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The Chosen

Chaim Potok

Chapters 5–6

Chapter 4

Chapter 7

Summary: Chapter 5

Reuven and his father take a cab home from the hospital back to their brownstone apartment on a street off of Lee Avenue. When Reuven enters the house, he can smell the delicious chicken soup that Manya, their Russian housekeeper, has prepared for them. Manya greets Reuven warmly.

After lunch, Reuven walks through his apartment as if seeing it for the first time. First, he walks through the hallway, which is lined with pictures of great Zionists from the past century: Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism; Chaim Nachman Bialik, a great Hebrew poet and writer; and Chaim Weizmann, a Zionist leader who eventually becomes the first president of Israel. Next, Reuven surveys his own room, where New York Times war maps line the wall alongside pictures of Roosevelt and Einstein. He then enters his father’s study, which is lined from floor to ceiling with bookcases.

Reuven’s father is working at his typewriter so Reuven exits quickly, not wanting to disturb him. In the living room, Reuven looks through the window, watching the sunlight. He remembers that Danny has promised to visit him the following day. Lying on the lounge chair on the back porch, Reuven thinks about Danny and about all that has changed since the softball game.

Summary: Chapter 6

That night, after Shabbat dinner, Reuven sits at the kitchen table with his father, who sips tea and answers Reuven’s questions about Danny. Mr. Malter warns Reuven that he will begin his explanation far back in history, with a description of the rise of Hasidism in the eighteenth century. In the seventeenth century, David Malter explains, Polish Jews were persecuted by Polish peasants and by members of the Greek Orthodox Church. As a result of the anti-Semitism, someone pretending to be a messiah deceived them. Serious Jewish faith in Poland was replaced by a superficial belief in magic and superstition. A leader named the Ba’al Shem Tov—The Kind or Good Master of the Name—emerged into this spiritual void with a new vision of Judaism, and Hasidism was born.

Ba’al Shem Tov studied the Jewish mystical texts of the Kabbalah, and downplayed the study of Jewish legal texts in favor of spirituality and prayer. Every Hasidic community was led by a tzaddik, a righteous person who served as a superhuman link between the community and God. The Hasidim lived shut off from the rest of the world and passed down the position of tzaddik from father to son. Despite opposition from the Mitnagdim—the intellectual opponents of Hasidism—the movement flourished, and its traditions were passed down through the generations. David Malter points out that the clothes the Hasidim wear today are the same style they wore in Poland hundreds of years ago, and that they hold many unique beliefs, such as the belief that Hasidic leaders need to bear the suffering of the entire Jewish People. Reuven’s explains that Danny is next in line to inherit his father’s great Hasidic dynasty, with all its traditions and customs.

Mr. Malter says that because Danny is so brilliant, he is not satisfied with Jewish texts alone but voraciously consumes all types of literature. In fact, Danny reminds Mr. Malter of Solomon Maimon, an eighteenth-century Jew who forsook his faith to pursue secular knowledge. Mr. Malter encourages Reuven to become friends with Danny, then apologizes for his long lecture. Reuven tells his father how different the world looks to him now, as a result of only the last five days. Reuven gets up to go to bed, leaving his father to sip his tea pensively at the kitchen table.

Analysis: Chapters 5–6

Potok unconventionally waits until the middle of the novel to provide us with descriptions of the world of the characters. Up to this point, The Chosen has consisted primarily of conversations, with brief interludes for Reuven’s reflections. It therefore seems strange that Reuven gives us a long, detailed account of his apartment, a place he has lived his entire life. But Reuven’s description emphasizes the way his time in the hospital has changed his way of understanding the world as well as his opinion of Danny. Upon his return, Reuven remarks that the hydrangea bush, something he had never really noticed, “seemed suddenly luminous and alive.” Later, he comments that after his five days in the hospital, “the world around seemed sharpened now and pulsing with life.” Reuven’s encounter with suffering has taught him to appreciate his own life more and has sharpened his perception of the world as a result.

Reuven’s description of his apartment reveals the Malter household’s dual emphasis on religion and modern intellectualism. Jewish culture runs strong through the house, from the food Reuven eats for lunch to the portraits of Zionists that hang on the wall. Yet there is an even stronger emphasis on intellectualism and current events, as shown in the war maps on the wall, the picture of Albert Einstein, and David Malter’s massive, book-lined study. All of these items illustrate a love of learning and a commitment to connecting to the world that lies beyond the boundaries of strict Jewish tradition.

David Malter’s lecture in Chapter 6 reinforces his commitment to intellectual engagement. Throughout his lengthy speech, Reuven’s father displays patience, love, respect, and concern for his son, apologizing for droning on and making sure that Reuven follows his explanations. As Mr. Malter speaks, he reveals his breadth of knowledge as well as Reuven’s enthusiasm for learning. Indirectly, Mr. Malter’s lesson to Reuven underscores the power and importance of communication between father and son, an aspect lacking in Danny’s relationship with his father.

In general, David Malter’s explanation of Hasidism is important to our understanding of Danny’s relationship with his father. Mr. Malter’s comment about the difficulties of being a tzaddik, or buffer, in a community foreshadows the consequences of Reuven’s future involvement with Danny and Reb Saunders. David Malter’s speech demonstrates that no single, monolithic Jewish tradition exists. Rather, many different systems of belief are subsumed under the category of “Jewish.” These differing groups often are bitterly opposed to one another, particularly when it comes to the issues of Jewish heritage, history, and belief.

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