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The Chosen by Chaim Potok

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Courtney McNeill

on 6 April 2016

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Transcript of The Chosen by Chaim Potok

The tensions between tradition and modern American life is a frequent theme in Jewish literature and, more broadly, within American immigrant literature.
America was affected greatly by WWII. Men were being drafted from every home. Young men or teens that were too young to go to war were volunteering and lying about their age to protect their country. In schools there was a larger focus on physical fitness and war preparation. Even women were doing their part in ways such as sewing clothes. The country was slowly pulling itself out of the Great Depression, mostly due to the economic stimulation of the war. America took a big blow when Franklin D. Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage while he was in office. Harry S. Truman was thrown into office immediately. This was a rough time for America to lose a very popular leader.
Modern Satire
New York
Adam, Savannah, Anna, Treece, and Courtney
The Chosen
Literary Terms
Literary Terms
Chaim Potok
The setting of the novel was New York during the 1940's. During this time period, there were many issues both at home and in the world.

Some main events were:
June 6, 1944
- British and US troops land on the beaches of Normandy France, opening a "Second Front" against the Germans.
June 25, 1944
- Anglo-American forces break out of the Normandy beachhead and race eastward towards Paris.
August 20-25, 1944
- Allied troops reach Paris. On
August 25
, free French forces, supported by allied troops, enter the French capital. By September, the Allies reach the German border; by December, virtually all of France, most of Belgium and part of Netherlands are liberated.
September 12, 1944
- Finland leaves Axis powers.
December 16, 1944
- Germans launch final offense in the west known as the Battle of the Bulge, in attempt to re-conquer Belgium and split Allied forces along the German border. By January 1, 1945 Germans are in retreat.

The holocaust was also happening during this time. Thousands of people that were Jewish, some people of Polish heritage, Gypsies, mentally and physically handicapped people, and homosexuals were discriminated against and either placed in concentration camps or killed in ways that were completely inhumane and unjustifiable.

The Chosen, published in 1967, is Potok's first published novel. Following its publication, Potok continued his investigation into the dilemmas of living simultaneously in a Jewish culture and a secular culture in his novels
The Promise
(1969) and
My Name Is Asher Lev
(1972). Potok has received numerous awards, such as the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for
The Chosen
Objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Eyes and Eyeglasses
Perception of the world and of oneself
After injuring his eye, Rueven developes a better appreciation of his eyesight.
Through Rueven and Danny`s friendship, Rueven works to bring Danny beyond his Hasidic community.
Danny develops an increased awareness of the world outside of his community and hist eyes grow weary and he begins to wear glasses.
Symbolizes the importance of perception, and the way reciprocity can improve one`s perception.
Examples Continued:
The Talmud
Series of commentaries by rabbis
Throughout the novel there is a active engagement in in studying, challenging of the text, and resolve conflicting points.
The emphasis on Talmudic study symbolizes the importance of actively engaging tradition and pursuing knowledge in order to attain a unique and personal interpretation of Judaism and the world in general.
The Importance of Parallels
Parallel relationships that fulfill similar roles. ex) David Malter and Rav Gershenson parallel each other because in David Malter’s absence, Rav Gershenson becomes Reuven’s wise instructor.
Parallel characters that complement one another through knowledge. ex) Danny introduces Reuven to his larger-scale method of analyzing Talmud, while Reuven teaches Danny patience and open-mindedness.
Contrasting characters. ex) while David Malter and Reb Saunders are both fathers and religious scholars, they have different beliefs about parenting and religious tolerance.
The use of parallels makes us aware of how important relationships are in Potok’s world.
A figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared.
"My father and I ate without talking, while Manya hovered over us like a protective bear, and afterwards my father went into his study and I walked slowly through the apartment." (p. 72)
"You sleep like a baby." (p. 85)
"His frustration over it went up and down like a barometer, the climate being the extent to which he was able to comprehend and resolve whatever mathematical problem preoccupied him at any given moment." (p.167)
Silence as a Path to the Soul
Potok often inserts the word “silence” in the text, leaving us to figure out its meaning. ex) Ch. 4: Reuven notes that a “warm silence, … not in the least bit awkward” passes between him and Danny. At first, this use of the word “silence” seems unrelated to the mysterious silence between Danny and his father, but we later learn that silence can sometimes be a form of communication.
Reb Saunders reveals his reasons for his silence toward Danny in Chapter 18. Through his silence towards his son, Reb Saunders developes other senses of perception, making him more mature.
Danny’s experience with silence parallels Reuven’s experience with blindness, forcing him to turn inward, and thus develop a better sense of his soul, a greater empathy for others, and a better sense of the world and his role in it.
Literary Terms
A deliberate exaggeration used for effect.
"How could President Roosevelt die? I had never even thought of him as being mortal." (p. 138)
"The world kills us, he said quietly." (p. 140)
"How the world drinks our blood, Reb Saunders said." (p.167)
Literary Terms
A figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.
"That`s just what I need now. A kick in the pants from my best friend." (p. 164)
"He said he admired my knowledge of Freud but that in science no one was God, not even Einstein." (p. 166)
"In the lunchroom one day, one of the Hasidim accused a member of the Revisionist youth group of being worse that Hitler" (p.168)
Potok shows that silence exists everywhere, in many forms, and has as much meaning in a relationship as words.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Chaim Potok was born into an orthodox Jewish family and lived in New York City. At the young age of sixteen he started writing. He was a scholar and received a rigorous religious and secular education at Yeshiva University. This school is very similar to the fictional Hirsch Seminary and College he portrays in his novel The Chosen. Potok received his rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He died on July 23, 2002 at his home in Pennsylvania.

