Summary: Chapter 15

In March, David Malter returns from the hospital and Reuven is elated to have his father home. At school, Rav Gershenson now calls on him regularly, and Reuven is always ready with expert answers. Danny continues to ignore Reuven, and Reuven finally comes to accept Danny’s silence.

As fighting in Palestine increases, Reuven and his Zionist classmates intensify their efforts, even volunteering to load supply trucks with military gear to be shipped overseas. In April, David Malter wistfully tells Reuven that he had been selected to be a delegate at the Zionist General Council in Palestine the coming summer. However, following his heart attack, he no longer will be able to attend. In May, the State of Israel is born, and Reuven and his father weep with joy. The Arabs immediately attack the young nation, and as they invade, David Malter again becomes distracted and unsettled. In June, the students at Hirsch learn that a recent Hirsch graduate was killed during the fighting. The college holds a memorial assembly, and all anti-Zionist activity at Hirsch immediately ceases.

Reuven receives straight A’s for his sophomore year, passes a quiet July in sweltering New York, and a calm August with his father at their cottage. In September, he begins his third year at college and chooses philosophy as his major. David Malter gradually resumes his teaching, and then, a few months later, his Zionist activities. That spring, after Israel has secured the upper hand, Reb Saunders’s anti-Zionist activities appear to end. Soon after, Danny approaches Reuven in the lunchroom, and, with a smile on his face, asks for Reuven’s help with math.

Summary: Chapter 16

After not speaking for more than two years, Reuven and Danny talk about the silence that existed between them. Reuven asks Danny how he can possibly bear the silence between him and his father, and Danny replies that he has learned to live with it. Reuven also expresses his dislike for Reb Saunders and remarks that Danny has lost weight. Danny says that his eyes have been bothering him. That night, Reuven discusses Reb Saunders’s imposed silence with his father. David Malter cryptically remarks, “What a price to pay for a soul,” but refuses to explain any further.

Danny and Reuven resume their regular weekday meetings, and also begin having dazzling disputes in class that please Rav Gershenson. Outside of class, Danny reveals that he resigned himself to the experimental methods of psychology and has begun to see the shortcomings in Freud’s work. Nevertheless, he still does not want to become an experimental psychologist. Instead, he has decided to go into clinical psychology, which combines experimental hypotheses with therapeutic work with human patients. Also, Danny has applied to doctoral programs in psychology. He informs Reuven that he is waiting until the day of his smicha—his Rabbinic ordination—to break the news to his father.

That June, Reuven attends Danny’s sister’s wedding and sees Reb Saunders for the first time in more than two years. Since Reuven last saw him, Danny’s father appears to have aged a great deal. Due to the crowd of people at the wedding, Reuven is unable to speak to Reb Saunders, but he does not mind the lack of communication with the rabbi, whom he still dislikes intensely. Later that summer, in July, Reuven visits Danny’s house and goes up to Reb Saunders’s study. Danny’s father says he is very happy to see Reuven and asks why he has not been coming over on Saturday afternoons to study Talmud. Reuven answers that he has been studying with his own father, but Reb Saunders asks him if he could come over one Saturday anyway. Though Reuven says he will try, he has no intention of honoring Reb Saunders’s request. After Reb Saunders says nothing about Zionism or about the silence he imposed between Danny and Reuven, Reuven finds he likes the old man even less than before.

Analysis: Chapters 15–16

Chapter 15 is brief and serves mostly to advance the plot. We learn about the creation of the State of Israel, the collapse of the tension over Zionism at Hirsch, and the resumption of Danny and Reuven’s friendship. Once again, we see a relationship between personal and historical events. Tension only disappears at Hirsch after the fighting in Israel results in the death of a Hirsch alumnus. Throughout the entire novel, Potok carefully shows how the events that affect individual Jewish characters are inseparable from the larger events in Jewish history. The fighting in Israel touches the Jewish students’ lives, and it underscores the fact that tradition and modernity will always be forced into contact and conflict with one another.

It is important to note that Reuven imposes silence on Reb Saunders, refusing to listen to the old man or to come over for Shabbat. Again, we see that silence means many different things in the novel; it is not only a cruel punishment inflicted by Reb Saunders.

When David Malter refuses to explain Reb Saunders’s behavior to Reuven, he too mimics Reb Saunders’s silent way of interacting with his son. During this moment of refusal, Reuven notes that his father’s “eyes were dark.” This description has two symbolic meanings. By denying his son information, David Malter is clouding his son’s vision. From this point of view, his dark eyes reflect the darkness and the lack of perspective that he is imposing on Reuven. Also, Reuven’s description shows that eyes are not just a tool for receiving information, but also a tool for displaying information. Reuven’s father’s eyes here reflect his internal state. It is a complex moment that implies that vision is a two-way process of both sending and receiving information.

Once Danny and Reuven resume their friendship, the lessons they have learned during their time spent apart become clearer. For example, even though Reuven continues to help Danny with math, something Danny would not be able to grasp on his own, Reuven tells Danny “it [is] about time he helped himself with graphs.” During the boys’ period of isolation, Reuven learned that his friendship with Danny had enabled him to be a stronger person, and he realized he was able to help himself. At the same time, we also are reminded of other ways in which Danny and Reuven give one another things that each would not be able to get on his own. In a touching exchange, Danny says to Reuven that he can’t believe Reuven is going to be a rabbi, and Reuven responds that he can’t believe Danny is going to be a psychologist. Potok here points out the almost yin-yang relationship between Danny and Reuven. In many ways, each is the opposite of the other, yet they also fit together perfectly.