Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Lesson of the Unchosen

The concept of the Jews being the "chosen people" is an idea that is frequently discussed because claim of national uniqueness contradicts contemporary egalitarian values. There is an interesting article about this by Dr. Jon Levenson in the latest issue of Commentary (link). Levenson summarizes the views of Joel S. Kaminsky in his recent book, Yet I Loved Jacob: Reclaiming the Biblical Concept of Election.

According to Levenson, Kaminsky highlights a common misunderstanding of this Jewish concept. Most people think of a dichotomy -- the Jews are chosen and everyone else is non-chosen. This makes people think that the Jews claim that God only likes them and everyone else is rejected. Naturally, people among the rejected will be offended by this view (although it still does not justify anti-semitism).

Click here to read moreHowever, Kaminsky sees in the Bible at least three categories, which he calls -- the elect, the non-elect and the anti-elect. The anti-elect, such as Amalek and the Canaanite nations, are rejected by God. The non-elect are accepted but the elect are loved like family. There is no implication that the nations of the world are rejected by God. Just like a man can love many people but his love for his children is unique, so too is God's relation to the elect and non-elect.

Kaminsky further points out that in talmudic literature, the category of anti-elect is deemed to have disappeared. There are no Canaanite nations any, nor is there an Amalekite nation (see this post: link).

If anything, the main point of the category of anti-elect seems to be to teach us about the non-elect. They, too, are wanted by God and loved by Him. While they may not be Jewish, God has a relationship with Gentiles as well. Then why aren't they part of the elect? Because God's plan doesn't require everyone to be elect.

According to Kaminsky, and in this he does not take a Maimonidean approach (as in this lecture by R. Hanan Balk: link), the idea of chosenness is mysterious and unfair. It is not about any particular person or nation but "was always about God's plan for the whole world, the elect and the non-elect alike." In other words, the fact of chosenness does not mean that the non-elect are rejected but that the fulfillment of God's plan, that will benefit both the elect and non-elect, is primarily accomplished through God's children, the elect.

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