Jewish Approach to God: Chosen-ness

“Are you not as the sons of  Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?” declares the LORD 
“Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, And the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?”
(Amos 9:7)

Borrowed from Rabbi Neil Gillman’s book ‘The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians’ (2003)

Rabbi Neil Gillman makes a point in his book about this passage and chosen-ness. The idea seems to be Israel was ‘chosen’ – but so were the other nations mentioned (Phillistines and Arameans)…in that they are all paralleled in this verse from the prophet Amos. It’s intriguing because it places a light upon God caring for these other nations at some point (in that they were also ‘brought out’ from other nations).

It seems the point is that although Israel was chosen – they are not alone on God’s concern meter. God seemed to care about these other nations mentioned as well, enough to bring them out of whatever they were experiencing (which seems to parallel the exodus possibly).

Gillman relates chosen to choosing from a handful of fruit. For example, just because he chooses aan apple over an orange does not make one less than the other. In this same sense, Israel’s chosen-ness does not make them better than the next nations…just that they are part of a covenantal experience with God.

In fact, the Noahide laws concering Gentiles says ‘Law 7: Requirement to have just Laws: Set up a governing body of law (eg Courts)”. This seems to include the idea of Gentiles having their own nations and version of law codes…as just as acceptable as the covenant experience Israel has with God. Gentiles living in their nations following just and righteous codes of their own can be seen as good in the eyes of God as well.

Eighteenth-century Rabbi Jacob Emden proposed that Jesus, and Paul after him, intended to convert the Gentiles to the Noahide laws while allowing the Jews to follow full Mosaic Law.” (Wikipedia – Noahide Laws quoting from “”Seder ‘Olam” (pp. 32b–34b, Hamburg, 1752))

I think this statement is true about what I see in the NT as well (namely Acts 15). Which, if true, means it was okay for the Christians to follow their nation states and the ‘just’ laws they already had…no shame in that game. Which means, as Gentiles from a variety of cultures in the West it is okay to observe the laws of your respective country as respecting to God (which we also see in Paul’s letters). We may be inspired by the Torah (which I think Christians are) and we can find our leading there – but it is okay to follow your nations laws and serve God.

Point being, why all this need to be special…enjoy where/who you are and live your life.

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25 thoughts on “Jewish Approach to God: Chosen-ness

  1. Do you know what is funny and sort of negates this analysis and its utopian premise by the Rabbi? The fact that every other nation in the entire world is summed up by one Jewish word. Thus making these nations all the same and equal in the eyes of the Jewish individual. Furthermore this word makes those lumped-together nations the big ‘Other’ in relation to the Jewish nation (which has a specific name); and its says everything without saying anything at all – that word is “Gentile.”

    I am as equal a Gentile as any other non-Jewish person, but I know what I am not.

  2. To me “chosen-ness” is the great sin of religion.
    When I lived in Pakistan, India, Japan, and China, I heard people claim their people as “special” or “chosen” when compared to other countries. I respectively heard Muslim, Hindu, Shinto and Nationalist ideology used to support this “special chosenness”.

    “Chosenness” has nothing to do with gods, it is what people do to make themselves feel strong and special. They also use it to attack or to separate.

    Studies show that Jews did not come from UR as the Bible says. They were just another tribe in the area who needed specialness myths to justify conquering and ruling their neighbors.

    The Jews are as attached to “chosenness” as Christians are attached to “resurrection”. So no matter what version of theology they spin, they will give that favorite concept of theirs a new spin so it survives. It is like their country’s flag — they loose identity without it. So this rabbi’s book, with its spin on “Choosenness” does the same.

    Your reasoning that all countries are chosen by Yahweh and all laws are thus OK to follow seems an incredibly weird way to use a god to me.

  3. “Chosenness” has nothing to do with gods, it is what people do to make themselves feel strong and special. They also use it to attack or to separate. – Sabio

    This patriotism is just as evil as religion in my opinion. The United States gets backing for wars and other stupid ideas based on one phrase “It is the American Way”. BS. So what. It could still be wrong. As the philosopher Homer Simpson taught me, “there is the right way, the wrong way and my way.”
    Which Bart replies “Isn’t your way still the wrong way”
    Homer: Yes, but its faster.

    That to me sums up patriotism. It is the fastest way to wrong.

  4. “Furthermore this word makes those lumped-together nations the big ‘Other’ in relation to the Jewish nation (which has a specific name); and its says everything without saying anything at all – that word is “Gentile.”” (Johnny)

    I just think this is an area of mass mis-understanding and also an area for mass change. I think Rabbi Neil Gillman is at least moving the conversation in the right direction – and I have a lot at stake even in this idea.

