The Chosen

by: Chaim Potok

Chapter 4

Over the course of Reuven and Danny’s long conversation, we see that the two boys have much in common. They share a ravenous intellectual curiosity, they both study Talmud diligently, they both evidence a deep commitment to and respect for Jewish tradition, they are both taught by David Malter, and they were even born in the same hospital. More important, we see how they complement each other: Danny is interested in science and the humanities, while Reuven’s strength is in mathematics. Danny is delighted to learn that Reuven knows so much about a subject with which he is unfamiliar because he sees that Reuven is an intellectual equal who can teach him about things he cannot learn on his own. Throughout The Chosen, all the characters hunger for knowledge, and Danny’s excitement over Reuven’s ability to teach him foreshadows the mutually beneficial role the boys will play in each other’s life. Each will teach and be taught by the other.

The epigraph of Book One of The Chosen is a quotation from Proverbs. It reads, “I was a son to my father. . . . And he taught me and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast my words. . . .’” This quotation emphasizes the importance of teaching imparted by a father to a son, and it is in his relationship to his father that Reuven’s situation differs most strikingly from Danny’s. Whereas Reuven’s father speaks to Reuven freely about all subjects, Reb Saunders only teaches Danny about Jewish law and custom. Reb Saunders attempts to restrict his son’s education to Hasidic customs and precepts, reflecting a small-minded and limited worldview in which such topics are the only ones worth learning.

Reb Saunders’s silence seems unusually cruel and inexplicable, and his lack of non-liturgical interaction seems to imply a fundamental distance or coldness in his relationship with Danny. But in this chapter, Potok hints that silence doesn’t always imply coldness and distance when, after Danny reveals his doubts about God’s will and Reuven responds, the two boys “[sit] in silence a long time. It was a warm silence, though, not in the least bit awkward.” This brief passage foreshadows the multifaceted role silence plays later in the novel.

When Reuven says to Danny, “You look like a Hasid, but you don’t sound like one,” he shows that one’s senses can contradict and complement one another, each offering insight into the world that the others lack. Although Reuven’s eye heals completely, his experience in the hospital teaches him how fragile his vision is, both literally (in terms of the injury to his eye) and figuratively (in terms of his misperceptions about Danny). By listening to Danny, Reuven learns aspects of his friend that his eyes could never see.