The Chosen – Chapter 7

Summary: Chapter 7

“We are commanded to study His Torah!
We are commanded to sit in the light of the Presence! It is for this
that we were created!”
(See Important Quotations Explained)

Reuven and his father wake up early on Shabbat morning
and walk to synagogue together. They return home, eat lunch, and
then Reuven falls asleep thinking about the colors of Billy’s and
Danny’s eyes.
Three hours later, Reuven wakes to find Danny standing
over him. Danny suggests they walk over to his shul so that Reuven
can meet Reb Saunders. As they walk, the boys tell each other about their
families. Reuven explains he has no siblings because his mother
died shortly after he was born. Danny says he has a younger sister
and a younger brother. The boys then discover that they were born
only two days apart. Danny also explains that his father is a great
man who saved the members of his community from persecution by bringing
them to America after World War I, a journey made in the face of
great adversity. He also explains that Reb Saunders’ older brother
vanished, so Reb Saunders inherited his father’s position. Danny
notes that because his father is a tzaddik, considered a bridge
between his followers and God, his congregation will follow him
anywhere.
At Danny’s father’s shul, Reuven and Danny meet a crowd
of black-caftaned Hasids who part like the Red Sea when Danny approaches.
As the boys enter the brownstone, Danny explains that the shul is
on the bottom floor and his family lives on the top two stories.
The synagogue soon fills with Hasidim who have come for
the afternoon service. Two men approach Danny and ask him to resolve an
argument over a passage of Talmud, which Danny interprets masterfully.
Danny’s father comes downstairs, and the room is suddenly quiet.
Danny introduces his friend to his father, and Reb Saunders remarks
that he is interested in getting to know the son of David Malter.
Following the afternoon service, the men sit down at
the table for a ritual Shabbat meal led by Reb Saunders. He concludes
the meal with an impassioned talk, using Talmudic quotes from several
great rabbis to argue that Jews are obligated to serve God’s will
by studying Torah. It is through the study of Torah, Reb Saunders
says, that God listens to mankind. Reb Saunders also uses gematriya—numerological
manipulations of Hebrew words and phrases—to prove his point.
Following his talk, Reb Saunders asks Danny if he noticed
any mistakes or inconsistencies in his argument. Danny replies that
his father misattributed one quote. Reb Saunders then asks Danny
several detailed follow-up questions, and the two launch into an extended
discussion of Talmudic precepts. The assembled crowd of Hasidim
is obviously pleased by Danny’s quick and sharp answers. Reuven
realizes that the whole speech was one great quiz—Reb Saunders made
deliberate errors to see if his son would notice and correct him.
Finally, Reb Saunders asks Danny if there were any additional mistakes.
When Danny shakes his head, Reb Saunders quietly chastises him for
not listening carefully and turns to Reuven, asking the same question.
Reuven, terrified and astonished that he is being asked to correct
a great tzaddik, tentatively points out a mistake in Reb Saunders’s
gematriya. Reb Saunders and Danny, along with the entire crowd,
are delighted at Reuven’s intelligence.
After the evening service, Reb Saunders praises Reuven
and approves of his friendship with Danny. Danny walks Reuven part
of the way home, and the boys happily discover that they both plan
to study at the same Jewish college following high school.
Reuven returns home and finds that his father has been
worried about him because he has been out so late. Reuven apologizes
and tells his father about his experience at Reb Saunders’s shul,
noting that he thought Reb Saunders’s quiz was cruel. David Malter
replies that it is important to display knowledge in public, but
that he finds Reb Saunders’s intentional mistakes distasteful. Mr.
Malter then says he is proud of his son. He reminds Reuven not to
read until his eye heals, and then they go to sleep.
Analysis: Chapter 7
Chapter 7 is a crucial turning
point in The Chosen, marking Reuven’s entry into
Danny Saunders’s world. Potok begins the chapter by focusing upon
Reuven’s Shabbat experience with his own father, allowing us to
contrast David Malter’s religious worship with Reb Saunders’s. At
first, this contrast seems stark and obvious. Reb Saunders is distant
towards Danny, while David Malter is open and intimate with Reuven.
Reb Saunders speaks furiously and almost demagogically about religion,
while earlier in the chapter, we see David Malter praying silently
and fervently. Reb Saunders preaches that the world is contaminated
and implies that devout believers must remove themselves from all
earthly concerns. In contrast, at the Malter’s apartment, the litany
of pictures and maps on the wall imply a commitment to and respect
for earthly concerns.
However, upon closer inspection, there are many similarities between
the two fathers. Both are devoutly committed to religion, and both
share a deep, profound knowledge of Jewish law. Reuven is careful
to point out that the Talmudic discussion between Danny and Reb
Saunders isn’t about showing off or impressing others with their
brilliant arguments. Instead, Reuven says, “they seemed more interested
in. . .straightforward knowledge.” That David Malter supports Reb
Saunder’s public quizzes goes against our expectations and drives
home the similarities between Reuven and Danny’s fathers. David
Malter’s reaction to Reuven’s story reminds us that Danny and Reuven’s
situations are not as different as they appear.
Several events in Chapter 7 enhance
our understanding of other aspects of the novel. During Reb Saunder’s
quiz, Reuven sees Danny’s face curl into the same vicious grin that
Reuven saw at the softball game. Reuven is frightened, because he
knows Danny makes this expression when he has the urge to kill someone. Danny’s
grimace recalls the anger and competitiveness of the softball game
and connects his violent behavior at the game with his resentment
toward his father. Another important revelation occurs when Reb
Saunders mentions that the gematriya for chai, a significant Hebrew
word meaning “life,” is eighteen. We realize that The Chosen is
divided into eighteen chapters in allusion to the numerical value
of this important Hebrew word. Also, when Danny mentions that Reb
Saunders became tzaddik because Reb Saunders’s older brother abandoned
the lineage, we see that Danny’s own desire to abandon his traditional
duty in order to study psychology is not new to his family. Danny’s
situation parallels the situation his uncle’s a generation before.
At one point, Reb Saunders passionately declares, “It
is not the world that is commanded to study Torah, but the people
of Israel!” This statement underscores Reb Saunders’s belief in
a dichotomy between the outside world and Jewish tradition. On a
deeper level, Reb Saunders’s statement refers to the novel’s title,
interpreting what it means to be a member of the “Chosen People.”
Reb Saunders argues that Jews, by virtue of their birth, must bear
unique burdens that give privilege as well as obligation. This definition
of “chosen” implies a sense of separation from the outside world,
but also a sense of entitlement. Both Reuven and Danny struggle
to reconcile their unique obligations with their feelings of obligation
to the outside world.