Study Guide

The Chosen

By Chaim Potok

The Chosen Introduction

The Chosen, Chaim Potok's first novel, was published in 1967. It’s the story of two Jewish teenage boys coming of age in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York between 1944 and 1949. The novel is loaded with Jewish history, and contains a variety of perspectives on Judaism. Author Chaim Potok, like the two teens in his novel, grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Both his mother and father were strictly observant Orthodox Jews and his family didn't support his interest in writing – they didn’t want any of their sons involved in secular activities. This conflict definitely shows up in interesting ways in The Chosen. In his own life, Potok began practicing Conservative Judaism, which had fewer restrictions and allowed him to be both an artist and a Jew.

What is The Chosen About and Why Should I Care?

Religion is everywhere. To some degree or other, we spend big chunks of our lives thinking, hearing, and talking about religion. Turn on the TV any time, and you'll probably find something about religion – whether it’s televangelists, or the latest on Tom Cruise and Madonna. And, if you’ve watched the news or read the papers lately (and by lately we mean the last five thousand years), you know that the world cries out for religious understanding and tolerance.

This is easier said than done when there are thousands of religions in the world. Even the major ones seem mysterious to us if we’ve never experienced them. Ideally, we would learn about religion from those who care about it, and who can help us think about and consider many voices about religion in our society. Also ideally, our discussions about religion would be relevant, interesting, and fun.

Look no further than The Chosen. This coming-of-age story set in Brooklyn, New York from 1944 to 1949 provides a sensitive, honest, and in-depth look at a variety of perspectives on Judaism in the years directly following World War II. And, it tells the compelling story of the brilliant (his photographic memory is the least of it) Danny Saunders and his struggle to balance his religious commitments with his desire to use his fine mind in the world at large. But, beyond all that, The Chosen argues that religion is a personal choice – and that we should never stop searching, questioning, and trying to understand, both our own views on religion, and those of others. Instead of fearing what we don’t understand, we should jump in and see what it’s all about.

The Chosen Resources

Movie or TV Productions

The 1981 Film Version
Stars Rod Steiger as Reb Saunders.


Matisyahu’s "Youth"
Our favorite Hasidic reggae artist performs a song that emphasizes choice.


The Author
A photo of Chaim Potok signing some books.

A Book Cover
Is that supposed to be Danny or Reuven?

A Torah Scroll
In case you were wondering what one looks like.


An Obituary For Chaim Potok
The New York Times has lots to say about our author.

A Book Review
Yet another perspective on The Chosen.

Another Obituary
This one’s from the Guardian


The Brooklyn Public Library
Want to learn more about the place where Danny and Reuven spend so much of their time?

An FAQ List
Answers to some questions you might have on Judaism.

Photographic Memory
Here's some fun information on photographic memory.

Photographic Memory Game
A game to improve your memory