The Chosen

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A 1967 coming of age story by Chaim Potok set in late-forties New York.

The story features a friendship between two Jewish boys from different sects. One is Danny Saunders the heir to the Rabbinate of an Ultra Orthodox congregation of Russian immigrants. The other is Reuven Malter who is from a more moderate and Americanized but still religious family. His father is a noted intellectual and Zionist activist. Danny is being subjected to a curious form of training called "raising in silence" which entails being shunned by one's own father, an attempt to teach him "what it is to suffer" to prepare him to be a Rebbe (kind of like a Rabbi but with more mystic and authoritative, almost priestly connotations). Reuven befriends him in his loneliness and they share the struggles of faith and the normal difficulties of teens as well as the rivalry between their two factions. This book deals with themes like the struggle between family loyalty and friendship and the difficulties of faith amid modernity. It gives many insights into Jewish culture and is popular among gentiles as well as Jews in part because it has many a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.

Potok later wrote a sequel called The Promise. Not to be confused with the first book of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon, which has the exact same title.

Tropes used in The Chosen include:

  • A Friend in Need: Reuven befriends Danny in his loneliness. This, of course, forces him to accept the fate of being an Iron Woobie.
  • Arab-Israeli Conflict: As seen from New York.
  • Berserk Button: The idea of a secular Jewish state to Reb Suanders.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Very much on Rebbe Saunder's mind, and also on Danny's - he is the heir and is never allowed to forget it.
  • Culture Clash
  • Dysfunctional Family: Arguably the Saunders - see previous entry on The Chains of Commanding.
  • Film of the Book: A film was made in 1981.
  • Eye Scream: Reuven gets a baseball to the glasses... Also, Tony Savo, who loses an eye to an unspecified injury.
  • Fired Teacher: Reuven's dad taught at a Jewish high school but left because of a factional dispute.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Danny and Reuven meet at an unusually intense baseball game.
  • Gentle Giant : A minor character is a friendly Italian-american club fighter who berths next to Reuven in the hospital.
  • Good Is Old-Fashioned: Danny's people think this
  • Good Parents: Reuven's father.
  • Good Shepherd: Rebbe Saunders.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Danny and Reuven, unless you're one of the readers who saw Ho Yay.
    • Of course both were practicing Jews and the Torah kind of has a word on that score, Danny was ultra-orthodox and Reuven was planning to be a rabbi, and in any case both are shown having female love interests in the sequel, The Promise. Aside from that, the book was written at a time when that sort of thing was hardly talked about. In any case it is possible to emotionalize friendship without it ceasing to be friendship.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Not exactly. Danny most certainly does want to be a Jewish smart guy, but he doesn't want to be a Rebbe.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Rebbe Saunders is desperate to prevent this.
  • Insufferable Genius: Rebbe Saunder's brother had been this, which is why he was desperate to prevent his son from becoming this, and thus becoming unfit to be a Rebbe. (He didn't mind the "genius" part, of course. Just the "insufferable".)
  • Intelligible Unintelligible: Danny and his father only communicate through various substitutes like Rabbinical studies or using Reuven as intermediary or simply the vague Silent Bob feeling that comes from living together.
  • Irony: Reuven actually does want to be a Rabbi.
  • Jews Love to Argue
  • Jewish and Nerdy: All the main characters.
  • Jewish Mother: Actually a Jewish Father, Rebbe Saunders, but he is VERY demanding.
  • Magnetic Hero: Rebbe Saunders. He has a forceful personality. Also the Backstory tells that when in Russia he led his congregation through a time of chaos and took them to safety in America which shows that he has Hidden Depths of heroic leadership.
  • New York City
  • Odd Friendship
  • Old Master: Rebbe Saunders, in a rabbinical sense rather then a martial arts sense but has a similar sort of personality.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Reuven's father. Reuven is luckier in this respect.
  • Patriotic Fervor : Reuven's father.
  • Preacher Man: Rabbi Man that is. Rebbe Saunders.
  • Replacement Sibling: In the end Danny's brother became the heir, leaving him to become a therapist.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Or reluctant Rebbe; Danny
  • Seven Deadly Sins: Specifically Pride. The reason for the raising in silence is that Rebbe Saunders is afraid that Danny's intellectual prowess will make him disdain others the way his brother once had. This is successfully prevented, and Danny becomes "a righteous man".
  • The Smart Guy: Practically everyone, but especially Danny.
  • Stern Teacher: Rebbe Saunders. Excruciatingly so.
    • Also one or two of the faculty at the college Reuven and Danny go to.
  • So Proud of You: in a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, Rebbe Saunders tells Danny this because, even if he won't be a Rebbe, he has proven to be a righteous man.
  • Subculture: Judaism is a larger-world example, but Hasidism which is a subculture of a subculture, and a more visible example of the trope in the book, as the Gentile world hardly factors into the plot of the first book at all.
  • Teen Genius: Danny. Who memorized Ivanhoe, reads Freud as a teenager, and does all this while studying a rigorous quota of the Talmud every day.
  • The Dutiful Son: Danny. Though in the end he takes a different path from what was intended.
    • His loyalty to his father, though, makes him accept the fate of being an Iron Woobie without rebelling.
  • The Patriarch: Rebbe Saunders
  • The Talmud: Everybody major character is skilled with it and it figures prominently. This is after all a book written by a Rabbi.
  • Training from Hell: Raising in Silence.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Rebbe Saunders.
  • What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic : This is Chaim Potok. There's always something symbolic.
  • When You Snatch the Pebble : Danny's father deliberately makes errors in front of the whole congregation in a homily on Rabbinic lore to see if Danny can catch it. He usually does. On one occasion it is Reuven that catches it proving that he is also a Smart Guy . Danny tells Reuven that his father will stop planting the mistakes when he starts studying under Rav Gershonson.
  • Write What You Know: What do you thinka Rabbi is going to write about?
  • World War II: From the Home Front.