1. Identify the time and place in which the action of the novel is set and the circumstances that cause Reuven and Danny to meet.
The time in which the story takes place, is near the end of the Second World War. You know that while the reporter on the radio tells about D-day, which took place in June 1944. The reporter also told that Rome was about to fall, but that was two days before D-day.
The story took place in Brooklyn, New York, especially in the Hasidic block. In chapter 1, the story takes place on a baseball field in Brooklyn; at the end of the chapter, Reuven is on his way to the Brooklyn Memorial Hospital.
Reuven and Danny met during a baseball game, while they were both in the team of their own yeshiva. Danny’s team is really fanatic and eventually wins, after Reuven is hit in his face by a baseball. The odds that Danny and Reuven would’ve met otherwise are extremely dim because of the religious ‘differences’ they have.
2. Why does Danny consider Reuven and his classmates as apikorsim?
Danny belongs to one of the most fanatic Jewish groups and therefore, it seems like he feels superior to Reuven’s team. He considers them apikorsim because the team of Reuven isn’t living the way they ‘should’: they have got for example more lessons in English than the minimum and most of the Talmud lessons are taught in Hebrew instead of Yiddish.
But actually, Danny said it because he had to. It was the only way to form a team and when he would have lost the game, he would probably not be allowed to play baseball anymore. So calling Reuven’s team apikorsim was a sort of promise.
3. What is the significance of the passage about the baseball game?
The baseball game signifies the differences between certain Jewish groups. For example the clothing (during the game) differs a lot: Reuven’s team is dressed in sportswear, while Danny’s team is dressed in the official clothing of his yeshiva. But also their way of playing baseball is quite different. Danny’s team is really fanatic and has no respect for the other team, because they call the others apikorsim. But Reuven’s team seems almost scared of Danny. So this passage also marks the differences in the way the groups look at each other.
4. How does the writer let us know his own feelings about the 2 different Jewish groups?
The Jewish group of Danny speaks mainly Yiddish, like they don’t appreciate the other group to talk English. This gives you the impression that the writer himself considers that Jewish group a bit too radical and almost evil against the other Jews. The writer pictures the Hasidic Jews as if they don’t care about other people, only about themselves.
5. Create your own questions based on chapter 1.
– What is the significance of the coach of Danny’s team being a rabbi?
– Why does Reuven feel like the baseball game is the most important moment of his life?
6. What are some of the things Reuven learns about Danny during the hospital visit? What aspects of Danny’s personality does Reuven find surprising?
Reuven finds out that Danny doesn’t want to become a rabbi, he’d rather be a psychologists. But, unfortunately, Danny has no choice because being a rabbi is an inherited position in Danny’s Jewish group. He also finds out that Danny is only allowed to play baseball when he studies 2 blatt of Talmud every day, otherwise his father won’t let him play. About the studying of Talmud, Reuven learns that Danny has a photographic mind.
Some things that Reuven surprise about Danny are for example: that Danny is actually sorry for what happened and he had wanted to kill Reuven during the game. But it also surprises Reuven that Danny speaks English so well. And in many aspects, Danny isn’t like the other Hasids, which Reuven didn’t expect at all. Therefore he isn’t a ‘stereotypical’ Hasidic Jew.
7. Why is it that Danny’s father doesn’t write or speak much, apart from his discussions of Talmud?
Danny’s father is a rabbi. A rabbi is not allowed to do anything but focus on reading and his belief; he is not allowed to interact with anything that might draw his attention away from that belief, so Danny’s father wants people to be able to talk without speaking out loud, while he also thinks that words distort what a person really feels in his heart. This means that you will never be able to say what you really feel, because there are no words for it.
8. Read the passage where Danny is entering Reuven’s hospital room. By what Reuven first sees, what image is created? Why?
Reuven thinks that Danny looks a bit like Abraham Lincoln. Also, Danny is pictured as a really nice person because he apologizes for the accident immediately.
9. Create your own questions based on chapter 2.
– How and why did Reuven’s attitude towards Danny change after his first visit in the hospital?
