Culture, Israel

The Jewish Prison?

The concept of chosenness is both central to Judaism and often misunderstood. Throughout history, it has been seen as an affront by many non-Jews. Rare is the indictment of the Jews that does not, in some way, invoke this idea that presumably suggests the Jews are better than everyone else.

Rabbi David Wolpe (author of’s “Ask the Rabbi”) uses this paragraph to start a review of Jean Daniel’s new book The Jewish Prison. The Jewish notion of “chosenness,” Daniel argues, is a concept that interferes with feminism, democracy, and the possibility of peace in Israel. Read the rest here.

8 thoughts on “The Jewish Prison?

  1. There is really no way out of this one within Judaism. But there is still a range of interpretation on what that means exactly, besides a specific obligation to follow the mitzvot given to the Israelites.

  2. There is really no way out of this one within Judaism. Nor within Christianity, nor Islam. As Wolpe says: “Part of the irony of the charge of chosenness is that those who level the charge claimed chosenness themselves. The Christian church claimed that those who accepted Jesus were the legitimate heirs to the status of chosenness, even as they reviled the Jews for claiming it. The same strange projection applies to Islam, which reckoned itself chosen, and vilified the people who made that claim thousands of years before.”
    Yet there is certainly a way out of the popular, and incorrect, interpretation of this term — particularly, not surprisingly, by antisemites, but also in popular culture more generally — that it means that chosen means having won some prize, or being more meritorious.
    To be “chosen” is to be have been called upon to do stuff. Kind of like janitorial duty. But a bit more worthy. That antisemitic tradition seizes on this idea to show that the Jews think only of themselves, are uniquely or unsually insular, care nothing for their neighbours, etc., is unfortunate. The least we can do is avoid mimicking that conceit.

  3. all priviledge comes with responsibility. But i wonder what the bible meant be chosen, or rather, protected. I understand it as having to do with cultural survival, the hope and promise anyway.

  4. There can be a legitimage debate on this question. Reconstructionism rejects choseness. Debate should not be based on “what will people think of us”. Just because antisemites misue this concept for their own agenda does not automatically mean that it should be rejected.
    I have never heard an actual Jew say that choseness means that Jews are superior to anybody. If Choseness interferes with feminism and democracy, why are there so many Jewish feminists? Female students exceed the number of male students in seminaries. The cantor of my synagogue said that at a cantorial retreat he attended there were only 9 male cantors. Israel seems to have a lively democracy. It would work better if small parties did not have so much power, but it is still a vibrant democracy.

  5. deepest of the deep… Reb shlomo used to say, that we are chosen to show other people that they are chosen…
    I think there is a deep post-modern truth within reb shlomo’s teaching. The torah does not aim at the decimation of other peoples, except for amalek- whose war cry is “you are nothing special.”
    The meaning of Hashem Echad, is that everything is chosen.
    For me, I am chosen, for native Americans, they are chosen. THe situation you are facing when you leave this screen- that has also been chosen- for you and the growth you need to go through. ANd it is on the heels of outlook of chosen/ and special (or divine presence) that brings us to the Great theme of the torah “don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.”
    If I don’t have the respect of self, which choseness teaches, then that phrase is worthless.
    Am Segula- Bachar Banu- means that we are important- a unique manifestation of the Creator… When people who don’t believe that the Creator not only exists but constantly creates/ relates to our world read these phrases- they are yanked from the context in which they mean what they meant in our traditions.
    I too would agree with most secular Israelis- “that enough of this chosen stuff.”–because without a sense of nullification and humbleness before the Chooser that comes with belief- it leads only to arrogance, pride and racist parochialism…
    yet to abandon treating life as the most precious gift? or to not pay respect and assume responsibility for the miracle of jewish survival into the modern age with some kind of implication for a role that only we can play?
    another reb shlomo- what is it that makes some people so special?? its because they have something in their life that is special… the more we see our lives as special, the more amazing special people we will become- exuding caring, gratitude and dedication to those and that around us….
    may we truly wipe out amalek from all of our lives this month…
    good purim

  6. Let’s not forget that Amos prophesied that to God Israel is like the Ethiopians, or those he brought out from Caphtor… nice post by Shauldavid…

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