The Chosen met with popular success upon publication, despite its being concerned with a small and narrow Hasidic Jewish community in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The story of Danny Saunders, son of the imperious and strictly Orthodox Reb Saunders, and Danny’s friend Reuvan Malter, son of a teacher at a Jewish yeshiva (parochial school), has universal implications: Can the culture of one’s early years be transcended without being denied?
Danny has been chosen by his father to be the next leader of the Hasidic sect, but Danny feels trapped. His father, in an effort to impart a compassionate soul to his genius son, has raised him in silence; all the while, however, Danny has been exploring secular psychology at the library under the guidance of David Malter, Reuvan’s father.
After the two boys clash at a baseball game, their friendship gradually develops, though when David Malter becomes active in the project of building a new Jewish homeland in Palestine after the revelations from the German concentration camps, Reb Saunders imposes silence upon Danny’s friendship with Reuvan. The rebbe is saddened by the news of the Holocaust, but he believes that a new state of Israel can be built only by the Messiah, not by human politics.
Following the creation of Israel as a state in 1948, the ban between Danny and Reuvan is lifted; the two must now explain to Reb Saunders that Danny will not wear the rebbe’s mantle but will instead pursue his study of psychology. In a climactic conversation, Reb explains to Danny (through Reuvan) that the silence he had experienced will allow him to hear the cries of the world. The rebbe himself cries and finally speaks directly to his son, this time as a father, not as a teacher. Reb...
(The entire section is 723 words.)