– After Danny’s first visit Reuven talks to his father. How does this conversation change the way Reuven feels about Danny?
– Why did Danny return to the hospital the second day?
10. Create your own questions based on chapter 3.
– What is so important about the radio Reuven’s father brings?
– Why is Reuven called Bobby (boy) by Mr. Savo and Billy?
– According to Danny’s father, he’s received a gift from God. What is it? And in what way is it important?
– Why is Reuven’s father mad at his son? And what impact has that got on Reuven?
– Why didn’t Reuven want to duck when the baseball approached him?
– What is it that Danny didn’t understand about the game and what made him feel better? Why did that make him feel better instead of something else?
– Why doesn’t Reuven accept Danny’s apology?
– What is the major difference between Danny and his father?
– What is the reason Danny and Reuven can be friends? Does this have to do with their beliefs?
– What has happened to Billy and Mr. Savo?
11. What does the reader learn about Mr. Malter’s previous relationship with Danny? How does this clarify his reasons for wanting Reuven to become friends with Danny?
Mr. Malter turns out to be the guy who was recommending Danny books to read. Mr. Malter is thus the one who stimulates Danny to keep on ‘rebelling’ against his father. Mr. Malter also knows the situation Danny is in and he wants to make Danny smarter, he wants Danny to use his gifts.
He also says: ‘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.’ This is why Mr. Malter wants Reuven to become Danny’s friend, so that Danny finally has someone he can talk to about anything.
On the other hand, Mr. Malter doesn’t like to lie to his son, so he wants Danny to be able to tell the things he himself has been hiding for his son.
12. What does Danny reveal to Reuven that he has never told to anyone before? Why do you think he feels able to do so?
Danny reveals to Reuven that sometimes he’s not sure what God wants. He has never said this to anybody else. I think this is because the only people Danny hangs out with are Hasidic Jews. But if he had said something like this to a Hasidic Jew, his people would no longer trust him and his world would come tumbling, because his people believe he speaks for God.
The reason why Danny feels like he can tell this to Reuven, is maybe because Reuven is not a Hasidic Jew, Reuven may consider it normal that people sometimes do not know what God wants. Reuven also gives his honest opinion, because he does not rely on Danny, he owes nothing to the one who damaged his eye. But still, Reuven has given Danny a second change during their second talk in the hospital. This all makes Reuven trust-worthy, according to Danny.
13. What accounts for Reuven’s reaction to this revelation?
Surprise accounts for Reuven’s reaction to this revelation. As he says: ‘That’s a funny thing for you to say.’ He does not quite understand the significance of the revelation Danny made until Danny says that he never said this before. Then there is an awkward silence, in which Reuven is beginning to feel uneasy. So Reuven is also feeling a bit uncomfortable, he does not really know what to do with this confession.
14. List at least 3 symbols from the first book and explain:
a. The damaged eye of Reuven – The eye of Reuven is hurt during the game by Danny, and he therefore has to go to the hospital. I think this means that the ‘eye’ so your sight, what you see and with that your prejudices first have to be ‘broken’, to really see what is on the inside and the way people really are.
b. The books in the library – Danny goes to the library to read the books his father has prohibited. From these books Danny obtains knowledge which his father does not want him to obtain. This shows oppression, and at the same time the reading of Danny symbolizes a stand-up to this oppression.
c. Mr. Savo – Mr. Savo is the patient who is in the bed next to Reuven in the hospital. Although he is a little weird, he is a kind man who hurt his eye too, but with boxing. He dislikes the ‘fanatics’, the Hasidic Jews. In the end his eye could not be saved and had to be taken out. The fact that his eye had to be taken out maybe shows that he could not see how Danny really was. His eye shows his inability to see the inside of what seems to be a fanatic, but is actually not.
15. Create your own questions based on chapter 4.
– Why is Reuven starting to like Danny and does he even want to become friends?
– How does Reuven react to the fact that Danny and Mr. Malter already know each other?
– Why didn’t Mr. Malter tell everything he knew about Danny to Reuven? Does this have something to do with his belief
16. What does Reuven learn from his father about the following aspects of Jewish history: how the Jews came to function as buffers in seventeenth century Poland the Cossack uprising in 1648 and its effect on the Jewish community Ahabbtai Svi Israel and his teachings the Hasidim and their belief in a “superman”?
