The Chosen by Chaim Potok
Chapters 1-7 Additional Notes
In addition to what Mr. Gracyk included in his annotations for the first few chapters of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, here are some notes on aspects of Judaism that Potok mentions:
Why Orthodox Jews look forward to Shabbat
According to Jewish religious law (the Torah), Shabbat is not only a holy day of worship but it is also a day of rest. On Shabbat, Jews follow commandments that dictate they are not allowed to do any work – no cooking, no cleaning, no lighting candles, and for the modern day, even turning on light switches and driving count as work. Shabbat is a time to spend with family and friends, not just in a synagogue. In fact, orthodox Jews pray three times each day: once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once at sunset.
The Talmud is a collection of commentaries by historically important rabbis (Jewish clergy) assembled over the course of several hundred years. It consists of allegories, stories, interpretations, and commentaries that are meant to give insight into the words of the Torah. It is considered a part of the “Writings”, and the full Jewish Bible is considered to have three parts and is also called the Tanach:
- The Torah (The Old Testament)
- The Books of Prophets
- Writings (The Talmud)
The Use of Hebrew
Modern Hebrew was not invented as a language until the late 19th to early 20th century with the formation of the Zionist movement. When Israel was founded in 1948, a major debate was whether the official language of the state should be Hebrew, Yiddish, or another language entirely. Hebrew was chosen as the official language of Israel.
What “Kosher” Really Means
Dietary restrictions are a major part of Jewish traditions. Jews who keep Kosher will not eat dairy products and meat in the same meal (no cheeseburgers! no ice cream after your meat dish!), have separate sets of cookware and dishes for meat-including and dairy-including meals, and will not eat pork or any kind of shellfish. Any food that is Kosher also has to have its preparation inspected by a Rabbi and approved before it’s considered okay to eat. Especially for the preparation of meat, the raising, killing, and butchering of the animals all need review and approval by a Rabbi who is authorized to give it. There are symbols with a Hebrew letter Kaf (it looks like a backward “C”) and the letter K that you can find on the packaging that tells you that a food is Kosher. You might also see the word “Parve” or “Pareve,” meaning that it doesn’t have either dairy or meat in it and so can be eaten in the same meal with either.
- Abba – Also the modern Hebrew word for father
- Tefillin – Tefillin are always worn during prayer by orthodox Jewish men. It is always the left arm that is bound with the Tefillin because it is closest to the heart. They are used because of a commandment that is written in the central Jewish prayer, the Shema:
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
- Check out this news article about a woman who was barred from entering the Western Wall in Israel because she was wearing a skullcap and tefillin: https://www.timesofisrael.com/woman-barred-from-western-wall-for-wearing-skullcap/
- Gematria is also called numerology, and studies of gematria involve looking for numerical patterns in names and Torah passages
- Goyim is plural. Think of other plural words you might know that end in -im, like seraphim, cherubim (angels, cherubs). They come from Hebrew. There aren’t many, though!
What is “The Chosen” Ultimately About? (a.k.a. Why Do You Have to Read It)
- “Rejecting tradition in order to pursue one’s own path remains both imperative and frightening” –The Birth of The Chosen by Robert Gottlieb (the editor of The Chosen, in an afterword to the 25th Anniversary edition of the book).
- “Who am I?” and “What do my culture and heritage mean to me?”
- Creating a “new map of meaning” about one’s past and how it influences how they think about things in the future.
- Baseball as a metaphor for combat in its many forms: “combat cool and hot; combat controlled and violent; combat physical and cultural.” –Chaim Potok, Forward to the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Chosen
- A story told with simplicity, without “clowning or tummling [to encourage audience participation], without the clichés, inept Yiddishisms, and gratuitous vulgarity…”
–Chaim Potok, Forward to the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Chosen
- Why the title The Chosen: chosen by Arthur Sheekman, just happened to pass the editor of the book in the hall! He edited the Groucho Marx letters and worked in the same building as Bob Gottlieb, and Chaim Potok liked the title because it “seemed simultaneously ambiguous and ampliate; chosen people; making choices; choosing to see or ignore threatening truths; choosing teams in a baseball game, books in a library, friends in a neighborhood, sides in a culture war.”
“There is nothing noble or redemptive about poverty, nothing; I’ve lived in it long enough to be able to say that with certainty. Mostly it enervates [causes one to feel drained of energy]; sometimes one can turn it into anger. And the anger, if wisely and carefully managed, may help stoke the furnaces of imagination.” –Chaim Potok, Forward to the 25th Anniversary edition of The Chosen