Reconstructionist Blessings Before & After Torah Reading & the Concept of Chosenness

This short video demonstrates how to recite the blessings before and after the Torah reading according to the Reconstructionist tradition, which omits references to the Jews as the ‘Chosen People’ because of the movement’s ideological stance against chosenness in favor of equality. The video, with online instructions and the Hebrew text of the blessings, is made by Jason Marmorstein from the Reform Congregation Beth Israel in Media, PA. This post also includes a brief explanation of the history and beliefs of the Reconstructionist movement. 

Reconstructionist Judaism

Reconstructionist Judaism was developed by Mordecai Kaplan from the late 1920s to 1940s in America and gained popularity after the founding of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in 1968. The movement, which was originally a stream within Conservative Judaism, views Judaism as a “progressively evolving civilization,” and does not demand adherence to a particular theology. It holds that Western secular morality has precedence over Jewish law and theology, yet it promotes many traditional Jewish practices as “folkways” (minhagim), or non-binding customs that can be democratically accepted, adapted or rejected by congregations in response to the changing needs of the Jewish people.

Jewish movements in America struggled to redefine Jewish identity and practice in the face of modern American culture. As opposed to ethical monotheism, Jewish law, or nationalism, Kaplan held that Jewish peoplehood was the sole constant throughout Jewish history, rejecting central concepts such as belief in a supernatural God, the divinity of the Torah, and the notion of the Jews as a “chosen people.”

These ideological changes were reflected in the first Reconstructionist Shabbat Prayer Book, which appeared in 1945. As is seen in the accompanying video above, the following line is replaced with terminology which refers to God calling the Jewish people to service, rather than “chosenness.” This traditional phrase:

אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים – that chose us from of all the nations

is replaced by the following:

אשר קרבנו לעבודתו – that has drawn us near to his service

Choseneness is the belief that the Jewish people were singularly chosen to enter into a covenant with God, a concept which is deeply rooted in biblical verses and has been developed in Talmudic, philosophic, and mystical Judaism. While most Jews hold that being the “Chosen People” means that they have been place on earth to fulfill a certain purpose, it has often been misinterpreted as a racist ideology by Jews and non-Jews alike. Kaplan advocated dropping chosenness to avoid these accusations and because it went against modern Western thought to see the Jews as a divinely chosen people.

Today’s Reconstructionist institutions are based on Kaplan’s original principles, including democracy, egalitarianism, values-based decision-making, and inclusivity.

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