Sunday, November 28th 2021   |



My Columbia University Professor, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg (author of “The Zionist Idea”), wrote: “The essence of Judaism is the affirmation that the Jews are the chosen people; all else is commentary.”

Jewish chosenness is highly controversial, and bitterly contested. British journalist William Norman Ewer (1885-1977) famously quipped: “How odd/Of God/To choose/The Jews.”

Cecil Browne (almost as famously) responded to this slur: “But not so odd/As those who choose/A Jewish God/But spurn the Jews.”

The Jewish concept of chosenness can be traced to the Torah (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, 26:18). Chosenness is not inherently elitist or chauvinistic (in the nationalist sense). Nor does it assert moral or spiritual superiority. To be “chosen” is to acknowledge a national mission, an indispensable purpose, an urgent message to be conveyed to others. The incomparable value is in the message, not the messenger, who – though honored and defined by the task – is all too human, flawed, and fallible.

Ewer’s contemporary, J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) – creator of “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” saga – made clear that the essence of chosenness is acceptance of a weighty, personal responsibility… despite one’s apparent shortcomings and diminutive stature:

“You have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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