Reuven learned that a great tragedy overcame the Jews, because they acted as a buffer. His father explains that this happens often to anyone who acts as a buffer. A lot of people were killed. The Jews believed a Messiah was coming. Many believed the Messiah was coming, and they needed someone to believe in. Shabbtai Zvi and Israel were those kind of people.
17. Why do certain Hasid believe their leaders must take the sufferings of the Jewish people upon themselves?
Certain Hasids believe this because they believe that their sufferings would be unendurable if their leaders (the tzaddik) did not somehow absorb these sufferings into themselves. Because the tzaddik is a bridge between the people and God, they are obliged to feel all the pain as well. If they really are that holy they should be able to endure the suffering, so it can also be seen as a ritual to prove themselves. The Hasids believe that the tzaddik is a connection between them and God, and they follow them blindly.
18. Why does Mr. Malter believe it is natural for Danny to break his father’s rules and read forbidden books?
Danny is a very intelligent boy, and his mind won’t satisfy in only reading the Talmud. He cannot be satisfied by only reading religious books, because they become boring after a while. He wants to know what is happening in the world. He must therefore consult to the outside world and gather information from other ‘forbidden’ sources. America is a free country, so he has access to books that he is not allowed to read.
19. What does Mr. Malter tell Reuven about Danny’s need for a friend?
Mr. Malter says that Danny is a terrible torn and lonely boy. Danny already said to Reuven that he only talks to his father when they are studying the Talmud, and this is only once a week. He has friends, but he doesn’t have close friends who he can talk to about his feelings or thoughts without the fear that this person is going to tell his secrets to his father.
20. Create your own questions based on chapter 6.
– Why does Mr. Malter compare Danny to Solomon Maimom?
– Why is Mr. Malter giving Reuven some kind of lecture?
21. How does the author demonstrate the way in which the Hasidic community reveres Danny?
The author, Chaim Potok does this by giving a broad and detailed description of the Hasidic community. In this chapter it is very important that the book is written from Reuvens’ point of view, because you can easily notice how different he feels in this community than in his own. Reuven is especially very surprised by the way the people in this community act towards Danny and him, and how they worship Reb Saunders like he is a God himself.
22. What are Reb Saunders’ views on: the world and what it does to Jews; life on earth; and the study of the Torah? Explain Reb Saunders’ assertion that “we are only half alive in this world.” Explain Reb Saunders’ assertion that “we are only half alive in this world.”
His view on the world is a very negative one. On the bottom of page 134 he says: “The world kills us! The world flays our skin from our bodies and throws us to the flames! … And if it does not kill us, it tempts us! It misleads us! It contaminates us!” With this Reb Saunders means that the world tempts the Jews to disobey God and his Torah, so they must be strong and still believe in God.
He also mentions that the world doesn’t need to study the Torah, but the people of Israel should study the Torah.
Reb Saunders says that we are only half alive in this world because in the Torah the difference between ‘this world’ and the ‘world-to-come’ is nine. Eighteen means chai, life. As nine is half of eighteen, we are only half alive in this world
23. How does Reb Saunders determine whether Reuven is fit to be his son’s friend?
Reb Saunders does this with help from his gematriya. He usually makes one mistake and then lets Danny correct this mistake to test him, and then Danny stops listening. But now when Reuven is here he makes a second mistake which Danny can’t find, but Reuven can. Reb Saunders now knows that Reuven listened closely to his words and knows that Reuven respects him. It makes Reuven feel like he has passed a friendship test.
24. How does Mr. Malter justify providing books for Danny which his father and Hasidim forbid him to read?
Mr.Malter knows that Danny would continue reading the ‘forbidden’ books anyway, even if he didn’t help him looking for worthy books to read. Therefore, Mr.Malter believes that he only gives Danny some direction in what he should read, so that he reads books that are justified by an adult. He believes there is some sort of ‘balance’ in what Danny is reading because of his advice.
