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Jews as a chosen people

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Sarah
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« on: February 09, 2007, 09:33:42 pm »

There seems to be a good deal of confusion about this, and the way I see others use the phrase it's as if they imply Jewish racism, a phrase akin to any of the other numereous races that have tried, in the past, to set themselves above.

Not so. "Chosen," does not imply better, superior or intend to say that Jews are due some reward that others will not receive.

"Chosen," simply means that Jews have different responsibilities, is all. "Different" does not mean superior.
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"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand fail..." - King David, Psalms 137:5

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Sarah
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« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2007, 09:34:21 pm »

In Judaism, chosenness is the belief that the Jews are a chosen people: chosen to be in a covenant with God. This idea is first found in the Torah (five books of Moses) and is elaborated on in later books of the Hebrew Bible. Much is written about this topic in rabbinic literature.

Chosenness in the Hebrew Bible

According to the Hebrew Bible, Israel's character as the chosen people is conditioned by obedience to God's commandments. "Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people. For all the earth is mine: and you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5, 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, Cool.

The obligation imposed upon the Israelites is emphasized by the prophet Amos (Book of 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." This idea is also expressed in Deuteronomy 14:2: "You are a holy people unto the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a peculiar people unto Himself, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth."
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Sarah
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« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2007, 09:34:58 pm »

Rabbinic Jewish views of chosenness

The idea of chosenness has traditionally been interpreted by Jews in two ways: one way is that God chose the Israelites, while the other idea is that the Israelites chose God. Although collectively this choice was made freely, religious Jews believe that it created individual obligation for the descendants of the Israelites.

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 holds that all mankind is made in the image of God. For example, Mishnah Avot 3:14, and Babylonian Talmud Avot 9b, contain 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 [Genesis 9:6], 'In the image of God, man was created.')"
Most Jewish texts do not state that "God chose the Jews" by itself. Rather, these claims are usually linked with a mission or purpose, such as proclaiming God's message among all the nations. This implies a special duty, which devolves from the belief that Jews have been pledged by the covenant which God concluded with the biblical patriarch Abraham, their ancestor, and again with the entire Jewish nation at Mount Sinai. In this view, Jews are charged with living a holy life as God's priest-people.

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." When read as two separate clauses, chosenness and the receiving of the Torah are two distinct aspects of Jewish identity. In this view, one would look to other rabbinic texts to understand what chosenness means. Some modern day prayerbook editors translate this as "who has chosen us out of all the nations by bestowing upon us his Torah." thus making explicit their theology that chosenness is linked to receiving of the Torah.

There is a similar qualification in the prayer known as "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."

The Aleinu prayer refers to the concept of Jews as a chosen people:

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.
(Translation by Philip Birnbaum, "High Holyday Prayerbook")
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 carry their wooden images and pray to a God who cannot give success.
This sentence in italics is a quote from the Bible, Isaiah 45:20. "Come, gather together, Draw nigh, you remnants of the nations! No foreknowledge had they who carry their wooden images and pray to a God who cannot give success." (New JPS) 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.


Rabbi Reuven Hammer of Masorti Judaism comments on the excised sentence:

Originally the text read that God has not made us like the nations who "bow down to nothingless 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.
(Reuven Hammer, Or Hadash, The Rabbinical Assembly, NY, 2003)
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"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand fail..." - King David, Psalms 137:5

http://www.zwoje-scrolls.com/shoah/index.html

http://www.holocaustchronicle.org/
Sarah
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« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2007, 09:35:29 pm »

Chosenness as superiority

In early medieval Europe, during a time of intense persecution of Jews, the idea developed that chosenness meant that God loves Jews more than other human beings, or that Jews were in some way inherently superior to non-Jews.
This philosophy was first widely taught by Yehuda Halevi in his Kuzari.

A mystical version of this idea exists in parts of the Zohar, one of the primary works of Kabbalah, esoteric Jewish mysticism. The Zohar comments on the Biblical verse which states "Let the waters teem with swarms of creatures that have a living soul" as follows: "The verse 'creatures that have a living soul,' pertains to the Jews, for they are the sons of God, and from God come their holy souls....And the souls of the other nations, from where do they come? Rabbi Elazar says that they have souls from the impure left side, and therefore they are all impure, defiling anyone who comes near them." (Zohar commentary on Genesis)

The Raya Mehemna, a somewhat later work printed with the Zohar, has a similar view. One section states: "Israel merited that God called them 'men,' as it is written 'But you My flock, the flock of My pasture, you are men,' 'If any man of you brings an offering.' Why are they called 'men'? For it is written 'And you who cling to the Lord your God'. This means you and not the other nations, and because of this 'you are men', you are called men..." (Raya Mehemna, commentary on Torah portion Yitro, page 86a)

This view was accepted by the founder of the Lubavitch Hasidic dynasty, Shneur Zalman of Liady, in his Tanya. A section in this book holds that non-Jewish souls come from unclean kelipot (left-over shells of the universe's creation), while Jewish souls are of a higher character. (Tanya, Likkutay Amarim I, 5-11 and 6a). This book is accepted as authoritative by all Lubavitch Jews. Some rabbis, including Adin Steinsaltz, downplay or significantly reinterpret this passage.