    I am a First Nations person that lives under treaty status in Canada. We have been afforded a lot of rights on the basis of these contracts with the Federal Gov’t. Those treaties are contracts of chosen-ness in Saskatchewan – and many non-Aboriginals don’t like it. Do those treaties make us special? No. But I have to admit, I like being First Nations and there is an inherent ‘pride’ to that…so why would I knock another race for having even an iota of the same idea?

    Personally, I can see the greatness in all cultures. I can see the ‘pride’ that should exist and why not…each one is very unique and has some great things to them. For the people liiking for a melting pot, we sit on opposite ends of the spectrum…I want distinct cultures to celebrate their heritage and practices. And this would include the Jews for me.

    Chosen-ness doesn’t much bother me…as long as that chosen-ness doesn’t reflect a Nazi Germany ideology that picks one race for the obliteration of all others.

  5. “Your reasoning that all countries are chosen by Yahweh and all laws are thus OK to follow seems an incredibly weird way to use a god to me” (Sabio)

    I am not sure why that is so weird exactly…I could simply say God cares for all people and be done with it (same concept with the use of no real theological backing). It’s probably one of the most believed concepts in Christianity – that God loves everyone. I just use the Noahide laws to show a likely starting spot for such ideas.

    “To me “chosen-ness” is the great sin of religion” (Sabio)

    In one sense I agree, if choseness leads to the dehumanization of other people groups. I see no real clue this is happening in Judaism across the board – even with the belief. And why shouldn’t they hold to a chosen motif, they have been persecuted by the church for centuries and the need for something ‘special’ would be key (they did not have a country of security for centuries). The irony of the chosen idea, great belief system with no land base.

    I think people fear the chosen idea because they inevitably attach it to dominance (ie: Facism and 20th Century politics; even the Crusades were like this). But Gillman’s point is this is not how it to be thought about, just as we choose things over others (ie: a wife) – does it make one more important the next person? I would say ‘no’.

    However, I avoid the whole chosen idea because people have a hard time internalizing this idea and want to see it as divisive (and it is used this way a lot in many places – including Christianity). But I don’t see a divisive concept inherent in being ‘chosen’…just as I don’t see ‘privelege’ in being born to a rich family as compared to a poor family. But it is what it is…and it needs more converation to avoid further scuffles.

  6. Chosen-ness or titles always lead to a disconnect from the ones who are not the “same” as you. Even calling yourself 1st nation is a divisive term. It definately gives the impression that you are 1st and everyone else is……..2nd. Religion at its core has a disconnecting element. Rather than looking for common ground with each other it emphasizes who’s in and who’s not. The funny thing is that Atheism does the same thing. Im not sure we have evolved enough to get away from this need to one up each other. Maybe we should take a page from Sabio’s post on Thought action fusion tendencies and just not indulge this form of “Sinful” behaviour. 😉

    • “First Nations” relates to terms of foundation of the land-mass and that is the only sense of the terminology. If you internalized that term to mean that you are a secondary person in relation then that is on you and not on the individual ‘First Nations’ themselves. The individual First Nations all have specific names and the term ‘First Nations’ is just a catch all word to replace the term “Indian.” First Nations is also not the same as ‘Aboriginal’, which is another catch all phrase that was initiated by the Canadian Gov. in 1982 to represent a mass group made up of many different peoples that happen to include First Nations: which is a Treaty title that separates the mass of Aboriginal peoples from themselves in the great twist of sad irony. The racist ‘Indian Act’ (still in place) is the culprit if you care to know.

      Your reading of atheism is in error. There is no atheist in the entire world that states that they are “chosen” to be created as atheist; defeats the purpose. Rather, most of us (myself included) have looked at the arguments from both sides and come up with no hard evidences to prove any intelligent designer. It is not divisive because there is only one strand of atheism, yes ONE: the object of non-belief.

      Societies and their imaginations have led to disconnects among peoples. So yes, First Nations are different in their social imaginations regarding their own existence, but so is every other society and in that regard we are all equal; do you not agree. If you want to see the social imaginations (nationalism, religion, etc) that have separated us then that is what you will see and probably recreate in your own life but every person can easily rise above our petty mental differences. The truth is that humanity is ONE species and what we perceive as social oddity (or ‘Other’) is our only difference.

      • The truth is that humanity is ONE species and what we perceive as social oddity (or ‘Other’) is our only difference(Johnny)

        That pretty much was the point of my post. Rather than calling myself a mix of Irish, British, Scottish and who knows how many “others” I think it best to just say Human. Atheism(in my mind) is just one of those social imaginations you made reference to. I believe if you have to call yourself that(as a title, like Theist) then it becomes a divisive force.

