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The Chosen: Novel Summary: Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

The next morning, Reuven and his father go to their synagogue for a prayer service. Reuven is still thinking of Mr. Savo and Billy. After lunch at home, Malter goes out to see a colleague, and Reuven snoozes on the porch for several hours. His rest is interrupted by Danny, who announces that his father wants to meet Reuven. As they walk the five blocks together to Danny's home, Danny tells Reuven about his father, who had been born in Russia and inherited the leadership of his Hasidic sect when he was twenty-one. During the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, his wife and two children were murdered by Cossacks. He was injured and left for dead, but was nursed back to health first by a Russian peasant and then by a Jewish family. The following spring he told his people they were abandoning Russia and would emigrate to America. His people followed his lead without question.
As they reach the area where the Hasidic community lives, Reuven notices that everyone in the streets speaks in Yiddish, and the men wear the black caftans of the sect. Reuven feels out of place and regrets that he agreed to meet Danny's father. He is also surprised when a large group of Hasidic men on the street stand aside respectfully when Danny passes. As the son of the rabbi and future leader of the sect, Danny is already a revered figure.
They arrive at the Hasidic synagogue, which is in a brownstone house similar to the one Reuven lives in. Men are coming and going into the synagogue. Some chat with one another; others sit and study the scriptures or Talmud. Reuven sees Dov Shlomowitz, the boy who had run into him and knocked him down during the baseball game. Danny leads Reuven to the front row where they sit down. Soon the synagogue is full. Everyone speaks in Yiddish. Reuven notices that some people are staring at him, and he feels very alone.
The noise ceases, and Danny's father arrives. He is tall, with a long black beard. His eight-year-old son follows him. Danny introduces his father to Reuven. Saunders greets him in Yiddish, but Reuven, whose Yiddish is poor, replies in English.
During the service, Reb Saunders stands with his back to the congregation, swaying back and forth. After the service, the congregants sit around at tables. Reb Saunders sits at a table with mainly older men, as well as Danny and Reuven and Danny's brother. They eat. After that, prayers are sung. Reuven is familiar with most of the melodies, and he starts to relax and feel at ease. After Grace is sung, everyone waits for what is to come next. Then Reb Saunders begins to preach, in a singsong kind of chant. He explicates the words of Rabban Gamaliel and other Talmudic authorities, and emphasizes how important it is for Jews to study the Torah. He uses a method called gematriya to explicate his points. In gematriya, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet is assigned a number, so every Hebrew word has a numerical value. Reb Saunders uses this esoteric system with great ingenuity, and Reuven, who is brilliant at math, enjoys it. When Reb Saunders has finished speaking, Reuven assumes that the Evening Service will start, but instead, Reb Saunders turns to Danny and asks him if he has anything to say. Danny points out that his father made an error during his sermon, attributing one quotation to the wrong rabbi. Danny provides the correct attribution. Reuven is bewildered by this. Reb Saunders then starts to ask Danny questions about other Talmud texts, and Reuven realizes that this is a regular event, in which Saunders quizzes his son about his religious knowledge. Danny is so brilliant in his answers that the public quiz seems more like a contest between equals. Danny knows all the texts and all the commentaries on them. Reuven is amazed at the feats of memory that are on display.
When the session is over, Reb Saunders, although he is pleased with the range of his son's knowledge, rebukes him over one matter. Apparently, the mistakes Reb Saunders makes in his sermons are deliberate ones. He points out to Danny that he spotted the first one but then stopped listening, and missed the next one. Saunders, who is aware that Reuven is good at math, turns to Reuven and asks him if he has anything to say. After a little prodding, Reuven points out that one of the gematriyas was wrong. He gives the details, and Saunders expresses satisfaction.
After the service, Reb Saunders tells Reuven that he approves of his friendship with Danny. Although he does not agree with the articles that Reuven's father writes, he acknowledges that David Malter is a great scholar and an observer of the Commandments.
After Saunders, leaves, Reuven and Danny are left alone in the synagogue. Reuven has noticed that apart from the Talmud sessions, Saunders did not speak to Danny. Danny walks Reuven part of the way home. He explains that the Talmud contest is a family tradition, and that his father only makes mistakes he knows his son will spot.
Reuven is delighted when he learns that he and Danny will be going to the same college, Hirsch College, which has some of the finest Talmudists in the United States on its faculty. Danny says he plans to major in psychology.
At home, Reuven tells his father about what happened at the synagogue. Malter thinks that gematriya is nonsense, and can be used to prove anything. When Reuven says he finds Reb Saunders hard to understand, Malter tells him that Saunders is a great man, and great men are hard to understand. He carries a burden because he is a leader of his people.
This chapter introduces Reb Saunders directly for the first time. Earlier chapters have referred to him several times, and Reuven thinks he sounds like a tyrant. But the actual portrait of him is more complex. Certainly he is the unquestioned leader of his people and his manner can be intimidating, but as Reuven notices, he can also be kind and gentle.
Saunders delivers his exhortation at the synagogue with great fire and passion. This is quite different from the more calm, rational approach of David Malter. Saunders appeals to the emotions of his audience, and his teaching is spiced with the mysticism of numerology, again in contrast to the rationalism of Malter.
Saunders' sermon is important because it shows the Hasidic attitude to the world, which is in marked contrast to that exhibited by the Malter family. Saunders regards the world as something to be avoided, something that is hateful toward the Jews: "The world kills us! The world flays our skin from our bodies and throws us to the flames! The world laughs at Torah!" He also explains what he regards as the sacred purpose of the Jews; they are commanded by God to study the Torah. This reveals the concept of the Jews as the Chosen People, which is reflected in the title of the novel.
These beliefs explain the inward-looking nature of the Hasidic sect. They do not want anything to do with the corrupt secular, non-Jewish world.
But Reuven does not agree with the idea that the world is contaminated. As an Orthodox Jew he is also conservative, but based on what he has been taught by his father, he is more open to the world. As he puts it, the world includes such positive figures as Franklin Roosevelt (who was the American president during the time the story is set) and Albert Einstein. Unlike the Hasidic Jews, Reuven does not scorn the world of politics and science.


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