In Judaism, "chosenness" is the belief that the Jews , via descent from the ancient Israelites , are the chosen people , i.e. chosen to be in a covenant with God . The idea of the Israelites being chosen by God is found most directly in the Book of Deuteronomy as the verb bahar (בָּחַ֣ר (Hebrew )), and is alluded to elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible using other terms such as "holy people". Much is written about these topics in rabbinic literature . The three largest Jewish denominations— Orthodox Judaism , Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism —maintain the belief that the Jews have been chosen by God for a purpose. Sometimes this choice is seen as charging the Jewish people with a specific mission — to be a light unto the nations, and to exemplify the covenant with God as described in the Torah.
This view, however, did not preclude a belief that God has a relationship with other peoples — rather, Judaism held that God had entered into a covenant with all humankind, and that Jews and non-Jews alike have a relationship with God. Biblical references as well as rabbinic literature support this view: Moses refers to the " God of the spirits of all flesh" (Numbers 27:16), and the Tanakh ( Hebrew Bible ) also identifies prophets outside the community of Israel. Based on these statements, some rabbis theorized that, in the words of Nethanel ibn Fayyumi , a Yemenite Jewish theologian of the 12th century, "God permitted to every people something he forbade to others... God sends a prophet to every people according to their own language."(Levine, 1907/1966) The Mishnah states that "Humanity was produced from one man, Adam, to show God's greatness. When a man mints a coin in a press, each coin is identical. But when the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, creates people in the form of Adam not one is similar to any other." ( Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5) The Mishnah continues, and states that anyone who kills or saves a single human, not Jewish, life, has done the same (save or kill) to an entire world. The Tosefta, an important supplement to the Mishnah , also states: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come " ( Sanhedrin 105a).
* 1 In the
* 2 Rabbinic views
* 2.1 Further interpretations
* 3 Modern Orthodox views * 4 Conservative views * 5 Reform views
* 6 Alternative views
* 6.1 Equality of souls
* 6.1.1 Different in character but not value * 6.1.2 Altruism * 6.1.3 Righteous non- Jews
* 6.2 Spinoza
* 7 Reconstructionist criticism
* 8 Views from other religions
* 8.1 Islam * 8.2 Christianity
* 9 Influence on relations with other religions * 10 Ethnocentrism * 11 See also * 12 Notes * 13 References * 14 Further reading
* 15 External links
* 15.1 Charges of racism
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
Deuteronomy 14:2, "For you are a holy people to
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 from all the peoples, for all the earth is mine" (Exodus 19:5).
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,
* "And you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). * "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." (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
The obligation imposed upon the Israelites was emphasized by the prophet Amos (3:2): "You only have I singled out of all the families of the earth: therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities."
Sometimes this choice is seen as charging the Jewish people with a specific mission — to be a light unto the nations, and to exemplify the covenant with God as described in the Torah. This view, however, did not preclude a belief that God has a relationship with other peoples — rather, Judaism held that God had entered into a covenant with all humankind, and that Jews and non- Jews alike have a relationship with God. Biblical references as well as rabbinic literature support this view: Moses refers to the " God of the spirits of all flesh" (Numbers 27:16), and the Tanakh ( Hebrew Bible ) also identifies prophets outside the community of Israel. Based on these statements, some rabbis theorized that, in the words of Nethanel ibn Fayyumi , a Yemenite Jewish theologian of the 12th century, "God permitted to every people something he forbade to others... God sends a prophet to every people according to their own language."(Levine, 1907/1966) The Mishnah states that "Humanity was produced from one man, Adam, to show God's greatness. When a man mints a coin in a press, each coin is identical. But when the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, creates people in the form of Adam not one is similar to any other." ( Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5) The Mishnah continues, and states that anyone who kills or saves a single human, not Jewish, life, has done the same (save or kill) to an entire world. The Tosefta, a collection of important post-Talmudic discourses, also states: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come " ( Sanhedrin 105a).
