The Chosen

The Chosen

by Chaim Potok


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The Chosen by Chaim Potok

"Anyone who finds it is finding a jewel. Its themes are profound and universal."
It is the now-classic 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....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780449911549
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/1996
Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle Series
Edition description: REISSUE
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 260,133
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.67(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Chaim Potok was born in New York City in 1929. He graduated from Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, was ordained as a rabbi, and earned his PhD in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He also served as editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America. Potok’s first novel, The Chosen, published in 1967, received the Edward Lewis Wallant Memorial Book Award and was nominated for the National Book Award. He is author of eight novels, including In the Beginning and My Name Is Asher Lev, and Wanderings, a history of the Jews. He died in 2002.

Read an Excerpt

For the first fifteen years of our lives, Danny and I lived within five blocks of each other and neither of us knew of the other’s existence.

Danny’s block was heavily populated by the followers of his father, Russian Hasidic Jews in somber garb, whose habits and frames of reference were born on the soil of the land they had abandoned. They drank tea from samovars, sipping it slowly through cubes of sugar held between their teeth; they ate the foods of their homeland, talked loudly, occasionally in Russian, most often in a Russian Yiddish, and were fierce in their loyalty to Danny’s father.

A block away lived another Hasidic sect, Jews from southern Poland, who walked the Brooklyn streets like specters, with their black hats, long black coats, black beards, and earlocks. These Jews had their own rabbi, their own dynastic ruler, who could trace his family’s position of rabbinic leadership back to the time of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the eighteenth-century founder of Hasidism, whom they all regarded as a God-invested personality.

About three or four such Hasidic sects populated the area in which Danny and I grew up, each with its own rabbi, its own little synagogue, its own customs, it own fierce loyalties. On a Shabbat or festival morning, the members of each sect could be seen walking to their respective synagogues, dressed in their particular garb, eager to pray with their particular rabbi and forget the tumult of the week and the hungry grabbing for money which they needed to feed their large families during the seemingly endless Depression. The sidewalks of Williamsburg were cracked squares of cement, the streets paved with asphalt thatsoftened in the stifling summers and broke apart into potholes in the bitter winters. Many of the houses were brownstones, set tightly together, none taller than three or four stories. In these houses lived Jews, Irish, Germans, and some Spanish Civil War refugee families that had fled the new Franco regime before the onset of the Second World War. Most of the stores were run by gentiles, but some were owned by Orthodox Jews, members of the Hasidic sects in the area. They could be seen behind their counters, wearing black skullcaps, full beards, and long earlocks, eking out their meager livelihoods and dreaming of Shabbat and festivals when they could close their stores and turn their attention to their prayers, their rabbi, their God.

Every Orthodox Jew sent his male children to a yeshiva, a Jewish parochial school, where they studied from eight or nine in the morning to four or five in the evening. On Fridays the students were let out at about one o’clock to prepare for the Shabbat. Jewish education was compulsory for the Orthodox, and because this was America and not Europe, English education was compulsory as well–so each student carried a double burden: Hebrew studies in the mornings and English studies in the afternoons. The test of intellectual excellence, however, had been reduced by tradition and unvoiced unanimity to a single area of study: Talmud. Virtuosity in Talmud was the achievement most sought after by every student of a yeshiva, for it was the automatic guarantee of a reputation for brilliance.

Danny attended the small yeshiva established by his father. Outside of the Williamsburg area, in Crown Heights, I attended the yeshiva in which my father taught. This latter yeshiva was somewhat looked down upon by the students of other Jewish parochial schools of Brooklyn: it offered more English subjects than the required minimum, and it taught its Jewish subjects in Hebrew rather than Yiddish. Most of the students were children of immigrant Jews who preferred to regard themselves as having been emancipated from the fenced-off ghetto mentality typical of the other Jewish parochial schools in Brooklyn.