25. Under what circumstances do Danny and his father communicate? How is the explanation for this aspect of their relationship given?
Danny and his father only talk when they are studying Talmud together. Reb Saunders is a very complicated man who has a big responsibility for his community and has no time and doesn’t need/want to talk to Danny. This also is a reason why Danny is lonely. They do communicate during Shabbat, when Reb Saunders quizzes Danny about his speeches and the mistakes they contain. Danny has to find a mistake in his speeches. Reb Saunders makes this mistake on purpose. Because of this the relationship that they have seem very official for the outer world. However, when they study Talmud together the discussions become rather informal.
26. How is the study of the Talmud shown to be a central activity in the lives of both Reuven and Danny?
Danny and Reuven both study Talmud at school and discuss it with their fathers at home. For both kids the discussion with their fathers strengthens their bond. Even though they belong to a different Jewish cult, both of them need to study Talmud and Hebrew, because either of them is Jewish and lives in a Jewish community.
Reuven learns that he is almost on the same level as Danny and Reb Saunders with the in depth arguing about Talmud. Danny and his father know much more, but they don’t consider the mathematical and grammatical aspects of studying Talmud, which Reuven does. Danny and Reuven therefore study Talmud in a different way, but it remains important for both of them and they can learn from each other.
27. What is the subject of Danny’s “forbidden” interest? What is it he is trying to learn about in this study?
The subject is the teachings of Sigmund Freud. Danny is trying to learn in this study about the human of nature, as well as the German language.
28. How does the author convey the information that Americans did not know about the German concentration camps until after Germany had surrendered?
The author says that first the news came that the war was over, and then there’s the sentence ‘And then, (…) there came the news, at first somewhat guarded, then, a few days later, clear and outspoken, of the German concentration camps.’ This sentence shows that the people did not know of the camps, because in the beginning it is more like a rumor and then it gets stronger and more true.
The reaction of Reuvens father and Reb Saunders shows the surprise, too. Because at first they are glad and full of joy that the war is over, but when they hear the news of the concentration camps, they both cry about it.
29. What is Reb Saunders’ reaction to this terrible revelation? Compare it to Mr. Malter’s.
Reb Saunders asks God why he let this happen, but he still believes that it is God’s will and that it happened for a reason; he thinks the suffering is the will of God.
Mr. Malter is not satisfied with this answer; he believes that the Holocaust only has meaning of they give meaning to it. So where Reb Saunders thinks the Jews must wait for God, mr. Malter believes that the Jews must act themselves, starting with creating the state of Palestine.
30. How does the author convey Danny’s increasing sense of being trapped by his father’s way of life?
By constantly brining Freud back into the story. The teaching of Freud is actually forbidden, and yet Danny reads it and is actually starting to believe it. And because he more and more starts to think in this free way, he’s feeling more and more trapped by the idea that he has to live like his father in a short while. You also know that Danny is feeling trapped because he is thinking more vividly about telling his father that he does not want to become a tzaddik.
31. Discuss the reactions of Mr. Malter and Reb Saunders to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Tell what each does and says with his grief.
Mr. Malter is really into the idea of turning Palestine into a harbour for the Jewish people. After many of the horrific things done to the Jewish people, from the many slaughters in for example Poland to, ultimately, the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust, the only way Mr. Malter is able to give some meaning to the diaspora is by the establishment of a Jewish state. ‘Reb Saunders’, on the other hand, ‘sits and waits for the Messiah.’ (p. 217). He believes that it is not appropriate to create a Jewish state without the coming of the Messiah.
32. Discuss Mr. Malter’s assertion, “A man must fill his life with meaning. Meaning is not automatically given to life.”
What Mr. Malter is saying is in its nature a very philosophical thought. Mr. Malter priorly said that ‘a span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant.’ (p. 214). I believe that Mr. Malter is trying to say that it does not matter where, who or when you were born, what matters is the way you learn through experience to make something of the world around you and find a way to give meaning to all of it. It are the actions you take or don’t take that make you, as a person, immeasurable, and you’d better make something good of it.
