ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים.
Blessed are You – Evoking acknowledgement are You – Evoking an experience which moves us to bend our knees, bow our heads!
You – You as we have come to know You by Your almost unpronounceable Tetragrammaton name ~Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey – a name that was pronounced only once a year when the Temple stood in Jerusalem – once a year, on Yom Kippur – by the Kohen Gadol, the 'High Priest' – in the Temple's most inner sanctuary – the Holy of Holies/the Most Sacred of Sacred Places – Sovereign of the Universe – who has chosen/loved us of/from all the peoples – of all the nations.
There's the formulation
נו בחרתָ מכל עם ולשון
And it is we whom You have chosen/loved from/more-than all/every people(s)/nation(s) and language.
What to do, how to relate, to understand this expression – is it a form of 'supersessionism'? What do you think?
There are some Jews – including among them those who live a seriously halakhic life – adhering to the demands, for example, of Sabbath observance – down to their very specific and demanding details – who alter this formulation by one word, by two letters. Instead of saying 'chosen/loved of/from/more-than all the peoples/all the nations', they say/pray: 'chosen/loved with עם im all the peoples/all the nations'!
Also regarding the liturgy ~ see:
See the commentary by Prof. Ruth Langer on the prayer know by its opening word, Aleynu, or “it is incumbent upon us.”
See: Ruth Langer - Aleynu
Tenzin Gyatso – the 14th Dalai Lama, 'Many Faiths, One Truth'
Jacob Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Studies in Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval & Modern Times (Springfield, New Jersey: Behrman House, 1961). Pages 1-41 available via Google Books ~ at
~ from pages 162-167 of Professor Katz's Exclusiveness & Tolerance ~
As explained in the early chapters of this book, Christianity in the Middle Ages was still considered to be ‘avodah zarah (‘idol worship’): for certain practical purposes, however, it was not regarded as such.(1) For instance, the talmudic law forbidding certain business dealings with idolaters was not applied to Christians, on the assumption that they were not heathen. Practical considerations required the dissociation of Christianity from idolatry, and this was rationalized by means of halakhic casuistry. But this rationalization cannot be assumed to imply that, from a theological point of view, Christianity was no longer regarded as a ‘pagan’ religion.
Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries certain developments took place. The disassociation of Christianity from idolatry became more widely applied. Restrictions on business which were based on the segregative laws were now dropped. Trade in Gentile wine became a source of living for many pious Jews.(2) This may be attributed mainly to the growing need for Jews to adapt their laws to an ever-increasing economic association with Christians. However, if we examine the reasoning advanced to justify this lenient attitude towards Christianity, we shall find that it was no longer motivated entirely by considerations of expediency, but that a new evaluation of Christianity, as a non-idolatrous religion, was evincing itself. It will be recalled that one of the tosaphists permitted the acceptance of an oath by Christians, on the ground that they did not swear by idols. The possible objection that Jesus was referred to in Christian oaths was countered by the argument that Gentiles were exempt from the prohibition of associating (shittuf) any other name with that of God. The word shittuf was used here in the same sense as in B.T., Sanhedrin, 63a, where it appears as a verb, not as a noun, and refers merely to the specific command not to equate the name of God with any other by mentioning both in one sentence. However, as a result of Arabic influence, the word shittuf acquired a broader connotation in medieval philosophical literature – unknown, of course, to the tosaphists – and came to mean the opposite of monotheism, i. e. duality of the Godhead.(3) When seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scholars studied the Tosafoth, they read this specific meaning, with which they were familiar, into the tosaphists’ use of the word shittuf.(4) They were thus misled into believing that the tosaphists had stated that it was not obligatory upon Gentiles to reject a dual Godhead. The Christian Trinity was therefore not assumed to be, in all circumstances, objectionable, as a non-Jewish belief. This constituted a convenient theory, permitting Jewish tolerance of Christianity as the faith of others, but retaining absolute monotheism as obligatory upon Jews. There is ample evidence that this view was prevalent among seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Jews.(5)
