A New Reconstructionist Dialogue on Chosenness

Check out this lovely dialogue on the meaning of “chosenness” in Zeek Magazine by two eloquent Reconstructionist rabbinical colleagues: Rabbis Deborah Waxman and Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer.

Ever since Reconstructionist Judaism’s founder Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan famously (some believe infamously) dispensed of the Chosen People idea from his conception of Jewish theology, its meaning has been a point of lively debate in our movement.  Here’s a taste of how that conversation is playing out now in the 21st century:

Rabbi Waxman:

Rejecting chosenness is an explicit embrace of a modern discourse pointing toward universal truths; it is an articulation of harmonious and consistent principles out of competing voices. Rejecting chosenness is about getting down to the hard work of being one of the many peoples of the world, jostling with one another on the path toward the divine, rather than holding ourselves separate and nurturing a belief in God-given superiority. As postmoderns, we may have the capacity to hold multiple and conflicting values. When it comes to chosenness, I would argue that that we should not indulge in this capacity; by moving beyond chosenness, we make a deliberate statement about our highest values.

Rabbi Fuchs-Kreimer:

(No) matter what I choose in my own religious practice, I cannot simply ignore a core piece of our tradition. The idea of chosenness has not gone away. As a Jew, I still own it, even if I do not speak of it in my prayers. In the interfaith encounter, I have to resist the temptation to claim only the parts of Judaism I love. If I skip over the Jewish ideas I find objectionable or, more often, if I explain that they belong to someone else – “the mistaken Jews” – I am acting in a way that is both arrogant and untrue to my own pluralistic commitments. My dialogue principles require that I learn to understand the beliefs of my co-religionists even when I do not share them.

3 thoughts on “A New Reconstructionist Dialogue on Chosenness

  1. The whole concept that being chosen indicates superiority is really the only problem here. I understand that in the Army, being chosen for just about anything is not usually occasion for celebration. Certainly we can be honored, but is there any textual basis to claim Jews were chosen due to superiority over others, as opposed to the fate of having worthy ancestors?

  2. Interesting discussion. I grew up Reconstructionist. Barely any of the people I went to religious school with are today adult Reconstructionists – generally speaking, the parents loved the movement but it didn’t stick with the kids who are now adults. Perhaps the Reconstructionist movement might want to devote more of its time to discussing how to keep the members it has rather than debates such as the one above.

  3. I think maybe everyone here can be comfortable with the following formulation:

    The Jews are a Divinely Chosen People whose heavenly dictated mission to the world
    is to teach everyone:

    (1) There is no Deity, and

    (2) The Jews are the same as everyone else.

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