Literature Study GuidesThe ChosenBook 1 Chapter 1 Summary

The Chosen | Study Guide

Chaim Potok

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The Chosen | Book 1, Chapter 1 | Summary



In June of 1944, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Orthodox Jewish teenager Reuven Malter and the softball team from his yeshiva are meeting a team from a Hasidic yeshiva. The team has a reputation of playing hard and ugly. One of Reuven's teammates, Davey Cantor, keeps on referring to the opposing team as "murderers." Reuven doesn't believe they'll be much of a challenge to beat; the Hasidic boys spend more time in study than Reuven's team and they are much less assimilated into American society. Reuven is particularly disinclined to like Danny Saunders, the tzaddik's son. He says, "I did not like his Hasidic-bred sense of superiority." The Hasidic team, led by Danny Saunders, is openly disdainful of Reuven's team.

Reuven's team, led by coach Mr. Galanter, takes the field. Mr. Galanter is a physical education teacher from a secular school, moonlighting as a coach at the yeshiva. Softball is important for the yeshiva boys in Reuven's school, and they work hard at it. Mr. Galanter isn't abroad fighting in the war, but he peppers his speech with militarisms and war analogies.

The team from the Hasidic yeshiva bats first. Before they play, the young rabbi who has accompanied them to the game tells them to remember for whom they play. The first players strike out. A big, lumbering boy, Dov Shlomowitz, hits a line drive and as he runs the bases, he deliberately knocks Reuven down at second base. The rabbi says nothing about this lack of sportsmanship; he barely looks up from his book the entire game. Danny Saunders, up next, hits a line drive at the pitcher's head. The pitcher, a boy called Schwartzie, ducks but is shaken. When Danny gets to second base, Reuven congratulates him on a good hit. Danny, coldly, asks him if he is the son of David Malter, who writes articles about the Talmud. When Reuven says yes, Danny tells him that he told his team, "We're going to kill you apikorsim this afternoon." In response, Reuven tells Danny to "rub [his] tzitzit for good luck."

The game continues and one of the boys on the Hasidic team shouts, "Burn in hell, you apikorsim," in Yiddish. The game has turned into a war. The rabbi on the sidelines still does nothing but read his prayer book. Danny is up again and hits a hard ball to Reuven, who catches it but hurts his wrist doing so. The game continues, tensions rising.

In the next inning, Reuven relieves Schwartzie as pitcher and pitches to Danny Saunders. He misses twice and on the third pitch, Danny hits a ball straight at Reuven. Reuven holds his glove up, but does not duck. The ball hits his glasses and he is badly hurt.

Reuven sits out the rest of the game. The Hasidic team wins. Reuven is in terrible pain, and when Mr. Galanter takes a good look at his eye, he rushes him to the hospital.


Chaim Potok begins his novel with a baseball scene. Although the boys are technically playing softball, the field, the play on a hot summer's day, and the trash talk are all quintessentially American. Reuven Malter says it is important for yeshiva boys to play, to prove that they are as physically fit as any other American boys, and not pasty and weakened by hours of study.

The Americanism of the game itself is a stark contrast to the Hasidic team playing it. The Hasids, as Potok describes them, "whose habits and frames of reference were born on the soil of the land they had abandoned," shun any sort of assimilation. Their clothing, their habits, and their language changed little after they settled in Williamsburg. It turns out that Danny Saunders had to convince his father to allow the boys to play. The young rabbi, reminding them for whom they play, suggests that they shouldn't get caught up in the American tradition of playing a game for fun and exercise, but rather, they should play for God.

Reuven chafes at what he perceives as the superiority complexes of the Hasidic Jews. The playing for God comment and Danny's comment about his team being apikorsim reinforce for him all of his negative feelings about Hasidim. He is angered by being called an "apikoros," or a heretic. He resents the idea he isn't Jewish enough because his classes are taught in English and Hebrew, and he reads secular books. He internalizes his father's opinion of the Hasidim; it isn't their beliefs that bother him but their "absolute certainty that they ... had God's ear."

There is no indication that Mr. Galanter is Jewish, and some critical sources call him a gentile. He is clearly uncomfortable in a skullcap. However, he understands the Hasidic rabbi who deliberately only speaks in Yiddish. While Mr. Galanter answers in English, this practice was not uncommon among the assimilated and the children of immigrants.

Mr. Galanter's war metaphors and combat talk further suggest that Danny and Reuven are part of a culture war. For many of Potok's readers, the idea that there could be a cultural conflict among two groups of Orthodox Jews, was revelatory. The tension between the alternate views of Judaism represented by Reuven and Danny, and their fathers, becomes the backbone of the novel.

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