The Jewish Workplace (Shma Journal: Independent Thinking on Contemporary Judaism Book 43)

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East Dane Designer Men's Fashion. Clearly as the new Christian church gained ascendancy, chosenness became a polemical issue and assumed an even greater role in Jewish thought and ideology. As Professor Salo W. Baron wrote, Jews "had to deal with an internal enemy who, even after the separation, appropriated the entire realm of Jewish history as its own and increasingly denied it to the Jewish people itself. The new Israel had superseded the old; God had replaced the Old Testament with the New, the chosen people with the Church. In George Foot Moore's words, "For this national election Paul and the church substituted an individual election to eternal life, without regard to race or station.

A heretic said to Rabbi Hanina: "Now that your Temple is destroyed and you cannot cleanse yourselves from your uncleanness, you are defiled and God no longer dwells among you. Thus, the new challenge of Christianity elevated the concept of election of Israel to a higher rung than before. Liturgy represent crystallized, normative Judaism.

The prayers reflect the consensus of opinions of the sages and the emphatic trends of rabbinic Judaism. Consequently, Judaism met the challenge of the "New Israel" that sought to supplant the old as well as the tragedy of the Roman wars by emphasizing the motif of behirah , election, in numerous prayers. For You chose us and sanctified us from all the nations, and your holy Sabbath You bestowed upon us willingly and lovingly. Praised be You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who chose us from all the nations, and elevated our language above all others and sanctified us with His commandments and gave us this Festival Likewise, the Amidah, the silent devotion, recited on the Sabbath, reemphasizes the notion:.

You did not give the Sabbath to other nations of the earth. But to Israel, Your people, You have given it in. Praised are You. Max Kadushin and Louis Jacobs draw our attention to yet another peculiarity about election: The liturgy states that God's choice of Israel is invariably linked to some spiritual vocation, including Torah, Sabbath rest, observance of mitzvot, a life of sanctity and service to God. This is Israel's eternal mission and the essence of being a Jew.

Far from being rejected, as the Church Fathers insisted and as our historic calamities seemed to underscore, our mission as God's elect is ongoing. The election does not imply racial or religious superiority and denigration of other nations or faiths; rather, it impels us to lead sanctified and sacred lives and uphold higher spiritual standards.

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The liturgy highlights this ideal for every single Jew. The traumatic challenge of loss of land, Temple and political independence coupled with the defection of not one but two daughter religions, Christianity and Islam, compounded Israel's need to find a raison d'etre.

Christianity preached a theology of displacement and supersession of the mother faith.

Islam, no less zealously, accused Jews of having falsified Scripture and rejecting the last and greatest of the Prophets, Muhammad. Both faiths denigrated Jews and Judaism, often stooping to vile epithets and periodically expressing their contempt in violent assaults and expulsions. Interestingly, not all the medieval sages and philosophers met this dual challenge in the same way. Saadia Gaon, for example, did not stress the notion of chosenness in his works.

Indeed, he warned Israel not to be arrogant for all nations are God's and election does not imply exclusion of others. For example, he insisted that "only an Israelite by birth is eligible to become a prophet" and he stressed that in his view, gentiles are of inferior stock. I received your inquiry asking whether you, as a convert to Judaism, are entitled to say in your daily prayers, "Our God and God of our Fathers.

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You are just like any native-born Jew in this regard Medieval philosophers split ranks over the issue of the racial factor in election: Several followed Halevi; Albo took the Maimonidean approach and just as Maimonides had refrained from listing chosenness as one of the thirteen " ikkarim" or principles of faith, so did Albo delete the idea from his category of basic principles.

The school of Kabbalah reinterpreted chosenness in a bold and remarkable fashion. The well-known aphorism of the Zohar, "The Holy One, blessed be He, the Torah and Israel are one" articulates the view that knesset Yisrael the ecclesia of Israel unites in mystical union with God via the medium of Torah.

Since Israel is the people of Torah, it may cleave to God as no other people. Indeed, it brings "fulfillness" to God. There is cosmic importance to keeping the mitzvot : "If you observe My commandments it is as if, so to speak, you made Me. When Israel went into exile, God's presence accompanied them. In fact, a part of God Himself went into exile.