Over time views of this nature became popular among a segment of the Jewish community; however, such views were rejected by the majority of the Jewish community. Today they are explicitly rejected by all Reform and Conservative Jews, and are only a small minority view within modern Orthodox Judaism. These views are rejected by communal Jewish organizations such as the B'nai Brith, American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League.

The Encyclopedia Judaica states that "It would seem that the more extreme, and exclusive, interpretations of the doctrine of election, among Jewish thinkers, were partly the result of reaction to oppression by the non-Jewish world. The more the Jew was forced to close in on himself, to withdraw into the imposed confines of the ghetto, the more he tended to emphasize Israel's difference from the cruel gentile without. Only thus did his suffering become intelligible and bearable. This type of interpretation reaches its height in the Kabbalistic idea that while the souls of Israel stem ultimately from God, the souls of the gentiles are merely of base material (kelippot, "shells"). When the Jew was eventually allowed to find his place in a gentile world, the less exclusivist aspect of the doctrine reasserted itself."
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"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand fail..." - King David, Psalms 137:5

http://www.zwoje-scrolls.com/shoah/index.html

http://www.holocaustchronicle.org/
Sarah
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« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2007, 09:36:31 pm »

Views of chosenness by the modern Jewish denominations

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.


Orthodox views

Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, former Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue of Great Britain (Modern Orthodox Judaism), describes chosenness in this way: "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."

Rabbi Norman Lamm, a leader of Modern Orthodox Judaism writes that "The chosenness of Israel relates exclusively to its spiritual vocation embodied in the Torah; the doctrine, indeed, was announced at Sinai. Whenever it is mentioned in our liturgy - such as the blessing immediately preceding the Shema....it is always related to Torah or Mitzvot (commandments). This spiritual vocation consists of two complementary functions, described as "Goy Kadosh," that of a holy nation, and "Mamlekhet Kohanim," that of a kingdom of priests. The first term denotes the development of communal separateness or differences in order to achieve a collective self-transcendence.... The second term implies the obligation of this brotherhood of the spiritual elite toward the rest of mankind; priesthood is defined by the prophets as fundamentally a teaching vocation. ... (The Condition of Jewish Belief: A Symposium Compiled by the Editors of Commentary Magazine, 1966)

Some Haredi Jews hold a differing point of view. Based on teachings in the Tanya and Zohar, they hold that Jews are "exalted above" or superior to non-Jews.


Conservative views

Conservative Judaism, also known as Masorti Judaism, views the concept of chosenness in this way:

 
Quote
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". The 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 blessings 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 Israel offers a purpose for Jewish existence which transcends its own self interests. It suggests that because of our special history and unique heritage we are in a position to demonstrate that a people that takes seriously the idea of being covenanted with God can not only thrive in the face of oppression, but can be a source of blessing to its children and its neighbors. It obligates us to build a just and compassionate society throughout the world and especially in the land of Israel where we may teach by example what it means to be a "covenant people, a light unto the nations. (Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism, JTSA,
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"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand fail..." - King David, Psalms 137:5

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http://www.holocaustchronicle.org/
Sarah
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« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2007, 09:37:15 pm »

Reform Judaism

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." (The Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism, Columbus, Ohio, 1937)

In 1999 the Reform movement stated that "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." (Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism, adopted at the 1999 Pittsburgh Convention, Central Conference of American Rabbis)


Criticism of chosenness: Reconstructionist Judaism

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 from 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." (Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot, newsletter, Sept. 1986, pages D, E.)

Note, however, that not all Reconstructionist 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. (e.g. Mitchell Max, The Chosen People: Reclaiming Our Sacred Myth)

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, and thus leading to prejudice. She writes that as a politically liberal lesbian, 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 Israel as God's chosen people...is a key concept in rabbinic Judaism. Yet it is particularly problematic for many Jews today, in that it seems to fly in the face of monotheistic belief that all humanity is created in the divine image - and hence, all humanity is equally loved and valued by God...I find it difficult to conceive of a feminist Judaism that would incorporate it in its teaching: the valuing of one people over and above others is all to analogous to the privileging of one sex over another." (Falk, 1996)

Reconstructionist author Judith Plaskow also criticises the idea of chosenness, for many of the same reasons as Falk. Also 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 differences 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. 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.
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« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2007, 09:37:56 pm »

Charges of racism

Many books and websites promote the idea that Judaism is inherently racist. Hundreds of websites exist run by neo-Nazis, White supremacy advocates, Christian Identity adherents, and radical Islamist groups offer what they claim are authoritative quotes from rabbinic literature, all attempting to prove that Jews hate non-Jews and perceive them as non-human.