        Rather, most of us (myself included) have looked at the arguments from both sides and come up with no hard evidences to prove any intelligent designer(Johnny)

        This is where you and I differ. I look at the entirety of the Universe and in it I see Creation(Creator) on some level. What that could be remains to be seen. I think Science may one day prove what that could be. 🙂

    • “Even calling yourself 1st nation is a divisive term.”

      For the record all First Nations people have a very specific ethnic/Band/tribal name that they refer to themselves as and they do not actually say I am ‘First Nation’ without originally knowing that they are part a smaller social group (Cree, Blackfoot, etc). Saying I am ‘First Nation’ is akin to saying I am ‘European’ (in the logical sense). In fact, I (John Bird) am half Cree and half Saulteaux which is unique only to the Prairies in Canada. Go out West, East, North, or South and you will get very different cultures with different names, languages, imaginations, etc.; which is the exact same thing in all societies on this planet.

  7. “Im not sure we have evolved enough to get away from this need to one up each other. Maybe we should take a page from Sabio’s post on Thought action fusion tendencies and just not indulge this form of “Sinful” behaviour.” (John)

    The reason I don’t mention it much is because of this notion that chosen-ness equals the idea someone is better than someone else (seems to be quite the norm in society to think this is what is happening when someone differentiates).

    I wouldn’t call it ‘sinful’ behavior to say your special though. My wife is special to me – the only woman I want to be with – but that exactly make her better than everyone else? No.

    The problem is the pre-conceived notions behind such ideas as ‘chosen’. Maybe our evolution needs to move more forward and to more tolerance on this issue…and not in the other direction?

    The fact is my people call themselves First Nations people (which is the old term of ‘Indian’ but it was a term applied to us and not from us). The fact is we are many tribal groupings like Cree, MiqMaq, Ojibway, Haida, etc. However, the treaties do make a special disctinction and no one in any First Nations community wants to lose that…so society needs move towards understanding it (even if it is a special clause) and not away from it. This is a fear I have about this issue.

  8. However, the treaties do make a special disctinction and no one in any First Nations community wants to lose that…so society needs move towards understanding it (even if it is a special clause) and not away from it.(Jason)

    Maybe that “special distinction” causes more disconnect between all of us? What is the determining factor for your “chosen-ness” over mine or Sabio’s or Luke’s. Arent we all in the same boat? I think the treaties should be viewed more as a business transaction. Afterall, we may be more connected than most of us are willing to admit.

    http://archaeology.about.com/od/kennewickman/a/introduction.htm

    • Your entire argument defeats your purpose. Your argument is that we are all the same and that petty differences separate us (as I have read it); but it is you who are harping on the differences between us and it is you who are trying to make a point about it: a point which you are attempting to negate.

      We are the same species, one in the same, all of us – this is scientific fact and we cannot deny it. But it is how societies develop/evolve over time and recreate and re-imagine themselves that makes us “chosen” (as you call it) or different.

      If we are actually “chosen” as a people then it is God who does the choosing and this is a fault and error with all of theism and not atheism. Atheism has no such “chosen” people or race – chosen people only comes with nationalism and religion. So again, your argument against atheism defeats your own purpose. In truth your own theism is a choice (making you a “chosen” one by your belief in god) that is detrimental to every other religion. You have chosen one religion to represent what god is, but is it your religion/faith the truth? No, it is a social imagination that fits your view and you make it up as you go.

      The archaeology of the Kennewick Man is irrelevant. Native Americans (or whatever you want to call them that does not divide) were the first to establish distinct societies on this land mass and that is even irrelevant in 2010.

      Let us get the facts straight, all humanity originates out of Africa as a species, everyone, even your people. The Kennewick Man is 9,000 years old and is of ‘Caucasoid’ descent. Caucasoid is made up of: Europeans, North Africans, and many types of Asian peoples. There is no racial make-up in scientific archaeology. Now, 9,000 years is a long time and the specific “race” of the Kennewick Man is totally irrelevant. Racial mythology is an imagination and not a scientific truth in any way, science does not affirm the social idea of ‘race.’ Kennewick Man is irrelevant to the idea of race. We are putting the idea of race upon a 9,000 year old set of bones (how pointless is that!). Society is relevant and society has the collective power to create myth and enhance distinct separations and race is another part of that myth.

