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The Chosen: Novel Summary: Chapter 11-12

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Chapter 11-12

The new school year begins. Reuven is involved in schoolwork and student politics and gradually sees less of Danny. World War II moves slowly to its conclusion. Reuven follows the news keenly, but Danny is not so interested. In March, 1945, American troops cross the Rhine and it is clear that the war is nearly at an end. In April, during a meeting of the student council, Reuven hears the news that President Roosevelt has died. Reuven is deeply upset and can barely believe the news. It is as if God has died. There is grief all around him at the death of the president, and Malter speaks of the hope that Roosevelt had brought to the country during the Depression of the 1930s. Reuven thinks that Roosevelt's death is as senseless as Billy's blindness. He cries for a long time. He does not see Danny, as first Danny is ill, and then Reuven gets flu and has to stay in bed. His father is also sick with severe flu.
When the war in Europe ends in May, news filters through of the German concentration camps in which six million Jews perished. Malter is grief-stricken, and Reuven is so stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy that he cannot grasp it.
The next Shabbat afternoon, Reuven visits Danny. Reb Saunders speaks bitterly of the brutality of the world. But he says that it is the will of God, and they must accept it. Reuven does not find this attitude satisfactory, and nor does his father. Malter says that they must take active steps to try to create meaning out of the tragedy of the Holocaust. They must rebuild Jewry in America, otherwise the Jews will die as a people.
At the end of June, Malter suffers a heart attack, and Reb Saunders invites Reuven to live in his house while Malter recovers.
Danny is accepted by everyone in the Saunders' household, and he and Danny do everything together, studying Talmud and going to the library, and visiting Reuven's father in the hospital. Reuven notices that Reb Saunders is often tired and brooding, as if he is carrying a weight of suffering. Reuven also notices that apart from Talmud study, Danny and his father never communicate with each other. Danny continues to read Freud, although Freud's insight into the nature of man upsets him because, as he puts it, Freud "tore man from God . . . and married him off to Satan." Danny explains Freud to Reuven, who is also upset by it, because Freud contradicts everything he has ever learned.
Meanwhile, in the hospital, David Malter speaks continually of the responsibility of American Jews to train teachers and rabbis in the wake of the destruction of European Jewry. He also speaks of the need to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Reuven mentions the latter idea to Reb Saunders, and Saunders is furious. He loathes the idea of a Jewish state founded by secular Jews, whom he refers to as goyim and apikorism. Danny tells Reuven never to mention it in his father's presence again.
In late July, Danny hints to Reuven that he may ask his younger brother to succeed his father as head of the Hasidic sect. That way, he could escape being pushed into a role he does not want, but he would not be breaking the family dynasty. Of course, he has not told his father yet. Reuven shows some interest in Danny's pretty sister, but Danny tells him that his father promised her to one of his followers when she was two years old.
In September, 1945, both Reuven and Danny enter Hirsch College.
World War II, which up to now has been in the background of the story, now takes center stage. The Holocaust, in which six million Jews died in Nazi concentration camps, was the defining event in twentieth century Jewish history. In the novel, the Holocaust also brings the question of innocent suffering to the fore. How can such an event be reconciled with the existence of a loving God and a just universe? Reuven can make no sense of it at all. Nor can he understand the death of President Roosevelt. He links this event to the blindness of Billy; they are both "empty of meaning." In the next chapter, his father will attempt to explain to him how meaning can emerge from tragic events.
Reb Saunders and David Malter-the Hasid and the Orthodox-react very differently to the news of the Holocaust. Reb Saunders says that it is the will of God and must be accepted. This is in keeping with his inward-looking philosophy. He believes that the world is evil, and hostile to the Jews. So the solution to the latest catastrophe is to shun the world even more. But Malter has a completely different attitude. He believes that a man must act in the world in order to change it. It is this attitude, as the later chapters will show, that lead to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.


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