These books and websites generally attempt to prove their thesis through two techniques, (a) outright fabrication of quotes, and (b) quote-mining. Quote-mining is the deliberate sifting of hundreds, or thousands, of years of a literature to find a small group of quotes, and then presenting these quotes out of their historical context in order to falsely present the beliefs of a few people as the beliefs of all members of a religious, ethnic or national group. Writings such as the Talmud, which contain arguments immediately followed by refuting counterarguments, are particularly subject to such abuses.

Many books on anti-Semitism have studied this phenomenon. The Anti-Defamation League issued a report on the proliferation of such books:

By selectively citing various passages from the Talmud and Midrash, polemicists have sought to demonstrate that Judaism espouses hatred for non-Jews (and specifically for Christians), and promotes obscenity, sexual perversion, and other immoral behavior. To make these passages serve their purposes, these polemicists frequently mistranslate them or cite them out of context (wholesale fabrication of passages is not unknown)...
In distorting the normative meanings of rabbinic texts, anti-Talmud writers frequently remove passages from their textual and historical contexts. Even when they present their citations accurately, they judge the passages based on contemporary moral standards, ignoring the fact that the majority of these passages were composed close to two thousand years ago by people living in cultures radically different from our own. They are thus able to ignore Judaism’s long history of social progress and paint it instead as a primitive and parochial religion.
Those who attack the Talmud frequently cite ancient rabbinic sources without noting subsequent developments in Jewish thought, and without making a good-faith effort to consult with contemporary Jewish authorities who can explain the role of these sources in normative Jewish thought and practice.

Gil Student, an expert on exposing anti-Semitic Talmud usage, writes that "Anti-Talmud accusations have a long history dating back to the 13th century when the associates of the Inquisition attempted to defame Jews and their religion [see Yitzchak Baer, A History of Jews in Christian Spain, vol. I pp. 150-185]. The early material compiled by hateful preachers like Raymond Martini and Nicholas Donin remain the basis of all subsequent accusations against the Talmud. Some are true, most are false and based on quotations taken out of context, and some are total fabrications [see Baer, ch. 4 f. 54, 82 that it has been proven that Raymond Martini forged quotations]. On the Internet today we can find many of these old accusations being rehashed..."

Books and websites that charge the Jewish people with collective racism generally rely on the above mentioned fabricated or out-of-context quotes, and ignore explicit statements on the topic from representatives of mainstream Jewish denominations. Each of the modern mainstream denominations of Judaism is on record as opposing any form of racism.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik writes "Even as the Jew is moved by his private Sinaitic Covenant with God to embody and preserve the teachings of the Torah, he is committed to the belief that all mankind, of whatever color or creed, is “in His image” and is possessed of an inherent human dignity and worthiness. Man’s singularity is derived from the breath “He [God] breathed into his nostrils at the moment of creation” (Genesis 2:7). Thus, we do share in the universal historical experience, and God’s providential concern does embrace all of humanity." (Man of Faith in the Modern World, p. 74)

Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, dean of the Haredi Lakewood Yeshiva, writes "Our philosophy asserts that every human being is created in the image of the Lord and the primacy of integrity and honesty in all dealings without exception. I strongly repudiate any assertions in the name of Judaism that do not represent and reflect this philosophy." (Source: The Real Truth About the Talmud website)


 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jews_as_the_Chosen_people
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http://www.holocaustchronicle.org/
Sarah
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« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2007, 09:38:39 pm »

Anyway, to sum up: chosen, yes, for certain responsibilities, God's "priest-people," if you will. I honesly believe we have, as a people, largely lived up to that. Superior? No, and that has not, nor has it ever been the mainstream position of Judaism.

You know, in a real way, we are all chosen for a very specific purpose in this world.  It is up to each person whether they fulfill their own responsibilities.

But one race is not above another, and, regardless of our beliefs, it is wrong to hate and sterotype all people based on their beliefs.

One thing God would have for us all to do is to see each other as human beings first, foremost and always, regardless of race, creed or color.
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"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand fail..." - King David, Psalms 137:5

http://www.zwoje-scrolls.com/shoah/index.html

http://www.holocaustchronicle.org/
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« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2007, 09:59:21 pm »

Sarah:

What of the whole Kazar thing??

You know where the whole Jewish race is nothing more than an Asiatic tribe called the Kazars whose  hedonism would've made their people extinct had not a Kazar King copied Christian teachings calling them "Judaism" and instituting them to save the Kazarian people??
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