The Chosen traces a friendship between two Jewish boys growing up in Brooklyn at the end of World War II. Reuven is a traditional Orthodox Jew who lives with his father in a brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. Danny is an heir apparently to his father’s Hasidic dynasty. The Chosen is eighteen chapters split into three books.

In Book One, Reuven’s high school softball team plays against Danny’s yeshiva team in a Sunday game. This game starts well but as it progresses it turns into a sort of holy war for both teams after the Hasidic team begins to insults the faith of Reuven and his teammates. The competition is fierce and a line drive is hit to Reuven’s but he is unable to react in time which results in him taking a trip to the hospital. While in the hospital he becomes friends with two fellow patients: Tony Savo, an ex-boxer, and Billy Merrit, a young blind boy. Danny also comes by the hospital to ask for forgiveness and the friendship begins.

Book two focuses on the rest of Reuven and Danny’s time in high school. This consists of the two boys spending time at each other’s house. This is where the two boys observe the religious practices within the two different homes and the talk of World War II begins to spread. Later both families are drastically disturbed by the concentration camps after celebrating the war ending in Europe. The relationship between the two boys strengthens as time passes.

Book three documents the continued friendship between the two as they attend Samson Raphael Hirsch Seminary and College. During this time both face their different obstacles but they come together to help each other overcome these obstacle. They also, in a sense, go their separate ways as Danny leads the Hassidic student body while Rueven still wants to become a Rabbi.

Book 2 & 3
New York during this time period was cosmopolitan, and a city full of immigrants. After Pearl Harbor when America joined WWII New York became the center of the mindset of the war. Troops, refugee's, industries, fleets of ships, and news and propaganda all had a daily presence in New York. Forts were updated, defenses in the harbor were heightened, and security was upped on the docks. The United Nations was founded on October 24, 1945 in Lake Success, New York.
Tradition vs Modernity

Reb Saunders’ is very traditional and stubborn in his ways. David Malter, on the other hand, remains tolerant of other points of view.
David Malter is willing to adapt his religious beliefs to engage and embrace modernity. With his activism and scientific approach to Talmudic study, David Malter is an effective representation of Potok’s ideals of the modern American Jew, incorporating both a traditional sense of devotion and spirituality with a focus on the world around him.
Choosing vs Being Chosen
According to tradition, Jews are known as being the “chosen people,” set apart, somehow, from the rest of the world (especially in terms of their obligation to God).
None of the characters actively choose to be Jewish; chosen for them by virtue of their birth. Each of the characters in the novel, though he loves his religion and does not resent it, struggles with what it means to be chosen in this way.
For Reb Saunders, being Jewish means one must accept a special set of obligations to study Torah and serve God.
For David Malter, being Jewish means a certain intellectual and spiritual obligation to fill one’s life with meaning.
For Reuven, being Jewish means a joyful commitment to religious tradition and intellectual engagement.
For Danny, being Jewish means carrying a difficult burden yet respecting a proud intellectual tradition.
Literary Terms
The act or practice of making a casual or indirect reference to something.
"These were the very Orthodox, and they obeyed literally the Biblical commandment
And ye shall look upon it
, which pertains to the fringes." (p. 164)
"Six million of our people have been slaughtered, he went on quietly." (p. 166)
Literary Terms
Rhetorical Questions
A question asked solely to produce an effect or to make an assertion and not to elicit a reply.
"On what side would an American Jew fight against a Jewish state?." (p. 168)

Chaim Potok
Reuven Malter:
Traditional Orthodox Jew
Intelligent, and popular
Talented in softball and math
Danny Sunders
Heir of his father`s Hasidic dynasty
Brilliant scholar with a photographic memory
Interest in Freud and psychoanalysis
Torn between his duty to his father and his own ideas on how to live life.
Has an obligation to reamain with his extremely conservative Jewish community.
David Malter
Father of Reuven
Teacher, scholar, writer, and humanitarian
Known in the Hasidic community for his controversial Biblical scholarship and out spoken support of Zionism
Reb Saunders
Father of Danny
Patriarch of a Hasidic dynasty
Wise, intelligent and deeply religious sage
Limited to his strict Hasidic worldview and imposes his view on everyone around him
Terms to Know
Hasidism: a sect of Jewish mystics founded in Poland about 1750, characterized by religious zeal and a spirit of prayer, joy, and charity. Created a way of Jewish life that emphasized the ability of all Jews to grow closer to G­od via everything that we do, say, and think. It emphasized a constant focus on attachment to Go­d and the Torah no matter what one is involved with.
Torah: the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), being the first of the three Jewish divisions of the Old Testament.
Kabbalah: an ancient Jewish mystical tradition based on an esoteric interpretation of the Old Testament.
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