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The Chosen

Chaim Potok

Chapter 7

Chapters 5–6

Chapter 8

Summary: Chapter 7

“We are commanded to study His Torah! We are commanded to sit in the light of the Presence! It is for this that we were created!”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Reuven and his father wake up early on Shabbat morning and walk to synagogue together. They return home, eat lunch, and then Reuven falls asleep thinking about the colors of Billy’s and Danny’s eyes.

Three hours later, Reuven wakes to find Danny standing over him. Danny suggests they walk over to his shul so that Reuven can meet Reb Saunders. As they walk, the boys tell each other about their families. Reuven explains he has no siblings because his mother died shortly after he was born. Danny says he has a younger sister and a younger brother. The boys then discover that they were born only two days apart. Danny also explains that his father is a great man who saved the members of his community from persecution by bringing them to America after World War I, a journey made in the face of great adversity. He also explains that Reb Saunders’ older brother vanished, so Reb Saunders inherited his father’s position. Danny notes that because his father is a tzaddik, considered a bridge between his followers and God, his congregation will follow him anywhere.

At Danny’s father’s shul, Reuven and Danny meet a crowd of black-caftaned Hasids who part like the Red Sea when Danny approaches. As the boys enter the brownstone, Danny explains that the shul is on the bottom floor and his family lives on the top two stories.

The synagogue soon fills with Hasidim who have come for the afternoon service. Two men approach Danny and ask him to resolve an argument over a passage of Talmud, which Danny interprets masterfully. Danny’s father comes downstairs, and the room is suddenly quiet. Danny introduces his friend to his father, and Reb Saunders remarks that he is interested in getting to know the son of David Malter.

Following the afternoon service, the men sit down at the table for a ritual Shabbat meal led by Reb Saunders. He concludes the meal with an impassioned talk, using Talmudic quotes from several great rabbis to argue that Jews are obligated to serve God’s will by studying Torah. It is through the study of Torah, Reb Saunders says, that God listens to mankind. Reb Saunders also uses gematriya—numerological manipulations of Hebrew words and phrases—to prove his point.

Following his talk, Reb Saunders asks Danny if he noticed any mistakes or inconsistencies in his argument. Danny replies that his father misattributed one quote. Reb Saunders then asks Danny several detailed follow-up questions, and the two launch into an extended discussion of Talmudic precepts. The assembled crowd of Hasidim is obviously pleased by Danny’s quick and sharp answers. Reuven realizes that the whole speech was one great quiz—Reb Saunders made deliberate errors to see if his son would notice and correct him.

Finally, Reb Saunders asks Danny if there were any additional mistakes. When Danny shakes his head, Reb Saunders quietly chastises him for not listening carefully and turns to Reuven, asking the same question. Reuven, terrified and astonished that he is being asked to correct a great tzaddik, tentatively points out a mistake in Reb Saunders’s gematriya. Reb Saunders and Danny, along with the entire crowd, are delighted at Reuven’s intelligence.

After the evening service, Reb Saunders praises Reuven and approves of his friendship with Danny. Danny walks Reuven part of the way home, and the boys happily discover that they both plan to study at the same Jewish college following high school.

Reuven returns home and finds that his father has been worried about him because he has been out so late. Reuven apologizes and tells his father about his experience at Reb Saunders’s shul, noting that he thought Reb Saunders’s quiz was cruel. David Malter replies that it is important to display knowledge in public, but that he finds Reb Saunders’s intentional mistakes distasteful. Mr. Malter then says he is proud of his son. He reminds Reuven not to read until his eye heals, and then they go to sleep.

Analysis: Chapter 7

Chapter 7 is a crucial turning point in The Chosen, marking Reuven’s entry into Danny Saunders’s world. Potok begins the chapter by focusing upon Reuven’s Shabbat experience with his own father, allowing us to contrast David Malter’s religious worship with Reb Saunders’s. At first, this contrast seems stark and obvious. Reb Saunders is distant towards Danny, while David Malter is open and intimate with Reuven. Reb Saunders speaks furiously and almost demagogically about religion, while earlier in the chapter, we see David Malter praying silently and fervently. Reb Saunders preaches that the world is contaminated and implies that devout believers must remove themselves from all earthly concerns. In contrast, at the Malter’s apartment, the litany of pictures and maps on the wall imply a commitment to and respect for earthly concerns.

However, upon closer inspection, there are many similarities between the two fathers. Both are devoutly committed to religion, and both share a deep, profound knowledge of Jewish law. Reuven is careful to point out that the Talmudic discussion between Danny and Reb Saunders isn’t about showing off or impressing others with their brilliant arguments. Instead, Reuven says, “they seemed more interested in. . .straightforward knowledge.” That David Malter supports Reb Saunder’s public quizzes goes against our expectations and drives home the similarities between Reuven and Danny’s fathers. David Malter’s reaction to Reuven’s story reminds us that Danny and Reuven’s situations are not as different as they appear.

Several events in Chapter 7 enhance our understanding of other aspects of the novel. During Reb Saunder’s quiz, Reuven sees Danny’s face curl into the same vicious grin that Reuven saw at the softball game. Reuven is frightened, because he knows Danny makes this expression when he has the urge to kill someone. Danny’s grimace recalls the anger and competitiveness of the softball game and connects his violent behavior at the game with his resentment toward his father. Another important revelation occurs when Reb Saunders mentions that the gematriya for chai, a significant Hebrew word meaning “life,” is eighteen. We realize that The Chosen is divided into eighteen chapters in allusion to the numerical value of this important Hebrew word. Also, when Danny mentions that Reb Saunders became tzaddik because Reb Saunders’s older brother abandoned the lineage, we see that Danny’s own desire to abandon his traditional duty in order to study psychology is not new to his family. Danny’s situation parallels the situation his uncle’s a generation before.

At one point, Reb Saunders passionately declares, “It is not the world that is commanded to study Torah, but the people of Israel!” This statement underscores Reb Saunders’s belief in a dichotomy between the outside world and Jewish tradition. On a deeper level, Reb Saunders’s statement refers to the novel’s title, interpreting what it means to be a member of the “Chosen People.” Reb Saunders argues that Jews, by virtue of their birth, must bear unique burdens that give privilege as well as obligation. This definition of “chosen” implies a sense of separation from the outside world, but also a sense of entitlement. Both Reuven and Danny struggle to reconcile their unique obligations with their feelings of obligation to the outside world.

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