I need a reading recommendation

Some friends of mine invited a bunch of us to spend Sukkot with them this weekend and I had a lovely time.  They miraculously managed procure a lulav, despite the shortage, and gave a thorough exegesis of the holiday and the symbolism of the lulav components.

Some of the conversations I had at or after the party highlighted the fact that I don’t know very much about Judaism.  I’m from New York, so I know plenty of Yiddish, but I’ve known very few religious Jews.  (Oh, and I’ve seen the Shari Lewis Passover and Hanukkah specials).  I don’t have a burning ambition to be able to pass an ideological turing test for all religions, but there’s one element of Judiasm I’ve always found confusing, anSo, I’d be up for doing a little more reading.

I tend to get thrown by what it means for a god to have a chosen people.  I tend to hear that in a kinda Calvinist sense, where, at best, the unchosen seem to be left out of God’s plan and, at worst, they exist as a way of carrying out God’s plans for the people He’s actually interested in (think of God hardening Pharaohs heart or using the Babylonians to punish His people).

I’ve been told this isn’t how it works, so I’d like to learn more (preferably without struggling through all the midrash on my own).  Does anyone have any suggestions for essays or books by Jews on the topic of chosenness or discussing whether the God of Abraham wants anything from gentiles?

My ignorance on this subject tends to confuse me when I look at the history of Christianity, too.  There just seems to be such a big break between a religion intended only for matrilineal descendants of one tribe and a religion that evangelizes everyone that I always feel like I’d find Christianity more plausible if it didn’t claim to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

So have pity on my ignorance (I’m only up to Jeremiah) and recommend some readings.

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  • I have no reading recs, sorry on that. But I do have a thought on why Christianity is so different from Judaism on evangelism, and how they fit together. With Judaism, God was trying to get a coherent group that had a strong enough culture that it could stand on its own and not wither before its culturally very influential neighbors. God managed to get that done; Judaism still exists today, after all.

    Once God had accomplished this task of creating a community with a strong enough identity, only then could it take other cultures and assimilate them to itself. Thus with a few modifications (or “fulfillments” as Christians would say) what had once been an exclusive inward-looking culture became an evangelizing outward-looking culture. The group needed a powerful identity first. There is no point evangelizing if you do not even know who you are: your contacts will convert you! But once you know who you are, then you are ready. And it worked.

  • Lukas

    Speaking of Sukkot, I strongly recommend watching this movie:


  • Jonathan

    Since you seem to want basic explanations, there won’t be much that seems primary-sourcey. Some good writing that probably fits your purpose is being done by Joseph Telushkin (father of Shira Telushkin PC ’14).

  • Karen LH

    What about Herman Wouk’s This Is My God?

  • Patrick

    I’m not Jewish, but I will say just this one bit-

    Judaism has original source texts, and then it has a LOT of annotations. Thousands of years worth of them, actually. And as a practiced religion, it tends to run more on the annotations than on the source text. When you ask what it means for a God to have a”chosen people,” you need to remember that there’s multiple answers to this based on whether you are trying to interpret how that idea was intended in the source text or how that idea was intended in the various annotations.

    Historically, the idea seems to have gone from henotheism to yahwism to flat out monotheism to Christian revisionism. What the idea “means” is going to vary a lot depending on which time period your author favors.

  • Iota

    “whether the God of Abraham wants anything from gentiles?”

    Can’t recommend actual reading material but a keyword (key phrase) you might be interested in is “Noahide Laws”

  • Ushpizin is seconded. Great movie.

  • I’d find Christianity more plausible if it didn’t claim to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

    *car salesman voice* Boy, have I got a religion for you! Marcionism

  • Priest

    In Judaism there are seeds of universalism. Check out Isaiah, the book of Jonah (niniveh is not jewish), Job (who is not necessarily a jew) ecc. Israel through its Laws and people living this law, was supposed to be the light of the world. This is one of the many ways to see how Christ is the fullfilment of the Old Testament… He at the same time is the Eternal Law of Love, the Word, and its fullfillment as man…