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The Chosen: Novel Summary: Chapter 5-6

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Chapter 5-6

Reuven arrives home, which is the first floor of a three-story townhouse. Manya, their Russian housekeeper, cooks him a massive lunch. After the meal, Reuven walks around the apartment, refamiliarizing himself with it. He feels as if he is seeing it for the first time. Although he spent only five days in the hospital, so much has changed for him in that short time.
In the evening, Reuven asks his father about Danny. Malter gives him a long explanation, that begins with the tragic history of the Jews in Poland, since that was where Hasidism originated. At the end of the sixteenth century, there were many Jews in Poland, and it was a center of learning for all European Jews. But because the Jews helped the nobility, including collecting taxes, they engendered hostility from the oppressed classes in Poland. For a decade, beginning in 1648, the Polish peasants and the Cossacks (members of the Greek Orthodox Church) rose up against the Polish nobles and the Jews. About 100,000 Jews were killed. Many Jews believed that the catastrophe meant that the Messiah would soon be coming. A man named Shabbtai Zvi appeared, and many believed he was the Messiah, but he turned out to be a fraud. By the eighteenth century, Jewish life in Poland had deteriorated and it was no longer a center of learning. Jewish scholars held empty discussions over minute points in the Talmud that had no relevance to the world. It was also a time of great superstition, and any Jew who claimed to be able to chase away demons and spirits was revered as a saint. Then a man named Israel appeared, who came to be known as a wise and holy man. Speaking to people in simple language that they could understand, he preached a religion of the heart, that did not depend on Talmudic studies. He emphasizes that there is a spark of God within everyone, and it can be reached by prayer, by being happy, and by loving all people. This was the origin of Hasidism, which spread to half of European Jewry by the end of the eighteenth century. Each Hasidic community had its own leader, the tzaddik, whom the people followed blindly, believing him to be the link between themselves and God.
In the nineteenth century, according to what Malter tells his son, Hasidism began to degenerate. Many of the tzaddikim became corrupt, and exploited their people. Some Hasidic sects became very narrow in their outlook, emphasizing study of the Talmud, and banning the reading of secular literature. These customs and beliefs have stayed the same until the present, although Malter adds that not all Hasidic communities are identical. He tells Reuven that Reb Saunders, Danny's father, is a great tzaddik, with a reputation for brilliance and compassion. He also has praise for Danny, saying that he too has a brilliant mind. Because he lives in a free country, it should be no surprise that he is breaking his father's rules and reading forbidden books. Malter explains that Danny is lonely because he has no one to talk to, and that is why Reuven should be his friend. Reuven reflects again, this time directly to his father, about how much things have changed in such a short time.
Reuven has learned much since the baseball game. Through his encounter with Danny, he has learned not to judge people on external appearances, realizing the truth of his father's words, "People are not always what they seem to be," in chapter 4. He has learned to be thankful for good health and vision, things he never thought much about before. In a sense, his eye injury has opened his eyes to the world. In the hospital, he has also learned about suffering in the world: ten-year-old Billy has lost his mother and may be permanently blind; Mr. Savo has lost an eye; six-year-old Mickey has been in the hospital most of his life. Reuven has learned to be aware of the sufferings of others.
Chapter 6 shows how David Malter, as a modern Orthodox Jew who values education, approaches knowledge. He values historical evidence, and tries to make objective judgements based on the evidence. He teaches his son through lectures, which is quite different from the way Reb Saunders carries out his teaching mission, as later chapters will show.


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