The Chosen People

Juan de Torquemada (uncle of Tomás), made a Cardinal in 1463, argued that, “no other race was more dignified, more noble, more saintly and more religious” than that of the Jewish people. Torquemada did not believe Jews enjoyed any biological superiority to other people, but he understood they had a unique spiritual heritage which set them apart.[i] God Himself told Moses to inform Israel:

“…the Lord has declared this day concerning you that you are a people for His own possession, as He has promised you, and that you are to keep all His commandments, that He will set you high above all nations that He has made, in praise and in fame and in honour, and that you shall be a people holy to the Lord your God, as He has spoken.” – Deuteronomy 26:18-19

God’s word is efficacious. This unique calling, being the Chosen People, which observant Jews can never forget and secular Jews cannot be unaware, gives the Jews as a people a unique drive and a unique burden.

Jews have endured persecution as no other people have had to, culminating in the worst atrocity a race has ever suffered—the Holocaust. But any historical narrative dominated by victimization fails because of what it overlooks, namely the unmatched achievements of the Jews. Such a narrative paints the Jews as passive. But no race has been as intellectually creative as the Jews, none as daring or successful in international finance, none as accomplished in rising to the heights of power in the free nations where they have lived. In The Sacred Chain, Norman Cantor, besides describing triumphs within Jewish cultural development in the past two millennia, also highlights some of the tremendous contributions Jewish people have made toward development for the whole of mankind.

Jews have made powerful arguments against accepting the narrative of their long history as one dominated by oppression because such an interpretation does not do justice to Jews as creative agents in charge of their own destiny. Cantor remarks on the striking contrast between the detail, scope and dynamism of the Jew’s record of their history up to the second century before Christ with the comparative bareness for the two millennia following. The priceless collage of chronicles, characters, commentary and hymns which record the story of the Jews from before Abraham to the Maccabees was succeeded for the two millennia following by a narrative often monotone on the theme of victimization. It was only in the 1800s that Jewish scholars began again in earnest collaboration to study and celebrate the great high points of Jewish achievement and culture in the preceding centuries.

The corollary for this high praise is acceptance that in the development of their own culture, not only have Jews been pro-active in making positive contributions for all humanity but that they have also made mistakes which alienated them from others and provoked enmity with others, for example as occurred in fifteenth century Spain.

[i] For an excellent and brief exposition of this, see Professor Benzion Netanyahu, The Origins of the Inquisition, (Random House, 1995) pp.1110-1112 . Professor Benzion Netanyahu is father of the former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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