The Chosen People? Ask the rabbi

October 5, 2018 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Tricky one this week. Rabbi Rayond Apple deals with The Chosen People.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. I am uncomfortable about the morning blessing which refers to God not having made me a gentile. Can this b’rachah be justified?

A. You cannot avoid the implication that by means of this benediction we are stressing our distinctiveness as Jews.

Some versions do not put it negatively, “who has not made me a gentile”, but positively, “who has made me an Israelite”.

The idea of Jewish “chosenness” offends many as arrogant. But the belief that we are a unique people does not give us exclusive rights to salvation. Jewish teaching is clear: “The righteous of all nations have a share in the World to Come”.

But what does righteousness mean? For this, says Judaism, the world needed a teacher. Our belief is that Israel had long ago reached such an advanced point of development in moral consciousness that it was equipped to spread righteousness throughout the world.

It is not for privilege that Israel was “chosen”, but for responsibility, to be “a light to the nations.”

Isidore Epstein put it this way: “Not for themselves alone have the Jewish people been chosen, but for God and His righteousness. It is His work that they were called upon to do, and they must do it in the whole world, transforming the darkest corners of the earth.”

How does one do God’s work? By making one’s life conform to the highest standards of morals and ethics, and giving an example of righteousness to others.

We are not a perfect people: yet the world has a long way to go before it begins to approach the Jewish ideals of mutual concern and social justice.


Q. Since Judaism does not accept that Jesus is uniquely the son of God, how can the Book of Genesis (6:2) use a phrase like “the sons of God”?

A. First, the context. Soon after Creation, human beings began to multiply and daughters were born to them.

According to the traditional translation, “the sons of God” were attracted by these women and married them.

The Jewish Publication Society of America 1962 translation replaces “sons of God” with “divine beings”, which seems to change the meaning to “angels”, reflecting a rabbinic notion quoted by Rashi that these were “princely angels who came as messengers from God”.

The New English Bible (1970) says “the sons of the gods”, which raises new problems.

The view that Rashi prefers is that the text denotes “sons of princes and rulers”; he explains that “Elo-him” indicates authority, e.g. Ex. 4:16, “You shall be his master” and Ex. 7:1, “I have made you a master”.

He could have added cases where the word means “judge”, e.g. Ex. 21:6, and 22:7,8,27. In Psalm 82:1 there are two meanings of “Elo-him” in one verse: “God… judges in the midst of the judges”, i.e. human judges act or should act on God’s behalf.

The story in Gen. 6:2 tells us, according to Nachmanides, that once human lust began, sin started to overtake the world and had to be punished by the Flood.

So how are we to render the phrase you quote? The sense of the Hebrew is, “the mighty and powerful”.

It should be noted that the Divine name is sometimes used in the Bible as a metaphor for the superlative degree: e.g. Nineveh is a great city “unto God” (Jonah 3:3), i.e. an extremely great city; Nimrod is a mighty hunter “before the Lord” (Gen. 10:9), i.e. an exceedingly mighty hunter.


Q. What does the Torah mean when it speaks of God creating the world “la’asot”, “to make”?

A. Gen. 2:3 speaks of God resting “from all His work which God had made ‘la’asot’”.

Though “la’asot” means to do or to make, the verse may mean simply, “which God in creating had made”.

To Ibn Ezra, it denotes that God created a workable world with the ongoing power to replenish itself.

Samson Raphael Hirsch says, “He ceased from all His work which God had created for it to continue to work”.

God created a physical world, planted man upon it and said, as it were, “Now it is up to you to add your contribution and to elevate the world spiritually and morally”.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest-profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

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