Literature Study GuidesThe ChosenBook 3 Chapter 13 Summary

The Chosen | Study Guide

Chaim Potok

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The Chosen | Book 3, Chapter 13 | Summary



It is September 1945 and the boys begin the school year at Hirsch College, a building sitting in the shadow of a large cross. Reuven Malter is excited by his classes. He finds he likes the rigidly Orthodox structure of the school, with Talmud until the midafternoon and then secular coursework through the evening. He is working hard, often staying up past midnight to do his homework. David Saunders jokes that he is doing all four years in one. On weekends, Reuven studies the Talmud with his father.

Danny Saunders, on the other hand, is miserable. While he is in the highest Talmud class with a noted Talmudist, Rav Gershenson, he is dismayed by the orientation of the psychology department. His psychology professor, Nathan Appleman, does not teach Freud. Rather, he teaches experimental psychology, using mice, mazes, and lots of math. Being the star of Talmud and the arbiter of disputes does not cheer Danny up. He is not a good math student, and a B in psychology because of his poor math skills nearly has him switching majors.

One afternoon between semesters, Danny is at Reuven's house. Reuven encourages Danny to speak to Professor Appleman about his concerns. Reuven, to Danny's chagrin, agrees with Professor Appleman that if Freudians aren't willing to test their theories under laboratory conditions, then they are being dogmatic. Finally, Danny agrees. Meanwhile, his eyes seem to be getting worse, but the doctor can't find anything wrong with them.

Danny tells Reuven that his father is concerned they are no longer friends; Reuven has not been to Danny's house on Shabbat for two months. Danny invites Reuven for Shabbat but Reuven declines; his father is teaching him the scientific method of Talmud study. Danny jokes that he should not try that with Rav Schwartz, Reuven's Talmud teacher, and definitely not with Rav Gershenson, Danny's teacher.

David asks Reuven what he and Danny were talking about. Reuven tells him about his conversation with Danny and his advice to speak to his professor.

David Malter has not been well of late. He constantly has a cold and is getting very little sleep. He is throwing himself into the Zionist cause, attending rallies, teaching adult education classes, raising money, and making speeches. Reuven pesters his father about his health and David assures him he will see the doctor. He tells Reuven that now is not the time to take it easy, and asks, "The Haganah and Irgun boys who die are taking it easy?" The Haganah is a group that smuggle Jews into Palestine through the British blockades. The Irgun is a terrorist group, committing acts of violence against British targets. David is sickened by the violence, but more sickened by the continued British nonimmigration policy. David asks his son, "Do you know what the rabbis tell us God said to Moses when he was about to die?" He goes on to say, "You have toiled and labored, now you are worthy of rest." Reuven is distressed by the tone of this conversation. David continues, "A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here."

David apologizes for being blunt and says he will live for many more years. He is trying to impart to Reuven that he is doing things he deems important now. The Malters go on to speak of other things, Reuven now assured by his father that he isn't dying. They begin to speak of American Jews and their return to the fold; a friend of David Malter's from his childhood in Russia, Jack Rose, has donated money to the cause. He is a thoroughly assimilated Jew but has built a temple so that his grandchildren will have a good Jewish education. Reuven jokes that he pities his rabbi. David says, "If you become a rabbi," and Reuven corrects him with, "When I become a rabbi."

Father and son continue to talk. Reuven says, "I wonder how Reb Saunders will feel when he finds out that Danny is the friend of the son of a Zionist." David responds, "Reb Saunders sits and waits for the Messiah ... I am tired of waiting. Now is the time to bring the Messiah, not to wait for him."

Reuven goes to the school library and finds a book on experimental psychology. He reads it and sees that it is full of graphs.

School begins again after break, and Reuven tells Danny he thinks experimental psychology has a lot going for it. Danny becomes angry and storms out of the lunchroom. The next day, Danny, eager to tell Reuven about their conversation, apologizes for blowing up.

Danny talks to Professor Appleman and is delighted to find that Appleman also considers Freud a genius. He doesn't object to his conclusions as much as his methodology. Freud, says Appleman, only bases his theories on abnormal cases, while experimental psychology focuses on how all humans behave. After recounting the rest of the conversation, Danny asks Reuven to help him with the math involved in experimental psychology.

Danny and Reuven meet daily to work on math. Meanwhile, Reuven's father is rarely home. Zionism has also affected school life. Tension between Zionists and anti-Zionists is high. One day the anti-Zionists shout that the Zionists are worse than Hitler; they were trying to destroy the Jewish soul. A fistfight is averted, but tensions remain high.

One night in late February, David makes a speech at Madison Square Garden in front of hundreds of people. Despite the snowstorm that has paralyzed the city, people show up. David returns home energized. News of the speech is in the mainstream and the Yiddish press.

The next day, Reuven waits for Danny at their usual space, but he never shows. Reuven finally confronts him in a men's room, and Danny tells him that Reb, upon reading of David Malter's speech, has forbidden all contact between the boys.


Chaim Potok seems to alternate between chapters that set a scene and chapters packed with action and information. Chapter 13 is the latter.

Danny Saunders is miserable at the denial of his secular god. He is as fanatic about Freud as his father is about Judaism. He reacts like his father as well, in silence. Because he is raised in silence, he doesn't know how to solve a conflict by talking. Rather, he is ready to drop his psychology class. Reuven Malter, who talks about everything with his father, encourages Danny to talk to Professor Nathan Appleman. Danny is surprised and delighted by his success and by how much he likes his professor. It turns out that Professor Appleman had been waiting all semester for Danny to talk to him. It took Reuven's encouragement for Danny to break the pattern of communication set by Reb Saunders. Reuven says that Professor Appleman tortures Danny's brain with experimental psychology, while his father tortures his soul with silence.

David Malter has found his reason for being in Zionism. The political and the personal have no distinction in this chapter. Zionism becomes the issue that forces a split between Reuven and Danny. There is no room in Reb's world for a Zionist, even if that Zionist has been a devoted and loyal friend. Danny, afraid of his father, will not cross him. He is silent about his real feelings about Zionism.

Reuven and David are also, for the first time in their relationship, unable to talk about something. The discussion of David's death leaves Reuven shaken, and David cannot bear to hear Reuven chastise him for not taking care of himself. They are silenced by their love for each other; David does not want Reuven to be unhappy, and Reuven cannot make his father listen to him about taking better care of himself.

In this chapter, Reuven describes the physical structure of Hirsch College as it sits in the shadow of a large cross. While it is strictly Orthodox, it is Danny's first time in a learning environment with people who are not Hasidic students and teachers. The cross is a reminder that there is a world full of others and that this is Danny's first step toward meeting them.

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