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Jews as a chosen people

Jews as a chosen people

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In Judaism, "chosenness" is the belief that the Jews are the Chosen People
Chosen people
Throughout history and even today various groups of people have considered themselves as chosen by a deity for some purpose such as to act as the deity's agent on earth. In monotheistic faiths, like Abrahamic religions, references to God are used in constructs such as "God's Chosen People"...

, chosen to be in a covenant
Covenant (biblical)
A biblical covenant is an agreement found in the Bible between God and His people in which God makes specific promises and demands. It is the customary word used to translate the Hebrew word berith. It it is used in the Tanakh 286 times . All Abrahamic religions consider the Biblical covenant...

 with God
God in Judaism
The conception of God in Judaism is strictly monotheistic. God is an absolute one indivisible incomparable being who is the ultimate cause of all existence. Jewish tradition teaches that the true aspect of God is incomprehensible and unknowable, and that it is only God's revealed aspect that...

. This idea is first found in the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 (five books of Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

 in the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

) and is elaborated on in later books of the Hebrew Bible
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

. Much is written about these topics in rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term...

.

The three largest Jewish denominations—Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

, Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical Judaism,...

 and Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

—maintain the belief that the Jews have been chosen by God for a purpose.

Chosenness in the Bible


According to the traditional Jewish interpretation of the Bible, Israel's character as the chosen people is unconditional as it says in , "For you are a holy people to YHWH your God, and God has chosen you to be his treasured people from all the nations that are on the face of the earth."

Although the Torah also says, "Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people" , God promises that He will never exchange His people with any other. "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you." (Genesis 17:7).

Other Torah verses about chosenness, "For all the earth is mine: and you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" . "The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your ancestors." .

The obligation imposed upon the Israelites is emphasized by the prophet Amos
Amos (prophet)
Amos is a minor prophet in the Old Testament, and the author of the Book of Amos. Before becoming a prophet, Amos was a sheep herder and a sycamore fig farmer. Amos' prior professions and his claim "I am not a prophet nor a son of a prophet" indicate that Amos was not from the school of prophets,...

 : "You only have I singled out of all the families of the earth: therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities."

Rabbinic Jewish views of chosenness


The idea of chosenness has traditionally been interpreted by Jews in two ways: one way is that God chose the Israelites, while the other idea is that the Israelites chose God. Although collectively this choice was made freely, religious Jews believe that it created individual obligation for the descendants of the Israelites. Another opinion is that the choice was free in a limited context; that is, although the Jews chose to follow precepts ordained by God, Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

 and Tanya
Tanya
The Tanya is an early work of Hasidic philosophy, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hasidism, first published in 1797. Its formal title is Likkutei Amarim , but is more commonly known by its opening word, Tanya, which means "it was taught in a beraita"...

 teach that even prior to creation, the "Jewish soul" was already chosen.

Crucial to the Jewish notion of chosenness is that it creates obligations exclusive to Jews, while non-Jews receive from God other covenants and other responsibilities. Generally, it does not entail exclusive rewards for Jews. Classical rabbinic literature in the Mishnah
Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

 Avot 3:14 has this teaching:

Rabbi Akiva
Rabbi Akiva
Akiva ben Joseph simply known as Rabbi Akiva , was a tanna of the latter part of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century . He was a great authority in the matter of Jewish tradition, and one of the most central and essential contributors to the Mishnah and Midrash Halakha...

 used to say, "Beloved is man, for he was created in God's image; and the fact that God made it known that man was created in His image is indicative of an even greater love. As the verse states [], 'In the image of God, man was created.')" The mishna goes on to say, "Beloved are the people Israel, for they are called children of God; it is even a greater love that it was made known to them that they are called children of God, as it said, 'You are the children of the Lord, your God. Beloved are the people Israel, for a precious article [the Torah] was given to them ...


Most Jewish texts do not state that "God chose the Jews" by itself. Rather, this is usually linked with a mission or purpose, such as proclaiming God's message among all the nations, even though Jews cannot become "unchosen" if they shirk their mission. This implies a special duty, which evolves from the belief that Jews have been pledged by the covenant which God concluded with the biblical patriarch Abraham
Abraham
Abraham , whose birth name was Abram, is the eponym of the Abrahamic religions, among which are Judaism, Christianity and Islam...

, their ancestor, and again with the entire Jewish nation at Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai , also known as Mount Horeb, Mount Musa, Gabal Musa , Jabal Musa meaning "Moses' Mountain", is a mountain near Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. A mountain called Mount Sinai is mentioned many times in the Book of Exodus in the Torah and the Bible as well as the Quran...

. In this view, Jews are charged with living a holy life as God's priest-people.

In the Jewish prayerbook (the Siddur)
Siddur
A siddur is a Jewish prayer book, containing a set order of daily prayers. This article discusses how some of these prayers evolved, and how the siddur, as it is known today has developed...

, chosenness is referred to in a number of ways. The blessing for reading the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 reads "Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has chosen us out of all the nations and bestowed upon us His Torah."

In the "Kiddush", a prayer of sanctification in which the Sabbath
Shabbat
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

 is inaugurated over a cup of wine, the text reads "For you have chosen us and sanctified us out of all the nations, and have given us the Sabbath as an inheritance in love and favour. Praised are you, Lord, who hallows the Sabbath."

In the "Kiddush" recited on festivals it says, "Blessed are You ... who have chosen us from among all nations, raised us above all tongues, and made us holy through His commandments."

The Aleinu
Aleinu
Aleinu or Aleinu leshabei'ach , meaning "it is upon us or it is our obligation or duty to praise God," is a Jewish prayer found in the siddur, the classical Jewish prayerbook. It is recited at the end of each of the three daily Jewish services...

 prayer refers to the concept of Jews as a chosen people:
An earlier form of this prayer, in use during the medieval era, contained an extra sentence:
It is our duty to praise the Master of all, to exalt the Creator of the Universe, who has not made us like the nations of the world and has not placed us like the families of the earth; who has not designed our destiny to be like theirs, nor our lot like that of all their multitude, who worship mist and emptiness and pray to a God who cannot give success.


This sentence in italics is an allusion to the Bible, Isaiah
Isaiah
Isaiah ; Greek: ', Ēsaïās ; "Yahu is salvation") was a prophet in the 8th-century BC Kingdom of Judah.Jews and Christians consider the Book of Isaiah a part of their Biblical canon; he is the first listed of the neviim akharonim, the later prophets. Many of the New Testament teachings of Jesus...

 . "Assemble yourselves and come, draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations; they have no knowledge that carry the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save." In the medieval era some within the Christian community came to believe that this line referred to Christians worshipping Jesus; they demanded that it be excised. Ismar Elbogen
Ismar Elbogen
Ismar Elbogen was a Jewish-German rabbi, scholar and historian....

, a historian of the Jewish liturgy, held that the early form of the prayer pre-dated Christianity, and could not possibly have referred to it.
This section contains information from the Jewish Encyclopedia originally published between 1901-1906, which is in the public domain.


According to the Rabbis, "Israel is of all nations the most willful or headstrong one, and the Torah was to give it the right scope and power of resistance, or else the world could not have withstood its fierceness."

"The Lord offered the Law to all nations; but all refused to accept it except Israel."

How do we understand "A Gentile who consecrates his life to the study and observance of the Law ranks as high as the high priest", says R. Meïr, by deduction from Lev. xviii. 5; II Sam. vii. 19; Isa. xxvi. 2; Ps. xxxiii. 1, cxviii. 20, cxxv. 4, where all stress is laid not on Israel, but on man or the righteous one.

The Gemara states this regarding a non-Jew who studies Torah [his 7 mitzvot] and regarding this, see Shita Mekubetzes, Bava Kama 38a who says that this is an exaggeration. In any case, this statement was not extolling the non-Jew. The Rishonim explain that it is extolling the Torah.

Tosfos explains that the reason it uses the example of a kohen gadol (high priest) is because this statement is based on the verse, "y'kara hi mipnimim" (it is more precious than pearls) which is explained elsewhere in the Gemara to mean that Torah is more precious pnimim (translated here as "inside" instead of as "pearls"--i.e. the Torah is introspectively absorbed into the person)- which refer to lifnai v'lifnim (translated as "the most inner of places"-- i.e. the Holy of Holies where the kahon gadol went.

