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Scandal of Israel’s “carnal” election

August 20, 2014

touching-torahThe Hebrew scriptures declare that G-d’s thoughts are not our (human) thoughts and that our ways are not His (Isaiah 55:8 ). Perhaps nothing illustrates this idea better than the biblical concept of the election of the Jewish people as G-d’s very own people. It’s one of those things that has troubled the minds of many, especially and quite naturally those who found themselves among the “non-chosen”. It certainly has proven itself quite scandalous, even for many Jews themselves, and the acting out of this resentment has been quite troublesome and often very deadly for Jews over their long history.

Why has this been the case, one might ask? Among the so called “Abrahamic” religions (Christianity and Islam), the chief reason for this is no doubt jealousy. Simply put, the human mind finds it unjust that G-d, exercising His free will, would set His affection on a specific people not because they are somehow better (or larger, more refined, stronger, better looking, smarter, more “believing”, etc), but because this is what He decided to do –  to single out someone for with a special, “treasured” sort of love. A humans, we can certainly understand this emotion on a personal level when it comes to our own spouses or children, but we resent G-d making such a choice, thinking that G-d is obligated to love everyone the same, without any differentiation.

It’s precisely the humanity’s rejection of Israel’s “carnal” election by G-d that has given the rise to both Christianity and Islam. Although both of these faiths have found their initial nourishment on a rich Jewish soil and went on to claim Jewish heroes and ideas as their own, they subsequently sought to appropriate the “people of G-d” concept for themselves by declaring the Jewish people as having lost it through failure of one sort or another.

Even though both of these “daughter” religions acknowledge that Israel was “chosen”, they have sought to sidestep the Jewish people by redefining the original election by spiritualizing it, allowing anyone with a specific set of beliefs to become “chosen”, “loved”, and “treasured” by G-d. From the Jewish point of view this constitutes nothing short of a rebellion against G-d and an attempt to impose human thoughts and ways on the Almighty, to force His will. Both Christianity and Islam have sought to redefine the ultimate reason for Israel’s election itself. Christianiy argued that Abraham was a model Christian (by virtue of his “faith” in a “pre-incarnated Christ”) and Abraham’s children are those “of the spirit” by virtue of having the correct faith in Christ and not “of the flesh” (per Paul), ie. relying on the Law and the supposed “self-righteousness”. Islam, following right in the footsteps of Christianity’s supersessionism, made a very similar claim – Abraham was the first exemplary Muslim with his belief in One G-d.

Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod describes Israel’s “carnal election” in his book The Body of Faith: God and the People of Israel :

[Christianity taught that] whereas membership in the old Israel was bestowed by birth, membership in the new Israel [the Church] was open to anyone who embraced the message of the Church.

But this is not the nature of Israel’s election. This election is that of the seed of Abraham. A descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a Jew irrespective of what he believes or how virtuous he is. Being a Jew is therefore not something earned. This reflects the fact that the initial election of Abraham himself was not earned. It is true that in rabbinic literature Abraham is depicted as having “discovered” the one God when it occurred to him that a complex world could not have come into being by chance. But none of this is mentioned in the Bible. We are simply told that God commanded Abraham to leave his place of birth and to go to a land that God would show him. He is also promised that his descendants will become a numerous people. But nowhere does the Bible tell us why Abraham rather than someone else was chosen. The implication is that God chooses whom he wishes and that he owes no accounting to anyone for his choices.

Israel’s election is therefore a carnal election that is transmitted through the body. And to many, this is a scandal. Is it the body that makes someone dear to God or the spirit? Shouldn’t we evaluate a person on the basis of his character and ideas rather than his physical descent? These are difficult questions to answer but we cannot evade coping with them. We must first understand that we cannot sit in judgment over God. It is not incumbent on him to justify his actions to man. It is not for us to teach God what is fair but for him to teach us. If it was his decision to make Abraham his beloved servant and the descendants of Abraham his beloved people, then it is for man to accept God’s will with obedience. (p. 176)


15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2014 11:16 am

    The “Ask the Rabbi” columnist at has a somewhat different take on the matter. Don’t know if you’ve seen it or not.

  2. August 20, 2014 11:43 am

    Hi James, yes, I’ve read that article before. It’s not so much a different take (I primary focus on election of physical people vs because of some definitive spiritual merit) as the author trying to show that the nations’ resentment of Israel is hypocritical – they ALL see themselves as chosen, each in their own way, but still think that Jews have no right to such a claim (perhaps because there can only be one) .

