Documentary Dives Into Question: Are Jews The Chosen People?

Are the Jews indeed God’s chosen people? It was a question that filmmaker Josh Gippin had struggled with, leading him to make the documentary The Chosen People? A Film about Jewish Identity. Released this month, Mayim Rabim will be one of the first communities to view it on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 3 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

This film will be followed by a panel featuring a unique gathering of the five Twin Cities’ Reconstructionist Rabbis: Debra Rappaport, Shalom Reznik-Bell, Jeffrey Schein, Heidi Waldmann and Sharon Stiefel.

“I had very little knowledge on the subject, but it made me very uncomfortable and my gut feeling was that this was just plain wrong,” Gippin said. “After reading dozens of books and articles, interviewing around 30 people for the film and contemplating this over the past few years, I am able to search my heart and mind to better articulate why I feel it is wrong — why I feel there is no religious or ethnic group on Earth that can claim to be God’s ‘chosen people’ to the exclusion of all others.”

Stiefel said that one of the hallmarks of Reconstructionism is the rejection of the idea that Jews are the “Chosen People.”

“In the ancient world, every people considered itself chosen or special to its god,” she said. “Later the rabbinic notion of chosenness was constructed in opposition to Christian super-cessionary claims. By the Middle Ages, Jews held onto the idea of being ‘chosen’ as a way to strengthen themselves against rampant anti-Semitism.”

Stiefel said that holding on to an outdated concept of the Jews as God’s “chosen people” does not aid in building the world without racism religious intolerance we envision.

“In 2017, Jews not only live in a multi-cultural society; the makeup of the Jewish community is becoming racially and ethnically diverse as well.

Schein said this notion of chosenness – or non-chosenness – continues to evolve.

“I am an active member of Jewish Community Action and I support its search for dialogue partners among people of other races, faiths, and cultures,” he said. “I don’t feel I can really be the force for good I want to be in these very critical dialogues about racism and white privilege if I come to those dialogues with a belief in myself as being part of a chosen people. We need to enter those dialogues as equals.”

Gippin said that growing up in the public schools of Akron, Ohio, he knew kids who were both Jewish and not.

“To this day, I have close friends and family who are non-Jewish from various ethnic backgrounds. I feel a strong sense of love and connection to these non-Jewish friends and family. I feel connected to all of humanity,” he said. “To this day, when I hear people say that we Jews are “God’s chosen people” my heart aches. Rejecting this elite status and joining the rest of humanity as equals before God, in my heart, is an act of Tikkun Olam – healing a fractured world.”