The Chosen

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Reb Isaac Saunders Character Analysis

The religious leader, or tzaddic, of his Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Reb Saunders feels a great weight on his shoulders for the entirety of the novel. He is a very strict Hasid, who puts great faith in the value of his culture and traditions. He brings up his son, Danny, in a very strict and traditional manner as well, which involves almost absolute silence. He only speaks to his son when they are studying the Talmud. Reb Saunders has had a very difficult life. He is from Russia and was there during the anti-Semitic Cossack raids during which his first wife and child were killed in front of his eyes. After this he took his entire Jewish community through Europe to America to start a new life. As a leader of his community he believes that he has to take on the suffering of his followers. When the Holocaust happens this becomes an even greater burden.

Reb Isaac Saunders Quotes in The Chosen

The The Chosen quotes below are all either spoken by Reb Isaac Saunders or refer to Reb Isaac Saunders. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Judaism and Tradition Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Fawcett edition of The Chosen published in 1987.
Chapter 6 Quotes

“Reb Saunders’ son is a terribly torn and lonely boy. There is literally no one in the world he can talk to. He needs a friend. The accident with the baseball has bound him to you, and he has already sensed in you someone he can talk to without fear.”

Related Characters: David Malter (speaker), Reuven Malter, Danny Saunders, Reb Isaac Saunders
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Mr. Malter tells Reuven that Danny Saunders needs a friend. Danny Saunders has been raised to believe that he has been "chosen" to lead his community. Danny is only a kid--therefore, the burden of being a community leader is too much to bear. Danny needs someone to talk to about his burden, and his father is purposefully silent to him at all times. Mr. Malter believes that Reuven can play such a role as Danny's friend.

The passage is interesting because of the reason Malter gives for Danny's friendship with Reuven: he claims that the very fact that Danny hurt Reuven binds them together as friends. While it's odd for Mr. Malter to make such a claim, the passage suggests that he sees the "silver lining" in every tragedy--just as the Jewish community has always moved past historical tragedy by looking ahead to the future. The passage also reinforces the sacred side of friendship: it's suggested that Danny and Reuven's friendship is bigger and more important than either one of them can fully understand--that in a sense they're fated to influence each other's lives.

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Chapter 7 Quotes

I didn’t agree at all with his notions of the world as being contaminated. Albert Einstein is part of the world, I told myself. President Roosevelt is part of the world. The millions of soldiers fighting Hitler are part of the world.

Related Characters: Reuven Malter (speaker), Reb Isaac Saunders
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

Reuven listens to a sermon delivered by Reb Saunders, the leader of the Hasidic community in Williamsburg. Reb claims that without the laws of the Torah, the world is "contaminated"--i.e., it's a dirty, immoral place.

Privately, Reuven disagrees with what Reb says. The world isn't divided between good and evil, black and white, Hasidic and non-Hasidic. On the contrary, Reuven believes, there are plenty of "good" people who don't embrace the letter of the Torah: Einstein, Roosevelt, etc. Reuven's more nuanced view of the world suggests that he's more assimilated with his American community: unlike Reb, he has respect for quintessentially American (and secular) figures like FDR.

“You think a friend is an easy thing to be? If you are truly his friend, you will discover otherwise.”

Related Characters: Reb Isaac Saunders (speaker), Reuven Malter, Danny Saunders
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

Reuven meets Reb Saunders, and Reb seems to approve of Reuven's friendship with Danny, in spite of the boys' religious differences. Like Reuven's father, Reb thinks of Danny and Reuven's friendship in large-scale, almost sacred terms. Danny and Reuven aren't just two boys spending time together--their relationship is broader and deeper than that. Reb insists that Reuven will soon discover how difficult it is to be a true friend to Danny.

Notice that while Reb alludes to the challenges of true friendship, he doesn't clarify what these challenges are. The implication is that no amount of teaching or lecturing can show Reuven how to be a good friend to Danny: he'll have to figure it out for himself. The passage suggests that The Chosen isn't just a book about friendship: it's a coming-of-age story in which Reuven's friendship will teach him valuable lessons about maturity and respect.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“Master of the Universe,” he almost chanted. “you gave me a brilliant son, and I have thanked you for him a million times. But you had to make him so brilliant?

Related Characters: Reb Isaac Saunders (speaker), Danny Saunders, Reb Isaac Saunders
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Reuven tells Reb about the books Danny has been reading--books that, much to Reb's annoyance, have nothing to do with the Torah. Reb is impressed with his son's obvious intelligence (the intelligence that's led him to read so much) but he's equally irritated that Danny's intelligence has led him to focus more on psychology and history than religion.

Reb's problem illustrates the pitfalls of being a father, and of being a community leader. Reb is grateful to have such a brilliant son, but he also knows that his son must (he feels) one day replace him as the leader of the Hasids. Thus, Danny needs to focus on his studies--specifically, his studies of the Torah. Ironically, Danny's brilliance and love for reading--the very qualities a Hasidic leader needs to have--are pulling him away from his religious duties.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“The world kills us,” he said quietly.” Ah, how the world kills us.” … “The world drinks our blood,” Reb Saunders said. “How the world makes us suffer. It is the will of God. We must accept the will of God.”

