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The Chosen | Book 2, Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

Reuven Malter returns to school, somewhat a hero. He still cannot read, but will visit the doctor the next day. He meets Danny Saunders after school at the Brooklyn Public Library. He notices the eyes in the murals of the great thinkers. Never before has he noticed that Homer is obviously blind.

Danny is on the third floor, reading. He is clearly disturbed, reading a history of the Jews by Graetz. Graetz is very critical of the Hasidim, calling the tzaddiks little more than priests of Baal. It is the first time Danny has come across himself in literature, and the portrayal is disturbing.

Reuven urges Danny to talk to his father, David Saunders, about the book.

Danny also tells Reuven that he is teaching himself German to be able to read Sigmund Freud. He quotes a book he had read the previous week and says, "The most mysterious thing in the universe to man is man himself." Danny is fascinated by the idea of the subconscious. Reuven is uncomfortable with Danny's study of German.

Danny suggests that the language itself isn't corrupt because it is spoken by Hitler, but Reuven is discomfited more by the fact that Danny seems to be following the path of Solomon Maimon, including learning German. The two boys leave the library, furtively for Danny. Upon reaching home, Reuven asks his father if Graetz's critique of the Hasidim and the tzaddiks is valid. David says there is enough to dislike about the Hasidim without exaggerating their faults. David shakes his head at Danny's study of German.

The next time the boys meet at the library, Reuven tells Danny that the Graetz critique is not historically accurate. Danny is unmoved, having read other negative comments about Hasidim.

David wonders about the ethics of providing Danny with books, but contents himself with the knowledge that Danny would be reading anyway. With David's guidance and discussion, perhaps Danny will find a more balanced approach to subjects like psychoanalysis.

On Shabbat, Reuven goes to Danny's shul to study with Danny and his father. He realizes that his method of studying the Talmud, which emphasizes depth not breadth, may allow him to keep up. He keeps up with the Saunders's discussion and battle. Upon entering the Saunders' house, he notices how different it is from his own. Although similar in layout, there are no photos or paintings. Reuven meets Danny's mother and sister and notes that his sister is an attractive girl.

Reb Saunders asks Danny to get them some tea. With Danny gone, he asks Reuven what secular books Danny has been reading. He is trying to see whether Reuven has a good soul as well as a good head. Reuven tells Reb about the books Danny is reading, leaving out Freud, German, and the offensive (to Hasids) Jewish histories. Reb cries out that God made his son too brilliant and hopes that Reuven and his father will be good influences on his son.

When Danny walks Reuven home, Reuven tells him of his conversation with Reb. Danny is upset but relieved. Danny describes the silence he has lived with since he was 10 or 11. When he was a child, he says, he went to his father with a complaint. His father told him to shut his mouth and look into his soul. From that day forth, Danny was not supposed to ask his father for support or guidance, but to look inside himself.

David, upon hearing Reuven's report of the day, is shocked at the silence, but he has heard some talk of it in Russia. He says no more about it. When Reuven persists and asks why Reb couldn't just ask his son about the books, David replies that he has spoken to Danny, through Reuven. David refuses to continue the conversation about Reb.

Analysis

By introducing Graetz, Chaim Potok puts the Hasidim in an historical light different than that of David Malter. David is not sympathetic to the Hasidim, but he is not inflammatory, either. The Graetz book is, in fact, in a popular treatise on Jewish history. By including it in The Chosen, Potok suggests that widespread distaste for the Hasidim among mainstream Jewish thinkers is not unusual or unique to the Malters. However, David is restrained and reasoned in his distaste, suggesting that Potok feels that the judgments of the Hasidim may, at times, be too harsh.

The Graetz critique of the Hasidim also serves to shock Danny Saunders into thinking about how the outside world may perceive him. It shocks him that others might think his father is not a great man; he accepts his father's greatness—and his silence—as normal and accepts them as such. The practices of the tzaddikim being cast in such a harsh light makes him uncomfortable, but it also triggers some soul-searching. Freud said, "I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection." Danny is seeing a picture of his father that strips him of the protection of his father's greatness. He can forgive his father's silence because he is great. Being forced to see him in another light strips him of the veneer of godhood and makes him just a man. As just a man, the silence he imposes on his son is cruel and unfatherly. As Danny is reading Freud, it is possible that he has come across Freud's understanding of the need for paternal protection.

Claiming that Hasidic tzaddikim are no better than the priests of Baal suggests that they are leading their flock into idolatry, and living lavish lifestyles on the backs of their believers.

Reuven Malter's discomfort with Danny's German, he says, stems from Danny's Maimon-like journey. It is also a fraught time for a Jew to be learning German; the United States is at war with Germany, and both the Saunders and the Malters understand that Hitler is anti-Jew. Although the real cost of Hitler's anti-Semitism is not yet known, there have been stories circulating about his treatment of European Jews. Freud himself fled Austria for England to avoid persecution by the Nazis.

David Malter, by refusing to say anything more about Reb Saunders, and what he has heard about raising a child in silence, actually imposes his own silence on Reuven. When David ends a conversation, though, it is either to protect another person or himself, or to give the topic at hand more thought. The silence, in this case, is not painful, and Reuven has no trouble understanding it.

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