The idea of chosenness has traditionally been interpreted by
two ways: one way is that
God chose the Israelites, while the other is
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, thus: although the Jews
chose to follow precepts ordained by God, the
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 Avot 3:14 has this teaching:
Rabbi Akiva 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 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
In the Jewish prayerbook (the Siddur) , chosenness is referred to in a number of ways. The blessing for reading the Torah 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 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."
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. We bend the knee and bow and acknowledge before the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be he, that it is he who stretched forth the heavens and founded the earth. His seat of glory is in the heavens above; his abode of majesty is in the lofty heights.
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 save.
This sentence in italics is an allusion to the Bible, Isaiah (45:20). "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 , 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.
The following section contains information from the Jewish Encyclopedia, originally published between 1901-1906, which is in the public domain.
According to the Rabbis, "
"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.
Maimonides states: It is now abundantly clear that the pledges Hashem made to Avraham and his descendants would be fulfilled exclusively first in Yitzchak and then in Yaakov, Yitzchak son. This is confirmed by a passage that states, “He is ever mindful of His covenant . . . that He made with Avraham, swore to Yitzchak, and confirmed in a decree for Yaakov, for Yisrael, as an eternal covenant (Tehillim 105: 8,9).
The Gemara states this regarding a non-Jew who studies Torah 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 it uses the example of a kohen gadol (high priest), because this statement is based on the verse, "y'kara hi mipnimim" (it is more precious than pearls). This is explained elsewhere in the Gemara to mean that the Torah is more precious pnimim (translated here as "inside" instead of as "pearls"; thus that the Torah is introspectively absorbed into the person), which refers to lifnai v'lifnim (translated as "the most inner of places"), that is the Holy of Holies where the kahon gadol went.
In any case, in Midrash Rabba (Bamidbar 13:15) this statement is made with an important addition: a non-Jew who converts and studies Torah etc.
The Nation of
MODERN ORTHODOX VIEWS
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 Romans for their pioneering services in law and government, the British 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.
The chosenness of
Conservative Judaism , views the concept of chosenness in this way:
Few beliefs have been subject to as much misunderstanding as the
"Chosen People" doctrine. The
Torah and the Prophets clearly stated
that this does not imply any innate Jewish superiority. In the words
of Amos (3:2) "You alone have I singled out of all the families of the
earth—that is why I will call you to account for your iniquities".
Torah tells us that we are to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation" with obligations and duties which flowed from our willingness
to accept this status. Far from being a license for special privilege,
it entailed additional responsibilities not only toward
God but to our
fellow human beings. As expressed in the blessing at the reading of
the Torah, our people have always felt it to be a privilege to be
selected for such a purpose. For the modern traditional Jew, the
doctrine of the election and the covenant of
Originally the text read that God has not made us like the nations who "bow down to nothingness and vanity, and pray to an impotent god", In the Middle Ages these words were censored, since the church believed they were an insult to Christianity. Omitting them tends to give the impression that the Aleinu teaches that we are both different and better than others. The actual intent is to say that we are thankful that God has enlightened us so that, unlike the pagans, we worship the true God and not idols. There is no inherent superiority in being Jewish, but we do assert the superiority of monotheistic belief over paganism. Although paganism still exists today, we are no longer the only ones to have a belief in one God.
Reform Judaism views the concept of chosenness in this way:
Throughout the ages it has been Israel's mission to witness to the Divine in the face of every form of paganism and materialism. We regard it as our historic task to cooperate with all men in the establishment of the kingdom of God, of universal brotherhood, Justice, truth and peace on earth. This is our Messianic goal.
In 1999 the Reform movement stated:
We affirm that the Jewish people are bound to God by an eternal covenant, as reflected in our varied understandings of Creation, Revelation and Redemption We are Israel, a people aspiring to holiness, singled out through our ancient covenant and our unique history among the nations to be witnesses to God's presence. We are linked by that covenant and that history to all Jews in every age and place.
EQUALITY OF SOULS
Many Kabbalistic sources, notably the
A number of known
Chabad rabbis offered alternative readings of the
Tanya, did not take this teaching literally, and even managed to
reconcile it with the leftist ideas of internationalism and class
struggle . The original text of the
Different In Character But Not Value
According to the author of the
Dov Ber Pinson , 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
An anti-Zionist interpretation of
Nachman of Breslov also believed that Jewishness is a level of consciousness, and not an intrinsic inborn quality. He wrote that, according to the Book of Malachi , 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.
