Are the Jews the Chosen People?
The notion that the Hebrews are the “chosen people” and have a unique relation with Yahweh (Hebrew God) is pervasive in Hebrew writings. But, the essence of this relationship is not without complexity and doubt.
They embed the concept of Hebrews being chosen in many bible verses. For example, Deuteronomy 7:6 reads, “For you are a people consecrated to Yahweh your Elohim (God): of all the peoples on earth Yahweh your Elohim chose you to be his treasured people.” The 2 succeeding verses tell us why he made this choice. It says that Yahweh choose the Israelites because he loved them and had promised their ancestors, including Abraham, Jacob and Issac, that he would make an everlasting covenant with them.
In Genesis Chapter 12, Yahweh comes to Abraham and commands him to leave his father’s home. A Rabbinic authority, accepted by the 12th-century Hebrew philosopher Maimonides, contends that it was actually Abraham who first turned to Yahweh. Only Abraham, amongst his generation, understood the folly of worshiping false idols, declaring that there was only one Elohim that reigned over the entire world. Yahweh only appeared to Abraham after he had demonstrated his faith to him.
The covenant between Yahweh and the Israelite slaves at Mount Sinai established the fundamental concept of being the chosen people. This covenant established a bond that if the freed Hebrew slaves followed the laws of the Torah, they would receive Yahweh’s eternal protection. According to some Rabbi’s Yahweh chose the Hebrews for this purpose, only after offering the Torah to the descendants of Ammon, Esau, Ishmael and Moab, but when advised of the Torah’s restrictions against adultery, burglary and murder, they chose not enter this covenant with Yahweh. Only after the offering the Torah to every nation, did Yahweh offer it to the Hebrews. Therefore; no nation can ever lament not being his chosen people.
Exodus 19:5 points out when it declares “Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples.” that the key attribute of the Hebrew people was making the decision to keep the covenant.
Though most of the Hebrew philosophers accept that Israelites were chosen by Yahweh as a set-apart people because of an oath established with their ancestors, some others thought differently. For example, the medieval philosopher Judah HaLevi (1086-1145) postulated that the Hebrews’ decision to keep the covenant stems from an innate characteristic. According to HaLevi, the Hebrews were bestowed with “divine influence.” A characteristic imbedded in one’s genetics and includes the capability to prophecy and the capacity to receive superior divine wisdom. Similarly, the Reform leader Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), believed that the Hebrews eagerness to keep the covenant is because of its “native talent for religion.” However, many contemporary Jews are uneasy with the concept of being chosen, especially as it relates to genetics.
Some modern-day Jewish philosophers consider the belief that Yahweh chose the Israelites above all other nations is racist, and reject the idea that the Hebrews are a chosen people. Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983), the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, did not accept that God would grant favor to a specific people, and considered it immoral for any nation to claim superiority over another nations. Most modern-day practitioners of Judaism believe that they are a chosen people, while simultaneously trying to downplay the concept of superiority.
“The Past: Our cradle, not our prison; there is danger as well as appeal in its glamour. The past is for inspiration, not imitation, for continuation, not repetition.”
Israel Zangwill was born on January 21, 1864 in London, England and died on August 1, 1926 in West Sussex, England. Zangwill was a British writer, playwright and activist. His best-known books include “The Children of the Ghetto Series, “The Melting Pot” and the “Big Bow Mystery”. He devoted his life to defending the downtrodden, and was connected to Jewish assimilation, Jewish independence, women’s right to vote and Zionist movements.
Zangwill was a leader in the Zionist movement, and was a good friend of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist Organization. Zangwill eventually changed his mind about Zionism, subsequently rejecting the pursuit of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and becoming one of the primary leaders in the search for an alternative location to Palestine as the homeland.
Zangwill was schooled in Bristol and Plymouth as a young child. As a 9-year-old, his parents enrolled in the Jew’s Free School in east London, a school for Jewish immigrant children. The school’s curriculum included both religious and secular studies, and also supplied students with food, clothing, and health care. He was an excellent student and became a part-time teacher, and subsequently a full-time teacher at the school. Currently, one of the school’s four houses is named “Zangwill” in his honor. During his time as a teacher at the school, he attended the University of London, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1884 with triple honors.
Israel Zangwill married Edith Ayrton, a novelist and feminist. Oliver Zangwill, the younger of their 2 sons, was a prominent British psychologist. His father, Moses Zangwill, was an immigrant from the Russian Empire, now Latvia, and his mother, Ellen Hannah Marks Zangwill, was from what is now Poland. His brother, Louis Zangwill, was also an author.
- Chosen Peoples, (1919)
- The Big Bow Mystery (1892)
- The King of Schnorrers (1894)
- The Master (1895) (based on the life of friend and illustrator George Wylie Hutchinson)
- The Melting Pot (1909)
- The Old Maid’s Club (1892)
- The Bachelors' Club (London : Henry, 1891)
- The Serio-Comic Governess (1904)
- Without Prejudice (1896)
- Merely Mary Ann (1904)
- The Grey Wig: Stories and Novelettes (1903) which include The Grey Wig; Chasse-Croise; The Woman Beater; The Eternal Feminine; The Silent Sisters
- The "of the Ghetto" books:
- Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People (1892)
- Grandchildren of the Ghetto (1892)
- Dreamers of the Ghetto (1898)
- Ghetto Tragedies, (1899)
- Ghetto Comedies, (1907)
Playwrights and Associated Films
- Children of the Ghetto, directed by Frank Powell (1915, based on the play Children of the Ghetto)
- The Melting Pot, directed by Oliver D. Bailey and James Vincent (1915, based on the play The Melting Pot)
- Merely Mary Ann, directed by John G. Adolfi (1916, based on the play Merely Mary Ann)
- The Moment Before, directed by Robert G. Vignola (1916, based on the play The Moment of Death)
- Mary Ann, directed by Alexander Korda (Hungary, 1918, based on the play Merely Mary Ann)
- Nurse Marjorie, directed by William Desmond Taylor (1920, based on the play Nurse Marjorie)
- Merely Mary Ann, directed by Edward LeSaint (1920, based on the play Merely Mary Ann)
- The Bachelor's Club, directed by A. V. Bramble (1921, based on the novel We Moderns)
- We Moderns, directed by John Francis Dillon (1925, based on the play We Moderns)
- Too Much Money, directed by John Francis Dillon (1926, based on the play Too Much Money)
- Perfect Crime, directed by Bert Glennon (1928, based on the novel The Big Bow Mystery)
- Merely Mary Ann, directed by Henry King (1931, based on the play Merely Mary Ann)
- The Crime Doctor, directed by John S. Robertson (1934, based on the novel The Big Bow Mystery)
- The Verdict, directed by Don Siegel (1946, based on the novel The Big Bow Mystery)
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