Danny and I probably would never have met–or we would have met under altogether different circumstances–had it not been for America’s entry into the Second World War and the desire this bred on the part of some English teachers in the Jewish parochial schools to show the gentile world that yeshiva students were as physically fit, despite their long hours of study, as any other American student. They went about proving this by organizing the Jewish parochial schools in and around our area into competitive leagues, and once every two weeks the schools would compete against one another in a variety of sports. I became a member of my school’s varsity softball team.

On a Sunday afternoon in early June, the fifteen members of my team met with our gym instructor in the play yard of our school. It was a warm day, and the sun was bright on the asphalt floor of the yard. The gym instructor was a short, chunky man in his early thirties who taught in the mornings in a nearby public high school and supplemented his income by teaching in our yeshiva during the afternoons. He wore a white polo shirt, white pants, and white sweater, and from the awkward way the little black skullcap sat perched on his round, balding head, it was clearly apparent that he was not accustomed to wearing it with any sort of regularity. When he talked he frequently thumped his right fist into his left palm to emphasize a point. He walked on the balls of his feet, almost in imitation of a boxer’s ring stance, and he was fanatically addicted to professional baseball. He had nursed our softball team along for two years, and by a mixture of patience, luck, shrewd manipulations during some tight ball games, and hard, fist-thumping harangues calculated to shove us into a patriotic awareness of the importance of athletics and physical fitness for the war effort, he was able to mold our original team of fifteen awkward fumblers into the top team of our league. His name was Mr. Galanter, and all of us wondered why he was not off somewhere fighting in the war.

During my two years with the team, I had become quite adept at second base and had also developed a swift underhand pitch that would tempt a batter into a swing but would drop into a curve at the last moment and slide just below the flaying bat for a strike. Mr. Galanter always began a ball game by putting me at second base and would use me as a pitcher only in very tight moments, because, as he put it once, “My baseball philosophy is grounded on the defensive solidarity of the infield.”

That afternoon we were scheduled to play the winning team of another neighborhood league, a team with a reputation for wild, offensive slugging and poor fielding. Mr. Galanter said he was counting upon our infield to act as a solid defensive front. Throughout the warm-up period, with only our team in the yard, he kept thumping his right fist into his left palm and shouting at us to be a solid defensive front.

“No holes,” he shouted from near home plate. “No holes, you hear? Goldberg, what kind of solid defensive front is that? Close in. A battleship could get between you and Malter. That’s it. Schwartz, what are you doing, looking for paratroops? This is a ball game. The enemy’s on the ground. That throw was wide, Goldberg. Throw it like a sharpshooter. Give him the ball again. Throw it. Good. Like a sharpshooter. Very good. Keep the infield solid. No defensive holes in this war.”

We batted and threw the ball around, and it was warm and sunny, and there was the smooth, happy feeling of the summer soon to come, and the tight excitement of the ball game. We wanted very much to win, both for ourselves and, more especially, for Mr. Galanter, for we had all come to like his fist-thumping sincerity. To the rabbis who taught in the Jewish parochial schools, baseball was an evil waste of time, a spawn of the potentially assimilationist English portion of the yeshiva day. But to the students of most of the parochial schools, an inter-league baseball victory had come to take on only a shade less significance than a top grade in Talmud, for it was an unquestioned mark of one’s Americanism, and to be counted a loyal American had become increasingly important to us during these last years of the war.

So Mr. Galanter stood near home plate, shouting instructions and words of encouragement, and we batted and tossed the ball around. I walked off the field for a moment to set up my eyeglasses for the game. I wore shell-rimmed glasses, and before every game I would bend the earpieces in so the glasses would stay tight on my head and not slip down the bridge of my nose when I began to sweat. I always waited until just before a game to bend down the earpieces, because, bent, they would cut into the skin over my ears, and I did not want to feel the pain a moment longer than I had to. The tops of my ears would be sore for days after every game, but better that, I thought, than the need to keep pushing my glasses up the bridge of my nose or the possibility of having them fall off suddenly during an important play.

