The Chosen

by: Chaim Potok

Themes

Main ideas Themes

However, though Danny enjoys the Jewish tradition, the obligations he has as a result of his family’s Hasidic culture encumber him greatly. Like his religion, Danny’s culture and its values were not something Danny chose, but something chosen for him. By virtue of his status as first-born male, he is chosen to inherit his father’s position. Perhaps in another time and place, this obligation would not so upset Danny. But, as Reb Saunders himself acknowledges in The Chosen’s final chapter, modern America is a land of opportunity and choices. As an American, Danny does not have to passively accept the destiny that was chosen for him; he can actively choose what he wants to do with his life. Therefore, even though Danny does not rebel against his religion, the conflict between Danny and his father is a conflict between accepting what has been chosen and choosing one’s own path.

Reb Saunders also struggles with the concept of choice. He chooses to raise Danny in silence, even though he understands that doing so in America will probably drive Danny away from his Hasidic roots. Nevertheless, Reb Saunders believes it is more important for Danny to cultivate his soul than for him to continue the family legacy. At the same time, the method Reb Saunders chooses for Danny is the one that was also chosen for him. Reb Saunders only knows the tradition in which he was raised. He has chosen to raise Danny to be a fuller human being, but does not know how to do so without forgoing a fuller, closer relationship with his son.

Throughout the book, all the characters struggle with the tension between accepting what has been chosen and choosing one’s own path. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, privileges and obligations. Potok does not imply that actively making a choice is better than passively accepting what has been chosen. Rather, he stresses the value of both active engagement and passive reception.