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The Chosen: Novel Summary: Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

he Chosen begins in 1944. The protagonist is a fifteen-year-old Jewish boy named Reuven, who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The area is heavily Jewish, and there are several Hasidic sects in the neighborhood. These are very conservative Jews, some from Russia and others from Poland. Each Hasidic sect has its own rabbi and its own customs, including distinctive clothing. Reuven is not Hasidic. His father is an Orthodox Jew, and Reuven attends a yeshiva, a Jewish school, in Crown Heights, where there are Hebrew studies in the morning and English studies in the afternoons. The emphasis is on study of the Talmud, the collection of ancient rabbinical commentaries that interpret biblical laws and commandments. Reuven's father teaches at the yeshiva.
In early June, 1944, as World War II rages, Reuven takes part in a varsity baseball game that will have a major effect on his life. It will be his first encounter with a boy named Danny. Reuven has been playing baseball for two years and has become good at second base. He has also developed a swift underhand pitch that deceives the batter.
That afternoon Reuven's team is scheduled to play a team from another yeshiva that has a reputation for wild slugging and poor fielding. Reuven's team are looking forward to the game and badly want to win, partly because they like their coach, Mr. Galanter. Reuven's teammate Davey Cantor warns Reuven that their opponents are "murderers," but Reuven does not take him seriously.
The opponents are from a Hasidic sect, as Reuven sees from the fact that they wear the traditional tzitzit (fringes) with their uniforms and are coached by a rabbi rather than an athletic coach. They speak to each other in Yiddish.
The rabbi insists that his team be given a few moments to practice before the game begins. He also insists, to Mr. Galanter's annoyance, that the other team leaves the field.
Reuven sees nothing remarkable as he watches the other team practice, but Davey still insists they are ruthless. He identifies one of their opponents as Danny Saunders, the son of Rabbi Isaac Saunders. Reuven has heard from his father about how Reb Saunders zealously rules his own people.
Danny walks past Reuven, ignoring him, and Reuven decides he does not like what he sees as this Hasidic sense of superiority.
Danny's team bats first, and Reuven takes up his position at second base. The first batter strikes out, and Reuven doesn't feel the opposition is anything to worry about. But the third batter, a big boy named Dov Shlomowitz, hits the second pitch, and then charges straight into Reuven at second base, knocking him down.
The next batter is Danny, who hits the ball straight at the pitcher's head, who avoids it by diving to the ground. The pitcher thinks that Danny aimed deliberately at him. Reuven is still not concerned, and at second base he congratulates Danny on his hit. Danny is not very friendly, saying his team is going to "kill you apikorsism." (Apikorism are those who do not follow Jewish law and practice. Danny regards anyone who does not share the narrow beliefs of the Hasidic sect to which he belongs as an apikoros.)
When Reuven's team bats, it appears at first that Danny's team, with the exception of Danny, are poor fielders. Realizing that Danny's team regards the game as a war between themselves, the righteous believers, and the sinful apikorism, Reuven starts to feel hatred for Danny. There is ill-feeling between the two teams as the game continues. It starts to resemble a war.
When Danny is next at bat, he again hits the ball over the pitcher's head. Reuven makes a leaping catch and falls down. By the top half of the fifth and final inning, Reuven's team leads by five to three. Reuven is the pitcher when Danny comes to the plate. Reuven's fifth pitch comes in fast. Danny has figured out the curve and swings low at it. He hits the ball straight at Reuven. Reuven puts his hand up and the ball deflects off his glove, shatters his glasses and then glances off his forehead, knocking him down. His eye hurts when he blinks and Mr. Galanter, his coach, helps him off the field and puts a wet handkerchief on his head. He watches as his team loses the game. The pain in his eye gets worse, and Mr. Galanter calls a cab to take him to the hospital.
The novel is about the tensions between different approaches amongst Jews to the core of the Jewish tradition. These different approaches are introduced through the baseball game. Potok spoke of this in an interview with Harold Ribalow that was published in Conversations with Chaim Potok: "In that baseball game you have two aspects of Jewish Orthodoxy in contention. You have the Eastern European aspect, which prefers to turn inward and not confront the outside world. You have the Western European more scientific aspect . . . within Orthodoxy, that is not afraid to look at the outside world that produces scientists."
The attitudes of these two approaches to Judaism will be examined as the novel proceeds. The two main characters have already been introduced: The Hasid Danny and the Orthodox Reuven. They start off as rivals, and both are the outstanding players on their team.
The Hasidic sects tend to keep to themselves and place great value on their religious traditions. They don't take part in the wider American life and have what Reuven calls a "ghetto mentality." They are also suspicious of anyone who does not share their beliefs. This comes across in their fanatical, win-at-all-costs approach to the baseball game. They think they are superior, and are ruthless in their pursuit of victory. They think of it as a war.
The Orthodox, on the other hand, are more open to entering the cultural mainstream and becoming scientists, professors, doctors and lawyers. When Danny and Reuven first meet, it is clear that Reuven is the more friendly, open one. He is more engaged with his surroundings. Danny seems aloof and closed off; he is focused on winning the game and nothing else seems to matter.
There is some symbolism in this first chapter. The novel is concerned with different ways of seeing, with different visions of the world. Reuven's glasses are broken and he is injured in his eye. This means that he is about to have his way of seeing the world, of perceiving things, challenged and altered.


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