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God’s Mysterious Choice: Understanding Judaism’s Unique Mission

Allan C. Brownfeld
Summer 1998

Much has been written in recent days about a "crisis" within the American Jewish community, about growing rates of disaffection from Jewish life, conversion to other religions, and a growing rate of intermarriage. In the future, some have said, the American Jewish community will simply fade away. To combat such trends, some have embarked upon a campaign of sending young American Jews to Israel to get in touch with their "roots." Others speak of increasing expenditures on Jewish education and in Israel itself there has been a decision to send aid to the American Jewish community to stem the tide of assimilation.  

One respected Jewish leader who does not share this crisis mentality is Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, author of such works as The Zionist Idea, Jewish Polemics, and The Jews In America.  

Currently Bronfman Visiting Professor of the Humanities at New York University and Professor Emeritus of Religion at Dartmouth College, Hertzberg has served as president of the American Jewish Policy Foundation and the American Jewish Congress. In his new book, Jews: The Essence And Character Of A People, written with the aid of Aron Hirt-Manheimer, the editor of REFORM JUDAISM magazine, he explores what it means to be Jewish and makes it clear that if the Jews are the chosen people, what they have been chosen for is to do justice to others, not to contemplate their own numerical strength or physical well being.  

Faith in God  

Without faith in God, the Jewish vocation loses any real meaning. While there is widespread debate about "Who is a Jew?" and the Orthodox insist that those who do not share their beliefs or biology must remain outside the fold, Hertzberg gives quite a different answer: it is God’s choice that makes Jews Jews. "God says, I chose you not because you are more numerous or powerful, and not because you are morally, spiritually or intellectually superior. You are not. I chose you out of my unknowable will."  

Hertzberg’s idea of chosenness denies superiority and argues that God’s mysterious choice is a burden more than a benefit, an obligation rather than a privilege. It demands that Jews be a witness to God’s truth everywhere in the world, and witnesses to truth often end up in difficult circumstances. Beyond this, Hertzberg argues that Jewish chosenness is not something which exists primarily for the benefit of the Jews themselves. Instead, the lessons of the Hebrew Bible are for all of the world — "a light unto the nations."  

To those who speak of "crisis," and conduct fund-raising campaigns to insure "continuity" and rail against anti-Semitism while it is in precipitous decline, Hertzberg notes that, "The Jews are a peculiar people. In age after age, they have been expected to disappear, and yet they persist. In age after age they have been few in number, and yet they have seemed large to themselves — and to their enemies. In age after age the beliefs and values of the Jews have challenged, and often irritated, the majority society. In age after age large numbers of Jews have been murdered or have been forcibly converted or have deserted their faith by choice, but enough have elected to carry on their Jewish otherness, to continue the journey . . ."  

Continuity of Character  

There is, Hertzberg believes, a "continuity in the character or the Jews." In this book we find an extensive description of how that character was fashioned and how it has changed, "even as it has remained essentially the same since the time, some four thousand years ago, of the founding patriarch, Abraham. In age after age, Jews have followed after Abraham — by being different, by insisting on their otherness."  

The belief that there is a "definable Jewish character" challenges the idea that Jews are, in fact, "just like everybody else." The conceptual framework Hertzberg presents involves three prime concepts: the Jew as the chosen, the factious, and the outsider. He notes that, "The essential Jewish character, we believe, was already present in the person of Abraham. It was reinforced for many centuries by Jews who were willing to bear the indignities of exile or even accept martyrdom rather than give up their faith in the one God. We view the Jewish character as an ancient river surging down into a delta — the delta being the modern age — where it diverges into numerous streams. But the impulse flows from the river."  

The most fruitful approach to understanding Jewish identity, Hertzberg believes, is to begin with the basic sources, the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud, the record of eight centuries of commentary and redefinition of the meaning of the scriptures. The author also challenges the idea that opposition to Jews has been "some irrational prejudice that affects the non-Jewish world." Instead, he argues, "it has a cause. At its root, anti-Semitism is an angry reaction to the Jews, who have been among the most persistent dissenters in every society in which they have lived. We reject the assertion by Jean-Paul Sartre in his post-Holocaust book, Anti-Semite And Jew, that the Jews would have assimilated long ago into surrounding cultures were it not for anti-Semitism. Sartre insisted that the Jews do not have an independent existence: they are an invention of their enemies. Not so. It is a serious mistake to dismiss Jewish religion, culture, and history as irrelevant. Jews have deep within them the determination to remain other and to live, often precariously, as a minority on the margins of alien cultures. The Jews are self-created and continue to exist by choice . . ."  

