Chosenness is the belief that the Jewish people are the chosen people, having been chosen to be in a special relationship, a covenant, with God. This idea is first found in the Torah (five books of Moses) and is elaborated on in later books of the Hebrew Bible. Much is written about this topic in rabbinic literature and in Christian literature.

Table of contents
1 Chosenness in the Hebrew Bible
2 Jewish views of chosenness
3 Views of chosenness by the modern Jewish denominations
4 Chosenness as superiority
5 Christian view of chosenness
6 Islamic views of chosenness
7 External links
8 References

Chosenness in the Hebrew Bible

According to the Hebrew Bible, Israel's character as the chosen people is conditioned by obedience to God's commandments. "Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people. For all the earth is mine: and you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5, 6). "The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your ancestors." (Deuteronomy 7:7, 8).

The obligation imposed upon the Israelites is emphasized by the prophet Amos (3:2): "You only have I singled out of all the families of the earth: therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities." This idea is also expressed in Deuteronomy 14:2: "You are a holy people unto the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a peculiar people unto Himself, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth."

Jewish views of chosenness

The idea of chosenness has traditionally been interpreted by Jews in two ways: one way is that God chose the Israelites, while the other idea is that the Israelites chose God. Although collectively this choice was made freely, religious Jews believe that it created individual obligation for the descendants of the Israelites.

Crucial to the Jewish notion of chosenness is that it creates obligations exclusive to Jews, while non-Jews receive from God other covenants and other responsibilities. Generally, it does not entail exclusive rewards for Jews.

Contrary to popular belief, most Jewish texts do not state that "God chose the Jews" by itself. Such an idea is found nowhere in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud or the Siddur (Jewish prayerbook). Such a claim could imply that Jews believe that God loves only the Jewish people, or that only Jews can be close to God, or that only Jews can have a heavenly reward. In contrast, these texts hold that the Jewish people were chosen for a specific mission. Also contrary to popular belief, the term "chosen" does not denote any inherent superiority of Jews, only that they should carry extra responsibilities.

In this view, chosenness means that Jews have been chosen to fulfill the mission of proclaiming God's message among all the nations. This implies a special duty and responsibility on the part of the Jewish people. This duty devolves from the belief that Jews have been pledged by the covenant which God concluded with the biblical patriarch Abraham, their ancestor, and again with the entire Jewish nation at Mount Sinai, to testify, by precept and example, to the truth revealed to them, to lead a holy life as God's priest-people, and, if needs be, sacrifice their very lives for the sake of this truth.

In the Jewish prayerbook (the siddur), chosenness is referred to in a number of ways. The blessing for reading the Torah reads "Praised are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has chosen us out of all the nations to bestow upon us his Torah." There is a similar qualification in the prayer known as "Kiddush", a prayer of sanctification in which the Sabbath is inaugurated over a cup of wine. The text reads "For you have chosen us and sanctified us out of all the nations, and have given us the Sabbath as an inheritance in love and favour. Praised are you, Lord, who hallows the Sabbath."

Views of chosenness by the modern Jewish denominations

Among the four major Jewish denominations, only the Reconstructionist movement rejects the concept of chosenness. Its founder, Rabbi Kaplan, said that the idea that God chose the Jewish people is immoral. The Platform on Reconstructionism states that the idea of chosenness is "morally untenable", because anyone who has such beliefs "implies the superiority of the elect community and the rejection of others." (Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot, Sept. 1986, pages D, E.)

The larger three denominations -- Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism -- do hold that the Jews are a chosen people, in the sense of chosenness as described above.

Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, former Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue of Great Britain (Orthodox Judaism), describes chosenness in this way: "Yes, I do believe that the chosen people concept as affirmed by Judaism in its holy writ, its prayers, and its millennial tradition. In fact, I believe that every people - and indeed, in a more limited way, every individual - is "chosen" or destined for some distinct purpose in advancing the designs of Providence. Only, some fulfill their mission and others do not. Maybe the Greekss were chosen for their unique contributions to art and philosophy, the Romanss for their pioneering services in law and government, the British for bringing parliamentary rule into the world, and the Americanss for piloting democracy in a pluralistic society. The Jews were chosen by God to be 'peculiar unto Me' as the pioneers of religion and morality; that was and is their national purpose."

