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The Chosen

Chaim Potok

Chapter 17

Chapters 15–16

Chapter 18

Summary: Chapter 17

In the fall, Reuven and Danny begin their final year of college. One day, Reuven makes what he thinks is an innocent joke about hearing silence. Danny responds that Reuven is being more insightful than he realizes. Danny explains that he has begun to hear silence—he listens to it and hears it talking to him. He also tells Reuven that he cannot start dating because a wife has already been chosen for him.

Reuven attends Levi Saunders’s Bar Mitzvah in October. The next day, Levi becomes violently ill and is taken to the hospital. Reuven tells his father about Levi’s illness. He also reveals to his father that Danny is panicking about the illness because he has been relying on his brother to take over the dynasty. David Malter encourages Reuven to speak with Danny about how he plans to break this news to his father. David Malter also enigmatically reveals more about the custom of raising a child in silence, saying it is an old Hasidic tradition that is used to teach children compassion. But again, he refuses to give Reuven any specific information.

The following week, when Danny tells Reuven that he is applying to Harvard, Berkeley, and Columbia for a fellowship in psychology, Reuven urges him to figure out how he will tell his father. Danny tries to brush aside Reuven’s concerns, but soon realizes that his father will inevitably see the mail from the schools to which he has applied. He becomes panicked, and Reuven urges Danny to come over and talk to David Malter. That evening, Reuven’s father cautions Danny that he must carefully consider all that his decision entails, including breaking off his pre-arranged marriage. He also warns Danny that he must thoughtfully plan exactly what he will say to Reb Saunders on the day of the confrontation. Before Danny leaves, David Malter asks him if he can, in fact, hear silence. Danny replies that he can, and asks Reuven’s father if he understands the way his father has raised him. David Malter refuses to explain the matter to either Danny or Reuven, saying it is a private matter between Danny and his father.

Danny receives acceptance letters from all three schools he applied to. Though Reb Saunders has obviously seen the return addresses on the envelopes, he has not approached Danny about them. Danny decides to go to Columbia, but he is still too afraid to broach the subject with his father. While discussing his dilemma with Reuven, Danny mentions that Reb Saunders has been asking again why Reuven has not come over for a Shabbat Talmud session.

In the months that follow, Reb Saunders, through Danny, continues to drop hints that he would like Reuven to come over some Shabbat afternoon. Because of his dislike for the rabbi, Reuven continues to ignore the requests. Later that spring, Danny tells Reuven that Reb Saunders has made the special request that Reuven come over on the first or second day of Passover. That night, Reuven tells his father that Reb Saunders has been asking to see him. David Malter becomes quite angry with his son, saying he should speak with Reb Saunders if Reb Saunders wishes him to do so. He points out that Reb Saunders wants to use Reuven to talk to Danny. Reuven quickly calls Danny and tells him he will come over the following Sunday, during Passover.

Analysis: Chapter 17

Reb Saunders’s silence continues to be the central mystery of The Chosen. Potok uses Reb Saunders’s silence as a literary device that allows us to empathize with both Reuven and Danny. By not explaining the meaning of Reb Saunders’s silence, the novel imposes a kind of silence on the reader. Because we are confused and frustrated about the meaning of silence, we can better understand Reuven and Danny’s frustration with Reb Saunders’s mysterious method of parenting.

There are many other instances of silence within the novel, which reinforce the complexity and subtlety of the relationship between silence and communication. When Danny reveals that he has learned to hear silence, he strengthens the idea of silence as a means of communication. Danny’s paradoxical statement perplexes Reuven, because it implies that a lack of sound need not entail a lack of knowledge and information. Danny’s statement shows us that silence is a complex concept, that it can have form and function, and that it can affect a person as much as words.

Furthermore, in this chapter, David Malter continues the silence he has been imposing on Reuven. Leaving Reuven bewildered, he again refuses to explain Reb Saunders’s behavior. At the end of the chapter, Reuven realizes that by refusing to visit the Saunders household, he himself has been imposing a silence upon Reb Saunders. Reuven has been preventing Reb Saunders from communicating with Danny the only way he is able to, through Reuven.

The conversation between Danny and David Malter at the Malter’s apartment is the first time since Reuven’s hospitalization that all three have had a conversation in the same room. This interaction disrupts the binary relationships that Potok has carefully set up over the course of the novel. Up to this point, David Malter and Reuven have been a pair, set in opposition to the other father-son pair, Danny and Reb Saunders. Danny and Reuven are also a pair, set in opposition to the figures of David Malter and Reb Saunders. Here, the boundaries between the pairs collapse as Danny—for the first time since Reuven’s hospitalization—talks directly with Reuven’s father. This collapse in the book’s boundaries foreshadows the crucial change that occurs in the following chapter, during the book’s climax.

David Malter reveals a surprising facet of his character during his conversation with Danny. As he talks to Danny about silence, his response reflects astonishment at—perhaps even respect for—Danny’s ability. David Malter tells Danny that Danny’s father will want him to raise his own children in same way. David Malter’s response to Danny’s decision has a different tone than the disgust he displayed earlier, when he could not understand why the Hasidim felt like they had to carry the burdens of the world. As we shall see in the coming chapter, David Malter’s opinions of Hasidism are complex and differ from how they first appeared.

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