Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chosenness According To Rashi

One of the premier historians of medieval Jewish France and Germany is Prof. Avraham Grossman. In a recent book, he explores Rashi's beliefs: Emunos Ve-Deyos Be-Olamo Shel Rashi (English title: Rashi: Religious Beliefs and Social Views). Prof. Grossman chooses a number of theological and social topics, and explores Rashi's numerous commentaries (and their manuscripts) to achieve a comprehensive view of the subject.

In general, Grossman considers the incessant Jewish-Christian debate and the ensuing Crusade to have been extremely influential on the ideas that Rashi chose to emphasize. Note that he does not claim that Rashi invented theological views due to historical circumstances. Rather, Rashi chose to select various talmudic and midrashic approaches for emphasis in order to defend and uplift his much maligned co-religionists.

Click here to read moreOne subject Grossman discusses is the chosenness of the Jewish people (pp. 63-78.). Grossman suggests that Rashi held that the Jews were chosen by God for three reasons: 1) The merit of the Patriarchs, 2) The Jews' acceptance of the Torah, and 3) The mutual love between God and the Jews that was strengthened through historical events (the Exodus, martyrdom in exile, etc.).

On the first reason, Grossman points to Rashi's commentary on Deut. 32:8 and Ex. 15:2 and in manuscript on Ex. 14:15, all of which show the importance of the patriarchal merit.

On the second reason, he points to Rashi's commentary to Deut. 33:2 that other nations rejected the Torah but the Jews accepted it, and that the world was created for the sake of that acceptance (Gen. 1:1, 1:31).

Regarding the third point, there is a large amount of material to cite. Grossman suffices with pointing to comments that raise this issue incidentally, such as the comments to Ex. 15:16, Deut. 33:2 (like a bride), Deut. 21:23 (like a brother), Yoma 82b. These are only a few of the many pieces of evidence that Grossman amasses for his argument.

The question then becomes where to place Rashi in the dichotomy often made between Rationalist and Mystical notions of chosenness (see, for example, Menachem Kellner's Maimonides' Confrontation With Mysticism). On this one issue, it seems that Rashi falls in between. Certainly the first two reasons are rational. The third is somewhat mystical because the initial love of God to the Jews is inexplicable (unless it is due to the first two reasons) but its growth over time due to historical events is rational. As with other important Jewish thinkers, the dichotomy between Rationalist and Mystic is overly simplistic and potentially misleading (see also this post).

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