Literature Study GuidesThe ChosenBook 2 Chapter 12 Summary

The Chosen | Study Guide

Chaim Potok

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The Chosen | Book 2, Chapter 12 | Summary



The Saunders treat Reuven Malter like family. Danny Saunders's sister teases him and Mrs. Saunders feeds him. Levi Saunders, continually unhealthy, picks at his food and walks around the house, wraithlike. Reb is burdened by the deaths of so many, and is prone to sudden fits of crying. Danny and Reuven's days fall into a pattern of praying, studying the Talmud, eating lunch, going to the library to study or talk, visiting David Malter at the hospital, going home for dinner, and then reading or studying the Talmud. Reuven is still surprised that Reb Saunders only speaks to Danny during Talmud study.

In the library, Danny and Reuven discuss Freud. Danny is mesmerized by Freud and spends time patiently teaching the basic precepts of Freudian theory to Reuven. Reuven is distressed by what he learns. He wonders how it is possible "for the ideas of the Talmud and the thinking of Freud to live side by side within one person."

Reuven and Danny visit David daily. David is agitated and distressed as he reads newspaper accounts of the destruction of European Jewry. He asks the boys what they are reading, and when they respond that they are reading Freud, he tells Danny he is too exhausted to talk about Freud. However, he does tell Danny that Freud is not the final word in psychoanalysis, that there are other great thinkers. David is mostly consumed by the fact that the British knew of the Nazi plans as early as 1942. He says, "The world closed its doors, and six million Jews were slaughtered." David is convinced that American Jews "cannot wait for God," that they must rebuild American Jewry and build a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

One morning at breakfast, Reb, seemingly out of nowhere, tells Danny and Reuven a story of an old friend who had moved to Eretz Yisroel to live out his final years, and dies while praying at the Wailing Wall for "the Messiah to come and redeem his people." Reuven suggests some Jews believe Palestine should become a Jewish state and not just a place where pious Jews go to die. Reb explodes. He does not believe in a Jewish homeland until God makes a Jewish homeland. His rage stuns Reuven, who is glad he didn't mention that one of the people who believes in a Jewish homeland is his father.

Reb storms that he brought his people to America from Russia because he thought it better to be in a land of true goyim, rather than Jewish goyim. He asks if six million Jews died for this abomination.

Danny's sister tries to calm her father by saying that Reuven was not speaking for himself. Reb silences her, says grace, and leaves the table. Later, Danny warns Reuven not to mention a secular Jewish state again. It is a sacrilege to his father; it comes from the "contaminated world."

Later, Danny and Reuven go to the library as usual. Danny muses about his relationship with his brother, whom he thinks is a good kid, and says he has just realized that Levi could be a tzaddik instead of him. He tells Reuven he will need him at his side when he informs his father. Reuven says he would rather talk about Danny's sister. Danny shuts him down; his sister is promised to a man and has been since she was two years old.

David recovers enough for the Malters to go to Peekskill for the month of August. The war ends with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Reuven has nightmares about Reb blaming him for poisoning Danny's mind.

Danny and Reuven enter Hirsch College. Danny now wears glasses.


Reuven Malter has so clearly been accepted by Danny Saunders's family that Reb Saunders is comfortable showing his private face to him. His periodic bouts of tears are not discussed or acknowledged by his family, which confuses Reuven. Reb's inability, even in deepest mourning, to comfort or seek comfort from his son is also confusing to Reuven.

There is little time for Talmud study, as Reb is very busy; his community needs to hear from him and there are always people waiting to see him. He is physically and emotionally exhausted. As a true tzaddik, Reb is taking on the suffering of his people as best he can.

Again, the contrast between Reb Saunders and David Malter is clear. David is outraged at people, and looking for actions that will help make sense of his devastation. Reb is saddened, terribly saddened, but feels that he is not one to question God's will or God's justification for the suffering of the Jewish people.

Zionism is a particular flash point. Reb believes that a secular Jewish state is a desecration. David believes it is the answer, the one beacon of hope in a hopeless situation. Reb turns inward, while David looks outward.

While most of the novel is a study in difference—the secular versus the religious, or the traditional versus the worldly—it is in this chapter that Reb and David are most similar. Both fathers are exhausted by the suffering of others. Both are so intellectually and emotionally spent that neither has the ability to ease the conflicts raging inside their sons. David won't talk about Freud and Reb won't argue about the Talmud. Their primary means of talking to their children and educating them about the changing world is cut off during David's illness and Reuven's sojourn in the Saunders' house.

Chaim Potok articulates one of the central conflicts of the book when Reuven asks how it is possible for Freud and the Talmud to live side by side in one person. As a philosopher and a rabbi, it is likely they lived side by side in Potok himself. In his response to a critic, Potok suggests that the conflict between paganism and faith is the central conflict of the book. He defines paganism, or secular humanism, as Freudian psychoanalytic theory.

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