  3. August 20, 2014 11:48 am

    Antisemitism has always seemed irrational to me because there’s ultimately no reason for it except to make the Jewish people the universal “fall guy” for everything that goes wrong in the world.

  4. August 20, 2014 12:16 pm

    James, true, but antisemites DO put forth what they see as very “rational” reasons for their resentment and hatred. Many groups have been hated from time to time, but the irrationality is revealed in the obsession with “the Jews” and antisemitism’s (in varying degrees) near ubiquitous presence world over.

  5. benicho permalink
    August 20, 2014 3:01 pm

    Is this supposed to be a reflective article or are you patting yourself on the back?

  6. August 20, 2014 4:46 pm

    Benicho, is yours a real question or merely a snide remark that it appears to be?

  7. benicho permalink
    August 20, 2014 6:13 pm

    No, it is sincere. Most of your readers are under the impression that antisemitism is irrational and illogical, with that in mind this article is beating a dead horse. We all know the Jewish people were chosen, and we are all aware that disputing the matter within religious circles has caused a great divide.

  8. August 20, 2014 7:14 pm

    Benicho, the point of the post is not to inform anyone about Jews being “chosen”, but that G-d chose a physical people to set his affections on, even when they do not live up to G-d’s high standards, which is inexplicable to most other religions whose membership is based on having correct beliefs and performance of religiously prescribed acts. And this is a scandal in the minds of many – G-d chosing a carnal family over a purely spiritual one. Also, this post is NOT about antisemitism.

  9. August 21, 2014 2:55 am

    Reblogged this on Menashe's Blog and commented:
    The Hebrew scriptures declare that G-d’s thoughts are not our (human) thoughts and that our ways are not His (Isaiah 55:8 ).

  10. Bruce permalink
    August 24, 2014 11:30 am

    the defacement and burning of it …

    the writing on the walls that referred to the one unknown G-d ….

    * * * *

    paul acknowledged that the greeks actually worshipped his G-d in ignorance …

    acts 17:23

    * * *

    and hence, the question becomes … was the violent Christian campaign against it, the hieroglyphic written word …. in mitzrayim … more a campaign for temporal, ecclesiastical and political power, centralized in rome …. …. and less a campaign for correct theological instruction?

  11. August 24, 2014 11:31 am

    ** forgot active link

  12. August 24, 2014 12:12 pm

    “paul acknowledged that the greeks actually worshipped his G-d in ignorance”

    Bruce, what Paul supposedly said or didn’t say in Acts (and I think that the author of Acts was making things up – especially speeches – on behalf of Paul after Paul himself was long dead) is irrelevant. Greeks worshiped idols, and in Jesus they found yet another demigod to adore. An “unknown god”of Acts would be merely one of them, just another god in the pantheon.

  13. August 24, 2014 12:56 pm

    Gene againI I think you’re allowing yourself to be limited to dogma. The Ancient Greek Literature [aka NT/Apostolic Scriptures] doesn’t say such… The individuals within the greek society may have chosen to do such [idolize] but it doesn’t mean the Ancient Greek Literature intended that. You should be receptive to G-ds affirmations of the “canon” outside of the “canon”.

    For instance 1 Cor 12:27

    john 10:34

    psalm 82:6

    one god who made himself into millions?

    page 150

    Ancient Egyptian Literature may well speak to an entirely different theology ….; but the literary images resemble the Ancient Greek Literature … and the Ancient Hebrew literature.

  14. August 24, 2014 1:10 pm

    Bruce, a Jew doesn’t have the luxury of entraining “merits” of any foreign religion, much less one whose devotees worship a demigod.

  15. August 24, 2014 1:21 pm

    Understood though remeber in modern writing …. the document will normally contain citations to references; and a bibliography at the end of the book, summarizing those citations.

    Witness the below bibliography beginning on page 251.

    * * *

    does the list of references cited cancel the originality and uniqueness of the book?


    * * * *

    does the list of references cited demonstrate the book arose solely in the mind of the author, not?


    * * * *

    and so, my conclusion for ancient writings such as, but not limited to Ancient egytptian literature, akkadian literature,Hebrew literature and Greek literature; …. those ancient writings simply excluded references cited and corresponding bibliographies ….

    but … significantly .. the omission of such references does not disturb the fact of such references occurring during the generation process of the literature.

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