Chosen People: Some Modern Views

While some modern Jews have rejected the notion of chosenness altogether, others have reinterpreted it as an ethical mission or a national spirit.

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Ahad Haam ([literally] "One of the People"), the pen name of the Russian Zionist Asher Ginzburg, and other cultural Zionists, such as the Russian Hebrew writer Hayim Nahman Bialik, had tremendous love for the spirit and vitality of the Jewish people even if they had doubts about traditional Jewish belief and practice. They sought to identify the "genius of the Jewish people," which had given rise to a distinctive religious culture.

Ahad Haam believed that the Jewish people possessed a "national spirit" which was characterized by a commitment to the prophetic ideals of absolute righteousness. The Jewish people had survived throughout history by virtue of their national spirit and will to live, which was based on dedication to the fundamental and abiding principle of doing what is uncompromisingly right--not by virtue of belief in God. But over time Judaism had become encrusted with rituals, observances, and a law that threatened to stultify the moral sensibilities of the Jewish people.

His views on ethics and ritual were similar to those of Reform Judaism, although his views on peoplehood differed fundamentally from those of Reform.

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Dr. David S. Ariel

Dr. David S. Ariel is head of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He was previously president of Siegal College of Judaic Studies (formerly the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies). He is author of Spiritual Judaism: Restoring Heart and Soul to Jewish Life and The Mystic Quest: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism.