The American election is not just about electing a President but is also to choose an executive team that will run the government for the next four years. In a way, this is similar to the concept of G‑d electing/choosing the Jewish people to represent Him to mankind.

Indeed, the notion of the Jewish people being a chosen people is one of the most fundamental ideas in Judaism. The very nature of our national and religious identity, as defined in the Bible, is bound up with the story of the Divine revelation at Sinai and the election of the Jewish people as a chosen and special people (Exodus19:5-6).

Yet, “chosenness” is an idea which, perhaps more than any other in Judaism, makes many Jews uncomfortable. The claim of “chosenness” is seen as clannish, parochial, and exclusionary. As a result, many try to soften the idea in various ways.

The truth be told, the Jewish idea of a chosen people is, in fact, the most liberal and tolerant approach to religion possible, and here is why.

Early Christianity was an attempt to universalize the Jewish idea of monotheism. In order to do this, the first thing that had to go was the notion that the Jewish people were chosen and special. All of mankind was brought into the big tent of “the covenant.” It was no longer the private domain of a particular people it was universal to all. It was also a great success.

Some six centuries later, Islam followed the same basic prescription and became the next great universalistic religion.

But let’s take a look at the other side of this inclusiveness. If one religion is the only true religion for all of mankind then anyone who is not part of this religion must, for their own good, be brought into it in any way possible. This tragic reasoning lies at the root of the centuries and indeed millennia of human conflict which has led to more carnage and destruction than any other ideology in history.

What seems on the surface to be a noble and inclusive idea, when put into practice, turns out to be the very foundation of intolerance. To this day neither Christianity nor Islam has been able to fully come to terms with legitimizing or even just tolerating the existence of other people’s religious truths. (Although, in more recent years, some Christian denominations, particularly Catholics, have done so to a greater or lesser extent.)

Judaism, on the other hand, has always been tolerant of others precisely because of the notion of chosenness. The Jews are the ones who have been chosen for a particular mission; others do not have to accept this religion. (This is also why Judaism is not a missionary religion and does not seek converts.)

Any society or belief system which recognizes one G‑d and conducts itself in accordance with the basic principles of civilization (called the seven Noahide laws) is considered acceptable according to Judaism. By giving up on universalism and insisting on chosenness Judaism can be tolerant and accepting of the beliefs of others.

The next time someone tells you they are uncomfortable about being one of the “chosen people” tell them about the other alternative and its consequences and then let history offer the irrefutable evidence of which of these is the true tolerant value.

An except from Eclectic Thoughts of Meaning, a collection of essays by Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan.