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Re'eh

“For you are a people consecrated to the Eternal your God: the Eternal your God chose you from among all other peoples on earth to be a treasured people.” Deuteronomy 14:2

    Throughout history, the concept of chosenness has been viewed with ambivalence by Jews and non-Jews alike. The late Liberal Rabbi John Rayner observed in 1981 that many people respond negatively to the concept of the chosen people: “Antisemites see in it a typical example of our insufferable arrogance. Gentiles who are friendly to us feel excluded by it. And Jews often find it positively embarrassing.”

    Often cited as a fierce critic of the concept, the philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote that “those Jews who no longer believe in their God in a traditional way but continue to consider themselves ‘chosen’ in some fashion or other, can mean by it nothing other than that by nature they are better or wiser or more rebellious or salt of the earth. And that would be, twist and turn it as you like, nothing other than a version of racist superstition.” 

    Reading Arendt’s statement carefully illustrates that she is clearly opposed to a Jewish nationalism founded on secular presumptions but that she views the idea of the chosen people as a religious concept differently. For Rayner, like for Arendt, the link between chosenness and God is essential, warning that “there is nothing inevitable or automatic about the continuance of election”. 

    So maybe for us the challenge of chosenness should not be about a focus on grappling with the concept but rather on how we must live in order to merit the continuance of election. Choose God, the Torah and our tradition demands of us, by accepting responsibility for fulfilling our mission to be a people consecrated to God, serving as a light to the nations.

     

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