In any case, in Midrash Rabba (Bamidbar 13:15) this statement is brought with an important addition: a non-Jew who converts and studies Torah etc.

(Nation of) Israel is likened to the olive. Just as this fruit yields its precious oil only after being much pressed and squeezed, so Israel's destiny is one of great oppression and hardship, in order that it may thereby give forth its illuminating wisdom. Poverty is the quality most befitting Israel as the chosen people (Ḥag. 9b). Only on account of its good works is Israel among the nations "as the lily among thorns", or "as wheat among the chaff."

Modern Orthodox views


Rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

 Lord Immanuel Jakobovits
Immanuel Jakobovits
Immanuel Jakobovits, Baron Jakobovits, Kt was the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1967 to 1991. His successor is the present Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks.-Biography:...

, former Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue of Great Britain (Modern Orthodox Judaism), describes chosenness in this way:
Yes, I do believe that the chosen people concept as affirmed by Judaism in its holy writ, its prayers, and its millennial tradition. In fact, I believe that every people - and indeed, in a more limited way, every individual - is "chosen" or destined for some distinct purpose in advancing the designs of Providence. Only, some fulfill their mission and others do not. Maybe the Greeks were chosen for their unique contributions to art and philosophy, the Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

s for their pioneering services in law and government, the British
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 for bringing parliamentary rule into the world, and the Americans for piloting democracy in a pluralistic society. The Jews were chosen by God to be 'peculiar unto Me' as the pioneers of religion and morality; that was and is their national purpose.


Rabbi Norman Lamm
Norman Lamm
Norman Lamm is a major American Modern Orthodox rabbi, scholar, author and Jewish communal leader. He is presently the Chancellor of Yeshiva University....

, a leader of Modern Orthodox Judaism
Modern Orthodox Judaism
Modern Orthodox Judaism is a movement within Orthodox Judaism that attempts to synthesize Jewish values and the observance of Jewish law, with the secular, modern world....

 writes:

Conservative Judaism views


Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical Judaism,...

 and its Israeli counterpart Masorti
Masorti
The Masorti Movement is the name given to Conservative Judaism in Israel and other countries outside Canada and U.S. Masorti means "traditional" in Hebrew...

 Judaism, views the concept of chosenness in this way:
Rabbi Reuven Hammer
Reuven Hammer
Reuven Hammer is a Conservative Jewish rabbi, scholar of Jewish liturgy, author and lecturer. He is a founder of the Masorti movement in Israel and a past president of the International Rabbinical Assembly. He served many years as head of the Masorti Beth Din in Israel...

 of Masorti Judaism comments on the excised sentence in the Aleinu prayer mentioned above:

Reform Judaism


Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

 views the concept of chosenness in this way:
In 1999 the Reform movement stated:

Alternative Kabbalistic and philosophical views



Some prominent Kabbalists rejected this idea and believed in essential equality of all human souls. Menahem Azariah da Fano
Menahem Azariah da Fano
Menahem Azariah da Fano was an Italian rabbi, Talmudist, and Kabbalist.-Life:...

, in his book Reincarnations of souls, provides many examples of non-Jewish Biblical figures being reincarnated into Jews, and vice versa. Rabbi Abraham Cohen de Herrera
Abraham Cohen de Herrera
Abraham Cohen de Herrera also known as Alonso Nunez de Herrera or Abraham Irira was a religious philosopher and cabbalist. He is supposed by the historian Heinrich Graetz to have been born in 1570...

, another Kabbalist of the same school, quotes Greek, Christian and various Oriental mystics and philosophers without hesitation, and does not mention anything specific about the Jewish souls.