33. What causes Reuven and his father to be “excommunicated” from the Saunders family? How does Danny react?
Reb Saunders discovers through an article published in a Yiddish paper, that Mr. Malter is involved not only in Zionism, but also in promoting it (referring to the speech he gave at Madison Square Garden). Because of his own disaproval of, but mainly because of the attitudes within his community and the anti-Zionist league he set up, he finds himself no other way to stay consistent and express his disapproval than to make a point by forbidding any contact between the two families.
Danny doesn’t like the situation at all, but due to the harsh punishments his father imposed and the respect he has for him, he cannot disobey his father.
34. What does Reuven understand about his teacher, Rev Gershenson, when he is unable to find his name listed in either the Hebrew or English catalogues of his college library?
Given that Rev Gershenson teaches at a conservative school, he cannot express his own beliefs on the quite controversial Talmud without losing his position as a teacher.
35. Why do Reuven and his father “weep with joy” when the United Nations votes to accept the Partition Plan? What does this mean for Mr. Malter in particular?
For them, the holocaust and diaspora in general have finally been given a meaning and so a place inside them. The death of the six millions Jews, though terrible, has resulted in the Jewish people having a own country; a safe harbour.
36. Describe the method Reuven uses to study the nine lines of text he is certain Rev Gershenson will question him on.
Reuven uses two different approaches. At first, he used the classical method, i.e. learning the text and accompanying commentaries by heart, and then anticipating on Rev Gershenson questions and memorising his answers to those questions as well. The second approach involves a method his father taught him, in which he tries to reconstruct the original text by working back from the commentaries and parallel texts.
37. What does Rev Gershenson admit about the passage of Talmud he has asked Reuven to explain and about the way Reuven has attempted to explain it?
Rev Gershenson admitted that he can’t explain the text either, because the text is too complex to possible be able to comprehend it. Nevertheless, he is extremely satisfied with Reuven’s analysis, including the unorthodox way he learned from his father. However, he asks Reuven politely to ‘never use such a method of explanation in his class.’ (p. 248).
38. Why does Danny now resume his friendship with Reuven? What does this show about his ties with his father?
Following the Arab invasion of the new-born Jewish state of Israel, the death of one of the Hirsch college former attendees, the ending of his father’s anti-Zionist league, Danny feels like his father’s disapproval of Zionism and Zionists has weakened. This is the reason that he starts talking to Reuven and his family again.
39. What advice does Mr. Malter give Danny about telling his father he has decided to become a psychologist? Why is this such a significant decision? What are its possible consequences?
Mr. Malter knows that if Danny becomes a psychologist, he will break a major and long-held family tradition of becoming a tzaddik. He tells Danny that when he has the inevitable conversation with his father, he must ‘know exactly what he will tell him.’ (p. 265). The words Danny will say at that moment will have a major impact on the rest of his life. Furthermore, he asks Danny to anticipate on his father’s questions by providing answers to them. When his father accepts the idea, the family tradition and line of tzaddiks is discontinued and Danny will have to refuse the girl he was promised. When his father doesn’t accept the idea, he will become very angry and extremely upset and disappointed about his son. Either way, the conversation between Danny and his father will be uncomfortable and Danny needs to prepare himself for that.
40. What do you learn about Reb Saunders’ own childhood and of his objective in raising Danny?
We find out in chapter 18 that Reb Saunders too was raised in silence. For Reb Saunders’ father believed that to become a tzaddik, one must know pain, he would wake him up in the middle of the night, and tell stories about the destruction of Jerusalem and the suffering of the Jews. He would take him to the streets and show him suffering of the poor and the beggars. And Reb Saunders would cry. It is this suffering and sense of pain that is required for a good tzaddik, who have to carry their people’s burden and suffer for them. Reb Saunders realised during Danny’s aging, that he had a great mind. So did Reb Saunders’ brother. He had a great mind, ‘but it was a cold mind, almost cruel, untouched by his soul.’ ‘It could not understand pain, it was indifferent to and impatient with suffering.’ (p. 274). Reb Saunders didn’t want his son to become like this and so, raised him too in silence.