Chosen People  

Throughout history, affirming Jews have cleaved to their Jewishness in the conviction that they are the chosen people. "This may be a delusion," writes Hertzberg, "or at very least an exaggeration, but this is at the very core of their self-image. It has given us the courage in age after age, to go on and to raise our children within our tradition and community. What evidence do Jews have to support so outrageous a claim? The best ‘proof’ is that even our enemies believe some version of this assertion. The apostle Paul accepted this truth when he said of the Jews, ‘God has not rejected the people which he acknowledges of old as his own.’ (Romans 11:2). Islam is likewise rooted in the belief that God’s first revelation was given to the patriarch Abraham and the ancient Hebrews were God’s first messengers. And so most Christian and Muslim theologians would agree that God first addressed the world in the language of the Hebrews."  

Even many Jews who have spent their lives outside the Jewish Community have not abandoned the notion of being part of an elect people. "It was bred into their bones by their ancestors . . . the unshakable faith that God had chosen the Jews as a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy people.’ This biblical definition — that Jews have a special destiny — is at the very core of the self- image of Jews," Hertzberg points out.  

This entire tradition, however, is not without such complexity and ambiguity. While Christian bodies have attacked and executed heretics for rejecting the true faith and Jews have been among the prime victims of doctrines of religious superiority, Hertzberg cautions that Jews are not without guilt as well: "Let us not forget that in the conquest of the land of Canaan, Jews, too, gave themselves the right to annihilate another people. The commandment is repeated several times in the Bible that the idolatrous peoples who dwelt in that land must be destroyed so that no trace of their gods or of their immoral practices should remain. The conscience of the Jews was troubled by this history . . . The prophet Amos says, ‘God loves you no more than the Philistines’(8:8). Imagine what a come-down to be told that God has equal love for your most bitter and powerful enemy: Amos defined chosenness not as merit but as responsibility, even as an affliction. God expects Jews to live intensely, creatively, decently in the moral vanguard of mankind. Chosenness is ever present, and inescapable, discomfort caused by conscience."  

Chauvinistic View  

A chauvinistic and nationalistic view of Jewish chosenness, however, has never quite died out: "A Jewish right-wing minority in Israel today thinks that power and conquest will solve the ‘Palestinian problem.’ The chosen people, so these ultranationalists insist, has to expel the Palestinians from the land that was owned by Jews in antiquity. No matter how long these ‘squatters’ have dwelt in Palestine, they have no valid title to the land that God promised to the Jews. Right-wingers make this argument knowing full well the consensus of the Talmud: the pitiless conquest of the Promised Land happened long ago. This was a one time event; it is forbidden ever to repeat such conduct. The rabbis of the Talmud arrived at this position by ruling that the original command applied only to ‘seven nations,’ the tribes the Israelite’s encountered when they invaded the land of Canaan, and these tribes are long gone. Maimonides made this position unmistakably clear in his code of Jewish Law, in which he wrote that all the injunctions about ‘seven nations’ are no longer operative because ‘their memory is now forgotten.’" (Yad Hachazakah, The Laws of Kings, l5:4). The debate about the meaning of chosenness, of God’s special covenant with the Jews is, Hertzberg shows, "no abstract issue. It is at the heart of the controversy that continues to surround the memory of Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the messianist who sprayed machine-gun fire at Muslims in prayer . . . Goldstein’s grave has become a place of pilgrimage for some Jews who regard him as a martyr to an ancient cause: the clearing of the land of Israel from all intruders so that God’s chosen people may have the dwelling place in the Bible. For most Jews, including myself, the memory or Baruch Goldstein evokes profound shame."  

The Jewish idea does not mean, Hertzberg notes, that the "center of the religious enterprise is to satisfy a person’s need for inner peace or, for that matter, spiritual fireworks . . . At the very dawn of religion, men and women appeased the gods by offering precious sacrifices so that the gods would favor them with fertility and happiness. But the biblical prophets kept insisting that such sacrifices are empty gestures because God is not in the business of granting humans peace of mind. The God of the Bible demands absolute commitment to justice and compassion. That commitment is uncomfortable and burdensome. Those who live under this law must ask themselves constantly if they have done their moral duty to others. Here again, chosenness is a burden and a discomfort."  

