Are the Jewish People Chosen?

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This tradition assumes that chosenness is not an essential characteristic of the Jewish people, but rather a result of the covenantal relationship. Exodus 19:5 captures this view: "Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples."

Many later thinkers embraced this conditional understanding of chosenness, but there is another strand of thought which maintains that chosenness derives from an inherent quality. Perhaps the most famous proponent of this view was the medieval philosopher Judah HaLevi (1086-1145). According to him, the Jews are endowed with "divine influence." This trait is passed on genetically, and it includes a capacity for prophecy and the privilege of receiving special divine providence. All the other nations of the world are subject to a more general providence and the whims of the natural world.

Interestingly, though some have seen this position as racist, it was embraced in different forms by some modern liberal thinkers. The Reform leader Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), for example, believed that Jewish chosenness is reflected in a "native talent for religion."  But many modern Jews have been uncomfortable with the idea of chosenness, particularly the genetic variety.

Some thinkers, influenced by egalitarianism and universalism, rejected the notion of Jewish chosenness. Foremost among such thinkers is Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983), the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. Kaplan was a humanist and a naturalist; he did not believe in a supernatural God that could bestow favor upon one nation, and he believed that it was practically and morally problematic to posit the fundamental superiority of one people. 

Still, most forms of contemporary Judaism have not rejected chosenness, but have played down its importance or stressed its more benign interpretations.

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