying their faith as well as their school subjects (during the week they spent most of their free time in the library) seemed unimaginable to me but I have to assume this went on at that time, in a community where their faith is the most important thing to them. It may still go on for all I know because I’m so ill-informed on the subject. At any rate, the friendship that the boys develop turns when WWII ends and the Holocaust is revealed, rocking both communities. Reuven’s father ferociously fights for the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel while Danny’s father is vehemently opposed to Zionism. This leads to a rift between the two families that takes some time to heal. It is through this healing that the love the two friends have for each other overcomes any problems they may experience.
I would’ve rated this book higher than I did but the lengthy sections devoted to the dissection of the Talmud seemed like a little too much religious dogma. I understand the role it played in the narrative but I found it dreadful, on the whole. I can’t imagine today’s high school students enjoying this part of the book.

At any rate, the story of family, love and friendship made this a very enjoyable read.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Reuven "Bobby" Malter, son of a rabbi, teacher, and scholar, meets Danny Saunders, son of a Hasidic rabbi, on the baseball field. On that day, Reuven had been called from his usual position to pitch. After a couple of misses, Danny hits the ball straight into Reuven's eye. Reuven ends up in the
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hospital where the surgeon removed glass from his eye. Danny comes to apologize, but Reuven doesn't really want to listen. Reuven's father, however, encourages Reuven to listen, forgive, and become Danny's friend. Hasidic Judaism chose Danny's path. He will become a rabbi like his father and marry a predetermined girl from a marriage arranged at an early age. Danny wants to become a psychologist. Reuven's father desires for him to become a mathematician, but Reuven wants to become a rabbi. Reuven and Danny become friends. Their Jewish faiths are different, and Danny's branch's strict adherence belittles other Jews. Most of the opening section of the book takes place during the final year of World War II. Reuven and Danny's friendship continues throughout their school years although they attend different schools. They attend the same college. Zionism becomes a divisive element in their relationship, although it is not the end of it. I don't want to tell too much of the plot. I wanted to read this book years ago but never found time for it until this month's American Author Challenge prompted me to pick it up. I do not think it will be the last time I read it. This is a powerful book!
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LibraryThing member presto
Set towards the end of the Second World War from 1944 on, Reuven tells the story of his growing up, and of his friend, Danny. The story opens when the boys are fifteen years old, and tells of their first encounter at a baseball when Danny strikes a ball which hits Reuven in the eye. Reuven is
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hospitalised, and eventually Danny visits him. Initially in his anger Reuven rejects Danny’s approach, but then on the advice of his father he listens to Danny; the two soon become close friends.

As the story develops we get to know the two Jewish boys and their respective fathers very well. Danny has a brilliant mind; Reuven too is an outstanding student. Danny’s father, Reb Saunders is an Hasidic Jew and the tzaddik, the leader of his congregation; Reuven’s father, David Malter, is an Orthodox Jew and a Rabbi. There are naturally conflicts in this relationship, but Reb Saunders gives it his blessing as he believes it will benefit his son. Reb’s behaviour and his unusual relationship with his son takes some understanding, but by the conclusion of the story we have a better insight. The boys become very close, they are enthusiastic students and study together, and even the long enforced silence between them, when Reb Saunders excommunicates Reuven over the issue of the establishment of the Jewish State, does nothing to weaken their relationship.

Much of the story involves issues of Jewish faith and politics, but such is the quality of the writing and our involvement with the boys that even to an outsider these passages are of interest, at times even gripping. Danny is a delightful and compassionate boy; he is devoted to his father and loyal friend to Danny. These relationships are things of great beauty; both the respect he has for and the freedom with which he is able to communicate with his father, and the evident care and concern he shows for his friend Danny; and both of whom he clearly loves.