Peace of Mind  

The closest that people can come to having peace of mind, the author states, can be found in the dictum of Rabbi Israel Salanter, the 19th century moralist: To save your own soul you must save somebody else’s body. Salanter remembered that on sending Abraham into the world, God said, "Go forth from your land and from your place of birth to the land which I will show thee . . . and be a blessing." Thus, the essence of Judaism or of the Jewish character is "to be a blessing to all of humanity. Abraham and Sarah were sent on a journey so that they might help and protect the hungry, the weak and the defenseless. Jews are forbidden to walk away from society, from the rest of the world, to busy themselves with self-perfection.  

Arthur Hertzberg has little patience for those who speak of "Jewish unity" and he explains that, "The widespread notion of world Jewish unity is a myth that has long been exploited by anti-Semites . . . The Jewish people has been a divided house from the very beginning. The hallmark of Jewish history has been the tension between the quest for a unified people and terrible factionalism."  

Yet, there is a distinctive Jewish character which is discoverable in history: "Everything we need to know about the Jew is already present in Abraham, the first Jew, and the archetypal Jewish character. As the leader of a small, dissenting minority living precariously on the margins of society, he defines the enduring role of the Jew as the outsider . . . The mystery of the Jewish people lies on the border between myth and history . . . When three angels announce that God is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, Abraham intervenes, pleading with God to spare these populations if a minimum number of righteous people can be found among them. In his appeal, Abraham dares to admonish God: ‘shall not the Judge of all the earth do Justice?’ (Genesis 18:23-32). He is defending pagans and idol worshipers, even though he has broken with their ways, because they, too, are God’s children."  

Jewish Uniqueness  

Those who prophesy the decline of Jewish life at the present time, Hertzberg believes, have ignored the uniqueness of Jewish history, which has always been preserved by a "remnant." Nachman Krochmal (1785-1840), a historian of religion who lived in Poland and wrote the book A Guide To The Perplexed Of This Time, modeled after Maimonides’ Guide To The Perplexed, maintained that Jewish history is unique because it goes through the cycle of rise and decline again and again. Every other civilization (for example, ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman) goes through a single cycle — birth, apogee and decline. The Jews never die, they just keep repeating the cycle. For Krochmal, this is proof of God’s presence in Jewish history. Hertzberg adds this corollary: "Not only do these cycles of rise and fall repeat, but certain dramas recur within them. Almost always, the Jews find themselves torn between those who want to continue the voyage through stormy seas and those who want to jump ship into calmer waters. When the Jews left Egypt, according to one rabbinic legend, four of five remained behind as slaves; they preferred their small share of the plenty harvested from the fertile banks of the Nile rather than risk the perils of the desert with Moses. In every age there have been those Cassandras who have declared that the Jews are on the edge of extinction. Such obituaries are always premature. Fifty years ago the historian Simon Rawidowicz mocked this recurrent prophesy when he said, ‘The Jews are the ever- dying people.’"  

In the modern world, Jews have moved in many different directions, religiously, philosophically and politically. In 1783, Moses Mendelssohn wrote Jerusalem, his explication of the Jewish religion. God had chosen the Jewish people to live according to a particularly strict regimen or religious laws, he wrote, so that they might become a beacon of righteousness. He based this argument on the classic biblical and talmudic idea that the Jews are a kingdom of priests, a holy people. Mendelssohn proposed that the organized Jewish community should be abolished, making an end of its power to discipline individual Jews. Mendelssohn was well aware that states dominated by a church had persecuted Jews and others and believed that the organized Jewish community played a similar role, excommunicating heretics and exercising physical punishment against transgressors. He found these practices intolerable, insisting that any compulsion in religious matters is illegitimate: "The church’s only rights are admonition, instruction, reassurance and consolation; and the citizen’s duties towards the church are an attentive ear and a willing heart."  

