Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Chosen

The Chosen
© 1967 Chaim Potok
288 pages

Danny and Reuven are two Orthodox Jewish boys who take one thing very seriously: baseball.  When their rival schools meet on the baseball diamond, religious passion turns play to war, and an accident hospitalizes Reuven. Thus is born an unexpected friendship, one that matures throughout their adolescence.  The two come of age in a difficult era; the book begins in World War 2, and takes them through the discovery of the Holocaust, and the turmoil that surrounded Israel's creation. Making matters still more interesting is the boys' religious identities and their respective desires:  Danny is a Hasidic Jew being groomed to succeed his father, while Reuven's dad is a somewhat more secular professor.  Both boys are intellectually-oriented themselves, serious students of both their tradition and respective interests:  one is fascinated by logic, the other by Freud.  Their passion frequently causes them to bump heads with one another, and not necessarily over religious matters. Reuven's rationalism threatens not Danny's religion, but his passion of Freudian psychology.  Their most serious break has nothing to do with either of them, but with their fathers' respective politics: the professor is a passionate supporter of the nascent Israeli state, while the rabbi believes an Israel led by secular Jews is an obscenity, utter anathema to any devout follower of Torah.  This is mid-20th century America, a place utterly recognizable...but many of the characters live within a culture that is utterly exotic to the American mainstream, and The Chosen is simultaneously the story of boys becoming men and an education in Hasidic Judaism. There are five principle characters in this novel: the boys, their fathers, and the Talmud. Thousands of years of Jewish practice and biblical commentary are contained in its various volumes, and its demands and wisdom both guide our characters and fill their lives with reverent dread.  The Chosen is utterly fascinating with a strong redemptive finish.

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