Davey Cantor, one of the boys who acted as a replacement if a first-stringer had to leave the game, was standing near the wire screen behind home plate. He was a short boy, with a round face, dark hair, owlish glasses, and a very Semitic nose. He watched me fix my glasses.

“You’re looking good out there, Reuven,” he told me.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Everyone is looking real good.”

“It’ll be a good game.”

He stared at me through his glasses. “You think so?” he asked.

“Sure, why not?”

“You ever see them play, Reuven?”


“They’re murderers.”

“Sure,” I said.

“No, really. They’re wild.”

“You saw them play?”

“Twice. They’re murderers.”

“Everyone plays to win, Davey.”

“They don’t only play to win. They play like it’s the first of the Ten Commandments.”

I laughed. “That yeshiva?” I said. “Oh, come on, Davey.”

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Copyright 1987 by Chaim Potok

Table of Contents

Reading Group Guide

"Anyone who finds it is finding a jewel. Its themes are profound and universal."
It is the now-classic 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....

From the Paperback edition.

1. One of the central metaphors of The Chosen is combat. How does this metaphor advance the themes of the book?
2. Chaim Potok spoke often of his interest in a core-to-core culture confrontation in his books. What does this mean in The Chosen? What are the essential differences between the Hasidic and the Orthodox Jews?
3. Reb Saunders uses silence as a way of instructing and changing Danny. Why? What causes him to finally communicate with his son?
4. When Danny begins to read widely, what writer/thinker/innovator and what methodology lead him to the path he finally chooses?
5. Reb Saunders's Hasidic sect is hostile at first to the establishment of the State of Israel. What causes Reb to change his mind?
6. David Malter and Reb Saunders have different opinions about the war in Europe and the fact that 6 million Jews died in death camps. Can you explain how and why they differ?
7. Some people are puzzled by the title. What do you think The Chosen means?