Jewishness Reinvented  

Jewishness was reinvented in the 19th century in America and Western Europe and "voluntarism" became the signature of the new era. It was now possible for individuals to freely change their beliefs and values. Some Jews, of course, resisted. In Bratislava, Rabbi Moses Sofer (1762-1839) announced that no deviation from the old ways, not even the slightest, was permissible. He forbade any encroachment of the Western style in clothing or in manners. Only Yiddish could be spoken for everyday purposes, and only Hebrew could be used in prayer. He condemned secular education as a heresy, and he coined the slogan "anything new is forbidden by Torah." He even distanced himself from the battle for emancipation because Jews would come to know the gentiles and be seduced by their culture. His followers cut themselves off not only from the gentiles but also from most Jews. Hertzberg writes that, "Sofer was creating a new kind of Orthodoxy. Unlike the rabbis of the past centuries, Sofer did not pretend to worry any longer about all Jews; he was creating a separatist sect of ‘true believers.’ His heirs today are the haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews who have declared that all other expressions of Judaism are false and dangerous."  

In the West, however, Jews rejected such separation and sought a religion which would be meaningful in the new free and open societies which were emerging. The founder of the "modern Orthodox" approach, Samson Raphael Hirsch, argued that Jews should be thoroughly contemporary people who observed the divinely ordained ritual laws of the Bible and Talmud but must also live in this world and within its culture and should make no effort to recreate a Jewish commonwealth in the Holy Land, for that is forbidden by ancient talmudic law (an oft-quoted caution in the Talmud forbade the Jews from "going up in a wall of people" to reconquer the land). The redemption would come at God’s chosen time.  

At the same time, the Reform movement began to emerge. Abraham Geiger (1810-1874), called "the most brilliant of the early Reform rabbis" by Hertzberg, argued that the Orthodox ritual system was of great importance in past centuries because it defined the Jews in an age of apartness. But Jews had now entered the modern age of universalism, a time when eating only kosher food and other forms of separation contravene the unity of mankind. Jews, therefore, had to be freed from all observances that set them apart from the rest of society. Geiger’s basic commitment was to the Enlightenment. He saw Judaism as the ultimate expression of religious universalism in an age of progress.  

Religious Freedom  

In America, Jewish life was completely voluntary in a country which guaranteed religious freedom to all of its citizens. "In America," Hertzberg writes, "Jews had to organize their communities voluntarily . . . and the Judaism that soon evolved reflected the life of the laity on the frontier of European civilization and not the inherited traditions of the old country. As early a 1825, a group of younger members of Beth Elohim Synagogue in Charleston, South Carolina organized themselves to push for major reforms in the ritual of the congregation. They wanted the service to be read largely in English because they no longer understood Hebrew . . . How could these immigrants, in their gratitude for the opportunities that they suddenly and almost miraculously acquired in America, continue to end the service on the Day of Atonement or the Passover Seder with the proclamation ‘Next Year in Jerusalem?’ Kansas City or Dubuque or San Francisco had become their Jerusalem because America enabled them to make a new life for themselves . . . The tension between the long history of Jewish otherness and its seeming end in America was so substantial that it demanded reforms in the Jewish religion."  

In a new era of freedom, some Jews abandoned their faith. Those who became Communists, decided to make a world revolution for all humankind and create a new society in which anti-Semitism would be eradicated along with all religion. Those who became Zionists, Hertzberg argues, also were engaged in a rejection of traditional religion: "Some Zionists were proclaiming themselves to be ‘new Jews.’ They were saying to their followers: let us leave the Diaspora with its sick culture behind. Let us bury the past and create a totally new society in Palestine, which will be Jewish in a way our ancestors could not even imagine. Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism . . . had come to Zionism from a life so completely outside the Jewish tradition and community that he imagined the future Jewish state to be a version of Western society with no particularly Jewish character . . . Herzl proposed . . . that the only cure for anti-Semitism was to reestablish the Jews as a ‘normal nation’ in a state of the own . . . As Herzl envisioned it, the Jewish state would need no particular cultural content. It would be founded as a Western democracy . . . Herzl was going to rescue the Jews from their otherness."  

Herzl’s Failure  

Did Herzl succeed? While the conventional answer is yes, Hertzberg believes, to the contrary, that, "In the deepest aspiration of his life, the meaning that he himself gave it, Herzl failed. Zionism did not end the otherness of the Jews. The state gave the Jews a renewed sense of pride, and it relieved them of some of the complexes and anxieties that came from being a powerless people . . . But the Jewish state has not made an end of anti-Semitism. The quarrel with the Arabs, which Herzl had hoped to avoid, has spawned intense Jew-hatred in much of the Muslim world. Israel’s Arab enemies see themselves as defending the Holy Land, not from the Zionists, but from a world Jewish conspiracy against the Arabs. Ironically, Herzl’s Zionism, which he had conceived as the way to end tension between Jews and Christians, may only have transferred the problem from the Occident to the Orient . . . Herzl dreamed of Jewish ‘normalcy’ but he failed to understand that the Jews will never agree to be like everyone else, not in the Diaspora and not in their own land. The otherness of the Jewish people transcends boundaries; it is a state of mind."  

