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Daniel (Danny) Saunders is the extremely intelligent son of Reb Saunders, the rabbi of the Hasidic sect in Williamsburg. Danny is also the protagonist of the novel who struggles to understand his father and find himself.
In appearance, Danny looks like a typical Hasidic Jew, wearing ear locks, a skullcap, and a beard. He also has a superior attitude towards the less orthodox Jews in the neighborhood, believing that they are less religious and righteous. When he plays in a baseball game against a team of conservative Jews, Danny is determined to win to prove the Hasids' superiority. During the course of the game, he bats a ball very hard and directly at Reuven Malter, who is injured when the ball hits his face. He has to be taken to the hospital and have an operation on his eye. Danny is remorseful about his behavior and goes to the hospital to apologize to his victim. This begins a close friendship between Reuven and Danny.
In demeanor, Danny is an intense and introspective loner who spends his time studying the Talmud and reading books from the library. Until he and Reuven become close, he has had few friends. As a result, at first he finds it difficult to open up to Reuven, but Reuven and his father bring out the best in Danny. Underneath his stiff, formal behavior, Danny proves he has a kind and compassionate heart. He goes to the hospital to apologize to Reuven and will not give up until he succeeds, even though Reuven sends him away. When Mr. Malter is suffering from poor health, Danny is very concerned and tries to comfort Reuven. Even when they are no longer allowed to speak to one another, Danny looks tenderly at Reuven and brushes his hand when he hears that Mr. Malter is again gravely ill. Danny is also sensitive to his father's feelings and does not want to hurt him by telling him of his decision about not becoming a rabbi.
Both Reuven and Danny are bright young men, but Danny has a photographic memory, which helps him understand and remember things faster than ordinary boys. In fact, he studies four pages of the Talmud a day while most normal boys, like Reuven, can digest only a single page a day. Danny's father tells Reuven that as a child, Danny "did not read the story, he swallowed it, as one swallows food or water. There was no soul in my four-year-old Daniel, there was only his mind." Danny's brilliance, however, does not extend to mathematics and logic, the areas in which Reuven succeeds. As a result, both young men help one another with their studies and their problems.
Danny is expected to follow in his father's footsteps and become a Hasidic rabbi. Danny, however, longs to be a psychologist. He teaches himself German so that he can read Freud in the native language. Throughout most of the book, Danny expresses a total fascination with Freudian psychology, even though Mr. Malter, Reuven's father, warns him not to equate Freud with a god. When he attends Hirsch College and studies psychology, he learns that many of Freud's theories were not well proven. As a result, he learns to appreciate psychological experiments and sees the value in the mathematical proofs, even though they do not come easy for him. In the end, Danny decides to pursue clinical psychology and is accepted into graduate school to study it. He is still, however, afraid to tell his taciturn father about his career choice.
As Danny matures, he begins to comprehend his father's silence. He also learns to peer into his own soul, find his own answers, and cope with the world around him with sensitivity. At the end of the novel, when his father finally speaks to him and blesses his career choice, Danny is a changed man. He now fully understands and respects his father's actions and even thinks he may raise his own son in the same Hasidic manner.
Reb Saunders, the father of Danny and the rabbi of a Hasidic sect of Jews living in Williamsburg, New York, is a deeply religious and God-fearing man. Becoming a rabbi in Russia at a young age, he eventually led his followers away from the hatred of the Cossacks and led them to America to live a new life. The sect, however, still lives by the old ways and traditions.
Reb Saunders is genuinely concerned about his oldest son, Danny. He sees the boy's brilliance at an early age, but worries about his soul. Since the rabbi is raising his son in silence, according to the Hasidic tradition, he cannot speak to Danny except when they are involved in religious sessions, studying the Talmud. As a result, Reb Saunders encourages the friendship of Danny with Reuven and Mr. Malter, for he feels the two of them will help Danny to find and develop his soul. He thinks they will help show him humanity and humility.
Reb Saunders has always known that the liberal Mr. Malter was a Zionist, but he overlooks that facet of his personality because of 2his many good traits. However, when Malter becomes public with his Zionist feelings, the rabbi feels that he has to break up the friendship between his son and Reuven Malter. He knows that his followers would never understand or accept the relationship. Danny, an obedient son, follows his father's demands and does not speak to Reuven for two years; but he resents his father and longs to become involved in Zionist activities himself.
