Chosen To Show
Much of contemporary anti-Semitism, especially under its dress of anti-Zionism, points an accusing finger at Judaism’s core doctrine of the Jewish people as G-d’s chosen people. The detractors say it is a self-serving invention reminiscent of the Nazi’s doctrine of the German nation as Herrenvolk (master nation), an unenlightened idea having no place among us today, and the driving cause behind Jewish “colonialist aggression” toward the Palestinians. I will address this religio-political issue and prove that none of the charges can stand, being either born of misconceptions or forged by inversion.
On the face of it, the charge of chosenness as self-serving invention is rational; I agree, following the skeptical imperative of, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, that claims of chosenness should be evaluated to check what’s in it for those who make them. In evaluating the Jewish claim, there are two parameters I wish to look at: first, the gain of those Chosen, and second, the promises made to the Chosen in relation to those who are not Chosen. On both counts, the contrast with other claimants such as the Nazis and the Muslims is startling.
The chosenness of the Jews has not gained them much. Even at the height of their territorial expansion, in the days of King Solomon, their borders were not dramatically wider than those of present-day Israel: the prominent difference from today is the possession of much territory on the east bank of the Jordan, and even those lands did not include the whole of the territory of Transjordan which the British promised to the Jews after World War I but ended up giving to the Hashemites for one of their two kingdoms. One would think, with all the comparisons of the Jews’ desire to inhabit just the west bank of the Jordan with the Nazi concept of Lebensraum, that the Jews’ demands for land would be as equally unlimited as those of the Nazis (and the Muslims). But no: even in antiquity, when there was no crowd of nations united in their condemnation of Jewish “colonialism”, the claim of chosenness was not used by the Judges and by the kings Saul and David to gain more than a modest piece of land (modest relative to contemporary empires like Assyria and Babylon, that is) on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, just as is the case now.
In short, when one considers the benefits that a nation could reap by inventing a claim of being chosen by the Creator and King of All, the Jewish aspirations both ancient and modern have been very restrained. And the map above shows, as I said, the kingdom of Israel at its zenith; after that period, the kingdom was divided in two, then diminished in size until conquered, with only a brief flicker of being independent, from the days of the Hashmoneans until the Roman conquest by Pompeii. Still later, until the end of the 19th century, the Chosen of G-d were not only without sovereignty over their land, but out of their land too, subject to the mercies (or lack thereof) of their non-Jewish hosts.
If the Jewish claim of being G-d’s Chosen is a self-serving invention, then it has been a dismal failure in living up to its purpose. The Nazis succeeded much better with that claim, until defeated by great force, after a painful struggle; and the Muslims are in possession of much of the world, with their eyes on it all.
The second point is what entitlements the claim of chosenness gives the claimants in relation to the others, the unchosen. Again, let us imagine inventing that claim for a self-serving purpose and maximize the benefits: the Nazi’s idea of themselves as Herrenvolk would be the natural outcome. A chosen nation or religious group would be the masters, the first-class citizens of their empires, with all the rest second-class at best. Nazi ideology had the Germans in the position of rulers over all, other Teutons as possible honorary sharers in the gains (but Britain and America had to be fought, eventually, no doubt because they were “under the control of the Jews”, or, as people would put it today, too heavily influenced by the Israel lobby), the Slavs as perpetual slaves of the Germans, and non-Indo-Europeans destined to the death camps each at their own time. For the Muslims, the chosenness of the Islamic religion makes those who follow it the masters, the Jews and the Christians being second-class citizens (dhimmis), and all others offered the “choice” between conversion and death. The Muslims, then, are only slightly more generous than the Nazis in that they give all people a way to the first class. In both cases, the claim of being Chosen is seen to be a very attractive deal for the claimants.
And Judaism? What promises are given to the Jews as benefits of chosenness? There is the promise to be as plentiful as the sand, which is still forthcoming, and the promise to inhabit the land of Israel, and above all the promise to know G-d by serving Him as a nation of priests. A far cry from the promises of dominance and subjugation of the other nations bestowed upon other claimants to chosenness. And there is another thing, an astonishing promise, made to Abraham in Genesis 12:2–3:
2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing. 3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
The eyes of the Jew-haters will turn toward the words, “And him that curseth thee will I curse”. But that protest is wide of the mark: how could G-d bless anyone if He let them keep being cursed? Goodness requires a measure of power to sustain it, otherwise it is nothing but an abstract idea. However, this is a digression. The main point here is the two promises, “And I will bless them that bless thee” and, “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed”. What kind of self-interested human invents a claim to chosenness that leaves room for others to share in the benefits from the chooser of the group? The human heart naturally gravitates toward an ideology of, “the winner takes it all”. Indeed, the Nazi winners of Providence’s favor believed themselves entitled to take the whole world and to share in the benefits with a certain few, if at all. The Muslim winners of Allah’s favor believe themselves entitled to take the whole world, and to share in the benefits only with those who add themselves to their numbers.
The Jewish people have few entitlements, most of them decidedly less spectacular than nations not believing themselves chosen in any way, and the benefits of G-d’s choice can be shared with non-Jews; more, not only can be shared, but, as the scriptural quote shows, are to be shared as part of G-d’s purpose. Here is also the reason why Judaism does not feature the obligation to add outsiders to its numbers: the mission of the Jewish people is exemplary, that is, to show the existence of G-d, His creatorhood and above all His sovereignty over all things. This recognition is sufficient to bring non-Jews to the path of righteousness, no conversion to Judaism necessary. In fact, conversion to Judaism is discouraged; the first thing an Orthodox rabbi does to the prospective convert is tell him or her what a burden it is to be a Jew, both in the number of divine commands to keep and in facing the hatred of much of the world.
I may not have proved conclusively that the claim of Jewish chosenness is of divine origin, but, in the view of the previous passage, it is clear it is not my task to do so. I believe I have, however, made the accusation of self-interest as the root of the Jewish doctrine of chosenness implausible, especially in comparison to other chosen groups showing us how such an invention can be done right if it is to be really self-serving. Above all, I have shown that the libel of anti-Semites with regard to Jewish chosenness and entitlement is unfounded. That libel itself constitutes, ironically, further evidence for the truth of my thesis.