Parashat Va'et'hanan

The Chosen People

How does the concept of the uniqueness and choseness of the Jewish people, as expressed in Parashat Va'et'hanan, inform our relationship with God and with non-Jews?

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There are certainly many people throughout history who thought precisely that. Rabbi Yehuda HaLevy, for example, the famed 12th Century poet and philosopher felt that Jews were inherently at a higher spiritual level than non-Jews. In his monumental work, the Kuzari, he explains that Jews are capable of reaching levels of spirituality and closeness to God not available to non-Jews.  HaLevy's attitude does not sit well with many contemporary thinkers. At the same time, however, many of us feel that there is a special set of Jewish values and principles and that Judaism has something unique to offer the world.

More modern Jewish thinkers and/or movements tend to downplay the concept of choseness, and some movements have changed the traditional liturgy to eliminate all references to choseness.

What do you think of the concept of choseness? How do you relate to the issues outlined above?

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Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz

Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz serves as the Co-Director of the Jewish Learning Initiatve on Campus at Brandeis University and as Advisor to the Brandeis Orthodox Organization. Rabbi Kaplowitz received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.