The Chosen Chapter 1
The novel opens as the narrator, Reuven Malter, a young Jewish boy living in New York during the 1940s, describes the different types of Jews living in his Brooklyn world. There are several Hassidic sects, of which Danny Saunders belongs to one. Reuven never would have met Danny were it not for the United States' entrance into the Second World War. "For the first fifteen years of our lives, Danny and I lived within five blocks of each other and neither of us knew of the other's existence" Chapter 1, p.11. The yeshivas, the religious schools to which the Hasidic Jews attend, want to prove that their students are physically fit as well as intellectually stimulated.
In order to prove that the yeshiva boys are the best in all mediums and fields, they enter the school league to play against Reuven's secular school, with explicit orders from Reb Saunders, the rabbi, never to lose. On a Sunday afternoon in early June, Mr. Galanter, Reuven's schoolteacher and baseball coach heads the team on the field. As Reuven practices with fellow teammate Davey Cantor, they watch the orthodox boys enter the field not only with fearless confidence and strength of character, but with the official regalia of a yeshiva:
"There were fifteen of them, and they were dressed alike in white shirts, dark pants, white sweaters, and small black skullcaps. In the fashion of the very Orthodox, their hair was closely cropped, except for the areas near their ears from which mushroomed the untouched hair that tumbled down into the long side curls. Some of them had the beginnings of beards, straggly tufts of hair that stood in isolated clumps on their chins, jawbones, and upper lips. They all wore the traditional undergarments beneath their shirts, and the tzitzit, the long fringes appended to the four corners of the garment, came out above their belts and swung against their pants as they walked. These were the very Orthodox, and they obeyed literally the Biblical commandment[s]" Chapter 1, p. 16.
The rabbi coaching the Hassidic team requests a five-minute warm up period on the field, much to Mr. Galanter's chagrin. Reuven's teammates, although all Jewish as well, are dressed in the more secular attire of Americanized clothing and skullcaps. They realize that this baseball game has become a holy war. During this warm up period, a bespectacled Reuven spots a tall, sandy-haired boy on the Hassidic team. He discovers that this is Danny Saunders, the son of Rabbi Isaac Saunders, a strict Hassidic ruler with whom Reuven's father disagrees on most issues.
The game becomes a battle between extremely religious Hassidic Jews and the more Americanized Jews, as both teams play with full force and no holds barred. Danny Saunders approaches the plate and almost hits the pitcher, Schwartzie, in the process of slamming the ball. Danny approaches Reuven with full knowledge of his name and his father, David Malter's, a professor and writer, Zionist reputation.
The game continues as the yeshiva boys claim to kill the apikoros, the non-yeshiva students. The rivalry between these two Jewish schools becomes a full-blown war between the practice of religion: so called righteousness and so called sinfulness. The conflict between the two schools exists because students like Reuven attend parochial school and study English subjects as well as Hebrew and Jewish subjects, permitting the yeshiva boys believe them to be lesser Jews and lesser human beings. This is Reuven's first real contact with that other type of Jew - the Hassid - and he wonders how they learn to play ball so well when all they seem to do is study all day.
Manning second base, Reuven injures his wrist on a fierce catch from a hefty blow from the yeshiva boys. They continue to shout, "Burn in hell, you apikorsim!" Chapter 1, p. 31. He shakes off the pain and continues to play. Danny comes to the plate, grinning with seeming devilish superiority, and hits the ball so ferociously hard that it knocks Reuven off his feet when he catches it. When Reuven sits up, he realizes that his glasses have been shattered, Danny is safe on first base, and his left eye burns in excruciating pain. Reuven's team loses the game by one run while he is rushed to the hospital.