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Literature / The Chosen

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A 1967 coming of age story by Chaim Potok set in late-forties New York.

The story features a friendship between two Jewish boys from different sects. One is Danny Saunders, the heir to the Rabbinate of an Ultra Orthodox congregation of Russian immigrants. The other is Reuven Malter, who is from a more moderate and Americanized but still religious family. His father is a noted intellectual and Zionist activist. Danny is being subjected to a curious form of training called "raising in silence" which entails being shunned by one's own father, an attempt to teach him "what it is to suffer" to prepare him to be a Rebbe (kind of like a Rabbi but with more mystic and authoritative, almost priestly connotations). Reuven befriends him in his loneliness and they share the struggles of faith and the normal difficulties of teens as well as the rivalry between their two factions. This book deals with themes like the struggle between family loyalty and friendship and the difficulties of faith amid modernity. It gives many insights into Jewish culture and is popular among Gentiles as well as Jews in part because it has many a Crowning Moment Of Heartwarming.


Potok later wrote a sequel called The Promise. Not to be confused with the first book of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, which has the exact same title.

Tropes Include:

  • A Friend in Need: Reuven befriends Danny in his loneliness. This, of course, forces him to accept the fate of being an Iron Woobie.
  • Arab–Israeli Conflict: As seen from New York.
  • Berserk Button: The idea of a secular Jewish state to Reb Saunders.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Very much on Rebbe Saunders' mind, and also on Danny's - he is the heir and is never allowed to forget it.
  • Character Overlap: With Davita's Harp, also by Chaim Potok. Most of the book deals with the main character, Ilana Davita, discovering and embracing her Jewish heritage, and in the last few chapters of the book it is revealed that she attends the same yeshiva as Reuven, and they compete for an academic prize.
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  • Culture Clash
  • The Dutiful Son: Danny. Though in the end he takes a different path from what was intended.
    • His loyalty to his father, though, makes him accept the fate of being an Iron Woobie without rebelling.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Arguably the Saunders - see previous entry on The Chains of Commanding.
  • Eye Scream: Reuven gets a baseball to the glasses... Also, Tony Savo, who loses an eye to an unspecified injury.
  • The Film of the Book: A film was made in 1981.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Danny and Reuven meet at an unusually intense baseball game.
  • Friendly Enemies: David Malter and Reb Saunders. For Malter's part, he has an immense amount of respect for Reb Saunders, and Reb Saunders acknowledges that Malter is "an observer of the Commandments". Their dispute is purely political, and once the State of Israel is declared, it's pretty much over.
  • Good Is Old-Fashioned: Danny's people think this
  • Good Parents: Reuven's father.
  • Good Shepherd: Rebbe Saunders.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Danny and Reuven, unless you're one of the readers who saw Ho Yay.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Not exactly. Danny most certainly does want to be a Jewish smart guy, but he doesn't want to be a Rebbe.
  • Ill Boy: Danny's younger brother, Levi. He ends up becoming heir to Reb Saunders.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Rebbe Saunders is desperate to prevent this.
  • Informed Attribute: By the time Reuven makes it to college he's allegedly quite popular with girls. We never meet them.
  • Insufferable Genius: Rebbe Saunders' brother had been this, which is why he was desperate to prevent his son from becoming this, and thus becoming unfit to be a Rebbe. (He didn't mind the "genius" part, of course. Just the "insufferable".)
  • Intelligible Unintelligible: Danny and his father only communicate through various substitutes like Rabbinical studies or using Reuven as intermediary or simply the vague Silent Bob feeling that comes from living together. At the end of the book, they begin to talk. By The Promise, they're communicating comfortably.
  • Irony: Reuven actually does want to be a Rabbi.
  • Jewish and Nerdy: oh man...
  • Jews Love to Argue
  • Jewish Mother: Actually a Jewish Father, Rebbe Saunders, but he is VERY demanding.
  • Magnetic Hero: Rebbe Saunders. He has a forceful personality. Also the Backstory tells that when in Russia he led his congregation through a time of chaos and took them to safety in America which shows that he has Hidden Depths of heroic leadership.
  • Missing Mom: Reuven's mother died when he was a toddler.
  • New York City
  • Odd Friendship
  • Old Master: Rebbe Saunders, in a rabbinical sense rather then a martial arts sense but has a similar sort of personality.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Reuven's father. Reuven is luckier in this respect.
  • The Patriarch: Rebbe Saunders
  • Patriotic Fervor : Reuven's father.
  • Preacher Man: Rabbi Man that is. Rebbe Saunders.
  • Replacement Sibling: In the end Danny's brother became the heir, leaving him to become a therapist.
    • Danny and his father both; Danny's father replaced a brilliant older brother who left the fold, and Danny was actually Reb Saunders's second son, the first having been killed at a very young age in a pogrom.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Or reluctant Rebbe; Danny
  • Seven Deadly Sins: Specifically Pride. The reason for the raising in silence is that Rebbe Saunders is afraid that Danny's intellectual prowess will make him disdain others the way his brother once had. This is successfully prevented, and Danny becomes "a righteous man".
  • The Smart Guy: Practically everyone, but especially Danny.
  • So Proud of You: In a Crowning Moment Of Heartwarming, Rebbe Saunders tells Danny this because, even if he won't be a Rebbe, he has proven to be a righteous man.
  • Stern Teacher: Rebbe Saunders. Excruciatingly so.
    • Also one or two of the faculty at the college Reuven and Danny go to.
  • Take Our Word for It: The various Talmudic debates that occur during the novel. Potok goes in depth about how Jewish scholars go about the debate, how they study for such debates, and what rhetorical tactics they use, but we never hear a single word of any of these debates. Also, Reuven's scientific reconstruction of a difficult Talmudic passage set by Rav Gershonson. Potok goes into quite a bit of detail describing the process of scientific criticism, but again, never quotes from the work itself. Considering that Potok is a ordained rabbi and a doctor of Jewish theology, he could very well have written all of those arguments in full, but such arcane pilpul would probably fly over everyone who didn't receive a full yeshiva education.
  • Teen Genius: Danny. Who memorized Ivanhoe, reads Freud as a teenager, and does all this while studying a rigorous quota of the Talmud every day.
    • Reuven too, although he never quite gets the credits he deserves due to being constantly overshadowed by Danny. Reuven did, after all, managed to read through Bertrand Russell's Principia for fun (in High School), managed to recognize an obscure gematria on the fly (which requires a good knowledge of Hebrew—this was before the creation of Israel resurrected Hebrew, so only scholars would have learned it—and the ability to do mental arithmetic at light speed), and knows the Talmud well enough to start doing textual reconstructions.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Reb Saunders, in the sequel The Promise.
  • Training from Hell: Raising in Silence.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Rebbe Saunders.
  • When You Snatch the Pebble : Danny's father deliberately makes errors in front of the whole congregation in a homily on Rabbinic lore to see if Danny can catch it. He usually does. On one occasion it is Reuven that catches it proving that he is also a Smart Guy . Danny tells Reuven that his father will stop planting the mistakes when he starts studying under Rav Gershonson.
  • World War II: From the Home Front.



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