The chosen is a truly remarkable story, the writing is beautiful and the dialogue such that we can hear the voices. It is a story of friendship, loyalty and love, of parental care and sacrifice. It is both thoroughly absorbing and profoundly moving.
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LibraryThing member sarah-e
I did not think I would like this book, and it became my obsession. This book is compelling, smart, and presents an intuitive and very real picture of a friendship. If you feel like you have had profound friendships, this book may affect you in a similar way.
LibraryThing member SandDune
Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders have both grown up in the Orthodox Jewish community of 1940s Brooklyn, but had never met: Danny’s father’s position as leader of a Russian Hasidic sect and Reuven’s father’s more progressive approach means that they do not move in the same circles. But when
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Reuven’s eye is badly injured by a ball hit by Danny during a baseball game, initial enmity develops into a surprising ongoing friendship, one that is tested as Danny struggles with his father’s expectations that he will follow in his footsteps to become the new leader of the sect after his father’s death. The book follows their friendship to the end of the Second World War and beyond, when the formation of the State of Israel, vehemently opposed by Danny’s father and vehemently advocated by Reuven’s, tests their friendship to its limit...

This book introduced cultures that were completely strange to me, and finding out about how some lives were lived very differently in mid-twentieth century U.S.A. was fascinating. It also introduced baseball, which was less fascinating, and I did find the chapter describing the baseball game a struggle as I had really very little idea what was going on. I didn’t love this as much as some people seem to, but there was certainly much to think about, and I may well go on to read something else by the same author.
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LibraryThing member cbl_tn
Chaim Potok writes about the unlikely friendship between two Jewish teens. Reuven/Bobby is a math whiz who wants to be a rabbi. Danny is Hasidic, and as the son of a tzaddik he is destined to inherit this leadership position from his father. However, Danny wants to be a psychologist. This book
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illustrates the deep cultural divides within the Jewish faith. It is set in the final years of the Second World War and the beginning of the post-war years, and touches on the Holocaust and Zionism. It explores the relationship between fathers and sons, and differences in parenting philosophies. It explores the nature of giftedness and the responsibility and even burden that places on parents and teachers of gifted children and teens.

One thing that struck me as I read was how considerate and courteous the characters are. For example, Reuven was in a hospital ward between an adult and a young boy. His father brought him a radio because he wasn’t allowed to read, and Reuven was very considerate about keeping the volume down and not playing the radio when it might disturb his neighbors. I can’t help wondering if consideration for others is something we’ve lost (or are in the process of losing) with society’s encouragement to stand up for our right to do whatever we want in our own space. Reuven learned to appreciate and communicate with others who held a different worldview. That gives me hope for our present time.
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LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
Potok was one of the giants of my adolescence, and I returned to his work countless times throughout my youth, always with a profound sense of coming home. It is an odd thing that an author whose oeuvre is infused with such a specifically Orthodox-Jewish worldview should speak so strongly to the
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theologically rebellious young daughter of a Christian minister... Or, perhaps it isn't strange at all. Potok is the master, after all, of depicting the conflict between secular and religious impulses, a conflict as familiar to me as breathing. He excels, moreover, at demonstrating the intangible strength of faith, its centrality to every aspect of the believer's life, and its terrible harsh beauty...

Of his many books, The Chosen has always been my favorite. Potok's masterpiece, it is a simple fable about complicated topics. Two young Jewish boys - Reuven and Daniel - meet during a baseball game fraught with significance. Their inauspicious first encounter leads to a deep, life-long friendship, despite differences of religious belief (one is Orthodox, the other Hasidic), and paternal interference.

The complicated, and at times tragic, relations between fathers and sons; the ways in which friendship gives us strength, but also makes us vulnerable; and the sometimes oppositional forces of tradition and modernity; are all explored in this seemingly "simple" book...
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LibraryThing member murderbydeath
I seem to have inadvertently found myself on a theological reading streak. Like The Alchemist, this book was recommended to me by a friend (although more enthusiastically), and also like The Alchemist, I picked it up for reasons that ended up having nothing to do with the book. I thought The Chosen
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was about baseball.

It's not about baseball.

