Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reconstructionist Judaism and the Chosen People

I present: The Havdalah Hedgehog

While working on an article on havdalah for About.com, I came across the detail that Reconstructionist Jews, at the urging of founder Mordechai Kaplain, omit the portion of havdalah that highlights separation. (Havdalah is the post-Shabbat ceremony that marks the separation of Shabbat from the beginning of the work week.)

Specifically, the havdalah text says:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמַּבְדִיל בֵּין קֹֽדֶשׁ לְחוֹל, בֵּין אוֹר לְחֹֽשֶׁךְ, בֵּין יִשְׂרָאֵל לָעַמִּים, בֵּין יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לְשֵֽׁשֶׁת יְמֵי הַמַּעֲשֶׂה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמַּבְדִיל בֵּין קֹֽדֶשׁ לְחוֹל.
Blessed are You, G-d, our Lord, King of the universe, who separates between the holy and the profane; between the light and dark; between Israel and the other nations; between the seventh day and the six days of the week. Blessed are You, G-d, who separates between the holy and the profane.
The portion that is omitted by the Reconstructionist movement is "between Israel and the other nations" because Kaplan rejected the concept of chosenness and this is a central tenet of Reconstructionist Judaism.

Unfortunately, the concept of chosenness is soooooo misunderstood. It doesn't mean chosen to be better than or more loved by G-d or more awesome.

The origins of the text are Deuteronomy 14:2:
כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ; וּבְךָ בָּחַר יְהוָה, לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְעַם סְגֻלָּה, מִכֹּל הָעַמִּים, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה.
Because you are a holy people for G-d, and God has chosen you to be an am segulah from the nations on the earth. 
The beef probably comes from the concept of being an am segulah -- roughly translated as a treasured people. But what comes next is important. It doesn't say ABOVE or MORE AWESOME than other nations of the earth, but "from" the nations of the earth. 

The concept of chosenness for the Jewish people means to be different, to be a "light unto the nations." This means to live a certain type and style of life that will inspire and motivate the other nations of the world toward an ethical, positive, empowered life. There's nothing about being better than or more special than the other nations of the world, contrary to popular belief. 

So that's news to me. Did you know that Reconstructionist Judaism rejects the idea of chosenness? I'd like to hear your thoughts -- especially if you're a Reconstructionist Jew.