The Chosen – Chapters 5–6

Summary: Chapter 5
Reuven and his father take a cab home from the hospital
back to their brownstone apartment on a street off of Lee Avenue.
When Reuven enters the house, he can smell the delicious chicken
soup that Manya, their Russian housekeeper, has prepared for them. Manya
greets Reuven warmly.
After lunch, Reuven walks through his apartment as if
seeing it for the first time. First, he walks through the hallway,
which is lined with pictures of great Zionists from the past century:
Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism; Chaim Nachman Bialik,
a great Hebrew poet and writer; and Chaim Weizmann, a Zionist leader
who eventually becomes the first president of Israel. Next, Reuven
surveys his own room, where New York Times war maps line the wall
alongside pictures of Roosevelt and Einstein. He then enters his
father’s study, which is lined from floor to ceiling with bookcases.
Reuven’s father is working at his typewriter so Reuven
exits quickly, not wanting to disturb him. In the living room, Reuven looks
through the window, watching the sunlight. He remembers that Danny
has promised to visit him the following day. Lying on the lounge
chair on the back porch, Reuven thinks about Danny and about all
that has changed since the softball game.
Summary: Chapter 6
That night, after Shabbat dinner, Reuven sits at the kitchen
table with his father, who sips tea and answers Reuven’s questions
about Danny. Mr. Malter warns Reuven that he will begin his explanation far
back in history, with a description of the rise of Hasidism in the eighteenth
century. In the seventeenth century, David Malter explains, Polish
Jews were persecuted by Polish peasants and by members of the Greek
Orthodox Church. As a result of the anti-Semitism, someone pretending
to be a messiah deceived them. Serious Jewish faith in Poland was
replaced by a superficial belief in magic and superstition. A leader
named the Ba’al Shem Tov—The Kind or Good Master of the Name—emerged
into this spiritual void with a new vision of Judaism, and Hasidism
was born.
Ba’al Shem Tov studied the Jewish mystical texts of the
Kabbalah, and downplayed the study of Jewish legal texts in favor
of spirituality and prayer. Every Hasidic community was led by a
tzaddik, a righteous person who served as a superhuman link between the
community and God. The Hasidim lived shut off from the rest of the
world and passed down the position of tzaddik from father to son.
Despite opposition from the Mitnagdim—the intellectual opponents
of Hasidism—the movement flourished, and its traditions were passed
down through the generations. David Malter points out that the clothes
the Hasidim wear today are the same style they wore in Poland hundreds
of years ago, and that they hold many unique beliefs, such as the
belief that Hasidic leaders need to bear the suffering of the entire
Jewish People. Reuven’s explains that Danny is next in line to inherit
his father’s great Hasidic dynasty, with all its traditions and
customs.
Mr. Malter says that because Danny is so brilliant, he
is not satisfied with Jewish texts alone but voraciously consumes
all types of literature. In fact, Danny reminds Mr. Malter of Solomon
Maimon, an eighteenth-century Jew who forsook his faith to pursue
secular knowledge. Mr. Malter encourages Reuven to become friends
with Danny, then apologizes for his long lecture. Reuven tells his
father how different the world looks to him now, as a result of
only the last five days. Reuven gets up to go to bed, leaving his
father to sip his tea pensively at the kitchen table.
Analysis: Chapters 5–6
Potok unconventionally waits until the middle of the novel
to provide us with descriptions of the world of the characters.
Up to this point, The Chosen has consisted primarily
of conversations, with brief interludes for Reuven’s reflections.
It therefore seems strange that Reuven gives us a long, detailed
account of his apartment, a place he has lived his entire life.
But Reuven’s description emphasizes the way his time in the hospital
has changed his way of understanding the world as well as his opinion
of Danny. Upon his return, Reuven remarks that the hydrangea bush,
something he had never really noticed, “seemed suddenly luminous
and alive.” Later, he comments that after his five days in the hospital,
“the world around seemed sharpened now and pulsing with life.” Reuven’s
encounter with suffering has taught him to appreciate his own life
more and has sharpened his perception of the world as a result.
Reuven’s description of his apartment reveals the Malter
household’s dual emphasis on religion and modern intellectualism.
Jewish culture runs strong through the house, from the food Reuven
eats for lunch to the portraits of Zionists that hang on the wall.
Yet there is an even stronger emphasis on intellectualism and current
events, as shown in the war maps on the wall, the picture of Albert
Einstein, and David Malter’s massive, book-lined study. All of these
items illustrate a love of learning and a commitment to connecting
to the world that lies beyond the boundaries of strict Jewish tradition.
David Malter’s lecture in Chapter 6 reinforces
his commitment to intellectual engagement. Throughout his lengthy
speech, Reuven’s father displays patience, love, respect, and concern
for his son, apologizing for droning on and making sure that Reuven
follows his explanations. As Mr. Malter speaks, he reveals his breadth of
knowledge as well as Reuven’s enthusiasm for learning. Indirectly,
Mr. Malter’s lesson to Reuven underscores the power and importance
of communication between father and son, an aspect lacking in Danny’s
relationship with his father.
In general, David Malter’s explanation of Hasidism is
important to our understanding of Danny’s relationship with his
father. Mr. Malter’s comment about the difficulties of being a tzaddik,
or buffer, in a community foreshadows the consequences of Reuven’s
future involvement with Danny and Reb Saunders. David Malter’s speech demonstrates
that no single, monolithic Jewish tradition exists. Rather, many
different systems of belief are subsumed under the category of “Jewish.”
These differing groups often are bitterly opposed to one another,
particularly when it comes to the issues of Jewish heritage, history,
and belief.