There’s a guy where I exercise who’s nice, but I’ve never really warmed up to him. He’s not part of the ownership or the management team, so it’s never really mattered to me what I think of him. Last week, though, I discovered that my subconscious might have been sending me messages when I couldn’t make myself like him. After a tirade against capitalism, for ObamaCare, and in favor of restrictions on all things that could affect Global Warming (yes, let’s get rid of the sun!), he said, “And another thing….” He then started to inform me how pernicious the message is that the Jews are “God’s chosen people.”
My exercise place is wonderful, so I wasn’t about to upset the nice dynamic there by getting into a debate with a hard-core Leftist. Those debates usually end badly: the Leftist doesn’t change his mind, while any people in the vicinity who aren’t hard-core but are still Left (this is Marin after all), get very upset and start thinking with their navels, not their brains. The best way for me to handle situations like this is to leave, think my arguments through, and then have those arguments ready for the inevitable round two. This blog is where I think my arguments through. . . .
Apropos his anger that Jews think they’re special (along the lines of “Who are they to claim they’re God’s chosen people?”), it occurred to me that both the Left and antisemites are ferociously ignorant about their Old Testament. Here is what the Bible tells (and all of you, who are more Bible literate than I, please correct me when I’m wrong):
Before he formed the covenant with the Jewish God, Abraham was polytheistic. Ur, his original homeland, was certainly polytheistic. God did not originally appear as a monotheistic God. Instead, he just appeared as a divine being who selected Abraham (or, as he was initially, Abram). If Abraham joined in a covenant with God, aligning his family with God, and circumcising all males as a sign of that covenant, God would treat Abraham and his descendents well. Provided that all of them, through the centuries, abided by the covenant (and circumcision is a harsh demand) they would have land and good fortune.
The Bible acknowledges more than once that there are other gods swirling around in the ancient world. For example, when Jacob and Rachel flee her father, Laban, Rachel takes her father’s “Household Gods.” Significantly, in the Ten Commandments, God himself acknowledges other Gods. It’s just that, as to the Jews, if they wish to keep the covenant, he must be the only God they claim and worship:
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Those words make sense only if there was competition. Otherwise, God would have said, “There are no other Gods, but for me.”
While God promised much to the children of Abraham, he also placed heavy burdens upon them in addition to circumcision. In a time when people were comforted by a panoply of gods, all of whom were physically present and whose favors could be bought with human or animal sacrifices, the Jews had just one abstract God in whom they had to believe, regardless of his invisible nature.
During the Greek occupation in Palestine, the Jews could not partake of the physical libertinism that characterized the Greeks. Jews could not hold on to slaves for more than seven years, and had to treat their slaves humanely, which placed them at an economic disadvantage compared to others in the ancient world. They were prohibited from eating all kinds of foods, which may have conferred some health benefits on them (e.g., no trichinosis), but which also limited their ability to thrive.
And so it goes, rule after rule that gave the Jews a spiritual advantage, but that limited their options in the ancient world. In exchange, absent periodic miracles, such as the exodus from Egypt, being God’s chosen people wasn’t so great: they were isolated and often at war with the world around them, their lives were constrained by God’s stringent rules, and God was big on punishing individuals or whole groups for any failure properly to abide by His rules.
The end result was that, in the ancient world, Jews were considered everything from fellow imperialists, to slaves, to an occupied people. The one thing that they weren’t considered to be, though, was arrogant and special. Indeed, in the ancient world, they were considered foolish for hewing to one invisible God rather than taking advantage of the panoply of gods then benefiting everyone else.
What changed was Christianity, which looked at the Jewish God and the whole notion of monotheism and concluded that it was a good idea. The early Christians were Jews and, when they split from Jews who didn’t recognize Christ’s divinity, they still considered themselves God’s Chosen People — only they were even more chosen because they had taken Christ as their savior. Suddenly, the Jews’ claim to be God’s Chosen People seemed (a) wrong and (b) arrogant, considering that both Jews and Christians were claiming the same God as their own.
All of which is to say that the Leftist at the dojo was wrong when he sought to insult Jews because they somehow think they’re “special.” That’s not the issue at all. Jews have simply chosen, for thousands of years, to abide by a very challenging covenant that Abraham made with a God who came to Abraham and said, “If you pick me, and you play by my rules, we’ll be a team forever.” In the beginning, everybody thought Abraham made a bad deal by letting himself and his descendents get tagged by this jealous God. It was only with the passing of time that others began to think that they’d like to be tagged too.
Certainly now, Jews do not display religious arrogance. They do not demand, either with words or swords, that others worship their God; and they do not enslave or tax or otherwise discriminate against those who don’t. Yes, amongst themselves they think they’re doing the right thing, but so does every group, whether religious or otherwise. Why bother to be a group if you don’t have special bonds that distinguish you from others? But there’s a profound difference between thinking “Yup, I’m engaging in correct religious behavior,” and thinking “You all are evil and doomed. You deserve to die and then go to Hell. And while you’re on this earth, I have the right to make it a Hell on earth for you.” Now that’s arrogant.