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The Chosen 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 146 reviews.
Bookaholic_chick More than 1 year ago
This is by far one of my favorite books of all time. I love anything written by Chaim Potok, but this book is indeed quite special. The author gives compelling insight into the unique differences between various sects of Judaism, as well as dealing with the delicate issues of father and son relationships, self acceptance, forgiveness and courage. I highly recommend this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A beautiful story set in an Orthodox Jewish area of Brooklyn, telling the story of two teenage boys who come from very similar yet vastly different Orthodox backgrounds. The book is full of grace
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I've ever read. After reading it for a while you become enthraled in it.
clemmy More than 1 year ago
This book was forced on me by my summer reading list for English class, and I was pleasantly surprised, so much so that I have read it more than once. Two boys who practically hate each other at first become friends and have to overcome the drastic differences between their families. While they are both Jewish, there are more differences and prejudices than I thought possible. This book follows the boys from mid-teens through college. Reuven (the narrator) lives with his father (his mother died when he was much younger) while Danny (w/ father, mother, and two siblings) copes with his father expecting him to follow in the line of rabbis that all the oldest men of their family have been. Danny wants to be a psychologist, which is so not cool if you are an Hasidic Jew. Reuven is the opposite; his loving father would like him to become a mathematician or scholar, but Reuven wants to become a rabbi. The fathers are very different in that one forces while the other is content that his son has thought through his choice. It is wonderful to see two boys that are actually friends (in that they talk about the important things as well as the silly) and how they stand by each other.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read this book through many times. Everytime that I read, I find myself enjoying it more and more. This book is a great teacher about friendship, parents and dealing with hardships that come in your life. Reuven, the main character, is immersed in a world of pain and hardship. He goes through many things in the book that people can relate to. This book taught me a lot about how to deal with those things that come up, and how others deal with them. On the otherside, this book was a bit confusing. It discussed Jewish customs that I know nothing about. I could not relate to the Jewish side of the book at all. Overall, this book was very good. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you like real life novels then you¿ll like The Chosen because this book is amazing. This book will show a real life situation and a way to handle this kind of situation. This book will not only teach you but show you how Danny and Reuven ,protagonist, handled this problem with their parents and with other. This book is fabulous when you don¿t know what o do in lifetime crisis and social problems in that surround you everyday. The Chosen is also a great, contemplative, outstanding piece of reading that will explain and show how the Jewish culture is about. Learning about Jews is reverent because they believe a certain way and even act a different way, that fits what they strongly believe in. If you would love to comprehend about Jewish culture and learn more about their background and experiences of a Jew, you should read The Chosen because is every detailed. This book¿s summary would mainly be about two teenagers and their parents. These two teenagers Reuven and Danny don¿t just meet as many of met. Reuven and Danny met by a accident that occurred to Reuven Malter during a baseball game. From there on, Reuven and Danny became best friends, while both attending same college and becoming classmates. But the story doesn¿t end there, while their friendship is developing everyday more and more, Reuven and Danny¿s father don¿t agree with each other so this book explains about how Reuven and Danny started to have trouble with each other and with there parents.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel ¿The Chosen¿ by Chaim Potok is by far the best book I have ever read. I don¿t read unless I¿m forced but when I read the chosen I couldn¿t let go of the book I had to know what happened next. This story is about two Jewish boys one named Rueven Malter and the other named Danny Saunders. Both of them are having problems getting to know their own father. This is all happening during World War II. The setting is Bronx, New York. So if you like funny, sad, and suspenseful books then I strongly recommend ¿The Chosen.¿
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book and agree with most of the positive reviews here. When I read the first few pages, I had VERY high doubts. THANK GOD I KEPT READING. It's so insightful and inspiring, and just...well, like the book says at times...there's so much depth--if I even try to explain, I'll butcher it so I'll leave it at that. I now know there's a sequel, and I'm actually a bit apprehensive about reading it--only because this book is so whole, that a second part seems unnecessary to me. Ah well. I can somewhat understand how some people found it disappointing though...I s'pose it wouldn't hurt to be interested in history to read it, but there's so much more BEYOND that. It's the reader's choice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read the Chosen in my English 2 Honors class in high school. Every single student who read it before me told me the book was horrible and I would hate it. I went into it expecting it to be incredibly boring and a complete waste of time. I was surprised to find how wrong everyone else was! The Chosen was very good, although, I must warn future readers, there's a lecture by Reb Saunders (a rabbi) in the second part that's absolutely killer to get through. It drags on for pages and pages, but if you can trudge through that, it's smooth sailing! Highly recommended to all ages, although if you're not interested in history this book is not for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not much of a reader and I can honestly say I did not enjoy this book. The book seemed to move really slowly. I found myself reading and getting lost not knowing what I had read. The book did have good point. It shows that you should be yourself and do what you want in life. The book shows good conflicts between friends growing up. One major conflict of the book is when Reuven is injured in a baseball game and is almost blinded. This allows him to see the importance of his eyesight. This causes tension between him and Danny. (Danny being the one who hit the ball.) A quote that stood out to me was ¿We are commanded to study His Torah! We are commanded to sit in the light of the Presence! It is for this that we were created! . . . Not the world, but the people of Israel!¿ Reb Saunders explaining how he feels about Jews being the chosen people said this quote. I disliked this book and feel that its just not my type of book.