A number of known Chabad
Chabad
Chabad or Chabad-Lubavitch is a major branch of Hasidic Judaism.Chabad may also refer to:*Chabad-Strashelye, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism*Chabad-Kapust or Kapust, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism...

 rabbis offered alternative readings of the Tanya, did not take this teaching literally and even managed to reconcile it with the leftist
Left-wing politics
In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a more egalitarian society...

 ideas of internationalism
Internationalism (politics)
Internationalism is a political movement which advocates a greater economic and political cooperation among nations for the theoretical benefit of all...

 and class struggle
Class struggle
Class struggle is the active expression of a class conflict looked at from any kind of socialist perspective. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote "The [written] history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle"....

. The original text of the Tanya refers to the "idol worshippers" and does not mention the "nations of the world" at all, though such interpretation was endorsed by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe
Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Menachem Mendel Schneerson , known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe or just the Rebbe among his followers, was a prominent Hasidic rabbi who was the seventh and last Rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He was fifth in a direct paternal line to the third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Menachem Mendel...

 and is popular in contemporary Chabad circles. Rabbi Hillel of Parich, an early Tanya commentator, wrote that the souls of righteous Gentiles are more similar to the Jewish souls, and are generally good and not egoistic. This teaching was, indeed, accepted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe and is considered normative in Chabad.

According to the author of the Tanya himself, a righteous non-Jew can achieve a high level of spiritually, similar to an angel, though his soul is still fundamentally different in character, but not value, from a Jewish one. Tzemach Tzedek
Menachem Mendel Schneersohn
Menachem Mendel Schneersohn also known as the Tzemach Tzedek was an Orthodox rabbi and the third Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch chasidic movement.-Biography:...

, the third rebbe of Chabad, wrote that the Muslims
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 are naturally good-hearted people. Rabbi Yosef Jacobson, a popular contemporary Chabad lecturer, teaches that in today's world most non-Jews belong to the category of righteous Gentiles, effectively rendering the Tanya's attitude anachronistic.

Dov Ber Pinson
Dov Ber Pinson
DovBer Pinson is a modern mystic and scholar in Brooklyn, New York. He is an author, lecturer, and scholar of Jewish philosophy and mysticism.Born in Crown Heights, Pinson is greatly influenced by the traditions of Chassidus, Lurianic philosophy and mysticism, and the rational thinking of Maimonides...

, a contemporary Chabad mystic, denies the idea that there is any essential difference between the Jews and non-Jews. According to his theory, every person has a lower animalistic and higher Godly soul. The Tanya does not talk about Jews and non-Jews as social groups, but describes the internal struggle between the materialistic "Gentile" and spiritual "Jewish" levels of consciousness within every human soul.

A radical anti-Zionist
Anti-Zionism
Anti-Zionism is opposition to Zionistic views or opposition to the state of Israel. The term is used to describe various religious, moral and political points of view in opposition to these, but their diversity of motivation and expression is sufficiently different that "anti-Zionism" cannot be...

 interpretation of Tanya was offered by Abraham Yehudah Khein
Abraham Yehudah Khein
Abraham Yehudah Khein was a Hasidic Rabbi in the Ukrainian town Nyezhin and a pacifist anarchist. Khein belonged to the Hasidic Chabad tradition by family descent and spiritual training....

, a prominent Ukrainian
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 Chabad rabbi, who supported anarchist communism
Anarchist communism
Anarchist communism is a theory of anarchism which advocates the abolition of the state, markets, money, private property, and capitalism in favor of common ownership of the means of production, direct democracy and a horizontal network of voluntary associations and workers' councils with...

 and considered Peter Kropotkin
Peter Kropotkin
Prince Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin was a Russian zoologist, evolutionary theorist, philosopher, economist, geographer, author and one of the world's foremost anarcho-communists. Kropotkin advocated a communist society free from central government and based on voluntary associations between...

 a great Tzaddik. Rabbi Khein basically read the Tanya backwards: since the souls of idol worshippers are known to be evil, according to the Tanya, while the Jewish souls are known to be good, he concluded that truly altruistic people are really Jewish, in a spiritual sense, while Jewish nationalists and class oppressors are not. By this logic, he claimed that Vladimir Solovyov
Vladimir Solovyov (philosopher)
Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov was a Russian philosopher, poet, pamphleteer, literary critic, who played a significant role in the development of Russian philosophy and poetry at the end of the 19th century...

 and Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore , sobriquet Gurudev, was a Bengali polymath who reshaped his region's literature and music. Author of Gitanjali and its "profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse", he became the first non-European Nobel laureate by earning the 1913 Prize in Literature...

 probably have Jewish souls, while Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

 and other totalitarianists do not, and many Zionists, whom he compared to ape
Ape
Apes are Old World anthropoid mammals, more specifically a clade of tailless catarrhine primates, belonging to the biological superfamily Hominoidea. The apes are native to Africa and South-east Asia, although in relatively recent times humans have spread all over the world...

s, are merely "Jewish by birth certificate".

