The idea that the Jews are the “chosen people” and have a special relationship with God is ubiquitous in Jewish sources. However, the nature of this relationship is not without complication and ambiguity.
The notion of Jewish chosenness has its root in several biblical verses. One of the most prominent, Deuteronomy 7:6, says, “For you are a people consecrated to Adonai your God: of all the peoples on earth Adonai your God chose you to be God’s treasured people.” The next two verses provide the reason for this choice. God did not choose the Israelites because of their numbers; rather, God chose the Israelites and freed them from slavery because God loved them and because God had made promises to their ancestors, the biblical patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This, of course, begs the question: why did God choose the patriarchs?
In the Bible, the choice of Abraham is assumed and no explanation for it is given. In Genesis 12, God appears to Abraham without any introduction, and commands him to leave his father’s home. But a rabbinic source–embraced and embellished by the 12th-century philosopher Maimonides–asserts that it was in fact Abraham who found God. Abraham alone among his contemporaries established the falsehood of idolatry, affirming that there was only one God who ruled the earth. It was only after this that God appeared to Abraham.
The covenant between God and the freed Israelite slaves at Mount Sinai is central to the idea of chosenness. The covenant concretized Jewish chosenness by establishing that the Israelites would abide by the Torah in return for special divine protection. Though God chose the Jews for this purpose, an amazing rabbinic source claims that the Jews were, in fact, God’s last choice.
God first offered the Torah to the children of Esau, the children of Ammon and Moab, and the children of Ishmael, but when they were told about the Torah’s prohibitions against murder, adultery, and robbery, respectively, they turned down the offer. Only after going to every nation in the world did God finally offer the Torah to the Jews.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.