The real meaning of “Chosenness”

The Reconstructionist theologian Mordechai Kaplan tried very hard to dismiss the notion of “Chosen people” because he felt it was an antiquated idea thatis “morally untenable”, because anyone who has such beliefs “implies the superiority of the elect community and the rejection of others” (Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot, newsletter, Sept. 1986, pages D, E. ).

1. Kaplan and I have never seen eye to eye on any theological issue–except for his concept of the right for a Jewish community to define its own ideation and philosophy–which could even paradoxically include the Haredi, and their right to define the rules for being a member of their community (hardly something he would ever have imagined).

Yet, “chosenness” need not be defined in such a narrow bandwidth; Jung explains that “chosenness” in terms of individuation, i.e., the process of each us realizing our own unique potential; practically every people who has ever inhabited the planet believes that they are “special” or “chosen” or “destined” for something great (e.g., the Chinese, the Japanese, the American concept of Manifest Destiny, Marxian view of Utopia, the Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu views of salvation). Unfortunately, mean religious systems around the world view “chosenness” in terms of racial superiority and even some foolish rabbis in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community sometimes think in those terms.

Could “chosenness” also pertain to Christianity or Islam from a Judaic perspective? Certainly according to Maimonides; less so according to Franz Rosensweig, whose “Star of Redemption,” i.e., the Magen David symbol represents the special relationship between Judaism and Christianity; at the center of the star is Judaism, while the rays represent the teachings of Christianity that spread out throughout the world. This is a novel interpretation, one that I actually like and use when working with members of the Christian community. Both Judaism and Christianity stress the importance of ethical monotheism, whereas in my opinion, Islam only stresses the importance of absolute monotheism. Muslims will obviously call this an oversimplification, but the lack of democratic rights and respect for the rights of the individual reveals a religious philosophy that is essentially totalitarian in nature.

Historically, Christianity subscribed to a doctrine known as supersessionism, which believes that Christian believers have replaced physical Israelites as God’s chosen people. The Jewish rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, according to this view, has resulted in God’s “rejection” of the Jewish people’s chosen status. Fortunately, many liberal Christian thinkers and even evangelical theologians recognize that Christian “chosenness” means to be “grafted” to the people of Israel and their destiny. Organizations like Bridges for Peace and other evangelical communities I personally know of certainly feel this way.

Personally, I think that in biblical terms, Israel is called to witness the just and ethical God to the world–a point that I think is still relevant even today–could you imagine the British sending food staples to the Nazis during WWII, yet, Israel provides the people of Gaza with so many of their needs, despite the Palestinian desire to destroy Israel. If you want to know what “chosenness” means try thinking about that for a moment!

Maybe, too many of us are like Kafka’s story about the messenger who forgot the message; nevertheless, the best way to envision “chosenness” is to see in as noblese obligese, not unlike the kind of behavior the knights of the medieval era who were expected to uphold and live by the highest values of moral decency and nobility, which is in keeping with the prophetic message of Second Isaiah, who describes the spiritual vocation of Israel as, “a light unto the nations” (Isa. 49:6).