All the above-mentioned rabbis viewed the Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

 in general in the same way, because the Tanya is based on the teachings of the Zohar
Zohar
The Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah and scriptural interpretations as well as material on Mysticism, mythical cosmogony, and mystical psychology...

, works of Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

 and other Kabbalistic sources.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
Nachman of Breslov
Nachman of Breslov , also known as Reb Nachman of Bratslav, Reb Nachman Breslover , Nachman from Uman , was the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement....

 also believed that Jewishness is a level of consciousness and not an intrinsic inborn quality. He wrote that, according to the Book of Malachi
Book of Malachi
Malachi is a book of the Hebrew Bible, the last of the twelve minor prophets and the final book of the Neviim...

, one can find "potential Jews" among all nations, whose souls are illuminated by the leap of "holy faith", which "activated" the Jewishness in their soul. These people would otherwise convert to Judaism, but prefer not to do so. Instead, they recognize the Divine unity within their pagan religions.

Rabbi Isaac Arama
Isaac ben Moses Arama
Isaac ben Moses Arama was a Spanish rabbi and author. He was at first principal of a rabbinical academy at Zamora ; then he received a call as rabbi and preacher from the community at Tarragona, and later from that of Fraga in Aragon. He officiated finally in Calatayud as rabbi and head of the...

, an influential pholosopher and mystic of the 15th century, believed that righteous non-Jews are spiritually identical to the righteous Jews. Rabbi Menachem Meiri
Menachem Meiri
Rabbi Menachem Meiri was a famous Catalan rabbi, Talmudist and Maimonidean.-Early life:Menachem Meiri was born in 1249 in Perpignan, which then formed part of the County of Barcelona...

, a famous Catalan Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

ic commentator and Maimonidian
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

 philosopher, considered all people, who sincerely profess an ethical religion, as a part of greater "spiritual Israel". He explicitly included Christian and Muslims in this category. Meiri rejected all Talmudic laws that discriminate between the Jews and non-Jews, claiming that they only apply to the ancient idolators, who had no sense of morality. The only exception are a few laws related directly or indirectly to intermarriage, which Meiri did recognize.

Meiri applied his idea of "spiritual Israel" to Talmudic statements about unique qualities of the Jewish people. For example, he believed that the famous saying that Israel is above astrological predestination ("Ein Mazal le-Israel") also applies to the followers of other ethical faiths. He also considered countries, inhabited by decent moral non-Jews, such as Languedoc
Languedoc
Languedoc is a former province of France, now continued in the modern-day régions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées in the south of France, and whose capital city was Toulouse, now in Midi-Pyrénées. It had an area of approximately 42,700 km² .-Geographical Extent:The traditional...

, as a spiritual part of the Holy Land
Holy Land
The Holy Land is a term which in Judaism refers to the Kingdom of Israel as defined in the Tanakh. For Jews, the Land's identifiction of being Holy is defined in Judaism by its differentiation from other lands by virtue of the practice of Judaism often possible only in the Land of Israel...

.

Spinoza


One Jewish critic of chosenness was the philosopher Baruch Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza
Baruch de Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death...

. In the third chapter of his Theologico-Political Treatise
Theologico-Political Treatise
Written by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, the Theologico-Political Treatise or Tractatus Theologico-Politicus was published anonymously in 1670.It is an early criticism of religious intolerance and a defense of secular government...

