Written by Claude Joseph Goldsmid Montefiore, A British Liberal Jewish teacher, in 1918
And what of Israel itself? What of its duty and its destiny ? Here, too, do we not build and rest upon the highest of the Old Testament utterances ? " Ye shall be unto me a Kingdom of Priests." " Ye are my witnesses ; thou art my servant : with his stripes we have been healed." Our theory of Israel s mission of the religious charge entrusted to the Jews for the benefit of the world goes back to the Babylonian Isaiah. Perhaps it is here that both the religious and ethical trouble are by some most acutely felt. I have dealt with the ethical trouble at con siderable length : here I can be briefer. It cannot be denied that the peculiar relation of Israel to God and of God to Israel is of the very kernel of the Old Testament. And it also cannot be denied that the relation is often unethically presented : it may even be said that there are very few Old Testament writers and passages which are wholly free from a certain measure of particularism. Moreover, the trouble is that this particularism is most marked and most awkward just when the God idea has become most developed and most clearly monotheistic. It was far less disagreeable in the earliest times than in the latest times. Hence we cannot say, " This is merely one of the primitive imperfections of the Old Testa ment. The later writers are free from it." Nor can we say, " The Prophets are clear of it. It is only one of the compromises which had to be taken up in the Law." Law, prophets and psalter share it alike. That in primitive times Yahweh should be specially concerned in the welfare of his people is reasonable enough. For Yahweh starts as a just, but as a tribal, God. He cares for Israel, as Chemosh cares for Moab. But that the God of the spirits of all flesh, the one and only God, creator of heaven and earth, that He should have a chosen people, that He should be more concerned in the prosperity of Israel than in the prosperity of Edom, that He should have enemies, simply because Israel has enemies, all this seems to be a doctrine utterly inconsistent with ethical monotheism, utterly inconsistent with our modern ideas whether of morality or of religion. And I fully agree that it is ! The only limitation but it is an important and crucial limitation that I would make is that, while I accept the doctrine of the chosen people, I interpret it to mean, not favouritism and presents, but discipline and service. Liberal Judaism holds, not that God cared more for the Israelites than for the Edomites, but that he entrusted Israel with a charge, a task, a mission. This task is not for ourselves, but for humanity, not for our benefit, but for the world's. The education for, and the (very imperfect) fulfilment of, this charge did not mean, and has not meant, more prosperity, but less prosperity, not lessing, but more suffering.
That this is not the usual conception of the Old Testament, that this is not its usual and predominant interpretation of the "chosen people," is obvious. To maintain that it was would be hopelessly uncritical and absurd. But two points must be noticed. The first is that any other interpretation entirely conflicts with the ethical monotheism of the Old Testament itself. We must, therefore (as in other instances), correct and refute the Old Testament by the Old Testament. The second point is that though this interpretation is not the prevailing or the usual interpretation of the doctrine of Israel s election, a very fair, if incomplete, form of it is found in a few Old Testament passages which we can legitimately combine and draw out. Thus we have, to begin with, the famous verse in Amos, " You only have I known of all the families of the earth : therefore will I visit upon you your iniquities." God will deal more strictly with Israel than with " the nations." This general prophetic conception characteristic, at least, for the prophets of the eighth and seventh centuries gave a deadly blow to the idea that it was God s province and duty to shower special favours and presents upon Israel, His people. Next we have the prophetic hope of a world religion, a universal acknowledgment of the one true God, arising in the future as the final result of Israel s life and teaching. " From Zion shall the Law go forth and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." " The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." " God s house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." "Yet will I gather others unto him besides his own that are gathered." More definite even than these passages, and more significant, is the conception of the Servant in the Second Isaiah. " Ye are my witnesses." Israel has been elected that God s salvation may spread to the ends of the earth. This conception culminates in the famous fifty-third chapter, which the consensus of critics now regards as the confession of the nations concerning the mis judged and maltreated Israel. Through his stripes patiently and voluntarily undergone they have been healed. Nothing can well be in greater con tradiction to the old doctrine than this. (It has to be sorrowfully admitted that it made little headway or impression.) Lastly, we can quote the conception in Exodus of " the kingdom of priests," which seems to point towards the idea of a mission. Priests hardly discharge their office for themselves : they discharge it for others. Modern exegesis has shown that it would not be quite fair to quote Genesis xii. 3 and its parallels, but that the uni- versalist interpretation was making itself felt and becoming known, even within the Old Testament period, we may gather from the rendering of the Septuagint.
Now the doctrine of Israel's election as interpreted by Liberal Judaism to-day (and I imagine that Orthodox Judaism interprets it in the same way) may be true or false. The immense majority of mankind would say that it was false, or, at all events, that the only " mission " Israel had was to produce Christianity, and that its election terminated, therefore, with the birth of Christianity s founder. I have not to argue the question here. My point is simply that, whether true or false, the doctrine, as we interpret it, is not unethical. It does not conflict with the moral perfection of God. It need cause us no " trouble." Further the doctrine, in its main outline, is to be found in the Old Testament, so that here, too, we stand by, and cling to, the Old Testament at its highest and its best.