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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 12.6:
I've heard that Jews consider themselves "chosen." What does that mean?

Answer:

Contrary to popular belief, nowhere in the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] or in classical Jewish literature is there a claim that Jews are G-d's only "chosen people". The closest that one finds is Exodus 19:5, which states that Jews are an "am segulah", a "treasured people", but this is a very different claim indeed. The misunderstanding on this issue stems from the fact that most people are unfamiliar with the claims that Judaism actually makes in regards to chosenness. So what does classical Judaism actually state? Consider the bracha [blessing] said before reciting the Torah: Praised are you, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has chosen us out of all the nations to bestow upon us His Torah.

Also consider the blessing recited as an introduction to the reading of the "Shema Yisrael" the selection of verses from the Torah (especially Deuteronomy 6:4-8) that proclaim the sovereignty of G-d and our commitment to his Torah. The blessing relates to the act of the recitation as a fulfilment of the religious obligation of Torah study. You have loved us with abounding love, O Lord our G-d, you have shown us great and overflowing tenderness. For the sake of our ancestors who trusted in you, and whom you instructed in the precepts of life - in the same manner, be gracious unto us and instruct us... Put it into our hearts to understand, to become wise, to hear, to learn, to teach, to observe, to do, to uphold - all the words of the study of Torah, lovingly... For you are the performer of wonders, and you have chosen us out of all nations and tongues, and brought us close to your great name in truth... Blessed are you, Lord, who chooses His people Israel in love.

The relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is summed up when He calls us in the book of Exodus as "my son, my eldest, Israel". We are not firstborn in any literal sense, see the geneologies in the begining of Genesis. However, your eldest child is the one you leave the most responsibility and the most reward to. (Assuming they live up to that responsibility.)

The key notion is that there is no thing called the "chosen people," but rather that "choosing" is invariably perceived as a verb. It is a dynamic activity that is inextricably identified with Israel's devoted observance of the precepts of the Torah. Rather, there are people whom G-d has sanctified by commanding them to rest on the Sabbath, to rejoice in the festivals, to study the Torah and to accept the yoke of G-d's supremacy over all other allegiances. It certainly has nothing to do with any claim of superiority. In fact, the prophet Amos (3:2) states the opposite: "You alone have I singled out of all the families of the Earth, that is why I will call you to account for your iniquities". Other nations can fulfill G-d's will with only seven commandments, rather than the hundreds required of Jews. The concept in fact is "chosen to fulfill a responsibility," and implies a harder task rather than a higher status in the world.

Finally, note that there is no claim to exclusivity in the regards of love from G-d, nor in regard to being able to be chosen for a particular purpose. There is only the claim that we were chosen to bring the biblical message of the prophets, and to cleave to Torah as a way of life. Judaism has always affirmed that gentiles can have a close relationship with G-d as well, and perhaps other nations are chosen for their own purposes as well.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to questions@scjfaq.org. The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at maintainer@scjfaq.org.

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <maintainer@scjfaq.org>