, Spinoza mounts an argument against a naive interpretation of God's choice of the Jews. Bringing evidence from the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 itself, he argues that God's choice of Israel was not unique (he has chosen other nations before choosing the Hebrew nation) and that the choice of the Jews is neither inclusive (it does not include all of the Jews, but only the 'pious' ones) nor exclusive (it also includes 'true gentile prophets'). Finally, he argues that God's choice is not unconditional. Recalling the numerous times God threatened the complete destruction of the Hebrew nation, he asserts that this choice is neither absolute, nor eternal, nor necessary. Moreover, in aphorism 12 he writes, "Thus the Jews today have absolutely nothing that they can attribute to themselves but not to other peoples...."

Reconstructionist criticism


Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism is a modern American-based Jewish movement based on the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan . The movement views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization. It originated as a branch of Conservative Judaism, before it splintered...

 rejects the concept of chosenness. Its founder, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan
Mordecai Kaplan
Mordecai Menahem Kaplan , was a rabbi, essayist and Jewish educator and the co-founder of Reconstructionist Judaism along with his son-in-law Ira Eisenstein.-Life and work:...

, said that the idea that God chose the Jewish people leads to racist beliefs among Jews, and thus must be excised from Jewish theology. This rejection of chosenness is made explicit in the movement's siddur
Siddur
A siddur is a Jewish prayer book, containing a set order of daily prayers. This article discusses how some of these prayers evolved, and how the siddur, as it is known today has developed...

im (prayer books).

For example, the original blessing recited before reading from the Torah from contains the phrase "asher bahar banu mikol ha’amim"; "Praised are you Lord our God, ruler of the Universe, who has chosen us from among all peoples by giving us the Torah." The Reconstructionist version is rewritten as "asher kervanu la’avodato", "Praised are you Lord our God, ruler of the Universe, who has drawn us to your service by giving us the Torah."

In the mid-1980s the Reconstructionist movement issued its Platform on Reconstructionism. It states that the idea of chosenness is "morally untenable", because anyone who has such beliefs "implies the superiority of the elect community and the rejection of others."

Not all Reconstructionists accept this view. The newest siddur of the movement, Kol Haneshamah, includes the traditional blessings as an option, and some modern Reconstructionist writers have opined that the traditional formulation is not racist, and should be embraced.

An original prayer book by Reconstructionist feminist poet Marcia Falk, The Book of Blessings has been widely accepted by both Reform and Reconstructionist Jews. Falk rejects all concepts relating to hierarchy or distinction; she sees any distinction as leading to the acceptance of other kinds of distinctions, and thus leading to prejudice. She writes that as a politically liberal feminist, she must reject distinctions made between men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals, Jews and non-Jews, and to some extent even distinctions between the Sabbath and the other six days of the week. She thus rejects idea of chosenness as unethical. She also rejects Jewish theology in general, and instead holds to a form of religious humanism. Falk writes:
Reconstructionist author Judith Plaskow
Judith Plaskow
Dr. Judith Plaskow is Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College. Her scholarly interests focus on contemporary religious thought with a specialization in feminist theology. Dr. Plaskow has lectured widely on feminist theology in the United States and Europe. She co-founded The Journal...

 also criticises the idea of chosenness, for many of the same reasons as Falk. A politically liberal lesbian, Plaskow rejects most distinctions made between men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals, and Jews and non-Jews. In contrast to Falk, Plaskow does not reject all concepts of differences as inherently leading to unethical beliefs, and holds to a more classical form of Jewish theism than Falk.

A number of responses to these views have been made by Reform and Conservative Jews; they hold that these criticisms are against teachings that do not exist within liberal forms of Judaism, and which are rare in Orthodox Judaism (outside certain Haredi communities, such as Chabad
Chabad
Chabad or Chabad-Lubavitch is a major branch of Hasidic Judaism.Chabad may also refer to:*Chabad-Strashelye, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism*Chabad-Kapust or Kapust, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism...

). A separate criticism stems from the very existence of feminist forms of Judaism in all denominations of Judaism, which do not have a problem with the concepts of chosenness.

Islam


The children of Israel enjoy a special status in the Islamic book, the Quran:
O children of Israel, remember my favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I favored you above all creation. (Qur'an 2:47). 2:122).


