In The Chosen, Chaim Potok explored how two brilliant teenage boys struggled to find a way to reconcile their orthodox Jewish faith with their academic interests.
The Promise again brings Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders, now both graduate students, together around a problem to which they respond differently.
Reuven meets a famous Jewish scholar who, though unable to believe in the Jew’s God or their theology, believes in Judiasm’s ethics and culture.
Prof. Gordon’s son has mental problems.
Through Reuven, the Gordons learn of Danny, who is doing brilliant work in psychotherapy. They agree to letting Danny isolate Michael until he opens up to Danny.
The very idea appalls Reuven.
He has his own problems.
The man who will determine whether he passes the smicha exam and becomes a rabbi is an ultra-Orthodox Jew who has violently attacked Reuven’s father for heretical views.
Potok weaves these and many more threads together into a exploration of friendship, father-son relationships, faith and orthodoxy, and the potentially lethal consequences of the zeal of the persecuted becoming a club by which they can persecute others.
The Promise is as good on second—or seventh—reading as on the first.
The Promise by Chaim Potok
Alfred A. Knopf, 1969. 368 pp. 1969 bestseller #8. My grade A.
Danny slams back one of Reuven’s pitches, sending shards of his glasses into his eye.
Later Danny comes to the hospital to apologize.
Reuven is smart, Danny, with his photographic memory, is brilliant. A friendship springs up between the boys who have no intellectual peers in their schools.
Through the boys’ friendship, Potok takes readers deep into the orthodox scene.
Reuven is very close to his scholarly father. He finds Rabbi Saunders’s refusal to speak to Danny on any topic other than the Talmud appalling.
Danny is hurt by the silent treatment, but loves and respects his father.
As the boys begin college, the question arises: What will happen if they want different careers than their fathers have chosen for them?
In Potok’s deceptively straightforward narrative, it’s easy to miss details that reveal motives deeply rooted in the two faith communities. Some readers will need to read the novel twice to grasp the faith context.
Others may read The Chosen twice because it’s worth reading more than once.