Choosing to Be Chosen

23 Jul

“The Chosen People.” A title that’s been ingrained in the mind of every yarmulke-wearing, bagel-eating Hebrew schooler before he can say, “oy vey.” The rest of the world knows it too, if not much else about us, and many have qualms with its accompanying air of superiority, even our own members of the tribe. But what exactly does it mean to be “chosen”?

The idea stems from several passages in the Torah, namely Deuteronomy 14:2, which claims, “For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God: the Lord your God chose you from among all other peoples on earth to be His treasured people.” (JPS, 1985). But God didn’t just “choose” us because he liked us the best. He chose us because we chose Him; The Talmud tells that God overturned Mount Sinai and threatened to drop it on top of the Israelites if they refused to accept the Torah. Yes, it was a life or death situation, but Jewish folklore also tells us that the Israelites were the only people in the entire world that accepted God’s offer for a more just and ethical way of life. Their ideas about social justice and monotheism were innovative and radical for their time, especially to those who practiced human sacrifices and idol worship. Furthermore, our tradition upholds that it wasn’t until the receiving of the Torah that the Israelites truly became a nation, which means that it was born from a set of ideas that connected a group of people likely from a number of different nomadic tribes. 

Today, many Jews feel more inspired by the feeling of belonging to something greater than us rather than religious beliefs and practices. But what makes you Jewish “by blood?” Can you be Jewish just because your parents are, and if so, then how? Perhaps we don’t simply inherit our Jewish identity (although there isn’t much we can do about inheriting Jewish mothers). It’s comforting to think that we are bound together by something in our DNA, but in reality, there is no such thing as a Jewish gene. This is not to diminish that special familial feeling when we meet another Jew, especially in sparsely populated Sarasota, but isn’t it more powerful to be bound by active ideas and values rather than passive association?

Judaism something that we have to choose, even if it’s an involuntary part of our identity. We must engage our Judaism for it to come alive. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to be religious, but it is the choice to participate in something Jewish that truly makes us Jews. Along with our dark curly hair and unique noses, we’ve been given the responsibility to make the world a better place, which we have the choice to accept or ignore. Our fulfillment of that responsibility could be something seemingly unrelated to Judaism which possesses a core Jewish value, such as volunteering in your community, visiting the sick, fighting for social justice, and yes, viewing all human beings as equal, created b’tzelem elohim – in the image of God. 

All we receive from our heritage is a title, a mere spark, an opportunity. It is up to us to do something about it, to transform it into a glowing fire that spreads and warms the entire world. 

Do you think that Judaism can be classified as a race? A nation? A peoplehood? Something else? Why or why not?

What does being “chosen” mean to you? Is it enough to be “Jewish by birth?” Why or why not?

What are some meaningful ways that you personally engage and connect with your Judaism?



2 Responses to “Choosing to Be Chosen”

  1. Lenny Guckenheimer August 2, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    This is a critical question for the survival of Judaism in the U.S. In some ways, Being born Jewish is not enough for a person to identify himself/herself as a Jew and participate in the Jewish community.

    There are many Jews in America who have no connection with being Jewish. They feel no need to do anything else than live in a goyish world.

    There should be a mission to find ways to attract those unaffiliated, uninvolved Jews.

    • Betty Silberman August 16, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      I personally don’t believe that any people should be classified as the ‘chosen people’. I’m a very proud Jewish women, who does feel that being Jewish is indeed special in many ways. However, the term ‘chosen’ implies that we stand above, which has its perils. It can be construed as meaning that we are ‘better than’ another group. There are so many people around the world who do amazing things for others, and who have led the way, in addition to us Jews.

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