Perhaps no concept in Judaism has been more misused and misunderstood than chosenness. It is not a doctrine of racial superiority, though some have interpreted it as such. The first statement in the Torah about human beings is that all are created in the image of God and all have a common ancestry. The choice is one of service, not of being served. And it does not preclude the notion that other nations too are chosen for other tasks.
As Louis Jacobs writes, “Jewish particularism is never exclusive: Anyone can become a Jew by embracing the Jewish faith.” Some of our greatest teachers and scholars were themselves converts or descended from converts. It is a choosing as well as a being chosen. And the responsibility is to live according to the Torah and so bring a model of God’s will into the world, however imperfectly realized.
The world does indeed owe to the Jewish people the notion of one God and the ethical demands that God makes on human beings. Unlike other traditions, Judaism does not ask that one be Jewish to attain salvation. Chosenness is a blessing and a burden, a call to sanctity and a summons to goodness.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book, “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press), has recently been published.