megaden on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This book was very well written and told the story of two boys becoming friends in a way that wasn't corny at all. I have read this book many times and each time it just gets better.
fingerpost on LibraryThing 5 days ago
A fantastic book of the son of an Hasidic Rabbi who does not want to follow in his father's footsteps, and his non-Hasidic friend, who tells the story.
kmstock on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This is one of my all-time favourite books. It is the story of two Jewish boys growing up in New York. They are from different Jewish sects, one liberal, the other orthodox, and become friends when one hurts the other in a baseball game. The best part of the story in my view is a section at the end when the father of one of the boys discusses how he tried to teach his genius son, with such a brilliant mind, how to also have a heart.
mentormom on LibraryThing 5 days ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I decided to read this book after seeing the play performed by a professional cast. The play was so stunning I decided to read the book. I wasn't disappointed. The story is about 2 boys, one a Hasidic the other an Orthodox Jew, who become friends in the 1940's. I knew very little about the Hasidim before reading this book. While reading it I started to read various articles on their life and religion which enhanced my knowledge and deepened my enjoyment of the book. It's not necessary to do this to enjoy the book but I find it helpful to get a broad understanding of things I know little about. The Chosen is a very readable book. The characters relationship to each other and how they reconcile their religions to the world and each other make this a fascinating and very enjoyable read.
Echoman More than 1 year ago
Superb novel, sheer excellence no matter which way you look at this book. This is a book I have read and re-read, the kind of novel that is increasingly more difficult to find. Very profound and moving. Treat yourself and immerse yourself in this story!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this at least once a year and find something new every time. This is the best book I've ever read and I'm thrilled to finally see an e-book edition.
mlearnhardt More than 1 year ago
My son had to read this book during the summer prior to honors english. He really did not care for the book. I do not think he could appreciate the characters and the struggles that were being depicted. I think the book is most likely a very good book but the auidience, in this case, was not appropriate.
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gHjOsLyN More than 1 year ago
Chaim Potok's novel The Chosen was first published in 1967, by Fawcett Columbine Book Company, and has been a capturing read to anyone who picks up this masterpiece. A fictional story, placed in the streets of Brooklyn, New York, of two teenagers living separate lives, accidently crossing paths to create a friendship that both will cherish forever. Set in a small community with two diverse neighborhoods - Hebrew-Jewish and Russian Hassidic Jews. Reuven Malter, the narrator in this story, is a sixteen-year-old boy who is passionate about his Jewish heritage and is pushed to become a mathematician or scientist by his father who is the rabbi of his community. Danny Saunders, a sixteen year old boy who loves math and science is expected by his father, who is the strict rabbi of the Hassidic Jews and by others around him to become the next leader of the 'tribe.' The two teenagers meet in a game of baseball where Danny hits a baseball into Reuven's eye and is hospitalized. Reuven over time begins to forgive Danny and the two become very close friends. The mood changes from anger to companionship which is the main theme throughout the novel. In this time setting the two experience what is occurring during WWII where religion is the most important article that both depend on. What made this piece very special was how it gave very patent descriptions on the different sects of Judaism. Compared to other works of its time, The Chosen displays how strong human relations are and how others can forgive each other. I enjoyed this book so much through its various emotional features and how it reveals the potential of human kindness and loyalty to others. Potok captures the very essence of forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance of others through his novel.
cowpig76 More than 1 year ago
From the moment I picked this book up, I could not put it down. It captivated me with an action packed, fast paced beginning, that continued to the very end. However, The Chosen did not fail to include any of the little details, or descriptions that truly turn text into a picture in the readers mind. Not one point was missed, and not once did I find myself questioning what was happening. Mostly, I enjoyed how in depth this book was. I found myself delving deep into my mind to comprehend what I found to be the extremely interesting, and touching points in this book. The Chosen describes the loss of friends, loved ones, and bluntly shows how cruel life can be, bringing the reader into a world of reality. Having said that, the sad moments are very well contradicted by touching moments of love, friendship, and compassion. Some points of happiness, and the way lives are turned around, can bring a person to the brink of tears. The way this story was written, from the silent rabbi father, to the genius son, can intrigue anyone into never putting the book down until it ends. After reading, as well, there are also some valuable lessons to be learned. Afterwards, you are likely to take away lessons that teach the value of love, parenting, friendship, and much, much, more. Grab this book off the shelf of your library, and I promise you will not be disappointed.