Using erotically mythic terms, the Zohar identifies God's shekhinah of indwelling presence with knesset Yisrael and the sefirah tiferet and suggests that God cohabits with Israel when they are virtuous while their sinful behavior ruptures that mystical sexual union. Lurianic Kabbalah cast Israel in a newer role, viewing the entire people of Israel as a messianic entity charged with the mission of releasing the sparks of divinity encasing the world via the process of tikkun , mending or repairing society. The Hasidic school incorporated this and other motifs and in the HaBaD version of Rabbi Shneor Zalman of Liady, founder of the Lubavitch dynasty, "the nations of the world emanate from the unclean kelipot shells which contain no good whatsoever, while Israel possesses a 'Godly soul' rather than an 'animal soul' as is found among the gentiles.

With the modern era, the advancement of science, new philosophical schools, and the Enlightenment, the notion of the Chosen People -- along with other basic tenets such as Divine revelation of Scripture and a supernatural Deity -- were subjected to searing criticism. Chosenness seemed to be outdated and embarrassing. Worse, it cast other nations in an invidious light. After all, if one people is chosen doesn't that imply all others are rejected? The "enlightened" thinkers among European Jews sough to blunt the argument while preserving a remnant of the notion.

Moses Mendelssohn, for example, substituted the idea of mission exhorting that Judaism is the "religion of religions" and it must be propagated and taught by Jews to all humans.

Geiger followed suit and propounded the notion that Jews have a peculiar "genius" for religion and religious life and it is incumbent upon us to spread the word of God. The Reform movement picked up the theme, developing its mission to the gentiles motif but never actually excising the prayer or the idea of chosenness. Instead, it viewed chosenness as God's mandate to Israel to spread His sacred teachings, of monotheism and morality. Thus Baeck reflected:. Every people can be chosen for a history, for a share in the history of humanity. Each is a question which God has asked, and each people must answer.

But more history has been assigned to this people then to any other people The word of the One God penetrated this people from its beginnings. Martin Buber viewed the idea of election teleologically, effectively espousing the mission of Israel:. What then is this spirit of Israel of which you are speaking? It is the spirit of fulfillment. Fulfillment of what?

Fulfillment of the simple truth that man has been created for a purpose Our purpose is the upbuilding of peace And that is its spirit, the spirit of Israel Abraham Joshua Heschel regarded chosenness as a "spiritual act," for Israel is a "spiritual order" and "in order to be a people we have to be more than a people. Israel was made to be a 'holy people. We have not chosen God; He has chosen us. There is no concept of a chosen God but there is the idea of a chosen people. The idea of a chosen people does not suggest the preference for a people based upon a discrimination among a number of peoples.

We do not say that we are superior people. The "chosen people" means a people approached and chosen by God. The significance of this term is genuine in relation to God rather than in relation to other peoples.


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It signifies not a quality inherent in the people but a relationship between the people and God. Alone among Jewish theologians and philosophers stood Mordecai M.

Kaplan in his assault on chosenness and excision of references in the liturgy to the chosen people. He believed the doctrine to be racially tinged and dangerous as a breeder of contempt for others.

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Later on, he added that "we cannot assume that Israel must at all times possess that spirit to a higher degree than other people. Kaplan carried his theory into practice as he expunged references to the chosen people from his Reconstructionist prayerbook. Thus, he reformulated the blessing upon receiving an honor to the Torah to read:. Curiously, many among the new generation of Reconstructionists are urging the restoration of the classic doctrine. Small Jew- ish communities had sprung up in Arabia itself by this time, and the Talmud and Rabbinic literature refer to Arabs as Ishmaelites, Arabs, or Tayaye.

Interestingly, Talmudic references to Tayaye are al- ways neutral or positive. The Tayaye respect Jews and Judaism and even know biblical traditions and some proper Jewish religious ritual.

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By the time of the emergence of Islam, Jews and Christians had estab- lished communities in many parts of Arabia, from the northern deserts to the most southern regions along the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. They brought their scriptures, their stories, and their religious lore and practices with them. On the other side of Mecca, some miles due north, was the oasis community of Yathrib, the home of a thriving Jewish community.

Despite the penetration of these three religions into Arabia, the peninsula was never controlled by any foreign power. Arabia lay in a strategic location between Mesopotamia and Egypt, and between India and Africa. It produced valuable incense and was known for its gold; yet, the harsh climate, the lack of a significant water supply, and the fierce indepen- dence of its inhabitants made it impossible to conquer. As a region that lay outside the political control of contemporary em- pires, Arabia was a natural refuge for dissidents. Since the Roman Empire had become Orthodox Christian by the 4th century and the state religion of the Persian Empire was Zoroastrianism, religious as well as political dissidents sought refuge outside their reach.

We know, for example, that dissident or sectarian Christians were persecuted by the Orthodox religious establish- ment of the Byzantine Empire and fled to Persia and Arabia.