However, Muslim scholars point out that this does status did not confer upon Israelites any racial superiority, and was only valid so long as the Israelites maintain their covenant with God,
Indeed God had taken the covenant from the Children of Israel, and We appointed twelve leaders among them. And God said: "I am with you if you establish the prayer and offer the Zakat (compulsory charity) and believe in My Messengers; honor and assist them, and lend to God a good loan. Verily, I will remit your sins and admit you to Gardens under which rivers flow (in Paradise). But if any of you after this, disbelieve, he has indeed gone astray from the Straight Path." (Quran 5:12)

Christianity


Jews were chosen by God as the Chosen people. However, some Christians believe that since they do not accept Jesus
Rejection of Jesus
The Canonical Gospels of the New Testament include some accounts of the rejection of Jesus in the course of his ministry. Judaism's view of Jesus, Jesus in Islam, and the view of the Historical Jesus all differ from Christian views of Jesus.-Hometown rejection:...

, the Christians in turn received that special status. This doctrine is known as Supersessionism
Supersessionism
Supersessionism is a term for the dominant Christian view of the Old Covenant, also called fulfillment theology and replacement theology, though the latter term is disputed...

.

Influence on relations with other religions


Avi Beker, a scholar and the former Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress
World Jewish Congress
The World Jewish Congress was founded in Geneva, Switzerland, in August 1936 as an international federation of Jewish communities and organizations...

, regards the idea of the Chosen People as Judaism's defining concept which is "the central unspoken psychological, historical, and theological problem at the heart of Jewish-Gentile relations." Beker views the concept of choseness as the driving force behind Jewish-Gentile relations which explains both the admiration and more pointedly the envy and hatred the world has felt for the Jews in religious and also secular terms. Beker argues that while Christianity has modified its doctrine on the displacement of the Jews, he accuses Islam of not reversing or reforming its theology on the succession of both the Jews and the Christians. According to Baker, this presents a major barrier to conflict resolution in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Charges of ethnocentrism and racism


Israeli philosopher Ze’ev Levy writes that chosenness can be "(partially) justified only from the historical angle" with respect to its spiritual and moral contribution to Jewish life thorough centuries, "a powerful agent of consolation and hope". He points out however that modern anthropological theories "do not merely proclaim the inherent universal equality of all people [as] human beings; they also stress the equivalence of all human cultures." (emphasis in original) He continues that "there are no inferior and superior people or cultures but only different, other, ones." He concludes that the concept of chosenness entails ethnocentrism
Ethnocentrism
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one's own. The ethnocentric individual will judge other groups relative to his or her own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with...

, "which does not go hand in hand with otherness, that is, with unconditional respect of otherness".

Some people have claimed that Judaism's chosen people concept is racist because it implies that Jews are superior to non-Jews. However, the Anti-Defamation League
Anti-Defamation League
The Anti-Defamation League is an international non-governmental organization based in the United States. Describing itself as "the nation's premier civil rights/human relations agency", the ADL states that it "fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects...

,and other authorities assert that the concept of chosen people within Judaism has nothing to do with racial superiority, but rather is a description of the special relationship between God and Jews.

See also

  • Ashkenazi intelligence
    Ashkenazi intelligence
    Whether Ashkenazi Jews have higher intelligence than other ethnic groups has been an occasional subject of scientific controversy. The 2005 paper "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" by Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending, argued on the basis of inherited diseases and the peculiar economic...

  • Light Unto the Nations
    Light Unto the Nations
    Light Unto the Nations is a term originated from the prophet Isaiah, which expresses the universal designation of the Jewish People as a mentor for spiritual and moral guidance for the entire world.-Origins in the Classical...

  • Supersessionism
    Supersessionism
    Supersessionism is a term for the dominant Christian view of the Old Covenant, also called fulfillment theology and replacement theology, though the latter term is disputed...

  • Who is a Jew?
    Who is a Jew?
    "Who is a Jew?" is a basic question about Jewish identity and considerations of Jewish self-identification. The question is based in ideas about Jewish personhood which themselves have cultural, religious, genealogical, and personal dimensions...


External links


Charges of racism