Monday, July 4, 2011

The Chosen

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Conflicts in The Chosen

In reading The Chosen, one is exposed to conflicts between characters throughout the book, which Potok expresses in three main conflicts � father against father, son against son, and father against son. Each variation of conflict has a very important significance to the main theme of conflicts among four Jewish males throughout the book. In post-Holocaust times, can it be assumed that all Jews would share a common belief system and have no conflicts?

In The Chosen, the father against father conflict is a result of clashes between David Malters and Reb Saunders. Each held drastically opposite views on life, parenting, religion and most every issue. This created major conflict at a time when American Jews who had escaped Germany were beginning to relay horrific stories from the Holocaust. While David Malter and Reb Saunders are both fathers and religious scholars, they demonstrate fundamentally different beliefs about disciplining children and religion. Reb Saunders and David Malter are very different in their ways. Reb is a Hasidic Jew and isolationist fanatic while David is an Orthodox Jew, more open-minded and interactive with the modern world around him. Reb’s traditionalist mindset is stubborn and parochial. For most of the novel, he refuses to consider the outside world or interpret Judaism in ways other than his own. David Malter, on the other hand, remains tolerant of other points of view, even Reb Saunders. Most important, David Malter is willing to adapt his religious beliefs to incorporate contemporary issues. For Reb Saunders, being Jewish means one must accept a special set of obligations like studying the Torah and serving God. “We are commanded to study His Torah! We are commanded to sit in the light of the Presence! It is for this that we were created! . . . Not the world, but the people of Israel (Potok 18)! For David Malter, being Jewish is less rigid and more about possessing a certain intellectual and spiritual mindset and honoring obligations that will, in turn, provide meaning. The statement “man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life (Potok 17), reflects David Malters growing feeling that it is not enough to wait passively for biblical prophesy, as Reb Saunders does. Unlike Reb Saunders, David Malter believes that religion should impact politics, and that it is important for Jews to actively engage the outside world. At times, each father feels threatened by the others views. At other times, each father displays strong respect for the other. The essence of different value systems and opposing viewpoints between these fathers is the core catalyst for conflict as the story develops.

As the old saying goes, like father like son. “I’m my father’s son, remember? I’m the inheritor of the dynasty. Number one on our catechism Treat the son as you would the father, because one day the son will be the father” (Potok 178). It isn’t surprising that, the sons of these two strong-willed men conflict with each other in a similar fashion as their fathers throughout the pages of The Chosen. Danny and Reuven become friends in an unlikely way. While playing an interschool baseball game, Reuven was pitching and Daniel hit the ball and shattered Reuven’s glasses. Reuven went to the hospital for immediate eye surgery. After the eye heals, Danny went to Reuven to beg his forgiveness and the two boys became fast friends. Reuven’s family has more flexible religious customs, while Danny’s relatives represent very strict Hasidic beliefs with limited views. “My father doesn’t like us to mix with outsiders” (Potok 16). The two boys embark upon adulthood in New York in the 140’s and together try to negotiate issues typical for that era. Reuvens father becomes an outspoken proponent of Israel as a Jewish homeland while Dannys father is fanatical in his belief that only the Messiah could lead the Jews to Israel. It is at this point when Reb Saunders goes to the extreme of demanding that his son cease being friends with Reuven because of a speech on Zionism made by Reuven’s father. “Danny was not to see me talk to me, be found within four feet of me. My father and I had been excommunicated from the Saunders family” (Potok 1). During this ban, Danny and Reuven continue to communicate through eye contact and subtle gestures. The look on Dannys face, though, when I saw him for the first time, helped a little. He passed me in the hallway, his face a suffering mask of pain and compassion. I thought for a moment he would speak to me, but he didnt. Instead, he brushed against me and managed to touch my hand for a second. His touch and his eyes spoke the words that his lips couldnt. I told myself it was bitter and ironic that my father needed to have a heart attack in order for some contact to be established once again between myself and Danny (Potok 41). This, they learn, is a non verbal means of perpetuating a friendship. As the boys grow into young men, they discover in the other a lost spiritual brother and a link to an unexplored world that neither had ever considered before. In effect, they exchange places, and find a peace that neither would have gained without the other.

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The last, and one of the most important conflicts in the book, is father against son. Fathers and sons cannot choose each other, but this lack of choice does not make their relationships any less meaningful. These conflicts may not be quite as obvious because they are typically more silently communicated. Danny and his father speak only to one another when Reb Saunders asks him questions about the Talmud on Shabbat. “They never talk, abba. Except when they study Talmud” (Potok 47). Primarily, this stems from the respect that is expected to be shown between parent and child in a Hasidic family. An example of father-son conflict takes place within Danny Saunders when he is torn between a life devoted to the intellectual study of psychology which he realizes is not congruent with his Hasidic religious views because it emphasizes a non-religious view of human nature. He realizes that he faces a decision of deeply disappointing his father by not following in his footsteps of living a life devoted strictly to the Hasidic traditions or foregoing that which his heart desires. Although very intelligent, Danny has never been to a movie or a museum, but he secretly goes to the library every day, and reads secular books. Danny becomes increasingly torn between honoring his father and his religious upbringing and his intellectual hunger. Even when Danny was still very young, Reb Saunders realized that in his boy the dazzling intellect was growing into a dominant force. “I cried inside my heart. I went away and cried to the Master of the Universe, What have you done to me? A mind like this I need for a son? A heart I need for a son, a soul I need for a son, compassion I want from my son, righteousness, mercy, strength to suffer and carry pain, that I want from my son, not a mind without a soul (Potok 15)!

Despite what can seem like insurmountable differences in The Chosen, everyone has similarities as well. There is good in everyone and two people are bound to share some common views. By dwelling on the similarities and respecting the fact that everyone doesn’t see eye to eye on every single issue, it can be possible for individuals to cohabitate peacefully and sometimes even enjoy sharing attributes of their differences. For, in sharing these differences, diverse citizens learn about perspectives beyond their own and can experience growth. While some people remain more narrow-minded than others, they may refuse to accept a lifestyle or a belief. But, they may begin, little by little, to consider tolerating the differences. Like it or not, the world is full of many different people and no matter who the group of people, or what past experiences they may share, there will always be conflicts because no two people are alike.

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