What it is about, at its core, is exactly the same thing The Alchemist is about (which almost defies coincidence): the power of silence, listening to your heart/soul, and following your own true path. But while The Alchemist uses parable, allegory and fantastic storytelling to get its message across, The Chosen tells the same message using an opposite style, set in WWII New York, and using first person-past tense POV. This is the story of two boys brought together by a softball game; one is a Hasidic Jew and one is Conservative (I think–it's never explicitly stated whether he's Conservative or Reform). Although they live only 5 blocks apart, they inhabit completely different worlds within the same religious faith, and have very different relationships with their respective fathers.

I can't do justice to this book in my review, but it works for me so much better than The Alchemist did; while I could appreciate the beauty of the writing and the story Coelho created, Potok's creation had the profound effect on me that I think the author was aiming for. The Chosen is going to be one of those that stay with me permanently.

Book themes for Hanukkah: Any book whose main character is Jewish, any story about the Jewish people
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LibraryThing member mathqueen
The Talmud stresses the presence of respect and love between parents and children in Jewish homes. One of the themes that spoke to me from this book was the parent/child relationship at each house. Although the fathers demonstrated very different strategies for raising their children, one thing
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remained the same at both homes: the undying respect each son had for his father. While they might not have agreed with the way their fathers did things, the boys never once raised their voices or even said things to each other against their fathers. When Reuven questions the silent relationship Danny and his father have, Danny never responded by criticizing or berating his father’s parenting strategies. Parents are seen as partners in God's creation of each human being; therefore, to honor one's parents is to honor God. Similarly, to display disregard, disrespect, or violence toward one's parents is to do so to God (Berkson, 2002). The other idea that struck me was the fact that the outside world is never mentioned in this book. The conflicts all occur within the Jewish community, reinforcing a feeling of isolation regarding all four characters. The book gave insight into the religious beliefs and conflicts within the Jewish faith; however it did not show the consequences of interaction beyond the Jewish community.
Library Implications: This book will work as a great tool for older students to learn the idiosyncrasies of the Jewish faith as related to young men and their fathers. Jewish traditions and beliefs within the community could also be discussed. Librarians can use this book as a source for the exploration of Jewish suffering and outcomes of World War II. As a hands-on project, students could be encouraged to attempt Sabbath requirements over a weekend. Results could be compared with activities from a normal Saturday, focusing on the benefits of observing a Sabbath day of rest one day a week.
Brekson, William. (2002). Jewish Values and Parenting. Printed for Reform Judaism Magazine.
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LibraryThing member lmm161
I was in high school when I had to read this book, and what I remember most about the book was how I wanted to be Jewish when I was done with it. And how I obsessively read all of Chaim Potoks books after I read this one.

I think the book stuck with me because the sense of not belonging and not
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feeling like you fit in that crossed religion, location, and family and belongs to teenagers. The book is beautiful, sad and joyful, painful and uplifting.
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LibraryThing member Steve777
Touching story of friendship of two boys within different Jewish sects of varying strictness as they struggle to become and remain friends despite the pressure of the beliefs of their rabbi fathers.
LibraryThing member gillis.sarah
This is one of the best books I ever had to read for summer reading. It introduced me to Chaim Potok's writing, and he is a fantastic author, and it also introduced me to the world of Hasidic Jews in America. I hadn't really ever known anything about the Hasidim before I read the book, and I was
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fascinated. The friendship between Reuven and Danny is really intriguing, and Danny's father is an equally interesting character. In many ways, Danny is very similar to another one of Potok's characters in other books (Asher Lev), but with a less developed story.
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LibraryThing member brakketh
Greatly enjoyed reading this book about the influence that religion and interpersonal differences have on our lives, and how these differences make it possible to grow together.
LibraryThing member nevusmom
A story of friendship and religion. Beautifully written.
LibraryThing member laudemgloriae
This is a captivating and touching story of friendship that endures despite differences, and conflicts. I think it's exceptional as far as coming of age stories go... there is something so honest about it, and the characters search for their identities, and their relationships with each other and
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their fathers.
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LibraryThing member highbar
One of my favourites. Read it for the first time in highschool and have been reading it ever since (and that's a lot of years).
LibraryThing member RRHowell
This is one that I would like to tell everyone to read.
LibraryThing member bell7
Fifteen-year-old Reuven Malter plays softball for his yeshiva, and gets hurt when Danny Saunders hits a ball right to his eye. He may lose sight in the eye, and he's naturally extremely angry at first. But the accident turns out to be the beginning of an incredible friendship between two Jewish
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boys from very different backgrounds and belief systems.

