photoIn Judaism, “chosenness” is the belief that the Jewish people were singularly chosen to enter into a covenant with God.  The idea of Jews as the chosen people is a fundamental tenet in traditional  Judaism. A tenet so fundamental that in 1945 the Union of Orthodox Rabbis voted to ban the newly published Reconstructionist Sabbath Prayer Book written by Mordecai Kaplan because the prayer book asserted that the Jews are not the chosen people, and the Torah is a human document and not supernaturally inspired. After the vote, the rabbis burned the book and proceeded to excommunicate Kaplan from Judaism.  The fact that the book burning accord shortly after the Allies declared victory over Nazi Europe is not lost on historians

In the Future of the American Jew Kaplan explains that the belief of chosenness was derived from the Torah and the stories around the Patriarchs, their descendants in Egypt, Moses and the Israelites on Mt Sinai and the belief that these stories in the Torah represented factual truth. In the book Kaplan states that “people use to think that the earth was the center of the universe, and their homes were the center of the earth.” The concept of Jews as the chosen people also must fit into this line of thinking, which we must get rid of and is a “thought which we can no longer inhabit.” The stories in the Torah according to Kaplan are considered legends and cannot be considered factual and Jews cannot use them as proof that they are the chosen people. He believed that a modern people cannot continue to believe in a supernatural God that favors one group of people over the other and claims one group superior to the other in a society. One group of people cannot be the “all time elite elect of God” and the idea of any people calling themselves chosen is “guilty of self infatuation.” Kaplan equated chosenness with arrogance and believed that “No people can achieve salvation until all people do. This can happen only when it is understood that all people possess equal access to god. That each peoples experience and expression when directed toward the highest goals are equally valid.”

According to Rebecca Alpert, Kaplan’s argument against chosenness would have not been a controversy if it had remained a theory.  Kaplan walked his talk and put his theory into action by changing prayers such as the Havdalah, Aleinu and the Kiddush, removing words that described chosenness and a supernatural deity.

As a person who came to Judaism as an adult and through the Reconstructionist movement, I had only known that Reconstructionism rejected the concept of chosenness I’m not even sure I understood how central the concept of chosenness was, until I started interacting with non-Reconstructionist Jews and visiting non-Reconstructionist synagogues.

The Reconstructionist of the early part of the 20th century “concluded that “chosenness” unlike other concepts cannot be reconstructed” and that chosenness implies a hierarchy and thus lends itself far too quickly to chauvinism and other anti-democratic behavior.” – Rabbi Deborah Waxman. The concept of chosenness was the central part of Reconstructionist thought that separated it from all other types of Judaism and maybe made it impossible to stay with the Conservative movement and be sort of a left leaning arm of the Conservative movement and thus the Recontructionist College was founded and a fourth movement of Judaism was created.

2 thoughts on “Choseness

  1. As a “reformim” this “choseness” idea has no literal or spiritual resonance in my profession and expression of my Judaic faith. I could not have said this growing up. This idea of “choseness” is the touchstone for anyone or any community claiming to be a part of the Jewish people, or one’s self identification as a Jew (such as advanced with Hebrew Israelites and those who embrace some form of black or African Jewish identity). This mythical idea of “choseness” is “Jewish Fundamentalism.” The idea has found its victim to any disgraced, maligned and socially marginalized people internalizing it.

  2. I was googling “divine choseness” and came across this interesting quote that sort of illustrates the depth of the concept. “To understand the deep-seated motives of U.S. foreign policy, one has to delve into American political theology – the conviction of many American politicians of their country’s divine choseness. The architects and beneficiaries of these wars are motivated by secular political consequences, but the root causes of these wars have a theological dimension. These two cannot be separated. Uri Avnery, an Israeli leftist writer, remarked some time ago that “Israel is a small America, the USA is a huge Israel.”

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