Rabbi Norman Lamm, a leader of Modern Orthodox Judaism writes that "The chosenness of Israel relates exclusively to its spiritual vocation embodied in the Torah; the doctrine, indeed, was announced at Sinai. Whenever it is mentioned in our liturgy - such as the blessing immediately preceding the is always related to Torah or Mitzvot (commandments). This spiritual vocation consists of two complementary functions, described as "Goy Kadosh," that of a holy nation, and "Mamlekhet Kohanim," that of a kingdom of priests. The first term denotes the development of communal separateness or differences in order to achieve a collective self-transcendence.... The second term implies the obligation of this brotherhood of the spiritual elite toward the rest of mankind; priesthood is defined by the prophets as fundamentally a teaching vocation. ... (The Condition of Jewish Belief: A Symposium Compiled by the Editors of Commentary Magazine, 1966)

Conservative Judaism views the concept of chosenness in this way: "Few beliefs have been subject to as much misunderstanding as the "Chosen People" doctrine. The Torah and the Prophets clearly stated that this does not imply any innate Jewish superiority. In the words of Amos (3:2) "You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth - that is why I will call you to account for your iniquities". The Torah tells us that we are to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" with obligations and duties which flowed from our willingness to accept this status. Far from being a license for special privilege, it entailed additional responsibilities not only toward God but to our fellow human beings. As expressed in the blessings at the reading of the Torah, our people have always felt it to be a privilege to be selected for such a purpose. For the modern traditional Jew, the doctrine of the election and the covenant of Israel offers a purpose for Jewish existence which transcends its own self interests. It suggests that because of our special history and unique heritage we are in a position to demonstrate that a people that takes seriously the idea of being covenanted with God can not only thrive in the face of oppression, but can be a source of blessing to its children and its neighbors. It obligates us to build a just and compassionate society throughout the world and especially in the land of Israel where we may teach by example what it means to be a "covenant people, a light unto the nations". (Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism, JTSA, New York, 1988, p.33-34)

Reform Judaism views the concept of chosenness in this way: "Throughout the ages it has been Israel's mission to witness to the Divine in the face of every form of paganism and materialism. We regard it as our historic task to cooperate with all men in the establishment of the kingdom of God, of universal brotherhood, Justice, truth and peace on earth. This is our Messianic goal." (The Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism, Columbus, Ohio, 1937 )

In 1999 the Reform movement stated that "We affirm that the Jewish people is bound to God by an eternal covenant, as reflected in our varied understandings of Creation, Revelation and Redemption....We are Israel, a people aspiring to holiness, singled out through our ancient covenant and our unique history among the nations to be witnesses to God's presence. We are linked by that covenant and that history to all Jews in every age and place." (Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism, adopted at the 1999 Pittsburgh Convention, Central Conference of American Rabbis)

Beliefs of Reform Judaism

Chosenness as superiority

Starting in early medieval Europe, during a time of intense persecution of Jews, some Jews began teaching that the meaning of chosenness implied that God loves Jews more than other human beings, and that Jews were inherently superior to non-Jews.

This philosophy was first widely taught by Yehuda Halevi in his work "The Kuzari: A Book of proof and argument - An apology for a despied religion."

This view of Jews as superior to non-Jews also exists in parts of the Zohar. For example, the Zohar comments on the Biblical verse which states "Let the waters teem with swarms of creatures that have a living soul" as follows: "The verse 'creatures that have a living soul,' pertains to the Jews, for they are the sons of God, and from God come their holy souls....And the souls of the other nations, from where do they come? Rabbi Elazar says that they have souls from the impure left side, and therefore they are all impure, defiling anyone who comes near them." (Zohar, commentary on Genesis)

The Raya Mehemna, a later work printed with the Zohar, has a similar view. One section states: "Israel merited that God called them 'men,' as it is written 'But you My flock, the flock of My pasture, you are men,' 'If any man of you brings an offering.' Why are they called 'men'? For it is written 'And you who cling to the Lord your God'. This means you and not the other nations, and because of this 'you are men', you are called men..." (Raya Mehemna, commentary on Torah portion Yitro, page 86a]

This view has been repeated in a few later Hasidic texts such as the Tanya, and was accepted by a number of rabbis, such as Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin. Over time such views became popular among a segment of the Jewish community; however, such views were rejected by the majority of the Jewish community, and by all mainstream rabbinic organizations.

