You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

May 31: The “Chosen People” Doctrine

May 31, 2014
pickAccording to the Jewish biblical calendar, on this date in 1313 BCE, known as Yom Hameyukhas, “The Day of Distinction,” God told Moses on Mount Sinai that the people of Israel “shall be My chosen treasure from among all the nations... a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). This notion of the Jews as God’s “chosen people” has evolved through the centuries to embrace ideas about Jewish spiritual talent, Jewish liability for sin, and Jewish ethical responsibility. It remains a tenet of every Jewish religious denomination but Humanistic Judaism and Reconstructionism, the founder of which, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, described chosenness as potentially racist, alienating to Jews and non-Jews alike, superstitious, and redeemable “by no kind of dialectics” because of “the odium of comparison... which makes invidious distinctions between one people and another.” Kaplan therefore rejected the doctrine outright rather than seeking its reinterpretation. The anti-Semitic forgery from Tsarist Russia, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, based its fantasy of an international Jewish conspiracy to rule the world upon the Jewish “Chosen People” doctrine, and in the 1930s, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, “as the Nazis were tightening the noose around the necks of German Jews, George Bernard Shaw remarked that if the Nazis would only realize how Jewish their notion of Aryan superiority was, they would drop it immediately.” The most universalist interpretation of “chosenness,” favored by your Jewdayo editor, is that the Jews portrayed in the Torah are best seen as representing any and all human beings who strive for self-awareness, mentshlikhkayt (full, compassionate humanness), and to reject idolatry (false consciousness). To paraphrase the old Levy’s Rye Bread ads, “You don’t have to be Jewish to be Jewish.” “O God of Mercy/ Choose/another people./ We are tired of death, tired of corpses,/ We have no more prayers.” —Kadya Molodowsky, from “God of Mercy