Reconstructionist Judaism and the Rejection of Chosen People

According to Reconstructionism's founder, the idea of chosenness divides peoples from each other and should be rejected, not reinterpreted.

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Discomfort With Chosenness

The very fact that such apologetic arguments are put forth indicates discomfort on the part of many modern Jews with the implications of chosenness, as it is traditionally understood.

Classical Reconstructionism rejected the attempt to reinterpret chosenness precisely because, in Kaplan's words, "by no kind of dialectics is it possible to remove the odium of comparison from any reinterpretation of an idea which makes invidious distinctions between one people and another."

Thus, in the prayerbooks of the Reconstructionist movement, references to the doctrine of chosenness were eliminated in favor of alternative formulations which advocated a sense of vocation (as in the phrase substituted in the blessing before reading the Torah, "who hast brought us nigh to thy service…" (asher kervanu la‑avodato [instead of the traditional asher bahar banu mi-kol ha-amim, "who hast chosen us from amongst the nations"]).

It is worth noting that Kaplan might have, on logical and rational grounds alone, declared the entire issue to be moot; a non‑personal God conceived of as a power or process could not "choose" anyone. Yet Kaplan's essential argument was made on moral and pragmatic grounds.

Morally, the assumption of a predetermined, supernaturally bestowed and permanent superiority was not in keeping with humanistic concerns and in fact hindered the attempt to emphasize the common human needs to which every religion responded. Pragmatically, invocation of such phrases as "He hath not made us like the pagans of the world, nor placed us like the heathen tribes of the earth…" [from the Aleinu prayer] was not conducive to the fostering of intergroup goodwill which Reconstructionism maintained should be a goal of all religions.

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Rabbi Richard A. Hirsh

Rabbi Richard A. Hirsh is the Executive Director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and the editor of The Reconstructionist.