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The Chosen
By Chaim Potok
“… my mother is a descendant of a great
Hasidic dynasty and my father was a Hasid, so I
come from that world."
Chaim Potok
Born: Herman Harold Potok ,February 17, 1929 in Brookln, N.Y.
Parents: Benjamin Max (d. 1958) and Mollie (Friedman) Potok
Father emigrated from Poland to the U.S. in 1921 and sold
stationery before the Depression and was a jeweler afterward.
Childhood: the son of Polish immigrants who had strong ties to
Hasidism and was reared in an Orthodox Jewish home.
"I grew up. . .in a Hassidic world without the beard and the
earlocks." (NY Times 1/3/88)
Siblings: Brother became a rabbi,
both sisters married rabbis.
• The modern Hasidic movement originated in
Poland in the late 18th Century. It is now the
strictest of the Jewish denominations.
• Hasidim wanted to protect Judaism from
becoming too modernized, so they kept their
communities more separate than did other
Orthodox Jews.
• After reading Evelyn Waugh's
novel Brideshead Revisited
when he was a teenager,
Potok decided to become a
• Potok started writing fiction
at the age of 16.
• His first submission was to the
Atlantic Monthly at the age of
17 (the piece was not
published but Potok received
a complimentary note from an
editor asking if he was writing
a novel).
• Riveted by the world of upper-class British
Catholics that Waugh brings to life in the novel,
Potok realized for the first time that fiction had
the power "to create worlds out of words on
• To learn how to write, Potok carefully studied the
novels of such writers as Ernest Hemingway,
William Faulkner, Charles Dickens, and Mark
Twain. Over a period of five years, he spent most
of his free time reading the novels of great
• At the same time, he became fascinated by
less restrictive Jewish doctrines, particularly
Conservative movement.
Conservative Judaism
• The name derives from the idea that the movement
would be necessary to conserve Jewish traditions in the
U.S., a culture in which Reform and Orthodoxy were
not believed to be viable.
• Conservative Judaism attempts to combine a positive
attitude toward modern culture with a commitment to
Jewish observance.
• Conservative Judaism believes that scholarly study of
Jewish texts indicates that Judaism has constantly been
evolving to meet the needs of the Jewish people in
varying circumstances.
Potok’s Education:
• He attended Yeshiva University and graduated
summa cum laude in English literature in 1950.
• He attended Jewish Theological Seminary of
America, where he was ordained a
Conservative rabbi.
• Potok served as combat chaplain with the United States Army in
Korea from 1955 to 1957.
• He taught at several Jewish colleges before moving on to become
the managing editor of Conservative Judaism in 1964.
• After spending a year in Israel,Potok earned a Ph.D. in philosophy
from the University of Pennsylvania.
• Throughout his career in publishing, Dr. Potok wrote numerous
popular articles and reviews.
His books:
• Potok began his career as an author
and novelist in 1967 with the
publication of The Chosen, which
stands as the first book from a major
publisher to portray
Judaism in the United States.
• It is a story about the friendship
between the son of a Hasidic
and a more secularly-minded Jewish
boy in Brooklyn.
• Critics praised the book for its vivid
rendering of the closed Hasidic
community, while many considered it
to be an allegory about the survival of
Orthodox Judaism
• Orthodox Jews follow the commandments of the
Torah strictly.
• Orthodox Judaism believes that both the Written
and Oral Torah are of divine origin, and represent
the word of God.
• This is similar to the view of the Conservative
movement, but the Orthodox movement holds
that such information is the exact word of God
and does not represent any human creativity or
• The word rabbi originates from the Hebrew
meaning "teacher."
• The term usually refers to those who have received
ordination and are educated in matters of halacha
(Jewish law).
• The state gives rabbis the permission to perform
• The purpose of a rabbi is like that of using a judge
or a lawyer in civil matters to ensure that the law is
complied with.
• This differs from the nonJewish concept of a
minister having some necessary mystical
connection with God that is required to make the
ceremony valid.
• Potok followed The Chosen
with a sequel two years
later called The Promise.
He returned to the subject
of Hasidism for a third
time with the 1972 novel
My Name is Asher Lev, the
story of a young artist and
his conflict with the
traditions of his family and
community. Potok
followed this novel with a
sequel, as well, publishing
The Gift of Asher Lev
eighteen years later in
• Chaim Potok died July 23, 2002, at his
suburban Philadelphia home of brain cancer
at the age of 73. He is survived by his wife,
Adena; two daughters, Rena, a Philadelphiaarea college professor, and Naama, an actor in
New York; a son, Akiva, who is a filmmaker in
California; and two grandchildren.
Setting of the Novel:
• The Chosen is set in Brooklyn, New York
during the 1940’s.
• WWII has been raging since 1939. The US,
following the bombing of its naval base in
Pearl Harbor, had already been drawn into the
• Most Americans, including the deeply
religious Jews who lived in a somewhat
isolated manner in Brooklyn, were in some
way affected by the war effort.
• Brooklyn is one of New
York City’s five boroughs,
or sections. It is home to
more than two million
• The borough of Brooklyn is
characterized by long
blocks of row houses and
tree-lined streets.
• In the middle of Brooklyn is Prospect Park,
which is designed so that its features look
bigger than they really are.
• Coney Island, whose beaches are still popular
with New Yorkers in the summer, is located at
the southern end of Brooklyn.
• Many Jewish immigrants came to Brooklyn in the
1880’s to escape persecution in Germany and
eastern Europe. They founded enduring
communities such as Williamsburg, where The
Chosen is set.
• Many of the Jews living in Williamsburg are Hasidic.
• On Friday evenings,
groups of Hasidim
clothed in black
overcoats and furtrimmed hats make
their way to the
synagogues off
Bedford Avenue.
Hasidism in the novel…
• Hasidic leaders, called Tzaddiks, gained great
power over their people – a power they then
passed on to their sons.
• Reb Saunders’s character in The Chosen is
based on the image of such a leader.
• Today, Hasidic men dress as did their Hasidic
ancestors in eastern Europe.
• Many Hasidim also speak Yiddish, a folk
language that evolved in eastern Europe.
WWII and the novel…
• The invasion of Europe, which Rueven and others
follow so carefully, was a huge operation.
• An enormous military force gathered in
England—including American, Canadian, and
British soldiers.
• The Germans had some idea that an Allied
invasion was coming and built a wall of
protection and defensive artillery along the
French coast
Invasion of Normandy
Invasion of Normandy: D Day
• The invasion, which took place on June 6,
1944, was a combined air and sea assault on
five different beaches in Normandy, France.
While the battles were incredibly costly, the
Allies succeeded. Theis operation was named
Operation Overlord but is commonly called D
day. It marked the beginning of the end of
World War II.
So now you know…
• Over the years, different branches of Judaism
have emerged.
• These branches include the Orthodox and the
Conservative Jews.
• Hasidism is a division of the Orthodox branch.
• Conservatism combines modern culture with
traditional Jewish observances.
• Potok writes about two boys, one Hasidic and
one conservative, who become friends in spite
of their differences.
But did you know…
• Judaism is one of the oldest of the world’s
• Judaism has much in common with the
religions that grew out of it: Islam and
Christianity. All three faiths teach that God is
a guide and ultimately a judge. All three faiths
have a day of rest and worship, which for Jews
is from sundown on Friday to sundown on
• Three texts are considered holy in the Jewish
tradition: the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, and
the Talmud.
• Christians refer to the Hebrew Bible as the Old
• Except in Israel, where Hebrew is the main
language, most modern Jews speak the
language of the nation where they live.