41. Why does Reb Saunders accept his son’s decision “without fear”?
He knew from the beginning on that there was no way to prevent a great mind like Danny’s from reading and learning things other than the prescribed Talmud and other holy scriptures, but that no matter what will become of his son, he will always have the soul of a tzaddik. Bearing this in mind, Reb Saunders feels he did continue the family tradition and fulfil his task as a good parent.
42. What does it mean that all his life Danny will be “a tzaddik…a tzaddik for the world”?
Though Danny’s father could tell from the beginning that his son wouldn’t become a tzaddik for his people, he made sure that he would at least be a tzaddik for the world, showing compassion and helping the needy.
43. For what and of whom does Reb Saunders ask forgiveness? In what ways does Reb Saunders’ reaction surprise you? How had you expected him to react?
He asks forgiveness for keeping Reuven and Danny apart for two years, because of their differences in belief. Also, he apologises to his son, for the way he raised him. This passage particularly surprised me, in that even a leader of the greatness and authority of Reb Saunders, can be humble and self-reflective, by admitting that he was very wrong to blame other people for the difficulties he faced in life, and for raising his son like this. Personally, I expected him to be get very angry at his son, just like he became when Reuven mentioned Zionism during dinner.
44. What does it reveal about Danny that he has decided he will raise his own son “in silence”?
Danny, who finally understood why his father raised him in silence, accepted it and even, in some extent, agreed to it. The fact that he will raise his own son in silence only further confirms this and that the family tradition of becoming a tzaddik, in some way, still survives.
45. What is it that Reb Saunders says he has understood all along about Danny? How is this related to his gratefulness to Reuven and his father?
Reb Saunders realised that his son was too much of a genius to be trapped in the small world of limitations called Hasidism. He knew that his son would start to seek – and find – more knowledge. But exactly at the moment Danny would be starting to question the world around him, Reuven and his father showed up. Reuven’s father directed Danny in his reading, and discussed the books he read to partially answer Danny’s questions. Reuven did more or less the same; being Danny’s friend, they discussed a lot of problems and questions and Reb Saunders even refered to them as his ‘closed eyes and sealed ears.’ He knew that he couldn’t monitor his son all the way, and after finding that Reuven and his father have a good soul, he accepted them and very indirectly used them to talk to Danny.
You will need to be able to define, use and discuss the following terms:
1. Hasid – Member of a Jewish sect who follows the religious and social precepts set down in the 17th century.
2. Yiddish – A language spoken by Jews since the Middle Ages. Its components are Hebrew, German, and Slavic.
3. assimilationist – One who adopts the practice of a prevailing culture.
4. fanatic – Rigorous believer.
5. Talmud – In Hebrew, the word for “teachings.” Applied to the collection of academic discussion and judicial administration of Jewish law written by generations of scholars over hundreds of years.
6. apikorsim – An unbeliever or skeptic. One who does not adhere to Jewish religious belief or practice.
7. rabbi – Religious leader and head of a congregation.
8. Cossacks – Polish soldiers who, under the leadership of Chmielnicki, annihilated hundreds of Jewish communities in 1648, killing hundreds of thousands of people.
9. tallit – Hebrew prayer shawl worn by adult males.
10. tefillin – Two small black boxes fastened to leather straps, containing parts of the Torah and worn during morning prayer.
11. shofar – Ram’s horn blown at various religious services.
12. the Kaballah – Books of Jewish mysticism.
13. tzaddik – According to Hasidism, a pious leader who is the intermediary between God and man, the “soul of the world.”
14. Torah – The written law given to Moses at Mount Sinai, including the Talmud and related commentaries.
15. gematriya – A method of interpreting a biblical word based on the numerical value of its letters in the Hebrew alphabet.
16. misnaged – Opponents of the Hasidic movement who criticize belief in the tzaddik.
17. Teresienstadt – The name of a German concentration camp.
18. goyim – The Hebrew word for non-Jews.
19. Zionism – The movement to secure the return of the Jewish people to Palestine.
20. bar mitzvah – The ceremony marking the initiation of a 13-year-old boy into adulthood and the Jewish religious community.