I came across an article about the concept of Jews being the chosen people via the JTA website. It’s written by Aryeh Tepper, and attempts to tackle what can be one of the most puzzling aspects in Jewish tradition. Tepper was spot on when he said that many modern Jews are almost ashamed of the idea because of their “egalitarian ethos.”
People have asked me about this before, and I remember feeling quite embarrassed about it. It’s difficult to explain that Judaism does refer to Jews as special and at the same time assert that Jews do not feel like they are superior to other nations. Related to this, Tepper accurately describes how “Jewish intellectuals, rabbis, and public figures have expended tremendous energy over the past century apologizing for the chauvinistic implications of the doctrine of Israel’s election while, often simultaneously, attempting to rationalize it on acceptably universal grounds.” For example, I was told that it was a matter of roles. Jewish people had a special purpose in this world, but it did not make them inherently better. I see nothing wrong with this and other interpretations, which can be reformulated to fit with the times.
But later in the article, Tepper put forth the ideas of Asher Ginsberg, better known as Ahad Ha’am. Rather than viewing the Jewish “chosenness” as something that needed to be justified through the lens of “serving humanity,” Ha’am felt that Jews should strive for self-perfection for its own sake. This resonates with me as well. Perhaps Jews could spend less time worrying about how their doctrine is perceived, and focus all their energy actualizing it. Of course, that will hardly help the next time a stranger asks me for an explanation!