I can't remember any more precisely why I had this book on my ever-growing list of books to read. I certainly didn't know a thing about the plot; I knew about the author a little only by reputation. I loved Potok's writing style, the way you see everything through Reuven's eyes but still get a window into the other characters through how they act and speak - there's no paragraph explaining who each of them is or where they came from, just a slow unveiling of Danny, Reb Saunders, Reuven's father, and other secondary characters. Set during World War 2 and just after, despite some of the heartbreaking occurrences, at its heart this is a warm story that I would enjoy revisiting often.
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LibraryThing member TChesney
In Process:

I read this book about 20 years ago.

It is excellent (i.e., 5 on a 5 point scale), which is much more than I expect when I buy a book.
LibraryThing member lycomayflower
Fascinating portrayal of Jewish culture in 1940s Brooklyn with a very compelling narrator and a greatly effecting conclusion. Recommended.
LibraryThing member LyzzyBee
Acquired via BookCrossing 10 Aug 2010 - at a KGC mini-meet

So this came recommended by Bridget and previously owned by Ali's Dad, which was a good set of recommendations to have!

I loved it - really could not put it down. As previously mentioned, the central theme of the book is the conflict between
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different forms of Jewish observance. The two boys at the centre of the book, Reuven and Danny, both have fathers who are powerful and well known (in different ways) both within their communities and within the wider community. Their paths take a different turn to how people expect, and their relationships with their fathers, and each other, are vitally important. I learnt an awful lot about the attitudes of American Jews in the last days of WWII and about the background to the founding of the state of Israel; but while this book has a didactic purpose, it also works as a work of literature, both exploring large and complex themes and being eminently readable. I can't wait to go on to The Promise; in fact, I'm already reading it.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
This was my introduction to the world of Jewish culture. I remember sitting on my Grandmother's front porch swing during August, 1968, mesmerized by this tale of friendship in a culture very different than my own. But it is also a coming of age story and most of all a novel of ideas. At one point
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David Malter tells his son:

"Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?" He paused again, his eyes misty now, then went on. "I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something.
He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one's life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here."

This search for meaning animates the entire story. Reb Saunders has found meaning in serving God and his followers, but the others have sought meaning in reason rather than faith. David Malter finds meaning, and hopes to give the Holocaust itself some meaning, in his political work as a Zionist. Reuven, with the study of logic, and Danny, with the study of psychology, both think that they have found the things that will fill their lives with meaning. Ultimately it was this search, a search that I subsequently found in novels as disparate as The Moviegoer and The Magic Mountain, that made this novel memorable for me. That and my Grandmother's front porch swing.
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LibraryThing member jenzbookshelf
I have read The Chosen by Chaim Potok several times over the years. It's such a great book with so much to discuss and think about. It's truly a manual on becoming a scholar and finding meaning and purpose in life.
LibraryThing member rsubber
Very hard cheese to read this and try to be sympathetic to both Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter. If the insights into Hasidic and otherwise orthodox Jewish culture are accurate, it is depressing. This is a window into the sad distraction of so many human beings with the limitations and constraints
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of their culture and religion. It is difficult to think of Danny or Reuven living a productive, exuberant, joyous and emotionally/morally satisfying life. Their religion and culture puts too many obstacles in their path.
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