Meiri applied his idea of "spiritual Israel" to the Talmudic
statements about unique qualities of the Jewish people. For example,
he believed that the famous saying that
One Jewish critic of chosenness was the philosopher
Baruch Spinoza .
In the third chapter of his
Theologico-Political Treatise , Spinoza
mounts an argument against a naive interpretation of God's choice of
the Jews. Bringing evidence from the
Reconstructionist Judaism rejects the concept of chosenness. Its founder, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan , 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 siddurim (prayer books).
For example, the original blessing recited before reading from the Torah 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, 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:
The idea of
Reconstructionist author Judith Plaskow 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 difference 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 ). 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.
VIEWS FROM OTHER RELIGIONS
See also: Islamic-Jewish relations
The children of
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).
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)
See also: Jewish-Christian relations
Some Christians believe that the Jews were God's chosen people (Deuteronomy 14:2), but because of Jewish Rejection of Jesus , the Christians in turn received that special status (Romans 11:11-24). This doctrine is known as Supersessionism .
However, most other Christians are of the view that all people who turn to Christ as their personal saviour are 'chosen' in the context of John 15:16 whereby Jesus referred to God's plan of salvation as his great redeeming work on the cross, that all who come to faith in him does so freely and are 'chosen' to bear 'fruit that lasts'. 1 Peter 2:9 refers to these (Christians) as 'chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession' .
INFLUENCE ON RELATIONS WITH OTHER RELIGIONS
Avi Beker , an Israeli scholar and former Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress , regarded the idea of the chosen people as Judaism's defining concept and "the central unspoken psychological, historical, and theological problem at the heart of Jewish-Gentile relations." In his book The Chosen: The History of an Idea, and the Anatomy of an Obsession, Beker views the concept of chosenness as the driving force behind Jewish-Gentile relations, explaining 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, Islam has neither reversed nor reformed its theology concerning the succession of both the Jews and the Christians. According to Beker, this presents a major barrier to conflict resolution in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
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 through the 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 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 , "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. The Anti-Defamation League asserts that the concept of a chosen people within Judaism has nothing to do with racial superiority.
* ^ Clements, Ronald (1968). God's Chosen People: a Theological
Interpretation of the Book of Deuteronomy. In series, Religious Book
Club, 182. London: S.C.M. Press
* ^ The
Jews as a Chosen People: Tradition and Transformation, S.
Leyla Gurkan p. 9
* ^ (see "Tosefta")
* ^ 2013 Democracy Index, "We asked: “To what extent do you
believe that the
Jews are the ‘chosen people’?” As shown in
Figure 34, roughly two thirds of the Jewish respondents (64.3%)
believe “very strongly” or “quite strongly” that the
indeed the chosen people, while one third (32.7%) do not share this
* ^ Translation by Philip Birnbaum, "High Holyday Prayerbook"
* ^ Beẓah, 25b
* ^ Mek. Yitro, Pes. R. K. 103b, 186a, 200a
* ^ Sifra, Aḥare Mot, 86b; Bacher, "Ag. Tan." ii. 31
* ^ Avraham Yaakov Finkel. The essential Maimonides. Translations
of the Rambam, Jason Aronson Inc , Northvale New Jersey London
* ^ Ex. R. xxxvi:1.
* ^ Cant. R. ii. 2
* ^ Midr. Teh. i. 4
* ^ Weber's "System der Altsynagogalen Theologie", etc., pp. 59-69,
is full of glaring errors and misstatements on the subject of Israel
as the chosen people
* ^ The State of Jewish Belief: A Symposium Compiled by the Editors
of Commentary Magazine, August 1966
* ^ Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative
Judaism, JTSA, New York, 1988, p.33-34
* ^ Reuven Hammer, Or Hadash, The Rabbinical Assembly, New York,
* ^ The Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism, Columbus,
Ohio , 1937
* ^ Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism, adopted at the 1999