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The Chosen by Chaim Potok Review

Title: The Chosen

Author: Chaim Potok

First published January 1, 1966

304 pages, Mass Market Paperback

ISBN: 9780449213445 (ISBN10: 0449213447)

Rating: 4.06


The Chosen by Chaim Potok is a timeless tale that explores the complexities of father-son relationships and the challenges of following one’s faith. Set in a world where religion is a way of life, this novel follows the journey of two young men who, despite their differences, find a spiritual connection that transforms their lives forever.

As they navigate the pressures of their respective communities, they discover a bond that transcends religion and cultural barriers. In the end, they find themselves on a path of self-discovery and mutual understanding that will change them forever.

Potok’s masterful storytelling will leave readers captivated and moved by the power of friendship, faith, and love.

About the Author

Herman Harold Potok, also known as Chaim Tzvi, was born in Buffalo, New York to parents who had immigrated from Poland. As a child, he received an Orthodox Jewish education, which influenced his later work.

When he was a teenager, he read Evelyn Waugh’s book Brideshead Revisited and decided he wanted to become a writer. At the age of 16, he began writing fiction and submitted his first piece to The Atlantic Monthly when he was 17.

Though it wasn’t published, he received praise from the editor.

In 1949, Potok’s short stories were published in the literary magazine of Yeshiva University, which he also helped edit. He graduated with honors from the university in 1950 with a degree in English literature.

After completing four years of study at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, he became an ordained Conservative rabbi. He was appointed as the director of Leaders Training Fellowship, which was a youth organization affiliated with Conservative Judaism.

Potok enlisted in the U.S. Army as a chaplain after receiving a master’s degree in English literature. He served in South Korea from 1955 to 1957, which he described as a life-changing experience.

He had been raised to believe that the Jewish people were central to God’s plans and history, but in Korea, he found a place with almost no Jews and no anti-Semitism. He was struck by the fervor of the religious believers he encountered there.

After returning to the United States, Potok became a faculty member at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and became the director of a Conservative Jewish summer camp called Camp Ramah. He began his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and was appointed scholar-in-residence at Temple Har Zion in Philadelphia.

In 1963, he spent a year in Israel, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Solomon Maimon and began writing a novel.

Potok moved to Brooklyn in 1964 to become the managing editor of a magazine and a faculty member at the Teachers’ Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary. The following year, he was appointed editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia and later became the chairman of the publication committee.

He received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.

Potok relocated to Jerusalem in 1970 with his family, but returned to Philadelphia in 1977. After the publication of his book, he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

He died in 2002 at the age of 73 at his home in Merion, Pennsylvania.

Editoral Review

Introducing The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Chaim Potoks novel The Chosen was first published on January 1, 1966. Potok, who was born in New York City in 1929, was an American rabbi, novelist, and historian.

He is best known for his exploration of the tensions and conflicts between modernity and tradition in Jewish life. The Chosen is a seminal work in this regard, and it has won critical acclaim and a wide readership for its thought-provoking exploration of familial and religious relationships.

The genre, style, and themes of The Chosen

The Chosen is a coming-of-age novel that explores the lives of two young Jewish boys, Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders, living in Brooklyn, New York in the 1940s. The novel is written in a traditional style, with a third-person narration that centers on Reuven’s perspective.

The major themes of the novel are the Jewish faith, the tensions between secularism and religious observance, and the importance of father-son relationships.

A brief summary of The Chosen

The Chosen is a story about two boys from different Jewish denominations who become friends in Brooklyn during WWII. Reuven, a Modern Orthodox Jew, and Danny, the son of a Hasidic rebbe, meet while playing baseball for their respective yeshivas.

Reuven is injured by a ball hit by Danny during a game, causing a significant impact on their friendship. While recovering, Reuven learns about Hasidism through his father, an Israeli professor of Talmud who holds progressive views, and Dannys father.

He attempts to reconcile the modern and traditional elements of his Jewish faith. Danny has grown up in close isolation from the outside world, focusing on religious studies and memorizing the Talmud.

He wants to study psychology and Freud, but feels conflicted about his fathers plans for him to become a rabbi. Potok delves into the inner struggles of the characters emotional lives, exploring themes of faith, identity, and independence.

Historical and Cultural Significance

The cultural and historical importance of The Chosen is twofold. First, in the context of American Jewish literature, it captures the generational religious differences and contrasts within the Jewish community in the mid-20th century.

Second, the novel reflects the social and political changes happening at the time, such as the impact of WWII and the growth of American liberalism.

Critical Analysis of The Chosen

Potok’s novel is beautifully written, with nuanced characters and a well-structured plot. The novel effectively captures the intense tensions and conflicts between the characters in both their personal and religious lives.

Potok also vividly captures the setting of Brooklyn, using vivid descriptions of its street scenes and neighborhoods. However, some readers may find the novel a little slow-paced at times.

The novel’s conclusion feels somewhat rushed compared to the intricate build-up, although this is only a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent book.

Comparisons with other works

The Chosen is reminiscent of J.D. Salingers The Catcher in the Rye in its exploration of teenage alienation and the struggle to come to terms with coming of age. Potok’s acute observation for the tension and conflict between religion and secular modernity in The Chosen is also reminiscent of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s works.


The Chosen is a must-read for people interested in Jewish fiction, but equally, it is an intriguing work of fiction that offers a valuable insight into the complexity of religious and secular human experience. The depth of the characters and the richness of the narrative make it a fascinating and thought-provoking read.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in exploring the complexities of faith, human relationships, and coming-of-age. On a scale of 1-10, I would rate it 9 for its depth and craft.