Read CHAPTER IV of Chosen Peoples Being the First "Arthur Davis Memorial Lecture" delivered, free online book, by Israel Zangwill, on

Israel disappears, too, in whole books of the Old Testament. What has the problem of Job, the wisdom of Proverbs, or the pessimism of Ecclesiastes to do with the Jew specifically? The Psalter would scarcely have had so universal an appeal had it been essentially rooted in a race.

In the magnificent cosmic poem of Psalm civ half Whitman, half St. Francis not only his fellow-man but all creation comes under the benediction of the Hebrew poet’s mood. “The high hills are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the conies.... The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God ... man goeth forth unto his work, and to his labour until the evening.” Even in a more primitive Hebrew poet the same cosmic universalism reveals itself. To the bard of Genesis the rainbow betokens not merely a covenant between God and man but a “covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”

That the myth of the tribalism of the Jewish God should persist in face of such passages can only be explained by the fact that He shares in the unpopularity of His people. Mr. Wells, for example, in his finely felt but intellectually incoherent book, “God the Invisible King,” dismisses Him as a malignant and partisan Deity, jealous and pettily stringent. At most one is entitled to say with Mr. Israel Abrahams in his profound little book on “Judaism” that “God, in the early literature a tribal, non-moral Deity, was in the later literature a righteous ruler, who, with Amos and Hosea, loved and demanded righteousness in man,” and that there was an expansion from a national to a universal Ruler. But if “by early literature” anybody understand simply Genesis, if he imagines that the evolutionary movement in Judaism proceeds regularly from Abraham to Isaiah, he is grossly in error. No doubt all early gods are tribal, all early religions connected with the hearth and ancestor worship, but the God of Isaiah is already in Genesis, and the tribal God has to be exhumed from practically all parts of the Bible. But even in the crudities of Genesis or Judges that have escaped editorship I cannot find Mr. Wells’s “malignant” Deity He is really “the invisible King.” The very first time Jéhovah appears in His tribal aspect (Genesis xii.) His promise to bless Abraham ends with the assurance and it almost invariably accompanies all the repetitions of the promise “And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Nay, as I pointed out in my essay on “The Gods of Germany,” the very first words of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” strike a magnificent note of universalism, which is sustained in the derivation of all humanity from Adam, and again from Noah, with one original language. Nor is this a modern gloss, for the Talmud already deduces the interpretation. Racine’s “Esther” in the noble lines lauded by Voltaire might be almost rebuking Mr. Wells:

Ce Dieu, maitre absolu de la terre et des cieux,
N’est point tel que l’erreur figure a vos yeux:
L’Eternel est son nom, monde est son ouvrage;
Il entend les soupirs de l’humble qu’on outrage,
Juge tous les mortels avec d’egales lois,
Et du haut de son trone interroge les rois.

there is the true Hebrew note, the note denounced of Nietzsche.

Is this notorious “tribal God” the God of the Mesopotamian sheikh whose seed was so invidiously chosen? Well, but of this God Abraham asks in what I must continue to call the epochal sentence in the Bible “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham, in fact, bids God down as in some divine Dutch auction Sodom is not to be destroyed if it holds fifty, forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty, nay ten righteous men. Compare this ethical development of the ancestor of Judaism with that of Pope Gregory XIII, in the sixteenth century, some thirty-one centuries later: Civitas ista potest esse destrui quando in ea plures sunt haeretici ("A city may be destroyed when it harbours a number of heretics"). And this claim of man to criticize God Jéhovah freely concedes. Thus the God of Abraham is no God of a tribe, but, like the God of the Rabbi who protested against the Bath-Kol, the God of Reason and Love. As clearly as for the nineteenth-century Martineau, “the seat of authority in Religion” has passed to the human conscience. God Himself appeals to it in that inversion of the Sodom story, the story of Jonah, whose teaching is far greater and more wonderful than its fish. And this Abrahamic tradition of free thought is continued by Moses, who boldly comes between Jéhovah and the people He designs to destroy. “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying, For evil did He bring them forth to slay them in the mountains...? Turn from Thy fierce wrath and repent of this evil against Thy people.” Moses goes on to remind Him of the covenant, “And the Lord repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people.” In the same chapter, the people having made a golden calf, Moses offers his life for their sin; the Old Testament here, as in so many places, anticipating the so-called New, but rejecting the notion of vicarious atonement so drastically that the attempt of dogmatic Christianity to base itself on the Old Testament can only be described as text-blind. And the great answer of Jéhovah to Moses’s questioning “I am that I am” yields already the profound metaphysical Deity of Maimonides, that “invisible King” whom the anonymous New Year liturgist celebrates as:

Highest divinity,
Dynast of endlessness,
Timeless resplendency,
Worshipped eternally,
Lord of Infinity!

