which is discussing one of the most controversial issues of Judaism
The Jews as a Chosen People: Myth or Reality?
If we properly understand the essence of being Chosen
we’ll get spiritually closer to all Jews, Gentiles and Modernity
Finding Joy in being Chosen and Overcoming the Fear of Anti-Semitism
A Scholarly Notes on Judaism by a Contemporary Jew
By Vladimir Minkov, PhD
Who is this contemporary Jew the author of these notes
He is not a rabbi who may express an authoritative opinion on various Judaic topics, and he is not knowledgeable enough in theology of Judaism and Christianity to support all his thoughts by quoting Judeo-Christian sources.
However, he is a scientist who has searched and continues searching the system logic in the spiritual world in the same way as he did in the studies of technical systems, mostly energy systems.
He believes in the ability of everybody to create his/her unique spiritual world in harmony with the spirituality of his/her community, people and all humanity.
He believes that Jewish spiritual world is based on the Torah foundation, and that the spiritual concepts of Torah have become the foundation for the spirituality of Western civilization.
He created such spiritual world for himself, and the concept of Being “Chosen” as a part of the “Chosen” Jewish people is an important part of his spirituality – not in terms of privileges, but rather in terms of personal responsibility for “perfecting” our world; to a certain degree, in terms of a sort of partnership with the Supreme Power above us, which is called God and have many individual images. A very important part of the spiritual world is Science which is crucial in advancing our spiritual and material world.
Key elements of the spiritual world are Unity instead of Separation, Equality instead of Superiority and active involvement in all aspects of the life. He hopes his approach would help others in creating their own spiritual world, although he clearly understands that not everybody would like his ideas, and the very concept of Being Chosen would create a negative reaction in many Jewish and non-Jewish individuals.
Why, and for whom, these notes were written
These notes delve into eternal questions about God, the Jewish people and their contribution to Humanity. It explores how as we understand the nature of that contribution today and how it might change in the unpredictable future.
The notes are intended not only for Jews, but for everybody who believes that we should strive to understand, nurture and protect the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition. That tradition has long been one of the foundations on which humanity has been built, and today remains a cornerstone for the advancement of society. The Jewish people have played a central role in the creation of Judeo-Christian spirituality, which has its roots in the Torah and has long been practiced by Jewish people. It is therefore vitally important to have a sound understanding of how the Jewish people shaped the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition and how they used that tradition to construct their material world.
The contribution of the Jewish people to the spiritual and material development of humankind can be analyzed through the prism of the idea of the Jews as a Chosen people. While some Jews consider this idea a mere myth, or a stunning example of arrogance, others believe that God has selected them to do specific duty on Earth which cannot be shunned, despite the sufferings that inevitably accompany this work.
My focus on the contribution of the Jewish people to the development of Judeo-Christian civilization in no way denigrates the enormous contribution of Christianity to the development of our civilization, nor does it belittle the important roles of other civilizations in the formation of human experience. It merely emphasizes that we, the Jewish people, are the roots from which the tree of Judeo-Christian civilization has developed. If these roots are not protected, the tree itself may be in danger. The notes are intended to go some way towards protecting those roots.
While discussing this article with others, I was frequently asked which particular denomination or strain of Judaism it was intended for, and about its political slant: was it left-wing or right-wing, conservative or liberal? My answer was always the same: in my opinion, the issues raised here are of interest to both Orthodox and Reform Jews, and even to atheists who distance themselves from religion. The work should arouse the interest of both liberals and conservatives. This is because the work seeks to discover that which unites us, not that which divides us.
In essence, this project is concerned with one of the most topical and controversial questions of the contemporary state of Israel: who can be considered a Jew? In Israel, the question can be examined from two perspectives: that of Halakhah (Jewish Law), and that of Israeli state law. In accordance with Halakhah, Orthodox Rabbis in Israel consider only those who can trace a Jewish maternal line of descent to be ethnically Jewish. This excludes a large group of people from the former Soviet Union who had long been considered Jewish there, but who were often shocked and disappointed to learn that they became Gentiles on their arrival in Israel. As far as state law is concerned, Israeli legislators are now seeking to establish a firm definition of who can be considered Jewish. While their definition is somewhat broader than that of Halakhah, they are reluctant to make a decisive break from the Orthodox Rabbis.
These notes take an entirely different approach to the question of Jewishness. Rather than relying on Halakhah or state law to establish whether or not one is a Jew, I will explore the religious beliefs and practices of real people: what does one need to believe in, and do, before one considers oneself a practicing Jew? Hopefully, this ‘spiritual’ approach will go some way towards finding a solution that will be acceptable to both state law and Halakhah.
