The conflict between Danny's desire for secular knowledge and his desire to follow his Jewish faith is one of the main themes in The Chosen. Danny is being groomed to succeed his father, Reb Saunders, as the leader, or tzaddik, of a group of Hasidic Jews. But Danny does not want to follow this path — an intellectual person with a brilliant mind, he wants to be a psychologist. This conflict causes him much sadness; he is described throughout the novel as "weary" and "like a bird in pain," and he refers to himself as "trapped." As a Hasidic Jew, he is forced to live in a world that inhibits him.
Because Danny finds studying only the sacred text of the Talmud, a principal activity of ultra-Orthodox Jewish males, too limiting, he secretly goes to a public library to read classical Western literature, as well as books about psychology and Jewish history, which is forbidden by the tenets of his religious sect. However, by the end of the novel, he is able to find a balance between the religious and secular worlds, which is why his father can release him from his obligation to become a rabbi and accept his becoming a psychologist.
Danny remains dedicated to an Orthodox way of life, although not necessarily a Hasidic one, which seems to content his father. Instead of being a tzaddik for his father's congregation, he will be "a tzaddik for the world" — as his father acknowledges, "the world needs a tzaddik."