The Chosen People
The Chosen People
Ignorance of Jewish history and Judaism, the religion of the Jews, is so common among us that it is to be assumed as the rule and not the exception. Therefore, the concept of “the chosen people” is widely denounced by Americans of “Jewish descent” or “secular Jews” who fear that such a concept is undemocratic, does not fit our American values and must be ignored or in fact abolished.
Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionism and without doubt one of the great sages in Israel and follower of Spinoza, identified Hashem with nature and, like Spinoza, rejected the concept of “the chosen people”. He held this view on the grounds that the idea of Hashem choosing Israel makes no sense since god is nature and nature is not above or beyond anyone. Therefore, Reconstructionist prayer books have removed all reference to the “chosen people.”
Our secular and Reconstructionist brethren can of course reject the concept of the “chosen people” as they like. However, the Torah can hardly be altered and it is in the Torah that we find the concept of the “chosen people”. Now, none of the Torah sentences here cited are to the effect that Jews are superior to anyone. Such claims are readily made by our enemies and by those Jews who do not read the Torah. Take a look at these citations:
Devorim (Deutoronomy) 7:6-11. “For you are a holy people unto the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be His own treasure out of all people who are on the face of the earth”. Does this embarrass you? It angers some people but that won’t help. It is there. Look at it yourself and then read the remainder through sentence eleven. Of course, our enemies don’t want to hear this and they need not read this. Nevertheless, it is there right in the Torah and it cannot be removed.
Now look at Shemoth (Exodus 19:5-6). ……you shall be my own treasure from among all peoples……and you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Frightening, isn’t it? What will the “goyim” think? Must this not be suppressed lest we be accused of arrogance and “cause anti-semitism”? Please, folks. We don’t cause anti-semitism. We are not semites. We are Jews. Jew haters have their own reasons and their hatred is never our fault. Crimes are the fault of the criminals and not their victims. We need not hide. We need not suppress. We need only be proud of who we are and be glad that there are millions of Christians who are as sure as we are that the Torah is right. We are indeed the “chosen” people, like it or not. Even if there were no Christians who believe that, it would still be the case. Live with it. Enjoy it. We are the oldest nobility on earth. Not because we are even an iota better than anyone else but because we have made such great contributions to mankind and continue to do so.
Now look at the Talmud. Look at Mekhilta. Bachodesh, Yitro 5. This constitutes a discussion among the Rabbis of the Talmud of how numerous other nations were offered the opportunity to receive the Torah but rejected it. Only we, the Children of Israel answered with one voice when “Moses took the book of the covenant and read in the hearing of the people and they said: All that the Lord has spoken we will do and obey.” Shemot (Exodus) 24:7. Those who do not know much about Torah can of course ignore this. Yet, it is a matter of fact that the Torah or Bible originates with us, Israel, and has become the common heritage of mankind, like it or not.
There are those who view all of this as antiquated unreason. Living in a secular science minded world, many want nothing to do with Torah or “chosen people”. That doesn’t change the facts. It only ignores them. Moses Mendelssohn, the great Jewish philosopher and contemporary of Immanuel Kant, joined reason to religion and showed us how we can live with both. But let us say that some of us are devoted to the secular and reject all religion. That doesn’t alter the facts concerning the “chosen people” concept.
That is true because our enemies have for years enjoyed using the “chosen people” concept as a means of denouncing us and justifying their crimes. The vicious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, invented in Russia and distributed in this country by Henry Ford, pretended to know that there is an international Jewish conspiracy on the part of the “chosen people” to rule the world. George Bernard Shaw, an admirer of Hitler, claimed that Jews and Nazis had the same ideology as both saw themselves as “racially superior” and hence “the chosen people”. Arab propaganda never tires of bleating these lies throughout the world as was once more visible at the recent United Nations Conference on Racism in Durban. Our American delegation walked out, our Secretary of State did not attend in the first place because it had become obvious in advance of that conference that the Arabs had “hijacked” the meeting for the purpose of inciting the world to hate Jews. Their argument? That Jews are racists who consider themselves “the chosen people”.
Yet, the concept “chosen” refers to Amos 3:2. There we read: “You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth. That is why I call you to account for all your sins.” As some Jews have said, never mind being chosen, why doesn’t hashem choose somebody else for once? This comment refers to the holocaust and all our persecutions.
Yet, our status cannot be changed. We are “a light unto the nations”. We are the model of decency and morality. Of course, millions of non-Jews are as decent and moral as, hopefully, most Jews. Of course there are Jews who betray their heritage by their poor conduct. Yet, it is our responsibility to be a model for others. We cannot escape that.
Then there is one more manner in which we are “the chosen.” Not in a biological sense but in a cultural sense we are “the chosen.” Jews by choice who came to us in their later years are included in that great Jewish enterprise known as Jewish inventiveness and intelligence. Take a look at the number of Jews who have contributed to science and the arts, to literature and medicine, to military history and political leadership and to everything else. Then answer this question: “How do you explain that we, who are far less than one percent of the world’s population have made such huge contributions and continue to do so?” If we are not “the chosen people” than who are we?
So live with it. Be proud of it. It’s all right to be an American and a Jew as well. Enjoy the distinction and do as Benjamin Disraeli did when he ran for a seat in Parliament and later became Prime Minister of England. He referred to himself as nobility with a longer ancestry than any British lord. This appealed to the voters and he was elected again and again as we will be by all who admire those who respect themselves and say with Jonah: “Yehudi onauchi” – I am a Jew.
Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of Stigma: How We Treat Outsiders (Prometheus Books, 2001) and over 60 other publications.