The Chosen and it’s sequel The Promise by Chaim Potok have taken a rare place on my bookshelf.
I have a place for beautifully written and engaging fiction on my bookshelf. I also have a place on my bookshelf for religious books and sacred things. The Chosen and The Promise fall somewhere in between.
To save myself from writing a synopsis, here is the CliffNotes summary:
Potok’s novel The Chosen concerns the tensions of living a religious life in a secular society. This conflict is reflected through an examination of two Jewish communities in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, New York. Two Jewish boys, an ultra-religious Hasidic Jew named Danny Saunders and a Modern Orthodox Jew named Reuven Malter, discuss the realities of trying to be committed, religiously observant Jews in a secular American society. The main theme in the novel is Danny’s conflict between his desire for secular knowledge and his obligations to his father, Rabbi Saunders, and his father’s followers.
Danny and Reuven are some of the most relatable characters I’ve found in literature. I’ve spent my life in a religious community and have always had to balance my secular knowledge with my spiritual knowledge. The effort that the characters go to in order to preserve their faith, the rituals they love, and their tradition are inspiring.
The books paint the beautiful spectrum of religious observance even within one faith. The conflicts largely arise from this whether it’s battling with religious expectation within oneself or with the community. To personify these struggles and to have characters lend voice to the cyclical arguments I’ve weaved in my own head was incredibly meaningful to me. I was able to draw a lot of personal application from these books as it seems that many other Mormons have.
My deep admiration for Judaism and understanding of American Judaism specifically grew immensely. The passion for the Talmud and for the fierceness that the characters defend it is remarkable. Potok justifies each characters perspective of the faith and gives you a context for them.
They are beautiful novels that I will undoubtedly read again. I learned some universal truths that I will always carry with me.