Jake Fradkin

On chosenness, Zionism, and Religious Zionist theology

TOPSHOT - Israel's President Isaac Herzog (front R); Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (front L); Minister of Science and Technology Ofir Akunis (2nd row R); Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Yariv Levin (2nd row 2nd-R); Defence Minister Yoav Galant (2nd row C); Minister of Health and Minister of the Interior and Periphery Aryeh Deri (2nd row 2nd-L); Minister of Transportation Miri Regev (2nd row L); Minister of Environment Protection Idit Silman (3rd row R); Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (3rd row 2nd-R); Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir (3rd row 2nd-L); Minister of National Missions Orit Strook (3rd row L); Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Israel Katz (4th row R); Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer (4th row 2nd-R); Minister of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services Yaakov Margi (4th row C); Minister of Housing and Construction Yitzhak Goldknopf (4th row 2nd-L); and Minister of Culture and Sport Miki Zohar (4th row L) pose with other ministers of Israel's 37th government to have their group picture taken with the president and prime minister at the President's residence in Jerusalem on December 29, 2022. - Israel's hawkish veteran Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister on December 29 after a stint in opposition, heading what analysts call the most right-wing government in the country's history. (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP) (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. - Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister on December 29 after a stint in opposition, heading what analysts call the most right-wing government in the country's history. (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP) (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images)

״לכן אמר לבני ישראל אני ה׳ והוצאתי אתכם מתחת סבלת מצרים והצלתי אתכם מעבדתם וגאלתי אתכם בזרוע נטויה ובשפטים גדלים. ולקחתי אתכם לי לעם והייתי לכם לאלקים וידעתם כי אני ה׳ אלקיכם המוציא אתכם מתחת סבלות מצרים. והבאתי אתכם אל הארץ אשר נשאתי את ידי לתת אתה לאברהם ליצחק וליעקב ונתתי אתה לכם מורשה אני ה׳.״ (שמות ו:ו-ח)

“Say, therefore, to Bnei Yisrael: I am Hashem.  I will take you out from the sufferings of Egypt and deliver you from their bondage.  I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through great judgements.  And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your G-d. And you shall know that I, Hashem, am your G-d who took you out from the sufferings of Egypt.  I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov, and I will give it to you for a possession, I am Hashem” (Exodus 6:6-8).

In Parshat Va’eira, we read the four, or perhaps five, languages of redemption, in which Hashem promised to take us out, deliver us, redeem us, and take us unto Him as His people, leading us to the Land of Israel.  By contemporary standards, the notion of Jewish chosenness, and of the election of Israel, is racist, and according to Christian, and thereby Western, standards of equality, our accusers are not incorrect. At its core, it is a deeply problematic idea that conflicts with modern sensibilities, yet to negate it in any sense would be to negate the foundation of our relationship with Hashem.

The idea that Hashem bachar banu mcol ha’amim, that He chose us from all of the nations of the world to be His, vnatan lanu et Torato, and that He gave us His Torah, cannot be separated from the totality of Jewish tradition.  On the merit of our forefathers, He took us out from slavery and redeemed us to be His people and to take us to the Land of Israel.  He elevated us above all other nations and gave us Eretz Yisrael in which we would be a nation unto Him.  This mission given to Klal Yisrael is one not just of love and favor but of expectations, an expectation to uphold the laws Hashem commanded us, to build a society based upon the values of justice and righteousness, and to be a light unto the nations of the world.

Three times a day, we express the yesod, foundation, of our mission as the chosen people, in the prayer Aleinu:

It is our obligation to praise the Master of all, to ascribe greatness to the Creator of the [world in the] beginning: that He has not made us like the nations of the lands, and has not positioned us like the families of the earth; that He has not assigned our portion like theirs, nor our lot like that of all their multitudes. For they prostrate themselves to vanity and nothingness, and pray to a god that cannot save…We therefore put our hope in You, Hashem our G-d, to soon behold the glory of Your might in banishing idolatry from the earth, and the false gods will be utterly exterminated to perfect the world as the kingdom of Hashem. And all mankind will invoke Your Name, to turn back to You, all the wicked of the earth.

