Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 713
Reuven Malter, a young Orthodox Jew who narrates his experiences during his high school and college days in Williamsburg and Brooklyn, among the Orthodox and Hasidic communities. Reuven’s greatest challenge lies in coming to terms with the Hasidic Jews who consider his father’s methods of textual criticism of the Talmud to be suspect. They also reject his father’s quest to establish a new Zionist nation in Palestine. Reuven often is tempted to hate the Hasidic Jews for their intolerance toward his father, but Reuven’s father continually counsels him to be loving and tolerant even toward those who are not so in return. Reuven and Danny Saunders meet first at a baseball game, during which Danny deliberately tries to hit the ball directly at Reuven’s head while Reuven is pitching. the resulting injury nearly blinds Reuven in one eye but leads to a friendship between these two that enables them both to see and learn things they could not understand on their own. Through this friendship, Reuven helps Danny confront his religious community and come to accept his special gifts for helping others through psychology.
Danny Saunders, a brilliant young Hasidic Jew who is expected to take his father’s place as the leader of their sect of Russian Hasidic Jews. His photographic memory enables him to be a quick learner, but his quest for knowledge outside his own religious community leads him eventually to pursue a career in psychology instead of the priesthood. His mind functions like a fine machine, but he struggles to learn how to identify with people’s feelings. He keeps the Jewish laws of his sect with great care and honors his father’s excommunication of the Malters, even though the resulting separation causes Reuven much pain.
Reb Saunders, a spiritual leader of a sect of Russian Hasidic Jews and the father of Danny Saunders. Reb Saunders is a complex man who readily identifies with suffering in the world, especially because his family in Russia had been killed before he led his people to the United States. He rears his son Danny in absolute silence, except when they are studying the Talmud together. Reb Saunders hopes thereby to teach his brilliant son to become spiritually sensitive. When he does choose to speak to Danny, Reb Saunders uses an intermediary such as Reuven Malter, who hates the silence imposed on his friend but comes to respect Reb Saunders’ objectives. At one point, Reb Saunders excommunicates Reuven and David Malter because he opposes the establishment of a new Israel by anyone except the Messiah. After Israel becomes a nation, Reb Saunders suspends the ban on the Malters and resumes his friendship with them.
David Malter, an Orthodox Jewish teacher who is known for his many articles on the Talmud and his efforts to support the establishment of a Zionist nation in Palestine. As a widower, he rears his only son, Reuven, with the help of a Russian housekeeper named Manya. Being a tolerant man, David teaches his son to understand and respect the traditions of the Hasidic community, even though it bitterly opposes much of what David Malter advocates. He also helps Danny in his independent reading of Sigmund Freud and other thinkers not taught at his father’s yeshiva or at parochial school. David’s crowning achievement is to promote the establishment of a nation of Israel in Palestine, which he does as a means of reestablishing the Jewish community after the Holocaust of World War II. Throughout the novel, David struggles with a heart condition but is determined to promote his faith regardless of the personal price he must pay.
Rav Gershenson, a teacher of Talmud in Samson Raphael Hirsch Seminary and College, which Reuven and Danny attend. As a spiritual leader in his late sixties, he cautions Reuven against using the textual critical methods of his father, especially in class. He, like many others in his community, fears that identifying textual errors in the Talmud will undermine confidence in the authority of Jewish law.
Nathan Appleman, a psychology professor at Samson Raphael Hirsch Seminary and College who teaches Danny to move beyond psychoanalysis and use the newer methods of experimental psychology.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 497
The Chosen has a host of interesting minor characters, but clearly the main characters are the two sons and two fathers: Reuven Malter, Danny Saunders, and their fathers, David Malter and Reb Saunders. Reuven, the narrator, is an Orthodox but largely Americanized Jew. Through his father he has acquired both a loyalty to Judaism and a respect for secular learning and culture. Danny Saunders, a brilliant young man with a photographic memory, is the presumed successor to his father as leader of a Hasidic community. After initial conflict — in a tense baseball game where Danny hits a ball that breaks Reuven's glasses and injures his eye — the two boys become friends. Both experience growth. Reuven learns to deal with and understand a series of challenging events, including what he sees in the hospital, news of the war and of the Holocaust, his father's heart attack, and, for a time, silence from his friend Danny. Danny has had to deal with years of silence from his father and with challenges to his traditions that have come as he has explored the world of secular learning (including Freudian psychoanalytic theory). Danny is in some ways typical of the Jew who leaves part of his traditions and enters the modern world. He also undergoes an archetypal transition from adolescence to adulthood and with it the rejection of some of his father's expectations as he establishes an independent identity. But in Danny's case, this transition also involves a continuing and even deepening bond with his father. They end the novel with respect for each other and, after years of painful silence, finally speak freely.
The fathers, David Malter and Reb Saunders, represent two very different aspects of Judaism. David Malter is a teacher and scholar open to secular methods and insights. Reb Saunders, concerned to preserve his Hasidic community and its traditions, resists change. Both are deeply committed to the survival of the Jewish people. But for David Malter this means (following the Holocaust) the physical security of a Jewish state; for Reb Saunders, it means primarily spiritual survival, and he opposes the new state on the grounds that it is secular. Thus, the two men are at odds through much of the novel. Yet they respect each other, and until their split over the question of a Jewish state, they are pleased to have sons who have become friends. Since Reuven is the narrator, David Malter's point of view is presented more sympathetically. But Reb Saunders is a character of great stature and depth, and it is David Malter himself who defends Saunders' "fanaticism," claiming that such fervor has enabled the Jews to survive. Both men are motivated by strong convictions: David Malter insists that life must be lived with meaning; Reb Saunders wants to preserve his people from the ugliness and impurity of the world and to prepare them for the world to come; both men are deeply loyal to Judaism and to such values as compassion and friendship.