A second line of argument led to similar conclusions. Medieval halakhists excluded Christians from the category of idolaters on the additional ground that contemporary Gentiles were not versed in the forms of idol worship. ... Rabbi Menahem Ha-Me’iri was the only scholar, until the fifteenth century, to elaborate this view into a comprehensive philosophy and to draw the logical conclusions. He did this by adding the positive to the negative, i. e. by attributing virtues to Christians in addition to stating that they were not idolaters. Ha-Me’iri’s writings remained largely unknown, and therefore of little influence. But independently of him, a similar line of reasoning was followed by certain seventeenth-century scholars, among them Moses Rivkes, a Lithuanian halakhist who had left Vilna for the West after the upheavals of 1648-9. He wrote a gloss to the Shulhan ‘Arukh, with the principal purpose of noting the main sources. Occasionally, he added remarks on the rulings themselves, limiting or defining their applicability. When dealing with the section on the status of Gentiles, he made some remarkable comments. Let us consider the most lengthy of these, concerning the chapter on the right of self-defence. Self-defence was permitted by the Shulhan ‘Arukh, as it had been by the talmudic authorities, not only against those who, by specific actions, endangered the life of the individual or the community, but also against informers or renegades who constituted a potential danger. There were other categories of persons – for instance shepherds, who for some reason were held in bad repute in talmudic times – who were not to be assisted when in danger, although Jews were not allowed to kill them.(6) ‘Akkum, i. e. idol worshippers, were included in this category. As the term ‘Akkum was sometimes used synonymously with ‘Gentile’, Rabbi Rivkes felt prompted to disabuse his readers of any possible error, and wrote as follows:
The Rabbi said this in relation to the pagans of their own times only, who worshipped stars and the constellations and did not believe in the Exodus or in creatio ex nihilo. But the peoples in whose shade we, the people of Israel, are exiled and amongst whom we are dispersed do in fact believe in creatio ex nihilo and in the Exodus and in the main principles of religion, and their whole aim and intent is to the Maker of heaven and earth, as the codifiers have written….So far, then, from our not being forbidden to save them, we are on the contrary obliged to pray for their welfare, and as Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi wrote at length on the Passover Haggadah, concerning the sentence Pour out Thy wrath upon the peoples who have not known Thee (Ps. Ixxix. 6), it was King David, peace be upon him, who prayed to God to pour out His wrath on the heathen who did not believe in creatio ex nihilo and in the signs and wonders which God, Blessed be He, performed for us in Egypt, and at the giving of the Torah. But the Gentiles, in whose shadow we live and under whose wings we shelter, believe in all these things, as I have written; hence we stand on guard to pray continually for the welfare and success of the kingdom and the ministers, for all the States and places over which they rule; and indeed Maimonides ruled, in concurrence with Rabbi Joshua (B.T., Sanhedrin, 105a), that the pious of the Gentile nations too have a portion in the world to come.(7)
Rabbi Rivkes drew the conclusion that, regarding the obligation to save life, no discrimination should be made between Jew and Christian; the same degree of merit was attached to saving either. He based his statement on a comprehensive evaluation of Christianity, and for that reason it deserves our special attention.
Rivkes’s outlook comprised basic views which we have already encountered, viz. that Christians were not idolaters in that they, like Jews, worshipped the Creator of heaven and earth, and that the inferior political status of the Jews obliged them to be grateful and loyal to their benefactors. But he added a personal contribution, namely, the opinion that Christians shared the Jewish belief in prophecy and revelation and in the truth of the Bible, i. e. that they had a common tradition. In support of his view, Rivkes referred to a passage in the writings of an earlier authority, Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, a prolific homilist who lived in the middle of the sixteenth century. Ashkenazi’s commentary, Ma’aseh Ha-Shem, on the Haggadah for Pesah (i. e. the domestic liturgy for the Seder nights, the first two nights of Passover), deals with the passage in which some verses from the Bible that beseech revenge upon the nations that knew Thee not (i. e. Ps. Ixxix. 6-7, &c.) are recited. The exact connotation of such biblical passages was normally a matter of little concern for participants in the Seder. Doubtless they were originally included in the Haggadah as prayers for the speedy coming of the Messiah, to be preceded by the Day of Judgement and the doom of non-believers, who, for the average sixteenth-century worshipper, would have included Christians. But Rabbi Ashkenazi, influenced probably by the Italian scholar Solomon Ibn Verga of the humanist era(8) shrank from such an interpretation. He thought that the literal meaning of the prayer was intended, i. e. that, as in the actual words of the biblical verses, it applied only to heathens who rejected the notion of revelation.
