Reuven comes to Danny’s house to see Reb Saunders. He first sees Danny, who looks very nervous, and then they both go to Reb Saunders’ study. Everything looks the same except Reb Saunders looks old and weary.
Everything in the novel has built up to this chapter – the moment when Danny reveals his choice and breaks with tradition.
Reb Saunders asks Reuven what he will do after graduation and Reuven says that he plans to become a rabbi. Reb Saunders stiffens and says that Reuven and Danny will “begin to go different ways.” Danny looks shocked, but Reb Saunders does not look at his son. He is speaking directly to Reuven. Reb Saunders explains to Reuven (but really to Danny) his use of silence in bringing up his son. Reb Saunders says that he knows Reuven hates him for this, but all he requires is that Reuven listen to him.
Reb Saunders actually knew of Danny’s plan all along, as he did with Danny’s reading. Reb Saunders shows that he is more aware of the world around him than it seems. Reb Saunders is maintaining the illusion of silence towards his son by speaking directly to Reuven, but Danny is in the room, which shows that the silence is about to be broken.
Reb Saunders says that man is born evil with only the tiniest spark of good. This spark must be guarded and nourished. The Master of the Universe blessed Reb Saunders with a brilliant son, but that Reb Saunders could see that Danny had no soul. Reb Saunders had a brother who was like Danny. He was very sick but had a brilliant, cold, and “almost cruel” mind. After yeshiva he moved to France and became a mathematician. He died in Auschwitz still a Jew, but not an observer of the Commandments.
We saw a glimpse of the soulless Danny during the softball game, yet his response to Reuven’s injury and all of his later actions show that he has developed one. Intellectual prowess has been praised in the book until now, but Reb Saunders argues that it is also dangerous, that it can take someone away from a relationship with God and with his community.
Reb Saunders then explains his childhood. Reb Saunders’ father taught him with silence. Reb Saunders as a child had to look into himself to find strength and solace. Reb Saunders’ father explained that words are used to deceive and that only by turning inside oneself can one find one’s own soul. Silence also teaches one about pain and suffering, and it is especially important that a tzaddic know pain. “A tzaddik must know how to suffer for his people.”
Bringing up children in silence is a Hasidic tradition. A tzaddic has to take on the pain and suffering of his people (as Mr. Malter said earlier in the novel) and silence teaches a young man how to handle suffering. Silence (like blindness) can be instructive. It is not simply a lack of communication. It is a communication of deeper things.
Reb Saunders repeated this practice with his son so that Danny would not become like Reb Saunders’ brother. This was the only way he knew to teach Danny’s mind what it is to have a soul. He knew this might prevent Danny from becoming a tzaddic because it would drive him away. But he wanted to make sure that Danny’s soul would be the soul of a tzaddic regardless of what he chose to do with his life.
Reb Saunders taught his son the only way he knew how, the way he had been taught through Hasidic tradition. Although this makes it seem as if he were restrained by his culture, he also knows when to let go: he wants Reuven to have the soul of a tzaddic but will not force him to be one.
Reb Saunders begins to cry and say how hard it was to watch his son suffer. But he knew that Danny was learning about the suffering of the world as he needed to. Reb Saunders tells Reuven that he and Mr. Malter have been a blessing. The Master of the Universe sent them when Danny was ready to rebel.
Reuven’s friendship with Danny has helped Reb Saunders. As Mr. Malter said, choosing and being a friend is a great responsibility.
Reb Saunders now speaks to Danny. He asks him whether he will shave his beard and earlocks and Danny nods. He asks him whether he will remain an observer of the Commandments and Danny nods again. Reb Saunders sighs and nods once “as if in final acknowledgement of his tortured victory.”
This is the first time Reb Saunders speaks directly to his son outside of Talmudic discussions. Reb Saunders believes that he has accomplished his task to save his son’s soul even though Danny will not follow the path that tradition and family chose for him.
Reb Saunders tremulously asks Reuven to forgive him for his anger over his father’s Zionism. Reb Saunders had found some small solace in his own understanding of the Holocaust and a secular Jewish state did not fit. He then apologizes to Danny saying, “a wiser father may have done differently. I am not wise.” He says he has to leave and that his Daniel is now free.
Reb Saunders shows that he is not fanatical about his radical manner of bringing up his son – he believes that it may have been the wrong choice, but it was all he knew how to do.
Danny and Reuven, now alone in the room, both cry. They walk for hours through the streets in complete silence, “saying more with that silence than with a lifetime of words.”
Reuven has now also learned the value of silence. Reb Saunders has been a teacher to Reuven, just as Mr. Malter has been a teacher to Danny.
Reuven tells 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 place. Reb Saunders also says that he gives his son his blessing. The congregation is shocked but they don’t dare question Reb Saunders’ blessing, and everyone gets over it. Reb Saunders also withdraws his promise to the family of the girl Danny is promised to marry, and there is some fuss, but this also quiets down after a while.
The great choice of Danny’s life, and of most of the novel, resolves itself in a few short pages. Once one makes a well-thought-out choice, and follows through with it, everything else falls into place. His choice affects many other people, but they all accept it.
The students at Hirsch College are also surprised by Danny’s choice. They talk about it for a couple days and then get wrapped up in the rush of final exams. Both Danny and Reuven graduate summa cum laude.
Again, in the end, no one really cares that much that Danny has broken with tradition.
Danny comes over to the Malters’ to say goodbye, now with his beard and earlocks shaved. Mr. Malter says that Columbia is not so far away and they will see each other soon. Danny says that he and his father are talking now. Mr. Malter asks Danny if he will raise his son in the same way and Danny says that he will if he cannot find another way. Reuven asks Danny to come over on Saturday to study Talmud with his father. Danny agrees and walks away, disappearing down Lee avenue.
Reuven and Danny have grown up together. Danny is now moving on and they will no longer be partners in life. Although Danny looks different and is moving on to a much different life, he shows that he will keep many of the traditions of his culture—he has chosen a new role for himself, but will remain an observant Jew.