Covenant and Chosenness

According to some interpreters, the Jews chose to be chosen.

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According to the one view, God first offered the Torah to other nations. However, only Israel was ultimately willing to accept the covenantal relationship with God: Moses "took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; they said, 'Whatever the Lord has spoken we will do and we will obey (na’aseh ve‑nishma)'" (Exodus 24:7). The other traditional view, which is equally authentic, is that God held Mount Sinai over the heads of the Israelites, and threatened to drop it on them if they did not accept the Torah.

Whether the divine or human partners are seen as having initiated the covenant, and whether Israel is seen as having agreed to the terms of the covenant freely or under coercion, there can be little doubt that the subsequent relationship between God and Israel was seen as a mutual partnership.

The term berit is etymologically obscure, but at least according to some scholarly opinion it is derived from the root b‑h‑r, to choose. The berit thus means that the partners choose to establish an ongoing relationship, and the biblical usages of the term denote what we would call a treaty, alliance, or constitution.                                                                                                     

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Dr. Raphael Jospe

Dr. Raphael Jospe is Senior Lecturer in Jewish Philosophy at the Open University of Israel in Jerusalem and Hebrew University, School of Overseas Students.