The Chosen–Chapters 1-3

This is part of a series by John Dehlin. The series introduction is here, and the introduction to The Chosen is here.

As Part 2 in our Book Club series on “The Chosen”, it’s time to discuss chapters 1-3.

I won’t try much to direct the discussion this time, other than to offer a few of my favorite quotes:

“I had never really had any personal contact with this kind of Jew before.” Reuven p. 28

“My father had told me he didn’t mind their beliefs. What annoyed him was their fanatic sense of righteousness, their absolute certainty that they and they alone had God’s ear, and every other Jew was wrong, totally wrong, a sinner, a hypocrite, an apikoros, and doomed, therefore, to burn in hell.” Reuven p. 28

“Always like kids that hold on to their religion. Important thing, religion. Wouldn’t mind some of it in the ring. Tough place, the ring. Tony Salvo’s my name.” p 45

“Things are always what they seem to be, Reuven? Since when?” David Malter to Reuven. p 51

“I couldn’t imagine what it was like to know that no matter whether my eyes were opened or closed it made no difference — everything was still dark.” p 54, Reuven.

“You remember what the Talmud says. If a person comes to apologize for having hurt you, you must listen and forgive him.” p. 64, David Malter

“Whenever I do or see something I don’t understand, I like to think about it until I understand it.” p. 66, Danny.

“Do you know what I don’t understand about that ball game? I don’t understand why I wanted to kill you….It was the wildest feeling. I’ve never felt that way before.” p. 66, Danny.

“He was dressed like a Hasid, but he didn’t sound like one.” p. 68. Reuven.

“I sort of feel I could be more useful to people as a rabbi. To our own people, I mean. You know, not everyone is religious, like you or me. I could teach them, and help them when they’re in trouble. I think I would get a lot of pleasure out of that.” p 70, Reuven.

“My father doesn’t write,” Danny said. “He reads a lot, but he never writes. He says that words distort what a person really feels in his heart….He told me once he wishes that everyone could talk in silence.” p. 72 Danny

What are your favorite quotes, or moments from Chapters 1-3?

We look forward to your sharing.


  1. I am really enjoying the theme surrounding Reuben’s vision and the hospital as this place of renewal of sight. During and particularly after his release, Reuben’s world is transformed and he sees everything around him differently. What has really struck me is that this personal renewal is based on his relationships with others who have both literally and figuratively opened his eyes to new perspectives of the world around him.

    If we would like to draw parallels to our own experience as members of the church, we can look to our own personal healings and how they should ultimately reconcile themselves through increased compassion and love for those around us. So our differences ultimately should bring us together as a more unified body of saints rather than resulting in increased divisions and animosity. But this unification must be based on forgiveness and the ability to see past the often nasty actions of others.

  2. From the very beginning of the book, Potok tells the story in meticulous detail. That writing style really draws me into the story – I feel like I’m actually there, patiently viewing the action and experiencing the complex emotions of the narrator and other characters. Reading Potok is such a deeply satisfying emotional experience for me, as well as intellectual, which we’ll probably discuss later in the book.

    I wonder about the different characters in the hospital. Obviously, the theme will be “sight,” because all of the patients have eye injuries. But I wonder if Potok had an intention in making Rueven’s injury to his eye? Are we just to enjoy the story for its own sake? And/or glean some meaning, like those mentioned in #2?

  3. “You remember what the Talmud says. If a person comes to apologize for having hurt you, you must listen and forgive him.” p. 64, David Malter

    This is such a profound, seemingly impossible statement, yet it is offered with the assumption that it will be followed. And then Rueven does exactly as his father counsels him. I like how this shows us the Malter’s simple obedience to the law. They live what they believe, and I hope to be

  4. …oops! Hit the “add my comment” button on accident…

    and I hope to be able to live my beliefs in this same way.

    However, as the story progresses, and especially in “The Promise,” we see that the Malters wrestle with reconciling intellectual integrity with the mysteries of their faith. Their wrestle is painful at times, and always respectful to God and their religious traditions. I’ve always been inspired by these characters in the honest, reverent way that they approach their faith.

  5. As I’m reading, I’m trying to formulate what a believing Hasidic reader would say about the book. Is there a way I can read these first chapters and see the Hasidim as something more than a prop for intolerance? Is there any sense that we can understand them?