That very Zionist idea of making Jews a "normal" people is, Hertzberg declares, a rejection of the very uniqueness of Judaism and the Jewish mission: "The Jew . . . lives in two dimensions — the now and the forever. Jews have lived within changing and often tragic circumstances, but their religion has lifted them up to another realm in which nothing changes. The holy days and the commandments that Jews observe are timeless. Historical events are fleeting. The Zionist settlement of Palestine is no more important to the continuity of Judaism than the revolt against Rome or the expulsion from Spain or the pogroms in Russia . . . Chronology is irrelevant in the study of Torah; all of its divine teachings and interpretations are eternal values that transcend time."  

In contemporary America, Jewish organizations have engaged in a variety or pursuits to prevent young people from abandoning Judaism, but most of these pursuits have little to do with the unique Jewish calling in the world. Thus, Hertzberg laments the stress so often put upon the Holocaust and stirring fear of an anti-Semitism which young Americans do not find to be part of their experience. Telling young American Jews that the world is not a safe place for Jews is hardly an approach designed to engage their minds and hearts.  

Danger of Factionalism  

"The greatest threat to Jews today," declares Hertzberg, "is not from anti-Semitism . . . It is not even from assimilation, because such losses have occurred before in Jewish history, and the continuity of this people has been guaranteed by the Jews who have chosen, and keep choosing, to affirm themselves as Jews. The explosive problem today is the age-old disease of factionalism. The latest outbreak is as sharp as it has ever been in Jewish history, and it threatens the very future of the Jewish people."  

Hertzberg is particularly critical of the messianism which motivates so many in Israel, particularly the settlers on the West Bank and their supporters both in Israel and in the U.S.: "Nothing was more virtuous two thousand years ago than to rebel against pagan Rome in the name of pure Jewish monotheism, and nothing could have been more destructive. Nothing could seem more virtuous today than to cry out, ‘I want the Messiah now,’ but to act out this messianic wish in the occupied West Bank is to court death and destruction. If the Messiah is coming soon, why make any accommodation with the Arabs? Why give up an inch of the Holy Land? God will save the faithful from the consequences of their actions. The armed prophets of the West Bank and their ultranationalist supporters are staking the Jewish future on the same bet the Zealots made when they rose up against Rome — that God could not possibly let Jerusalem be destroyed. Such thinking is nothing short of madness; it is the wild streak taking hold of a Jewish sect of true believers that claims to know God’s intentions."  

Those who regard themselves as above criticism and see themselves as the judge and jury of all Jews represent "the greatest threat to the Jewish people today," states Hertzberg. The group he means is "some of the ultra-Orthodox and the ultranationalists who are convinced of the manifest destiny of Israel. The famous historian of the Kabbalah and of Jewish messianism, Gershom Scholem, warned many times against calling the state of Israel ‘the first root of our redemption.’ The Jewish nation, he insisted, is a human solution to contemporary political problems. To make of it an instrument of the messianic drama is the greatest of heresies. The Jews must create a just and decent society for all its inhabitants; only then will it be a reflection of the Jewish spirit."  

False Messiahs  

Hertzberg compares today’s messianists in Israel and elsewhere with false messiahs of the past, such as Shabbetai Zvi in the 17th century. He writes: "Then, as now, many eminent rabbis were seduced by those who proclaimed that the Messiah was at hand. The time has come for the Jews in this generation to realize that anyone who would condone the assassination of Israel’s prime minister and would fan Arab angers in the nuclear age is living with the presumption that the Messiah will arrive before the bill for their actions comes due in the form of devastating terrorism and war against the people or Israel. Those who say that their political doctrine is what God intends always fail, and they always bring tragedy."  

If Israel is to be a "Jewish and democratic state," Hertzberg declares, "it must heed the ancient outcry of the prophet Amos — ‘Behold you are to me just like the Ethiopians’ — and treat Arabs and everyone else as equals. It is immoral to proclaim the Palestinians to be interlopers in the land that God gave to the Jews. Those who act on this . . . have forgotten that God gave the Holy Land to the Jews on condition that the stranger be protected ‘for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.’"  

