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The Chosen | Book 2, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

It is Friday night, the start of Shabbat at the Malter home. David Malter feels a little better and is coughing less. The night is warm and the Malters are both sleepy and happy that Reuven Malter is home.

Reuven asks his father about Danny Saunders. His father answers that he must give him a long answer about the parts of Jewish history he has not yet learned in school. David then gives his son a history of the Hasidic movement. His story of the movement includes both an acknowledgment of its beginning as an accessible way to build a relationship with God, and an acknowledgment of the later degeneration of the movement, with its emphasis on the tzaddik and its commitment to remaining "frozen" in time. David is sympathetic in his portrayal of the Hasidim and reminds Reuven that every community is different.

David follows his disquisition on Hasidism with the note that Reb Saunders is a great scholar and a tzaddik. Reb is concerned more with the soul than the mind. Danny will inherit his father's position one day. David then tells Reuven the story of Solomon Maimon, a Polish Jew who was a genius, like Danny. The Talmud could not quench his thirst for knowledge, and as secular books were forbidden, he left his wife and family to seek more education outside of his community. He was never able to find peace, though, and died at age 47 on the estate of a sympathetic Christian nobleman. David draws connections between Solomon Maimon and Danny; Danny, however, lives in America where secular subjects and forbidden knowledge are easy to access. David once again tells Reuven how important it is for Danny to have a friend; within his own community, he has no one to talk to. If he can talk to Reuven, he can escape the disconsolate life of Solomon Maimon.

Reuven muses on how strange it is that everything is so different because of one afternoon's baseball game. He tells his father about how new and different everything looked upon his return from the hospital. David goes on to say that he wishes Reuven's mother were alive to see him.

Analysis

It is this lecture on the Hasidim that gave Chaim Potok the most difficulty with his critics, who eschewed David Malter's didactic instruction. However, Sanford Sternlicht suggests that the "serious reader" should slow down and absorb the lessons of Potok.

The lecture that David Malter gives to his son—and he calls it a lecture—is important to situate the conflict between the Hasidim and Mitnagdim, or opponents. The Malters, who are not Hasids, would probably consider themselves Mitnaged, although David Malter's approach to the Talmud is modern and uses rational, scientific methods.

The history lecture and the Maimon allegory both serve to underscore one of the recurrent themes of the novel, the conflict between the secular and the religious. Danny Saunders is at the center of this conflict, as his religiosity precludes living a life of the mind. Reb Saunders is interested in the soul, not the mind.

David Malter's point about Danny living in America, where he can access forbidden knowledge easily, also underscores the conflict between the secular and the religious. In Europe, Solomon Maimon had to leave his family to find the knowledge he sought; Danny simply takes a trolley to the library. It may be harder for Danny to exist, then, because he is in a middle place; he remains a Hasid while devouring secular texts.

Reuven and his father live comfortably in a middle place. They follow the Commandments in their fashion and also invite the secular world into their home.

The mention of Reuven's mother seems almost a throwaway, but really, Reuven's mother's early death makes the Malters a closer unit. They depend solely on each other for support and emotional sustenance.

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