The following famous quotations are illustrative of the views of this author, which will be developed in the notes.
Torah, Deuteronomy / 14:2, God, addressing the Jewish people through Moses:
“For thou art a holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be His own treasure out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.” (JPS translation)
Torah, Deuteronomy / 5:29, Moses, addressing his people:
“Turn neither to the left, nor to the right, but follow the path of God directly.”
John Adams, 2nd President of the USA:
"I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations … They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth.”
George Bush, 43rd President of the United States: proclamation on Jewish-American Heritage Month, the first week of May 2006. President Bush expresses his absolute faith in the Jewish people, in their love for God and their unfaltering belief in human freedom:
“America today is stronger and can look to the future with hope thanks to the industry, talent and imagination of Jewish-Americans, who came here from every corner of the earth. Their dedication to the sciences, in government service, in law, sport, literature and many other fields has enriched our nation and enhanced our culture. The strong emphasis on family and social traditions among Jewish-Americans reflects a spirit of consideration for others and serves as a good example for everyone.”
Lev Tolstoy, Russian writer:
“What is a Jew? That question is perhaps not as strange as it seems at first. Let us examine what kind of unique creature he is, who has been mocked and disgraced, oppressed and exiled, crushed and persecuted, burnt and drowned by all the leaders and peoples of the world. What is a Jew, who has never succumbed to the temptations of the earth, when his persecutors and oppressors offered him in exchange for giving up his religion and renouncing the faith of his fathers? The Jew is a symbol of eternity. He could not be slaughtered, could not be destroyed by torture, nor by fire, nor could the sword wipe him from the face of the earth. He has long been the keeper of prophecies and spread them among the other peoples of the world. Such a people cannot disappear. The Jew is eternal, the very embodiment of eternity.”
Essentially, the author of these notes is trying to answer the following key question of the history of Jewish people. For over 2000 years in exile Jewish people have had numerous opportunities to assimilate, to become “like other people” among whom they lived, and get rid of anti-Semitism. And most of them - consciously or unconsciously - rejected this idea. They preferred not to betray the privilege of having different, special relations with God (or being just special, for those who are calling themselves atheists or agnostics) knowing that the price for this “stubbornness” is suffering.
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Readers are going to encounter many non-traditional, for some Jews even uncomfortable, thoughts such as:
· By definition, being Jewish stands for being religious even for those Jews who are proclaiming their secularism
· Strengthening and nurturing the unique Jewish identity is the most important for survival and further development of Jewish people -- not the Jewish demographics (intermarriages, birthrate, etc.)
· Uniqueness of the identity of Jewish people is their status of being Chosen for the mission to assist an unknown Supreme Power in the creative work for humankind
· Jews should not be afraid of people of other faiths who may try to convert them – they have to be educated and spiritually unafraid to engage in friendly discussions with the gentiles on the virtue of Torah-based spirituality and being Chosen
· Authority of the status of being Chosen is of critical importance -- that is not the Jewish people who decided to treat themselves as chosen but a Supreme Power above them who assigned to them the role of the Chosen
· History created for this Authority the name God, and possible multiple images of this Power in the Torah make the concept of God non-contradictory with modern life and science
· “Good deeds” on the Earth are the essence of being Jewish – this is the creative work for “perfecting the World” with ritualistic actions in supporting role
· “Good deeds” are not liberal or conservative – they are just Jewish
· Christianity is the most important fulfillment of Jewish responsibilities since it has made the gentiles the participants in the God’s creative work
· There is no contradictions between religion and science -- evolution by Darwin matches evolution by God
· There is no contradiction between moral rules by God and universal humankind ethics -- the latter is application of the former
· There is no contradiction between the State and the Church in contemporary politics -- the separation of Church and State should be understood in terms of not making any religious denomination the official “guardian” of morality while grounding the state legislative proposals in the Judeo-Christian morality
· There is no contradiction between Judaism and Democracy -- all major contemporary democratic institutions have their roots in the concepts and history of Judaism
· Dual nature of Israel and Jerusalem – spiritual and political -- has to be acknowledged and become criteria in building Israel-Diaspora relationships
· There is a positive sign of anti-Semitism -- that is an encouraging, although painful, confirmation of achievements of Jewish people in advancing their mission.
Author would be grateful for all comments related to the discussions in these notes, and he’ll try his best to respond – both to positive and negative remarks. The letters should be addressed to Vladimir Minkov at firstname.lastname@example.org
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