A great turning point for Israel came in the aftermath of the six day War in June 1967 when the messianists began to settle the West Bank. "Since that time," writes Hertzberg, "the pluralist consensus has been under vehement attack both in Israel and in the Diaspora. The Shabbateans have denounced their opponents — that is, most Jews — as the enemies of God. Some of the ultra-Orthodox (chiefly the followers of the Lubavitcher rebbe) have joined the messianists in insisting that the West Bank must be held by Jews, for that is God’s will. The bulk of the ultra-Orthodox have become more separatist and more insistent that they are the only true Jews. These zealots nearly dominate the Orthodox community as a whole."  

The fact is, Hertzberg points out, that all through Jewish history there were many rival sects and interpretations and approaches. Those in the Orthodox community who heap scorn upon Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews and who argue that non-Orthodox forms of Judaism are illegitimate and simply a way station to assimilation or that Zionism, somehow, is the same as Judaism have, Hertzberg believes, ignored reality.  

Orthodox Decline  

The Orthodox who argue that other forms of Judaism will lead to a diminution of the Jewish community, Hertzberg believes, have misread the available data. In his analysis of the 1990 National Population Survey of American Jewry, the sociologist Egon Mayer found that of the respondents who were raised "Orthodox" only 22 per cent still identified with that branch of Judaism. Of those who said they were raised Conservative, 57 per cent still identified themselves as such. And in the case of Reform, the percentage jumped to 78 per cent. Despite an Orthodox birth-rate which is twice as high as that of others, the proportion of the Orthodox has fallen. In 1970, 11 per cent of the respondents identified as Orthodox. Twenty years later the figure had dropped to 6 per cent.  

Pluralism has been a genuine tradition in the Jewish past, and never more so than at the present time. What ties Jews together, Hertzberg believes, is not the State of Israel or ethnic identity but the role God has assigned to them in history:  

"It does not really matter who chose the Jews. What does matter is that they have this angel or demon, conscience or neurosis, always riding on their back. The idea of chosenness has held the Jews together and has kept them going. From ancient times to this very day, the Jews — other and chosen — have continued to argue with one another and to live in tension with the world around them.  

Heirs To An Idea  

"Jews cannot leave one another alone because they are heirs of many generations of ancestors who have yet to reach full agreement as to what the exact duty of the Jew should be. They cannot leave the non-Jewish world alone because they are heirs to an idea that pursues them relentlessly and is held aloft in pride: the Jews have an indispensable role in perfecting the whole."  

"Jews of all persuasions continue to hold fast to the dream of their ancestors that at the end of days hatred, poverty, and injustice will be no more. Jews have always despaired of reaching that day, but they have always known that they must work to perfect and redeem the world . . . To be a Jew is to be commanded: to take actions because they are right, not because they bring personal comfort or material gain. If Abraham wanted tranquility and prosperity, he would have carried on his father’s idol business. To be a Jew is to open one’s tent on all four sides so that any stranger in need of food and shelter can enter from every direction. To be a Jew is to believe in tikkun olam, that the world can be redeemed. To be a Jew is to be carried by the current of the ancient Jewish river that keeps on flowing. The journey will continue."  

Chosen For A Purpose  

Arthur Hertzberg, with the aid of Aron Hirt-Manheimer, has written a very important and very personal book. Many readers will disagree with some of his conclusions. Few will dispute his thoughtfulness and the breadth of his knowledge of Jewish history and of Judaism’s sacred texts. The chosen people, he believes, were chosen for a purpose, and that purpose is not to become a "normal" people like all others, but to do justice in the world, to "be a blessing" to all of mankind.  

He is not worried about Jewish "survival," and believes that what Jews should be asking is not how to perpetuate the Jewish people, but what God expects of them. If God still has some role for Jews to play, they will, in some mysterious way, find themselves able to do it. If there is no belief in God or in Judaism’s uniqueness, there will be no Jews.  

Today’s frenzy of activity in pursuit of an answer to the question of Jewish "survival" puts Jews in the position of discussing themselves, not what God intends them to do and be. Worshiping false idols and messiahs — whether it be Shabbetai Zvi in the 17th century or the State of Israel at the present time — is an evasion of the real mission given by God when he declared: "You will be My people." Believing in the same God who spoke at Sinai, Arthur Hertztberg is not afraid of the future and urges his readers not to be either.

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.