Related Characters: Reb Isaac Saunders (speaker)
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Reb Saunders responds to the senseless tragedy of the Holocaust. Saunders--just like Reuven--is nearly overcome with the magnitude of the tragedy. Six million innocent Jews have been murdered, simply because of their religion. Saunders--knowing full-well that an entire community is looking to him for guidance and reassurance--gives the only interpretation of the Holocaust that his faith allows him to give. He concludes that the Holocaust, while horrible, is a reflection of the will of God, and therefore must be accepted by the Jewish community.

Saunders' behavior reflects both the weakness and the strength of the Hasidic community. The way he accepts the facts of the Holocaust might seem rather weak-willed: instead of trying to overturn tragedy, he just acknowledges it. And yet Saunders also seems incredibly strong in this scene. Instead of savagely looking for vengeance upon the Nazis who committed such enormous crimes, he takes the high ground. All Jews in the world have to come to terms with the Holocaust, sooner or later: because of his boundless love for God, Saunders is able to come to terms with tragedy and be a pillar of strength for his followers.

Chapter 13 Quotes

Poor Danny, I thought. Professor Appleman, with his experimental psychology, is torturing your mind. And your father, with his bizarre silence – which I still couldn’t understand, no matter how often I thought about it – is torturing your soul.”

Related Characters: Reuven Malter (speaker), Danny Saunders, Reb Isaac Saunders, Professor Nathan Appleman
Related Symbols: Silence
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Potok sums up the challenges that Danny faces as a Hasidic student of science. To Professor Appleman, his teacher, Danny's religious affiliation is interfering with his scientific studies: Danny is more focused on his subjects' souls than on their minds. By the same token, Danny's own father sees him as being overly scientific: Danny is focusing too much on psychology when he should be studying the Torah.

With great difficulty, Danny tries to balance his commitment to science and his commitment to Judaism. In doing so, however, he alienates both the scientific and the Jewish community. To Danny's father, he's overly invested in science; to Danny's college professors, however, he's allowed his Judaism to warp his scientific sense of the world.

Chapter 18 Quotes

“… words are cruel, words play tricks, they distort what is in the heart, they conceal the heart, the heart speaks through silence. One learns of the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain, he would say, by turning inside oneself, by finding one’s soul.”

Related Characters: Reb Isaac Saunders (speaker)
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Reb Saunders tries to justify his actions to Reuven. Saunders has spent Danny's entire life treating him with stony silence--instead of playing with Danny or talking to him, Saunders has essentially ignored him.

While it's easy to condemn Saunders's actions as cruel, Potok makes it clear that Saunders acts out of love for his child. Saunders wants Danny to grow up to be the best leader he can possibly be: Saunders has been taught that the best way to raise a religious leader is to be silent around him. Even though Saunders' silence causes Danny a great deal of pain and loneliness, Saunders' silence is even more painful to Saunders himself: Saunders is forced to turn off his natural fatherly instincts.

In the end, then, Potok is sympathetic to Saunders' behavior, even if he doesn't necessarily agree with it. To be a leader is to make sacrifices. Arguably Saunders' greatest sacrifice is his affection for his children. And yet by being silent around Danny, Saunders is expressing his love for his child: with every second of silence, Saunders proves his total confidence in Danny's abilities.

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Reb Isaac Saunders Character Timeline in The Chosen