      • In truth your own theism is a choice (making you a “chosen” one by your belief in god) that is detrimental to every other religion. You have chosen one religion to represent what god is, but is it your religion/faith the truth? No, it is a social imagination that fits your view and you make it up as you go(Johnny)

        In order to fit me into your box Johnny, you overlooked the fact that I am not a theist. If you need to put a title on me with social imaginings, a closer one would be Deist. The use of the article on the Kennewick man was just to show how little we know about who was first to establish societies on this land mass. I think the article can also show how connected we really are. Do you ever think that your imaginings or societal myths help to disconnect you from the other humans on this planet or at least this continent?

  9. “I think the treaties should be viewed more as a business transaction” (John)

    I would agree, a contract if you will. However, that contract still makes First Nations people ‘unique or special’ in Canada and there isn’t much of a way around that. There is a choosing in it as well, in that my elders ‘choose’ to be involved in this contractual obligation – however it’s a 2 sided agreement (treaties I mean)…just most people fail to realize that and it makes both parties involved ‘special’.

    “After all, we may be more connected than most of us are willing to admit” (John)

    I agree…humanity, even in scientific terms, goes back to Africa and starting from 2 people (how this occured is another story). Regardless, the biblical idea and science seem to agree that humanity came from 2 humans and reproduction afterwards (more or less).

    I think humans are the same across the planet which makes it all the more a crime to think we see govt’s justifying murder of those ‘others’ in the name of progress.

  10. “Those terms are meaningless in prehistory as long ago as 9,000 years–and in fact, if you want to know the truth, there are NO clearcut scientific definitions of “race.” (Kennewick Man article in link)

    Thats pretty interesting. The Kennewick man, one case mind you, shows that bones as old as 9000 years on the North American Continent were not exactly Indigenous peoples (maybe some hybrid of peoples).

    I would contend in the processing 9000 years the Indigenous peoples, mixed or not, did establish their own unique identities (like the Europeans did when they were first reached).

    But Kennewick man does show, in minimal proof, that humans may be hybrids of people groups (since race was not a factor some 9000 years ago). I don’t mind that I guess.

  11. “humanity, even in scientific terms, goes back to Africa and starting from 2 people (how this occured is another story)”

    Another argument that defeats itself. Jason is using scientific facts to defeat a scientific explanation of how the species originated (oxymoron); which he does not believe is true because it defeats the purpose of god. If, IN SCIENTIFIC TERMS as he put it, we all go back to Africa (we do) then it is a scientific explanation that will trace our lineage to that land mass. Science has already done this with archaeology, carbon dating, etc. It was natural selection and evolution that gave the impetus to the human species to grow from Africa, where the climate was good for survival (unlike the freezing cold Poles). How this occurred has already been explained and it is the one area of science that he debates – but all other areas are good.

  12. “Jason is using scientific facts to defeat a scientific explanation of how the species originated (oxymoron)” (Johnny)

    Not really an ‘oxymoron’ because science changes – and that’s a solid proven fact for the last 150 years and more. New discoveries mean new changes to the old science and ideas thought to be true.

    For example, I just watched Einstein and Eddington 2 nights ago. Einstein discovered the ‘theory of relativity’ in about 1919 – which re-wrote Newtons theory of gravity – and Eddington proved it. Most people in the scientific community thought this was likely going to end in failure – because Newton was beloved. Good science changes – that’s just the way it is.

    As for the human species, this is an interesting thing. Old bones were also found in Indonesia of a smaller type than what was found in Africa – dating to the same period of time. So if were gonna discuss all the science on the issue of where humans began and came from – we can make assertions that stand for now (from Africa). But we must remember not all facts are concretely in – there is still a lot of mystery to this whole thing.

    For example, the fossil record is not as lengthy as some would like to believe about the human species. The claim is we have been for 100,000’s of years as humans…yet fossil wise there is a very small record of evolutional change from one pattern to another. Even if there were only some 100 animals on the planet at the time (very very low estimation) the amount of fossils for them and discoveries is lower than that per species. In fact, the human remains they use for evolutionary traces of humans numbers under the 100’s. Let’s not forget how small this record actually is.

    My claim is we don’t know how it all happened and started – and I am right in that claim…we assume we do (with our limited artifacts). I have no problem conceding we came from Africa – pretty likely…heck even the mythological story of Adam and Eve places them in that same region (gotta wonder what these old people from that time knew).

    But do I rule out creation because of evolution? Or because the story, that will change one day, of humanity has been supposedly solved by science? I have my problems with aspects of evolution – true – but I agree with the concepts. As for creation, I still do not see why a God cannot be seen in all of this? Einstein didn’t seem to have that much of a problem with such a notion.

  13. “Einstein didn’t seem to have that much of a problem with such a notion.”

    Yes he did. Here is a direct quote from the man himself:

    “It was, of course, a lie that you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

    Einstein’s thoughts about creationism were not centered in the position of a personal god, or a designer, rather it was in the scientific explanations as far as modern science can reveal it. That was his belief-system and I have to say the same for myself.