We are chosen and elevated in order to be in service of Hashem, to repair the world in His image, until a time, speedily and in our days, when “all mankind will invoke [His] Name.”  While we were chosen on the merit of our forefathers, we espouse not the supremacy of the Jewish race but the supremacy of monotheism.

Although the purpose of chosenness is often expressed through universalistic ideals, the election of Israel is rooted in particularism.  In the well-known words of Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Hashem shows a “preferential love” towards the Jewish people.  As Rav Meir Soloveihcik expounds upon in his essay “G-d’s Beloved: A Defense of Chosenness,” G-d’s love, as opposed to Christian assertions, is not endless nor is it bestowed equally upon all.  Rather, His justice, in this world and in the World to Come, is without prejudice.  As such, Chazal asserts that the righteous of all nations have a share in the World to Come.  However, just as a person does not love a stranger in the same way he loves his mother, so too Hashem expresses a preferential love to his beloved Avraham, a paradigm of justice and righteousness.  In his merit, G-d chose Avraham’s descendants, the Jewish people, to be His nation and to live up to these highest ideals.

This distinction between justice and love is exemplified when Avraham debates with G-d over the destruction of Sodom.  Avraham did not argue for the Sodomites on the basis of Hashem’s love, for He did not love the wicked residents of Sodom equally to Avraham.  Instead, Avraham appealed to G-d’s sense of justice.

Until the dawn of the Jewish Enlightenment and reform movements, born in the shadow of centuries of Christian persecution (for, even to the Christians, love was not endless), the idea of distancing ourselves from Jewish chosenness was not even a thought.  Secular Zionism, similar in a sense to reform movements, sought the emancipation of the Jews through the rebuilding of the Jewish state, by which Jews would become a normal nation.  Herzl and other Zionists wanted a Jewish State so that we would be like “all other nations.”  This was a complete rejection of Jewish tradition, which had insisted that G-d’s love of Israel and our commitment to His Torah had sustained us throughout our exile.

Religious Zionism, starting with HaRav Kook זצ״ל, has sought to synthesize Zionist thought with Jewish tradition, and this has largely succeeded.  However, the current attitudes in segments of the right-wing of the Dati community, represented by the Religious Zionist party in the Knesset, are in fact fulfilling the secular Zionists’ desires.  Their brass racism, ethnic supremacism, and militant nationalism, while surely not the goal of Herzl and others, is paradoxically a rejection of Jewish chosenness.  In their vitriolic screeds, Smotrich, Ben Gvir, Avi Moaz, and others inadvertently reject the chosenness of Israel, for their supremacism is no different from that of white supremacists, Arab nationalists, and others.  Through their extremism, we are becoming like “all other nations,” imitating the gentile nations in their ethnic politics and racial populism.

I posit that Torah, Jewish tradition, and most of all our chosenness demand that we reject this vitriol.  We, the Jewish people, an am segula, a peculiar nation, must assert our status in history by emulating Hashem’s righteousness and justice and creating a Jewish state, and a world, in His image.  As expressed in the teachings of HaRav Kook זצ״ל, through defending our particularism, and diversity of cultures at large, we can promote true universalism and serve as a light unto the nations.  Our chosenness is not analogous to racial or ethnic supremacy, for while G-d’s preferential love of Israel is unparalleled, His, and in turn our, commitment to justice and righteousness also must be as such.  Our chosenness is inherently superior to the racism and supremacy of other peoples, for through it we are called upon to refine ourselves and our world to create a world where “justice [will] well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).  As such, it is incumbent upon all of us to reject, in the name of Torah and Judaism, the perversions we see in the political sector today, for only through banishing the darkness of fanaticism and baseless hatred can we transform reishit tzemichat ge’ulatenu into geula shleima.

About the Author
Jake Fradkin is an oleh chadash and soon to be chayal boded. He previously learned at both Yeshivat Orayta and Yeshivat Torah V'Avodah in Yerushalayim. Having grown up in a secular Jewish home in New Jersey, Jake developed a passion for Judaism, Torah, and Zionism.
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