The Chosen:Same Religion, Different Faith.
2/3/04


Chaim Potok\'s novel The Chosen is the story of two boys, Reuvan Malter and Danny Saunders, who live with their fathers in Brooklyn at the end of World War II. Danny Saunders and his father, Reb, are part of the very orthodox Hasidic sect of the Jewish faith. Reuven Malter and his father, David, are followers of the Conservative sect of Judaism. While the story of the boys is more prominent in this book, the conflict between the fathers is significant as well. They definitely offset the relationship that develops amid the boys, who ignore the major religious differences between them. The fathers, however, are connected only by the relationship between their boys and are in constant disagreement with each other. Often, heated altercations arise, fueled by religious beliefs. Although the fathers are minor characters in the novel, they are important to the book; they reflect how strict religion controls people’s lives, whereas liberal religion does not, and how both can tear people apart.


Both fathers in The Chosen have professions that reveal their religion’s grasp on their lives. Reb Saunders is completely absorbed in his synagogue and faith. In the synagogue, he is an important leader and is looked up to by much of the congregation. He is very educated in the Torah and the book of biblical discussions, the Talmud. He holds many arguments about the Talmud with the men of the congregation and wins most of them, showing how well learned and respected he is. He is a Hasidic Jew and practices all of the 613 halakah commandments, said to be the direct word of God. These commandments control every aspect of his life. They allow very little contact with those of the non-Jewish faiths, they control his clothing, and they even control what he eats. As described in The Chosen:


“In the fashions of the very Orthodox, they wore small black skullcaps. Their hair was closely cropped, except for the area near their ears…which tumbled into long side curls [ear locks]…They all wore the traditional undergarment beneath their shirts [tzitzit], and the long fringes…These were the very Orthodox, and they obeyed literally the Biblical commandment And ye shall look upon it, which pertains to the fringes.” (14)


His position as a rabbi, his teachings and practices, and his beliefs are shaped by Hasidism. He believes in nothing else, studies nothing else, nor does he teach anything other than Judaism, the Torah, or the Talmud. His religion has left him no choice of profession or dress and has isolated him from the outside world.


On the other hand, David Malter is well-known and respected professor at the local university. He teaches a modern, secular curriculum that includes Math and English studies. He is an intelligent, open-minded thinker, actively concerned about the Jewish fate in the world, especially in America. He is a Conservative Jew. This sect allows him to be much more liberal in his dress, teachings, and religious practices, though he believes in the Torah just as strongly as others. His less-strict religion has allowed him to become and do whatever he wants and has allowed him to branch out in the world.


Each sect of Judaism represented in this book affects the relationship between father and son. Reb Saunders is a rabbi of his synagogue. His eldest son Danny is next in line to become a rabbi. Ascribing to very old Jewish traditions, Reb raises his son in silence. He only talks to Danny during discussions of the Talmud. Danny suffers during this silence and promises to himself that he will get away to become a psychologist. He demonstrates this by studying Sigmund Freud essays that are forbidden by Hasidism. The Saunders’ religion not only distances themselves from others but also causes distance amongst them as well. Its control prevents Danny from doing what he really wants to do.


The Malters’ Conservative religion has never controlled the relationship between them. David enjoys talking with Reuven and feels that communicating the right way to raise his son. He makes sure that there is always time for conversation. He explains to Reuven about the silence between Danny and Reb. Reuven has trouble understanding it, as he expresses here: “I remember him