As Rabbi Ashkenazi’s views had been expressed in homiletic form, they possessed no more than theoretical significance. They acquired a legal force through their inclusion by Rivkes in his gloss to the Shulhan ‘Arukh. As they shared the Jewish belief in Revelation, Christians were legally defined as a specific group of Gentiles;what the Talmud said about idolaters, therefore, did not apply to Christians. Rivkes’s comments were quoted, or hinted at, whenever the relationship between Judaism and Christianity was discussed, as happened very often during the eighteenth century, especially in western European countries. It was there that the first signs of tolerance towards Jews appeared, and gave rise to corresponding attitudes on the part of Jews to Christians. The influence of this development on enlightened Jews (the Maskilim) will be described in the next chapter. Here we shall concern ourselves with the exponents of traditional Judaism only, who were no more impervious than the Maskilim themselves to the effects of surrounding non-Jewish religious tolerance. Rabbi Ya’ir Hayyim Bacharach (1638-1702) and Rabbi Jacob Emden (1697 – 1776) were the outstanding Jewish personalities of their times.(9) They and their circles reacted to their environment by stressing the common religious heritage of Judaism and Christianity, as expounded by their predecessors, Rivkes and Ashkenazi.(10) Rabbi Emden, in minimizing the difference between the two faiths, event went so far as to state that Jesus had never intended to abrogate the Torah so far as Jews were concerned, but had wished merely to spread Jewish tenets and the Seven Noachide Commandments among non-Jews. The ultimate clash between Judaism and Christianity, as well as the Christian persecution of Jews, stemmed from a fatal misunderstanding.(11) The above Rabbis represented the mental attitudes of the old school of Jewish tradition. Emden lived to see the beginnings of the Haskalah movement, and became its vehement opponent. Nevertheless, he and his like were influenced, despite themselves, by the same stimulus which had given rise to that movement. For instance, they acquired a certain degree of secular knowledge; Bacharach and Emden even attained a critical attitude towards tradition and its sources.(12) They had no difficulty in reconciling their new knowledge and attitudes with the traditionalism in which they were steeped, and their tolerance towards Christianity was one of the indications of this lack of conflict… ...
(1) See Chaps. III-IV.
(2) Moses Isserles gave permission to trade in rosaries, Shulhan ‘Arukh, Y.D.,
151; I have described in Tradition and Crisis, chap. 3, the stages of development in respect of Gentile wine.
(3) D.Kaufmann, Geschichte der Attributenlehre, Gotha, 1877, p. 460, n. 148.
(4) From the parallel sources Tosafoth, Sanhedrin, 63b; Rosh, Sanhedrin, 7, 3;
R. Yeruham, Sefer ‘Adam we-Hawwah, 17, 5; only the last-cited has the full statement: “The sons of Noah are not commanded as to the shittuf.’ The other two sources read “al kakh” (concerning this). The word shittuf appears in Tosafoth, Bekhoroth, 2b, in another connexion. The version of R. Yeruham (from fourteenth-century Spain) may be an unwitting emendation after the term shittuf had gained currency. In any case, it was thanks to this version alone that it could become a standing quotation. The change in meaning of this dictum was first pointed out by R. Ephraim Kohen, Responsa, 24; see also R. Jonah Landsofer, Responsa, 22, and R. Samuel Landau in Noda’Biyhudah (2nd edn.), Y. D. 148. It is interesting that it was a modern Gentile scholar, G. Dalman, who (independently of the halakhists, it seems) noticed this point. See G. Marx (pseudonym), Jüdisches Fremdenrecht, 1886, p. 50, n. 1.
(5) The dictum gained currency through its having been quoted by Moses Isserles on Shulhan ‘Arukh, ‘O. H., 156. There is some indication that he himself interpreted it in the wider sense. See Pithhey Teshuvah, Y. D., 147. This interpretation was explicitly adopted by Samuel b. Joseph, ’Olath Tamid, 1681, ‘O.H., 156. That the dictum was much quoted is testified by the authors (cited in the preceding note) who contested it. Jacob Emden quotes the dictum as if it was of talmudic origin (‘ameru rabbothenu zikhronam liverakhah), Responsa, I.41, ‘Et Avoth, 41b.
(6) Shulhan ‘Arukh, H.M. 525, 5.
(7) Be’er Ha-Golah, on the reference in the preceding note.
(8) See his Shevet Yehudah, Jerusalem edn., 1947, p. 29. Christians are there characterized as subscribing to the belief in creatio ex nihilo
(9) Ya’ir Bacharach
Bachrach und seine Ahnen, Trier, 1894; M. J. Cohen, Jacob Emden, A Man of Controversy, Philadelphia, 1937.
(10) A. Shohet. „The German Jews‘ Integration within their non-Jewish Environment in the First Half of the 18th Century’ (Hebrew), Zion, XXI, 1956, pp. 229-34, listed the sources reflecting the Jewish attitude towards Christianity in the period. Some others may be added e. g. Jacob Joshua , Pency Yehoshua’, Frankfort on the Main edn., 1756, on the last page; Ezekiel Landau, Responsa, Prague edn., 1776, on the first page.
(11) Emden was the first to question the authenticity of the Zohar; see Y. Tishbi, Mishnath Ha-Zohar, Jerusalem, 1949, pp. 52-56
(12) The fact that Landau and Emden were strong opponents of the Sabbatian movement and also opposed Hasidism does not affect the fact that they were, themselves, imbued by the spirit of Qabbalah, as an examination of their writings incontrovertibly shows.