Review by Patricia de Hemricourt
Concentrated wisdom in written form. Chaim Potok, as usual, uses the background of intricately complicate rules of the Hassidic world to convey messages that are valid for all, regardless of their color or creed.
In this short novel, two fathers and two sons from various level of observance of the Jewish halakich rules; one son, Reuven, is a fairly conservative Jew, perhaps even Orthodox, but with a modern outlook. His father is a noted academic, Talmud critical scholar, and Zionist. The other young man, Danny, is the son of a Hassidic rebbe, who is the leader of a tightly-knit, isolated Russian immigrant community who came to United States fleeing antisemitic persecution.
The narrator, Reuven, tells us about his experiences and interactions with Danny and how each other’s father had a decisive influence over each child, even though the fathers themselves never personally met each other.
Potok encapsulates the differences between conservatives and ultra-Orthodox Jews by presenting us with what each branch of Judaism does, steering clear of long dogmatic compare-and-contrast narratives.
The result is enchanting and captivating. Potok’s portrayal not only provides an excellent introduction to the different schools of Jewish thought and practice but casts a beam of light on how these differences, that are anything but nuanced, though invisible to those outside that world, can cause deep divisions.
The Chosen also draws attention to a little known fact about the Jewish initial reaction to the idea of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.Contrary to the conventional wisdom that all Jews wanted their own state in Palestine, it shows that many among the Ultra-Orthodox decried the founding of Israel on theological grounds. For, according to them only the Messiah could reestablish the People in the Land of Israel, whereas more secularized Jews either dismissed that idea or, better still, wanted to seized the initiative from God – with no disrespect intended to the Deity.
Other than drawing the lines of religious boundaries, Potok tells a story about fathers and son and how to handle the generational difference of opinion. Get The Chosen. I recommend it!