The action of The Chosen unfolds in the immigrant community of Williamsburg,Brooklyn, against the backdrop of World War II.
It is seen through the eyes ofReuven Malter, a boy who would appear to have much in common with Danny, forthey are both brilliant, Jewish, closely tied to their fathers, andnear-neighbors who live only five blocks apart. Still, they attend separateyeshivas and inhabit very different worlds. A baseball league is begun. WhenDanny Saunders school plays Reuven Malters, the Hasids are determined toshow the apikorsim a thing or two and the competition is fierce. Dannysmurderous hitting is remarkable, but when Reuven comes to pitch he does not backaway. A hard ball shatters his glasses and smashes into his eye, sending him tothe hospital for a week.
At his fathers insistence, Reuven permits therepentant Danny to visit him, and they become friends. Danny dazzles Reuven withdemonstrations of his photographic mind, with the quantity of scholarly work hebears each day, and with the intellectual prowess of his English and Hebrewstudiesqualities greatly revered in traditional Jewish culture. Dannysrevelations startle Reuven; he confesses he would rather be a psychologist thanaccept his inherited role as spiritual leader of his fathers sect. Reuvensconfessions surprise Danny; he reveals his desire to become a rabbi, though hisscholar-father would prefer him to follow his talent and become a mathematician.
Danny cannot understand how anyone would choose the very position he secretlywishes to reject. At a time when conflicts are churning within him, Danny findsReuven as an empathetic listener who is highly intelligent yet safenot aHasid, but a Jew who follows orthodox religious traditions without rejecting thesecular possibilities in the world around them. As the boys become friends,Reuven begins to learn about Hasidism. He learns that there are tzaddiks whowere believed to be superhuman links between the people and God.
In some sectsit was believed that a leader should take upon himself the sufferings of theJewish people. Such a leader is Reb Saunders. His ways and his teachings are theways of seventeenth century Hasids and it is this role that Danny is expected tofill when he becomes the tzaddik. In the long initial visits that Reuven pays toReb Saunders congregation to be approved as fit company for Danny, Reuvenobserves the way Hasidic philosophy permeates his friends life.
Weeks beforethe accident which brings the two boys together, Mr. Malter meets Danny in thepublic library and begins to guide him in his search for knowledge of the worldthrough the “forbidden books” prescribed by his father. Mr. Malter tellsReuven of Dannys brilliant mind, his insatiable appetite for learning, andthe amazing speed with which he digests information. When the Germans surrenderand the existence of the concentration camps becomes known for the first time,the two mens reactions are characteristic. For Mr.
Malter, overwhelming griefis followed by a determination to counter the senseless suffering of themillions who died with something meaningful: the creation of the state ofIsrael. While Reb Saunders suffers, Danny struggles to educate himself in theideas of Freud and in the problems of contemporary Judaism. He combines the loadof schoolwork and the study of Talmud which forms the basis of his relation tohis father, with his own attempts to educate himself in his quest for identity. Reuven, too, is seen to spend many hours of his day in study. The novel beginswith Danny and Reuven as high school boys and concludes with their graduationfrom college.
Danny has decided to get out of the life that imprisons him; hewill take off the clothing and shun the trappings of the Hasid, go on tograduate school, and become a psychologist. When he has resolved to do this, Mr. Malter tells him he must prepare what he will say to his father. An arrangedmarriage will have to be broken, the inheritance of spiritual leadership will goto Levi, the tradition of six generations will have been broken, and RebSaunders will have lost to the world he hates and fears the son he mosttreasures. Before Danny can confront his father, however, his father confrontshim. Using Reuven as a foil through whom to speak to his son, Reb Saundersreveals that he knows his son will not become a rabbi.
And so Reb Saundersreveals his plan was not to train Danny to take his inherited position, but topass along the tradition of the tzaddik. So if Danny chose to reject the oldworld, he would be prepared to enter the new one with a compassionate soul, notwith a brilliant uncaring intellect. Reb Saunders pain is made evident at thenovels conclusion. He has recognized his own limitations as Dannys teacherand has seen the Malters as a blessing: worthy guides for Danny.
He also knowsthat the Malters integrate Danny into the America he himself is cut off from,and compassionate individuals in their own right, an essential feature in ateacher.