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.