Jonathan Sacks

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Jewish Identity: The Concept of a chosen people
Sacks contrasts Jewish ways of thinking about the world with typically western cognitive categories inherited from Plato et al. The story of the intellectual history of the West from Ancient Greece on forward through the Enlightenment, is one of a movement from the particular to the universal. Plato called the particulars the reflections, and the universal the form. Sacks argues that Judaism does not rely on the same Cartesian dialectic that characterizes western thought. Judaism is not, as some scholars have argued, a sort of historical anomaly separating polytheism and universalist monotheism. It is, rather, qualitatively different from the other major religions - Islam and Christianity - both of which proselytize and generally see themselves as the "one right way." Their truth is ontological rather than covenental - relating to being itself rather than situation or perception. Judaism is a religion of particularism, and it sees the particular as the stuff of real life, the fabric of being human. Judaism does not rely on one absolute and universal moral code, but instead maintains two distinct set of guidelines for social behavior. One code, the covenant (and the 613 mitzvot) applies in situations between or among Jews, and the other, Noah's commandments, apply more generally to strangers, those not in our "family" circle. So the tenet of chosenness that has proven so controversial within Judaism should not be understood as exclusionary, a way of asserting the superiority of one's own group, and it should not be interpreted as a form of racism or xenophobia (although it may yet be called parochial…), because Judaism in no way asserts that afterlife is linked to membership (well, okay… maybe Jews have an advantage… but not a monopoly!). So they conceive of themselves as chosen, but not as in "the elect" - it is more like they have nominated themselves, set themselves apart, and determined that they should bear the burden of upholding certain standards of righteousness as exemplars of the good life. The lessons of history - crusades, pogroms, genocide - persuade that the Jews certainly were not chosen in the sense of being picked as god's favorites and afforded special treatment. To the contrary, if the Jews were "chosen" for any fate, it was persecution and oppression, and ultimately and against all the odds, survival.

p. 3 The Hebrew bible tells a story… It is the counter-narrative of western civilization. It is the anti-Platonic story.
p. 4 Judaism is not logical. It is dialogical. It's a different kind of approach to reality all along.
p. 5 In Judaism, God in bigger than religion… Judaism is a protest against universal creeds.
p. 10 Jewish mind moves from the universal to the particular, not the way that Plato's mind works. And that is the three reasons why we reject Plato - because for us the fundamental reality of creation is diversity. Second, because the fundamental fact about humans is their uniqueness, their irreplaceability, and that is what makes love human. And thirdly because the moral life has to be lived in particular communities with particular rituals, specific memories and a particular identity.
p. 11 God takes the side of the unchosen.
p. 11 … the treatment of the Jews in history has always been a litmus test of the humanity of any age.
p. 12 Judaism is God's protest against empires.

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