18 February 2021, The Tablet

The chosen people


The chosen people

A street festival marks the opening of a Jewish community centre in Potsdam, Germany
Photo: PA/DPA, Annette Riedl


A leading French rabbi explores the hatred of the Jewish people as seen through the lens of those who endure it, their sacred texts and rabbinical tradition

Anti-Semites frequently claim that the Jews’ chosen-ness gives them a justification for being angry. Just who are these people who think they are so special? Anti-Semites frequently allege that equality and justice support their opposition to the arrogant Jews, who stand in the way of human harmony and the ­triumph of the universal.

Judaism itself has never managed to give a precise definition of the “chosen-ness” that’s been hung around its neck. In the endless discussions of the term in the Scriptures, not one of the Jewish sages interprets it as granting Jews superiority over others.

Here is how the Hebrew word first comes up in the Bible. God says he is forming a ­special kind of bond with the Hebrews that he calls a covenant. He establishes a specific relationship with the Israelites, whom he calls his “favourite children”. An exclusive contract between a people and its god is not particularly unusual: there are many groups, tribes and clans who believe they have a special relationship with a divinity. Most of the foundation myths of ancient cultures contain a story about a contract with a divinity that provides exclusive protection to the original group.

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