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What does the term "The Chosen People" actually mean?

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The Jewish nation is often referred to as "the Chosen People." Many people (including Jews) are uncomfortable with this idea. They perceive the concept of a "Chosen People" as racist and mindful of the Nazi concept of a supreme "Aryan" nation. It appears to contradict the accepted Western ideal of all people being equal before God. Is the Jewish concept of choseness racist? When the Torah refers to the Jewish people as "chosen," it is not in any way asserting that Jews are racially superior. Americans, Russians, Europeans, Asians and Ethiopians are all part of the Jewish people. It is impossible to define choseness as anything related to race, since Jews are racially diverse. Yet while the term "Chosen People" (Am Nivchar) does not mean racially superior, choseness does imply a special uniqueness. What is this uniqueness? Historically, it goes back to Abraham. Abraham lived in a world steeped in idolatry, which he concluded was contradicted by the reality of design in nature. So Abraham came to a belief in God, and took upon himself the mission of teaching others of the monotheistic ideal. Abraham was even willing to suffer persecution for his beliefs. After years of enormous effort, dedication and a willingness to accept the responsibility to be God's representative in this world, God chose Abraham and his descendants to be the teachers of this monotheistic message. In other words it is not so much that God chose the Jews; it is more accurate that the Jews (through Abraham) chose God. Choseness was not part of God's "original plan." Initially all of humanity was to serve the role of God's messengers, but after the fall of Adam, humanity lost that privilege, and it was open for grabs. Only Abraham chose to take the mantel. If others would have (and they were offered the choice), they too would have joined in this special covenant which was sealed upon the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. If a privilege is offered to everyone willing to pay the necessary price, nobody can protest that those willing to make the extra effort are being shown favoritism. For example: It is reasonable that an employee who agrees to work overtime, attend training seminars, and manage special projects, should be entitled to a performance bonus ― particularly if each employee was given the same opportunity. The essence of being chosen means responsibility. It is a responsibility to change the world ― not by converting everyone to Judaism, but by living as a model community upheld by ethics, morals and beliefs of one God. In that way, we can influence the rest of mankind, a "light unto the nations" (Isaiah 42:6). Judaism is Universal Further, Judaism is not exclusionary. A human being need not to be Jewish to reach a high spiritual level. Enoch "walked with God," and Noah had quite a high level of relationship, though neither were Jewish. Our tradition is that all of the 70 nations must function together and play an integral part in that "being" called humanity. According to Judaism (Talmud - Sanhedrin 58b), any person can achieve a place in the World to Come by faithfully observing the seven basic laws of humanity. These seven laws are named the "Laws of Noah," since all humans are descended from Noah: 1) Do not murder. 2) Do not steal. 3) Do not worship false gods. 4) Do not be sexually immoral. 5) Do not eat the limb of an animal before it is killed. 6) Do not curse God. 7) Set up courts and bring offenders to justice. Torah is for all humanity. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he specifically asked God to heed the prayer of non-Jews who come to the Temple (1-Kings 8:41-43). The Temple was the universal center of spirituality, which the prophet Isaiah referred to as a "house of prayer for all nations." Non-Jews were welcome to bring offerings to the Temple as well. In fact, the service in the Holy Temple during the week of Sukkot featured a total of 70 bull offerings, corresponding to each of the 70 nations of the world. In fact, the Talmud says that if the Romans would have realized how much they were benefiting from the Temple, they never would have destroyed it! Most other religions say that non-believers are condemned to eternal damnation. Even the calendar systems of Christianity and Islam reflect an exclusionary philosophy; each begins with the birth of their respective religion. The Jewish calendar, on the other hand, begins with the creation of Adam, the first man, teaching us the intrinsic value of every human, even though the Jewish religion was not yet born. For this reason, Jews do not proselytize in search of converts. One can still merit a place in heaven, no conversion necessary. Conversion An important component of Judaism's non-exclusionary approach is that any person ― regardless of national or racial background ― can choose to accept the Torah and become part of the Jewish nation. Indeed, some of the greatest names in Jewish history ― Ruth, the ancestor of King David, and Onkelos the Talmudic Sage ― were converts to Judaism. According to the Code of Jewish Law (the "Shulchan Aruch"), there are three requirements for a valid conversion (paralleling the Jewish experience at Mount Sinai): 1) Mitzvot ― The convert must believe in God and the divinity of the Torah, as well as accept to observe all 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah. This includes observance of Shabbat, Kashrut, etc., as detailed in the Code of Jewish Law, the authoritative source for Jewish observance. 2) Milah ― Male converts must undergo circumcision by a qualified "Mohel." 3) Mikveh ― All converts must immerse in the Mikveh, a ritual bath linked to a reservoir of rain water. All of the above must be done before a halachically-valid rabbinical court of three Jewish men who themselves believe in God, accept the divinity of the Torah, and observe the mitzvot.

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1 Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi = "When God offered to give the Torah to Israel, God offered the Torah not to Israel alone, but to all the nations. First God went to the descendents of Esau and said to them:  “Will you accept the Torah?” They responded, “What is written in it?” God said to them, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). They replied, “Master of the Universe, the essence of their father [Esau] is a murderer, as it is said, ‘…but the hands are the hands of Esau’ (Genesis 27:22), and his father promised him the sword alone:  ‘By the sword you shall live’ (Genesis 27:22).  We are not able to accept the Torah.” God went to the descendents of Ammon and Moab  and said to them: “Will you accept the Torah?” They said:  “What is written in it?” God replied:  “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:13). They said:  “Master of the Universe, the very essence of those people comes only from adultery, as it is said, ‘Thus were the two daughters of Lot pregnant from their father’ (Genesis 19:36).  We are not able to accept the Torah.“ God went to the descendents of Ishmael and said to them: “Will you accept the Torah?” They said, “What is written in it?” God answered, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:13). They said: “Master of the Universe, the very essence of those people is only from stealing and robbery, as it is said, ‘And he shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him’ (Genesis 16:12).  We are not able to accept the Torah.”  There was no nation that God did not approach and ask if it wanted to accept the Torah. Afterwards, God came to Israel. They said to him:  “We will do and we will obey” (Exodus 24:7). (Midrash Sifrei Deuteronomy 33:2)According to this midrash, God first offered the Torah to the other nations of the world.  Each responded by asking what it contained.  After learning of a particular teaching which conflicted with an aspect of their essence, each refused to accept the Torah.Finally, God offers the Torah to Israel.  Whereas each of the other nations asked what the Torah contained, Israel responded:  "We will do and we will obey,” accepting the Torah without knowing exactly what was in it.  The people thus displays trust in God and confidence in their own ability to fulfill the obligations of the Torah.  They affirm their willingness to observe the mitzvot (“We will do”) even before they are aware of the content of the mitzvot (“We will obey/hear”).This midrash reminds us of the precious nature of God’s gift of Torah and the commitment our ancestors made to follow its teachings.  Their commitment not only bound them, but all future generations of the Jewish people as well.  The Torah continues to be the foundation of Judaism, as we study, wrestle with and apply its teachings to our lives."