The Encyclopedia Judaica states that "It would seem that the more extreme, and exclusive, interpretations of the doctrine of election, among Jewish thinkers, were partly the result of reaction to oppression by the non-Jewish world. The more the Jew was forced to close in on himself, to withdraw into the imposed confines of the ghetto, the more he tended to emphasize Israel's difference from the cruel gentile without. Only thus did his suffering become intelligible and bearable. This type of interpretation reaches its height in the Kabbalistic idea that while the souls of Israel stem ultimately from God, the souls of the gentiles are merely of base material (kelippot, "shells"). When the Jew was eventually allowed to find his place in a gentile world, the less exclusivist aspect of the doctrine reasserted itself."

Christian view of chosenness

Supersessionism is the Christian belief that Christians have replaced Israel as God's Chosen people. In this view, the Jews' chosenness found its ultimate fulfillment through the message of Jesus; Jews who remain non-Christian are no longer considered to be chosen, since they reject Jesus as the Messiah and son of God. Related topics include Predestination, and Predestination (Calvinism).

Christian Identity groups

Christian Identity groups, based on a fusion of Nazi ideology, white supremacy, and fundamentalist Christianity, have developed a theology which holds that God hates the Jews, and that only white Christians are God's chosen people. These groups are rejected as non-Christian by the great majority of mainstream Christian churches.

As an example, The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord is a Christian Identity movment which preaches that "Jews of today are not God's chosen people, but are in fact an anti-Christ race, whose purpose is to destroy God's people and Christianity through its Talmudic teaching, forced inter-racial mixings, and perversions."

Islamic views of chosenness

According to Islam the leaders of both Judaism and Christianity deliberately altered the true word of God, and thus led all of their believers down a false path. In the Quran, Mohammed charges the Jewish people with "falsehood" (Sura 3:71), distortion (4:46), and of being "corrupters of Scripture."

Some parts of the Quran attribute differences between Muslims and non-Muslims to tahri fi-manawi, a "corruption of the meaning" of the words. In this view, the Jewish Bible and Christian New Testament are true, but the Jews and Christians misunderstood the meaning of their own Scriptures, and thus need the Quran to clearly understand the will of God. Other parts of the Quran teach that many Jews and Christians deliberately altered their scripture, and thus altered the word of God in order to deceive their co-religionists. This belief was developed further in medieval Islamic polemics, and is a mainstream belief in much of Islam today. This is known as the doctrine of tahrifi-lafzi, "the corruption of the text".

Ye People of the Book! Why do ye clothe Truth with falsehood and conceal the Truth while ye have knowledge? Surah 3.71

Can ye, o ye men of Faith, entertain the hope that they will believe in you? Seeing that a party of them heard the Word of God and perverted it knowingly after they understood it. Surah 2.75

Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands and then say: "This is from God", to traffic with it for a miserable price! - Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby. Surah 2.79

Islamic supersessionism retroactively rewrites the role of Abraham, and presents Muslims as the only people chosen to carry the true word of God.

"Abraham was not a Jew, nor yet a Christian; but he was an upright man who had surrendered (to Allah), and he was not of the idolaters." (III - The house of Imran 67)

External links

The Jewish concept of chosenness

Anti-Defamation League paper on Christian Identity

The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord - a Christian Identity movement


G. Vajda Juifs et musulmans selon le hadith Journal Historique 229 (1937): 57-129;

Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Jews and Christians in Medieval Muslim Thought in Robert S. Wistrich, ed., Demonizing the Other: Antisemitism, Racism and Xenophobia (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1999), p.113