The narrator of the novel and one of its two protagonists. Reuven is a traditional Orthodox Jew who lives with his father in a brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. He observes the Ten Commandments and attends a Jewish parochial school, or yeshiva, where his father teaches. He is an intelligent, conscientious, and popular boy, talented in softball, math, and Talmud study. The Chosen is primarily the story of his long and sometimes complicated friendship with Danny Saunders. As Reuven and Danny struggle toward adulthood during the tumultuous end of World War II and creation of the modern State of Israel, Reuven examines his understanding of religion, culture, and spirituality.
The novel’s other protagonist. Danny is the son of Reb Saunders and heir apparent to his father’s Hasidic dynasty. He is a brilliant scholar with a photographic memory and a deep interest in Freud and psychoanalysis. Danny attends his father’s Hasidic yeshiva, but he reads secular books in secret at the public library. He is torn between his duty to his father and his own ideas about how to live his life. As the heir to a Hasidic dynasty, he feels an obligation to remain within his cloistered, extremely conservative Jewish community. At the same time, he longs to study intellectual ideas in the outside world.
A traditional Orthodox Jew and a teacher, scholar, writer, and humanitarian. Mr. Malter raises his son, Reuven, to be an ethical, caring, and intellectually honest young man, well-versed in both Judaic and secular studies. Mr. Malter is notorious within the Hasidic community for his controversial Biblical scholarship and his outspoken support of Zionism. His health deteriorates as the novel progresses due to his tireless hard work on behalf of the Zionist movement. He wants Reuven to become a mathematics professor, but once he realizes his son is dedicated to becoming a rabbi, he fully supports Reuven’s decision. Throughout the book, he encourages the intellectual curiosity of both his son and Danny Saunders.
The pious and zealous patriarch of a Hasidic dynasty. Reb Saunders’s home is also the center of study and prayer for his followers, who join him at his table every Shabbat. Reb Saunders is a wise, learned, and deeply religious sage who raises Danny in silence, speaking to him only when discussing the Talmud. At the end of the novel, he reveals that he raised Danny in silence in order to teach him to have compassion for others. Reb Saunders is fervently committed to his strict and limited Hasidic worldview, and he imposes his views on everyone around him.
Danny’s sickly younger brother. Unlike Danny, Levi is not raised in silence. Danny hopes that Levi will take over his father’s dynasty so that Danny can study psychology instead.
The gym instructor at Reuven’s yeshiva. Mr. Galanter leads Reuven’s high school softball team and brings Reuven to the hospital after his eye injury. He speaks to his team using military metaphors, and the boys wonder why he is not fighting in World War II. Mr. Galanter later tells Reuven that he “couldn’t make it as a soldier,” but he never elaborates.
An Orthodox rabbi and Danny and Reuven’s teacher in the highest-level Talmud class at the Hirsch Seminary and College. To Reuven’s surprise, Rav Gershenson is familiar with David Malter’s Talmudic criticism, and he considers Mr. Malter a great scholar.
The chairman of the psychology department at the Hirsch Seminary and College. Professor Appleman’s class frustrates Danny at first, because Appleman critiques Freud’s methods and focuses on experimental psychology. However, after Danny and Appleman discuss their differences, Danny comes to respect Appleman and his methodology.
The loving Russian housekeeper who cooks and cleans the Malters’ apartment.
A patient who occupies one of the hospital beds next to Reuven. Tony Savo’s speech, which he peppers with boxing terms, reflects his former career as a professional prizefighter. Reuven and Mr. Savo become friends, and he warns Reuven to beware of religious fanatics like Danny. Mr. Savo had to have his right eye surgically removed.
A young boy who sleeps in the hospital bed on the opposite side of Reuven from Mr. Savo. Billy became blind after a car accident and is in the hospital in preparation for an operation to restore his sight. Reuven later learns that the operation is unsuccessful.
Billy Merrit’s father. He was the driver in the car accident that resulted in his wife’s death and Billy’s blindness.
The doctor who operates on Reuven’s eye at Brooklyn Memorial Hospital.
A sickly six-year-old boy Reuven meets while in Brooklyn Memorial Hospital. Mickey has lived most of his life in the hospital due to a strange stomach condition.
Reuven’s friend and softball teammate. Sidney is a likeable and athletic boy.
Reuven’s timid friend and softball teammate. At Hirsch College, Davey is the student who informs Reuven about FDR’s death.
Danny’s burly Hasidic classmate and softball teammate.
A kindly yet strict nurse at Brooklyn Memorial Hospital.
A young Polish Jew who lived in the second half of the eighteenth century. Solomon Maimon was a ravenously intelligent student who studied non-Jewish literature after the Talmud could not satisfy his hunger for knowledge. As a result of his heresy, he died rootless and alone. In Chapter 6, David Malter says that Danny Saunders reminds him of Solomon Maimon.