The timeline below shows where the character Reb Isaac Saunders appears in The Chosen. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Fathers, Sons, and Rebellion Theme Icon
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...murders, and Davey tells him to just wait for the boy practicing batting: Danny Saunders, Reb Saunders’ s son. (full context)
Chapter 2
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...could grow over his eye and leave him partially blind. Mr. Malter also says that Reb Saunders called him to ask how Reuven was, and that Danny is very sorry for what... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...Danny and they discuss how Danny’s team was formed. Danny had to convince his father, Reb Saunders , to allow a sports team by saying that it was their duty to beat... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...they hold the same customs and beliefs, they are not allowed to read secular literature. Reb Saunders is a great tzaddic and Talmudist and when he dies the position will go on... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Reb Saunders walks in and everyone stops speaking. Danny’s brother, a young, pale boy, holds on to... (full context)
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The room fills with more men and they all begin to eat a meal. Reb Saunders stares at Reuven and Danny eats in complete silence. Someone begins to sing a prayer... (full context)
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Reb Saunders begins to speak in a chanting voice, swaying back and fort as everyone leans forward... (full context)
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Reb Saunders finishes and everyone stares at Danny. Reb Saunders asks Danny if he heard any mistakes.... (full context)
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Reb Saunders speaks with Reuven and tells him that Mr. Malter is a great scholar. He tells... (full context)
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Danny and Reuven walk home together and talk about the test. Danny says that Reb Saunders’ followers love it. Reuven and Danny are happy to realize that they plan to attend... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Mr. Malter feels guilty that he has been telling Danny what to read behind Reb Saunders’ s back. But he believes that Danny would have continued to read on his own... (full context)
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Reuven goes over to Danny’s house of Shabbat to study the Talmud with Reb Saunders . Reuven meets Danny’s kind mother and his pretty sister. Reb Saunders tells Reuven that... (full context)
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The argument comes to an end and Reb Saunders sends Danny to get some tea. Reb Saunders tells Reuven that he has “a good... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...over to the Saunders every Shabbat to discuss the Talmud with Danny and his father. Reb Saunders doesn’t talk about Danny’s secular reading anymore but he is clearly bothered by it. (full context)
Chapter 11
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...he has missed so much school that he has no time to see Danny. Then Reb Saunders and Mr. Malter become ill. (full context)
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Reuven goes to Danny’s for Shabbat and Reb Saunders does not make them study Talmud. Instead they discuss the Holocaust and Reb Saunders’s youth... (full context)
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Reuven tells his father that Reb Saunders believes the Holocaust is ultimately God’s will. Mr. Malter disagrees and says that they cannot... (full context)
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...Reuven is in a “blind panic.” Manya takes care of him at first but then Reb Saunders offers to take Reuven in. Reuven moves in to Danny’s room. (full context)
Chapter 12
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Danny and Reuven argue over the Talmud when Reb Saunders is free but he is almost never free because people are always coming to see... (full context)
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Reuven mentions the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine (also known as Zionism) to Reb Saunders , not mentioning that his father supports it. Reb Saunders explodes with anger and says... (full context)
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Reuven is shocked by Reb Saunders’ s rage. Reb Saunders keeps repeating, “should we just forget the Messiah?” He says true... (full context)
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...father believes in, and that Reuven should never mention it again. Danny says that if Reb Saunders knew that Reuven’s father believed in Zionism he would kick Reuven out of the house. (full context)
Chapter 13
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...all of the Hasidic students avoid all contact with him. He is angry with “ Reb Saunders’ blindness” and frustrated “at Danny’s helplessness.” Reuven talks to his father about this and his... (full context)
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Reuven calls Reb Saunders a fanatic and Mr. Malter responds that “the fanaticism of men like Reb Saunders has... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...much that it starts to affect his grades. He feels a “blind, raging fury” towards Reb Saunders . Reb Saunders starts staging anti-Zionist rallies, which are not successful. School becomes increasingly tense,... (full context)
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...involved in Zionist activities and Reuven rarely sees his father. Reuven thinks about Danny and Reb Saunders constantly and cannot understand how Danny can respect him. (full context)
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...cry with joy. The next day the school is still filled with the leaflets of Reb Saunders’ anti-Zionist league. Reuven is so angry that he wants to punch one of them, but... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...the violence seem very close to home. There is a memorial service at school, and Reb Saunders’ anti-Zionist league dies on that day. (full context)
Chapter 16
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...talk about the silence they both had to endure. But the conversation quickly turns to Reb Saunders’ silence towards his son. Reuven now hates Reb Saunders and has no sympathy for his... (full context)
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...Danny’s sister’s wedding and he is the only person there who is not a Hasid. Reb Saunders has aged a lot since he last saw him. Reuven does not like the man... (full context)
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Reuven goes over to see Reb Saunders at the end of the school year. As they are walking up to his study,... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...to speak to Danny about how he will break the news of his plan to Reb Saunders . Reuven then asks his father about Reb Saunders’ silence and Mr. Malter mutters angrily,... (full context)
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Danny gets in to all three universities. Reb Saunders must have seen the letters because he picks up the mail, but he did not... (full context)
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...that he will go to Columbia and thinks he might live at his sister’s house. Reb Saunders continue to ask Reuven to come over and Reuven says he will try, but does... (full context)
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...has buried himself in his work to keep his anxiety over his father at bay. Reb Saunders asks Reuven (through Danny) to come over on the first or second day of Passover.... (full context)
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Reuven tells his father that Reb Saunders just wanted to study Talmud, and Mr. Malter says that Reuven has not been listening.... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Reuven comes to Danny’s house to see Reb Saunders . He first sees Danny, who looks very nervous, and then they both go to... (full context)
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Reb Saunders asks Reuven what he will do after graduation and Reuven says that he plans to... (full context)
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Reb Saunders says that man is born evil with only the tiniest spark of good. This spark... (full context)
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Reb Saunders then explains his childhood. Reb Saunders’ father taught him with silence. Reb Saunders as a... (full context)
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Reb Saunders repeated this practice with his son so that Danny would not become like Reb Saunders’... (full context)
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Reb Saunders begins to cry and say how hard it was to watch his son suffer. But... (full context)
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Reb Saunders now speaks to Danny. He asks him whether he will shave his beard and earlocks... (full context)
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Reb Saunders tremulously asks Reuven to forgive him for his anger over his father’s Zionism. Reb Saunders... (full context)
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...Mr. Malter, who responds that this was possibly the only way to raise a tzaddic. Reb Saunders announces to his congregation that Danny will study psychology and that Levi will take his... (full context)