This is a book that will make you cry. Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders are two brilliant Jewish boys growing up in 1940s Brooklyn in radically different situations. Reuven's father is a Zionist who trusts political and military action to bring peace and stability to Israel, while Danny's father is an Hasidic rebbe, as strict as any in his sect and more so than some. After a baseball game that lands Reuven in the hospital the two become friends, though their relationship is a troubled one.
Neither boy's father is supportive of the friendship. But whereas Reuven's father at least supports his son's desire to study mathematics and become a rabbi, Danny's father believes his son (who is to succeed him as rabbi of their community) should only study Torah, despite his son's desire to study psychology and other subjects outside traditional Hasidic bounds of intellectual inquiry.
While this novel is ostensibly about the relationship of Reuven and Danny, it more deeply concerns the relationship of Danny and his father, as a deeply rooted tradition is confronted with changing reality. This is a common theme for Potok—the adaptation of younger generations to the changing world without abandoning the traditions that are necessary for stability. Potok doesn't argue for one side over the other as one might expect; rather, he understands and accepts the overlap and strife between the two positions and carefully examines each. Danny and Reb Saunders are both sympathetic characters, neither caricatured, and neither a soapbox for Potok's pontifications.
But this is not just a novel about ideas. This is a deeply human work about spiritual wounds and how the healing is often more painful than the original hurt. Each character is emotionally weak in some way, and their interactions are realistic—attempting to hide their weakness behind a facade of strength, they often injure one another, both intentionally and accidentally. At the same time, The Chosen isn't pessimistic or angsty. The heroic ending is one of the greatest in literature, the perfect capstone to a brilliant and beautiful work of art.