You Shall Pursue

January 16, 2013

Reconstructionism Part 5: Chosenness

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 2:30 pm

Initially, I planned to write a post detailing the various ways that I disagree with classical Reconstructionist thought. However, I realized that many of my critiques had homes in other posts, but that there was one main area which did not properly lump with other ideas; that of “chosenness”. Simply put, classical Reconstructionist thought rejects the idea of “chosenness,” while I embrace it, but in a modified format.

Classical Reconstructionist thinkers did not believe that the Jews are the Chosen People, and as a result of this ideological shift, they excised all of the “chosenness” language out of the siddur. For example, in the Aleinu, instead of saying that God has “made us different from all the nations of the earth, and situated us in quite a different spot, and made our daily lot another kind from theirs, and given us a destiny uncommon in this world,” the Reconstructionist siddur says that God has “given us teachings of truth and planted life within us.” Similarly, anyone visiting a Reconstructionist shul will find that the language of the blessings over the Torah and the Kiddush are different as well, to reflect similar concerns. This, combined with an emphasis on egalitarianism that injects female Biblical figures back into the text, is the most immediately visible result of Kaplan’s theological and philosophical project. He saw the concept of “chosenness” as irredeemable and supported excising it from Jewish self-identity.

Many Reconstructionist thinkers advocate for doing away with “chosenness” in worry that it leads to chauvinism and self-centeredness among Jews, and contributes to outsiders’ perceptions of Jews as an insular, self-aggrandizing people. I have heard this critique leveled by Jews as well as non-Jews who interact regularly with the Jewish community, and I think that, at times, it is accurate. I recently wrote about the near-famous tendency for Jewish communal institutions to throw up ridiculous barriers to a true welcome. And part of this may well be fueled by the idea that we are “chosen,” and therefore somehow better.

But I do wonder whether Jewish insularity comes not from our rhetoric of Chosenness but rather from our unique history of 2000 years of existence as a religious minority. In a world where we can freely jump between many Civilizations without fear of recrimination, I wonder if this particular coping mechanism has come to its natural end. That, of course, does not mean that we don’t need to work hard to dismantle it as a community, but I wonder if we can hold onto the idea that the Jews are “Chosen” while divesting the term of the pernicious idea that this means that the Jews are somehow inherently better.

I feel chosen to this Jewish path. ¬†While it was always up to me what to DO with my Judaism, it was never a question whether or not Judaism would speak to my soul. And I don’t think that Judaism is unique in having a remarkably strong pull; I think of my friends who are devout Christians and I am sure that they are just as much chosen to their paths as I am to mine. But I think there is a tremendous value in acknowledging that as a people, a community, a faith, there is something unique and precious about Judaism. When I speak of being one of the Chosen People, it is with a profound sense of gratitude, that this path exists for me to walk down. When I say that I am one of the Chosen People, I mean that I am one of the people whom God has chosen for Judaism, no more and no less.

The value I see in the rhetoric of “chosenness” is one of group solidarity. If we are chosen to become part of the Jewish community, either through birth or through conversion, then we owe it to ourselves to figure out what that means, and how we as people want to interact with the complicated brilliant legacy of Judaism. In a world of individualism, sometimes at the cost of genuine human connections, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for us to demand connection and support of one another. And I see the ¬†rhetoric of Chosen People as one potential way that we can build those connections and that sense of communal obligation.

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