The Promise (Potok novel)

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The Promise
ChaimPotok ThePromise.jpg
Author Chaim Potok
Country United States
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date
12 August 1969
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
ISBN 1-199-82130-6 (hardback edition)
Preceded by The Chosen

The Promise is a novel written by Chaim Potok, published in 1969. It is a sequel to his previous novel The Chosen. Set in 1950s New York, it continues the saga of the two friends, Reuven Malter, a Modern Orthodox Jew studying to become a rabbi, and Danny Saunders, a genius Hasidic Jew who has broken with his sect's tradition by refusing to take his father's place as tzaddik in order to become a psychologist. The theme of the conflict between traditional and modern Orthodox Judaism that runs throughout The Chosen is expanded here against the backdrop of the changes that have taken place in Reuven and Danny's world in the period of time between the two novels: following World War II, European survivors of the Holocaust have come to America, rebuilding their shattered lives and often making their fiercely traditionalist religious viewpoint felt among their people.

Plot summary[edit]

This conflict becomes a personal issue for Reuven because his Talmud teacher for his final school year is a zealously religious, rigid and angry rabbi by the name of Jacob Kalman. Reuven's father is a well-known teacher and author who writes books on modern methods of studying the Talmud, and Reuven finds himself caught in the middle as his teacher tries to force him to choose between his father's way and Rav Kalman.

The conflict deepens through Reuven's relationship with Michael Gordon, the deeply troubled adolescent son of Abraham Gordon, a well-known author who has been excommunicated for his books which question the very foundations of Judaism. The lives of the three families, the Malters, the Saunders and the Gordons, become intertwined when Abraham Gordon seeks out Danny Saunders to treat his mentally ill son.

A bond develops between Reuven and Michael on the ground of the parallel in their lives: being caught in the middle of their modernist fathers' battles with the defenders of the Jewish faith. Danny also has to deal with the conflict between the traditional and the modern when he falls in love with Michael's cousin Rachel, a decidedly modern young Jewish woman.

He is also faced with the formidable task of treating Michael, who resists therapy and who faces imminent institutionalization because of his violent behavior. The two friends, Reuven and Danny, help each other through their struggles, and the story is brought to a shattering climax as together they help Michael to face the source of his distress.

Through his struggle, Reuven finds his own identity by taking from each world, the traditional and the modern, what has meaning for him and by asserting with love and respect his right to take his place among his people as a teacher.

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

Potok said of this novel, "In The Promise the confrontation is between a fundamentalist religion and another gift to us from our general civilization. A gift right from the very heart of that civilization developed in the universities of western Europe in the last century. A methodology we call scientific text criticism." This form of Talmudic analysis is also called the historical method. Of course, Danny's passion for Freudian psychology also represents a "gift right from the heart of [Western] civilization." Potok pointed out that Reuven does not embrace the historical method unreservedly, nor does Danny embrace Freudian psychology unreservedly. Rather, "They performed the same act of selective affinity that all of us do when we encounter an alien culture. We pick and choose those elements of that alien culture toward which we feel a measure of affinity. Then, adopting those elements, we reject the others, precisely as Danny Saunders does with Freud and Reuven Malter does with scientific text criticism." [1]


  1. ^ Chaim Potok, March 20, 1986. Lecture at the Southern College of Seventh-Day Adventists, Collegedale, Tennessee. Quoted in