    Yes, science changes with the evidence, but the evidence does not change. And there is no evidence to prove the existence of any god/designer and Einstein also believed as much – up to denying his own religious roots.

    Einstein was an admitted ‘agnostic’ and was not in any way a believer in god. But do not believe me, go and buy the book “The Portable Atheist” and read the words of the man himself on the topic, they are compiled in a nice and neat chapter.

  14. “Einstein’s thoughts about creationism were not centered in the position of a personal god, or a designer, rather it was in the scientific explanations as far as modern science can reveal it. That was his belief-system and I have to say the same for myself.” (Johnny)

    To say Einstein was non-religious seems to be quite misnomer. I am not saying he didn’t use the best science to help guide his work, but it seems clear this man was at least spiritual.

    “That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God” (Einstein – taken from http://www.einstein-quotes.com/GodReligion.html)

    “I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.” (Einstein – Time Magazine interview – taken from Wikipedia)

    “Einstein said “Politics is for the moment, equation for the eternity”, stating that physics was more important in his life. He declined the presidency of Israel in 1952.” (Einstein – Wikipedia) *Declined the presidency of Israel in 1952…pretty sure they weren’t offering that position to someone that didn’t believe in God.

    He was not by any means an adhrent to a religion, of this even I am pretty clear. He didn’t see a personal God – and I agree with him on that. He did see a spirituality to it all – the universe and the wonders of it. Science was figuring out the order – but he even he knew there were limits to what he could figure out.

    • Was he “spiritual” (a totally meaningless term), who could know that for sure? Nobody! Einstein was an admitted agnostic and that is as far as we could ever perceive about the man and his beliefs in the cosmos. Please check out what agnostic actually means and even then do not proceed to put your slant on his personal thoughts; which say more about you and not him.

      I never said he was an “atheist”, neither did he. But he did explicitly state that he had absolutely no religious, faith-based, and or spiritual connection to any human organization or religion. It makes no difference anyway because even if Einstein was a complete atheist then would it belittle the man in any way? NO! But apparently that is what you are trying to argue which only fulfills your own interest and not really the truth about the man and what he actually stated.

      One last quote:

      “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially not a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.” (Einstein, 1950, letter to M. Berkowitz)

      End of story.

  15. “Do you ever think that your imaginings or societal myths help to disconnect you from the other humans on this planet or at least this continent?”

    Yes, of course it does and so does yours. But I admit as much and I can actually recognize these social differences and where they occur in my society. I can also see where power intersects and chooses the imaginations and myths that it will reinforce and coerce among the masses of my society; those things that guide our thoughts, ideas, morals, values, policies, etc., – all without our actual consent because they are systemically reinforced through the masses and dictated by elite power.

    I can easily recognize these societal aspects (they are constantly reinforcing themselves through all kinds of institutionalized agents) but that does not mean that I (John Bird) as an individual agent can change my entire society – that is asking for the impossible. It takes a mass of people to collectively agree on something in order to result in a radical change, or even a basic reform, in a society.

    The main question is to find out what are those things that we always return to (the abstract that is always working within us or even around us), those underlying elements in our society that make decisions for us whether we want them to or not. Those ideas and functions that control and sway our personal lives without our consent. ‘Power’ is the only thing that can do this but where is the power and who wields it in the society – that is more important than our petty imagined differences.

    • All of this is reason why I am a ‘Marxist.’ Marx was the only one that has pinpointed the Real power of our lives and he proposed a theory to dismantle it. So does Marxism disconnect my mind (imagination) from the hegemony of liberal-capitalism in my society, yes it does. But sadly it cannot totally deviate my actions because there is no collective that desires to pursue Marx in this society. I am a slave to the capitalist market and I have to be if I want to live in my society (in which liberal-democratic-capital is dominant)

      I perceive and understand this capital power but I cannot dismantle it on my own, thus I need a collective to join me: Marxism at its simplest.

  16. . It takes a mass of people to collectively agree on something in order to result in a radical change, or even a basic reform, in a society.(John Bird)

    Great point, I agree wholeheartedly. 🙂

    John Tattersall

  17. “Please check out what agnostic actually means and even then do not proceed to put your slant on his personal thoughts; which say more about you and not him.” (Johnny)

    Well I can settle on agnostic – doesn’t bother me to be honest. I don’t hold him to be the greatest theological mind anyways. Just making some food for thought on his legacy and writings.

    But as for agnostic, it leaves room for doubt and faith – based on the best facts. It’s kind of the ‘honest’ middle ground concering the validity of faith systems.

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