  6. It’s interesting how different Danny’s and Reuven’s attitudes about religion are, despite their similar intellectual tendencies. Reuven’s attitide seems to be a product of his upbringing, while Danny’s seems to be a reaction against his upbringing.

    Because of Danny’s more rigid upbringing, he leans away from the idea of becoming a Rabbi. To him, a Rabbi is a superior intellect, and an almost God-like leader and judge.

    Because of Reuven’s more liberal upbringing, he wants to become a Rabbi. It has nothing to do with authority or superior intellect. To him, it would allow him to teach and help people who are in trouble.

    Stereotypically, Mormons raised with a rigid, all-or-nothing view of the church grow up to be rigidly orthodox, or else they reject their faith completely. [Your mileage may vary on this one — mine has.]

    Mormons raised with a more liberal view of the church seem to have a better ability to find value in the church and remain engaged, even if they don’t have an all-or-nothing testimony (or perhaps because they don’t have such a testimony).

  7. I think that as Reuven comes to understand Hasidism more deeply the reader does too. As he becomes more immersed in it, I think Chaim Potok shows the beauty of Hasidism as well as its flaws. I think there is a beauty in the intensity of the Hasid’s beliefs and focus. There is a great depth. They strive to have an intimate knowledge of every aspect of their faith. They are fluent in Hebrew, know the commentaries of centuries of Rabbis, pour over Torah and Talmud always expecting there is more for them to learn. As Reuven understands the beauty and intensity of Hasidism the reader begins to understand the conflict Danny is faced with.

    Going along with the “sight” theme I think that David Malter’s question “Things are always what the seems to be, Reuven? Since when?” is important. There are so many sides to people, religious traditions and if we try to boil them down too simply we will definitely miss much of what they are. For example, Reb Saunders is a complex character. There are things I find undesirable about Hasidism, but it also contains great beauty. I think David Malter’s question is a good one. And, Judaism which is famous for examining and reexamining itself, for questioning, is a great backdrop for thinking about this. How do we take our own spiritual journey, remaining connected to our heritage while giving ourselves the freedom to be who we are as individuals?

  8. CE, I think it is true that Reuven’s liberal upbringing allows him to be more connected to his spirituality. I think it is because he has some freedom to approach his faith in a personal way that speaks to him instead of having it forced on him. For example I know someone that really didn’t feel connected spiritually in some ways while he was LDS. The image of a physical father God was not a peaceful image for him. His own father had not been gentle and thinking of God as his father was not comforting. Once he left the Church he found God in a more abstract way and is extremely serious about his spiritual life. He needed to be able to approach God in a way that worked for him. Allowing people space within their faith tradition would allow people to take what is meaningful to them spiritually and leave what it not.

  9. Mary D,

    Hearing the story about your friend who found comfort in an abstract God made me wonder – do you think that Danny sees God as a father figure? If so, then Danny’s relationship with his father would probably influence his view of God. From what I remember, Danny sees God as “Master of the Universe,” and not as a father.

  10. John first thanks for doing this! Potok has been on my list for a long time and I’ve never got around to him. I can tell this is going to be important to me.

    The thing that struck me in the first three chapters was the sense of things lost. The coach who could not go to war for unclear reasons. The boxer who could not box. A boy who had lost his vision in an accident that had killed his Mother (and so losing her too). A baseball game is lost. Anger is even lost. A father who has always seemed strong and healthy is loosing his health. The book seems to hover around these senses of lostness in interesting ways. With the lostness seemed to be a sense of brokenness with these losses, it’s not just a disappearances of things, but things turning out to not be the way they should have turned out. The way that they were suppose to be. A sense that things had gotten of track. Even Danny, seems to have gotten off his destiny’s track of being a rabbi.

    One note: Hey everybody if you are going to talk about future events or future books please give spoiler alerts so we who are reading this for the first time don’t have things ruined! I’m not reading passed the assigned chapters until after the discussion.

  11. Steve- I think your “lostness” points are interesting and fruitful.

  12. John – I want to thank you for the book suggestion. Potok had eluded me until you brought him to my attention. Now I am churning through his stuff in quick succession and am loving every minute of it. Thought you should know your book club was a resounding success in my case.