Although he never tells Danny, Reb Saunders knows that his son does not want to become a rabbi and plans to become a psychologist. At the end of the novel, the rabbi finally breaks his silence and explains to Danny his past concern for his soul. He also blesses Danny's choice of a career. For the first time, Danny feels close to his father, causing the novel to end in comedy. Father and son finally have a true relationship and understanding.
Reuven Malter is a key character and the narrator of the novel, telling Danny's story.
Having a healthy and supportive relationship with his liberal and intelligent father, Reuven is a comparatively simpler character than Danny. Although he is bright, especially in mathematics and logics, he struggles to understand the Talmud. He also struggles with his feelings for Reb Saunders, whom he thinks is an insensitive and cruel father to Danny.
Reuven is a skinny, bespectacled, dark-haired, dark-eyed sixteen- year-old boy at the beginning of the novel. He thinks of himself as an average teenager who enjoys school and playing baseball. Fascinated with his Jewish religion, he longs to become a rabbi. In fact, Reuven has all the right characteristics to become successful in this career. Not only is he intelligent, religious, and righteous, he is also a caring person. He is genuinely troubled about Danny's relationship with his father. He is also gravely concerned about the health of Mr. Savo and Billy, the people who share his hospital room. Whenever he is upset, Reuven easily turns to prayer. He is seen praying for the soldiers on D-day and for Mr. Savo and Billy in their hour of need. Even though he cannot understand why good, innocent people, like Danny and Billy, are made to suffer, he never loses faith.
In a baseball game, Reuven's eye is seriously injured when Danny Saunders bats a ball in his face, intentionally. He is taken to the hospital, where he undergoes eye surgery. While recuperating in a hospital bed, Reuven is surprised that Danny comes to visit him and tries to apologize. Still upset over the injury, Reuven coldly sends Danny away. When he returns the next day, Reuven finally accepts his apology, and the two of them become close friends, helping one another. Danny helps Reuven with his Talmud studies and comforts him when Mr. Malter is sick. In return, Reuven helps Danny with math and logic. He also helps Danny to face his father's taciturnity and orthodoxy.
Because Reuven is very close to his own father, telling him everything, he has great difficulty understanding the silent relationship that exists between Danny and the rabbi. Even though Reuven enjoys studying the Talmud with Rabbi Saunders, he always judges him to be a cold and cruel father. Then when Reb Saunders breaks up the friendship between Danny and him, Reuven is fully resentful. It is not until the very end of the novel, when Rabbi Saunders breaks his silence with Danny, that Reuven understands the true love that the father has for his son.
Although Reuven does not have a photographic mind like Danny, he is extremely intelligent and studies very hard. Like Danny, he attends Hirsch College after high school, where he pours himself into the study of the Talmud, mastering some of the difficult passages. In fact, when he finds and points out an error in the Talmud, his professor is amazed at his brilliance; but he warns him never to do such a thing again, for the Talmud is a sacred text.
Although Reuven is not the protagonist of the novel, he is a key character, telling Danny's story and helping him to be more sensitive and to understand himself. In fact, the title of the book, "the chosen," refers to Reuven, more than to Danny. It is Reuven that is selected by Rabbi Saunders to successfully bridge the gap between himself and his son. He is also chosen to help Danny discover his own identity.
Professor David Malter
Mr. David Malter is a non-orthodox Jew, the father of Reuven, a widower, and a teacher at the high school that Reuven attends. He is known to be a brilliant man with liberal ideas. He also has a very close and satisfying relationship with his son. The two of them enjoy sharing all of their thoughts and feelings.
David Malter is a total contrast to Reb Saunders. He is an unassuming, kindly, and sympathetic person, who believes a person should think for himself. Although he does not agree with the Hasidic rabbi, he never criticizes him and always takes the time to explain Reb Saunders' actions in a logical way to his son. In addition, Professor Malter befriends Danny, helping him to find good secular book to read from the library. He also applies scientific reason to the study of the Talmud, rather than interpreting it in the traditional, orthodox way. His liberal thinking leads him to become an active Zionist, working for the cause of the creation of a Jewish homeland in the Holy Land.
Through much of the book, Malter is in poor health, largely because he does not take good care of himself. At the height of his Zionistic activity, he suffers a second heart attack, which greatly disturbs Reuven. Malter, however, is not afraid of dying. He even tells his son that there is a good chance he may be killed because of his Zionistic activism. He is always honest and straightforward with his son, for he has brought him up to be able to face and accept life's struggles. In every way, David Malter proves himself to be an intelligent man, a loving father, and a wise teacher.