The Joys of Chosenness


Dennis Prager had an op-ed in the LA Times this weekend indulging in positively volkish glorifications of Jewishness. Prager opines—this is not a caricature—that the Jews obviously are "the chosen people" (a term he never defines) and only a misguided atheist could believe otherwise. He pre-emptively combats any insinuation of racism on his part by observing:

[T]he claim of Jewish chosenness could not be racist because a) The Jews are not a race. There are Jews of every race. And b) Any person of any race, ethnicity or nationality can become a member of the Jewish people and thereby be as chosen as Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah or the current chief rabbi of Israel.

There was a time when many of the Jews' persecutors claimed that they would love and welcome the Jews, just as soon as they converted—which is one of the reasons that so many Jews have wondered for so long just what they were chosen for.

Several weeks ago, Louis Sigel, the former long-time rabbi of my synagogue, passed away. The New York Times profile of Rabbi Sigel noted his role in motivating Teaneck, NJ to be the first town to integrate its schools voluntarily:

A law professor who was a member of Temple Emeth stood and asked why the whole community had to be "disturbed" by a problem that he said black residents had created themselves by moving into one end of town.

"The temple's rabbi, Louis J. Sigel, rose," Mr. Damerell wrote. "His rich voice carried throughout the auditorium" as he narrated a story from the Talmud about a man who sees a fire in another part of town and asks, "What have I to do with the needs of the community?"

"Sigel's voice rose in emphasis, 'Such a man destroys the world!'" Mr. Damerell wrote. "Applause exploded through the auditorium."

Whole thing here.

Whether you believe an individual has an unavoidable responsibility to the community or not, there's a lesson here, and not just a rabbinical lesson. The special responsibility of the Jewish people, whatever it is, must have something to do with overcoming the sort of tribalism and racial exceptionalism Prager is peddling.