A manual of Jewish belief (a guide to real Judaism) for the thinking individual.
Copyright © 1977 by R' Avi Shafran
[Web Page Last Revised: Tuesday, June 29, 2004 02:34 PM ]
Chapter 17. The Jew's Individuality
For a chosen people we sure get kicked around a hell of a lot. And we sure don't act chosen sometimes.
A chosen people. What does it mean?
Very little and very much. It should mean very little to other peoples and very much to the Jews. This is not a hypocritical double standard.
Let us begin by ascertaining that this "chosen people" concept does not insinuate any hereditary physical or mental superiority of Jews over other peoples. On the contrary, the Jewish people in the Bible is referred to as stubborn and rebellious, hardly "superior" qualities. I emphasize this in light of the fact that many Jewish and non-Jewish scholars maintain that there does exist such a superiority. That is their business and I suspect that there will be much controversy concerning the results of whatever studies their conclusions are based upon, One thing, however, is certain: the religious "chosen"-ness has nothing to do with this superiority, be it real or imaginary. The proof of this is, first of all, the fact that there are many many stupid Jews, mentally outranked by the dullest non-Jew. But these morons are still Jews, still "chosen". Secondly, any non-Jew motivated by a sincere feeling can become a Jew by converting through the Orthodox procedure. He is thereby automatically one of the "chosen" people, for all intents and purposes. As worn a cliche as it is, it is very true that the Jews are a religion, not a race.
So what does "chosen people" mean?
Frankly, it's not very important. That is, the reason why. Simply, G~d does consider the Jews special. The reason is not clear, but is partly based on the fact that to become a Jew or to live like one, if born one, is noble in that it entails so many difficulties, in observance as well as in sociological status. It therefore merits special recognition. However, this cannot be the entire reason, for even Jews who do not live up to their names are considered chosen. So there must also be an element of G~d's unconditional promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob regarding the welfare of their offspring, the modern-day Jews.
This, however, is not all. There is yet another factor which differentiates the Jew from any other man, this factor is the most important one and the kernel of the whole concept.
Yes, it is true. Jews are different. Yes, all Jews, be they converts, idiots, or rebellious sons. There is a spiritual nature peculiar to Jews which binds them together and renders them different in G~d's eyes. Jews adopt certain attitudes more easily than other peoples and have certain emotions and characteristics that are more pronounced in them than in others. What exactly these are is a subject much too lengthy and difficult to take up here. But whatever they are, it must be understood that Jews – all Jews – possess them, regardless of their intellectual or even religious condition. Likewise, all converts to Judaism must either acquire this "spiritual Jewishness" upon conversion or perhaps always had it and are converting because of its striving to attach itself to its' people.
The practical difference entailed in this distinction (of being Jewish) is the requirement to keep hundreds of laws which the non-Jew need not. Non-Jews do, however, have seven commandments. By serving G~d through the diligent and pointed fulfillment of these laws, non-Jews fulfill their purpose in life as well as Jews do who keep their 613 laws.
Everything has a purpose and that which is different than anything else has a different purpose than it. Jewish men have one purpose, Jewish women another, and non-Jews yet another. Even within the first category alone, Jewish men, we find three "levels" or different kinds of men (known as Kohanim, Leviim, and Yisraelim), the members of which have different obligations and roles in Real Jewish society. The author is personally a "Yisroel", the low man on the Jewish totem pole. This does not make me "inferior" to a "Kohein" intellectually, physically, or as regards G~d's love of us. It does however indicate that I am different from "Kohanim". Likewise, I am no better than a non-Jew, in any specific way, merely different. I use the phrase "in any specific way" cautiously because if the amount of commandments required is taken as the criterion of "better", then Jews would most certainly be "better" (or worse, depending upon the way the criterion is used) than non-Jews. But this criterion is obviously not what we usually define "better" with, of course.
Every man and woman must accept his or her position in life as being the will of G~d and must execute what is required of him or her to the best of his or her ability.
Everyone is "chosen".
The reader should be aware that though we have admittedly failed to put our finger on the specific difference between the Jew and non-Jew, the special-ness of the Jew is evident in more than just his more numerous commandments. They indeed are only a symptom of the deeper cause. We can catch a glimpse of the basic Jewish Characteristic (again, still not understanding how or why the Jews were chosen for this) if we consult history and observe the world's past objectively. The Jew is the world's teacher.
He has introduced to the non-Jewish world most, if not all, of the great principles that civilization is (or should be) built upon. Without further elaboration, we call attention to the above observation, in the hope that some student of true history will take it from there.
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