“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! . . . Not the world, but the people of Israel!”

In this passage, taken from Reb Saunders’s inflammatory speech in Chapter 7, Reb Saunders expresses his feelings about what it means for Jews to be the “Chosen People” by comparing their duties to those of non-Jews. To be a Jew, he argues, is to accept a destiny and a set of responsibilities that Jews receive by virtue of their birth. By dismissing the non-Jewish world around him, Reb Saunders implies that a truly faithful Jew should retreat to an exclusively Jewish community, immerse himself in Jewish study, and pay little attention to anything in the outside world. For Reb Saunders, “the world”—anything beyond the boundaries of his community, any literature beyond the boundaries of conservative Jewish tradition—is base. Even when world events overlap with Jewish concerns—such as the horrible discovery of the slaughter of European Jews in the Holocaust—Reb Saunders chooses to focus inward, on his own community, and on his own sense of suffering.

However, Reb Saunders’s definition of the obligations of Jews seems to shift by the end of the novel. His acceptance of Danny’s decision to become a professional psychologist suggests that he recognizes one can maintain ties with the outside world and be observant of one’s faith.