The Chosen begins in 1944 with a softball game in a Jewish section of Brooklyn, New York, between students from two Jewish parochial schools. Each team represents a different Jewish sect with a different level of religious observance. Danny Saunders represents a Hasidic sect led by his father, Reb (short for rabbi) Saunders. Reuven Malter leads the opposing team, which is composed of Modern Orthodox Jews, who are not as ultra-Orthodox in terms of their religious observances as Hasidic Jews are. Reuven is the son of David Malter, a yeshiva professor.
During the game, Danny hits a ball that strikes Reuven in the face, injuring his eye and sending him to the hospital for surgery. Danny visits Reuven in the hospital and apologizes for hitting him with the ball. At first, Reuven rejects Danny's apology, but at the urging of his father, he becomes Danny's friend. Speaking of himself, Danny tells Reuven that he will inherit his father's position, as is common in the Hasidic tradition, and become a rabbi, but he also admits that he would rather become a psychologist. Reuven learns that Danny has been raised in virtual silence — the only time Reb Saunders talks to his son is when they study Talmud together.
Danny confesses that studying only the Talmud is boring and that he secretly reads secular books in the public library. According to Danny, even though Jews have an obligation to obey God, sometimes he is not sure what God wants. Reuven wants to become a rabbi but also has a strong interest in math. Danny makes the perceptive and rather amusing observation that he has to be a rabbi but doesn't want to be one, and Reuven does not have to be a rabbi but wants to be one.
Reuven visits Danny at his home several times and discusses the Torah and other writings with Reb Saunders and Danny. During one of these visits, Reb Saunders talks to Reuven privately. The Reb says that he knows that Danny has been visiting the public library and wants to know what he...