And the fact that Moses himself was married to an Egyptian woman and that “a mixed multitude” went up with the Jews out of Egypt shows that the narrow tribalism of Ezra and Nehemiah, with the regrettable rejection of the Samaritans, was but a temporary political necessity; while the subsequent admission into the canon of the book of “Ruth,” with its moral of the descent of the Messiah himself from a Moabite woman, is an index that universalism was still unconquered. We have, in fact, the recurring clash of centripetal and centrifugal forces, and what assured the persistence and assures the ultimate triumph of the latter is that the race being one with the religion could not resist that religion’s universal implications. If there were only a single God, and He a God of justice and the world, how could He be confined to Israel? The Mission could not but come. The true God, urges Mr. Wells, has no scorn or hatred for those who seek Him through idols. That is exactly what Ibn Gabirol said in 1050. But those blind seekers needed guiding. Religion, in fact, not race, has always been the governing principle in Jewish history. “I do not know the origin of the term Jew,” says Dion Cassius, born in the second century. “The name is used, however, to designate all who observe the customs of this people, even though they be of different race.” Where indeed lay the privilege of the Chosen People when the Talmud defined a non-idolater as a Jew, and ranked a Gentile learned in the Torah as greater than the High Priest? Such learned prosélytes arose in Aquila and Theodotion each of whom made a Greek version of the Bible; while the orthodox Jew hardly regards his Hebrew text as complete unless accompanied by the Aramaic version popularly ascribed to the proselyte Onkelos. The disagreeable references to prosélytes in Rabbinic literature, the difficulties thrown in their way, and the grotesque conception of their status towards their former families, cannot counterbalance the fact, established by Radin in his learned work, “The Jews Among the Greeks and Romans,” that there was a carefully planned effort of propaganda. Does not indeed Jesus tell the Pharisees: “Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte”? Do not Juvenal and Horace complain of this Judaising? Were not the Idumeans proselytised almost by force? “The Sabbath and the Jewish fasts,” says Lecky, doubtless following Josephus, “became familiar facts in all the great cities.” And Josephus himself in that answer to Apion, which Judaism has strangely failed to rank as one of its greatest documents, declares in noble language: “There ought to be but one Temple for one God ... and this Temple common to all men, because He is the common God of all men.”

It would be a very tough tribal God that could survive worshippers of this temper. An ancient Midrash taught that in the Temple there were seventy sacrifices offered for the seventy nations. For the mediaeval and rationalist Maimonides the election of Israel scarcely exists even the Messiah is only to be a righteous Conqueror, whose success will be the test of his genuineness. And Spinoza though he, of course, is outside the development of the Synagogue proper refused to see in the Jew any superiority save of the sociological system for ensuring his eternity. The comparatively modern Chassidism, anticipating Mazzini, teaches that every nation and language has a special channel through which it receives God’s gifts. Of contemporary Reform Judaism, the motto “Have we not one father, hath not one God created us?” was formally adopted as the motto of the Congress of Religions at Washington. “The forces of democracy are Israel,” cries the American Jew, David Lubin, in an ultra-modern adaptation of the Talmudic scale of values. There is, in fact, through our post-biblical literature almost a note of apology for the assumption of the Divine mission: perhaps it is as much the offspring of worldly prudence as of spiritual progress. The Talmud observed that the Law was only given to Israel because he was so peculiarly fierce he needed curbing. Abraham Ibn Daud at the beginning of the twelfth century urged that God had to reveal Himself to some nation to show that He did not hold Himself aloof from the universe, leaving its rule to the stars: it is the very argument as to the need for Christ employed by Mr. Balfour in his “Foundations of Belief.” Crescas, in the fourteenth century, declared like an earlier Buckle that the excellence of the Jew sprang merely from the excellence of Palestine. Mr. Abelson, in his recent valuable book on Jewish mysticism, alleges that when Rabbi Akiba called the Jews “Sons of God” he meant only that all other nations were idolaters. But in reality Akiba meant what he said what indeed had been said throughout the Bible from Deuteronomy downwards. In the words of Hosea:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.

No evidence of the universalism of Israel’s mission can away with the fact that it was still his mission, the mission of a Chosen People. And this conviction, permeating and penetrating his whole literature and broidering itself with an Oriental exuberance of legendary fantasy, poetic or puerile, takes on in places an intimacy, sometimes touching in its tender mysticism, sometimes almost grotesque in its crude reminder to God that after all His own glory and reputation are bound up with His people’s, and that He must not go too far in His chastisements lest the heathen mock. Reversed, this apprehension produced the concept of the Chillul Hashem, “the profanation of the Name.” Israel, in his turn, was in honour bound not to lower the reputation of the Deity, who had chosen him out. On the contrary, he was to promote the Kiddush Hashem “the sanctification of the Name.” Thus the doctrine of election made not for arrogance but for a sense of Noblesse oblige. As the “Hymn of Glory” recited at New Year says in a more poetic sense: “His glory is on me and mine on Him.” “He loves His people,” says the hymn, “and inhabits their praises.” Indeed, according to Schechter, the ancient Rabbis actually conceived God as existing only through Israel’s continuous testimony and ceasing were Israel per impossibile to disappear. It is a mysticism not without affinity to Mr. Wells’s. A Chassidic Rabbi, quoted by Mr. Wassilevsky, teaches in the same spirit that God and Israel, like Father and Son, are each incomplete without the other. In another passage of Hosea a passage recited at the everyday winding of phylacteries the imagery is of wedded lovers. “I will betroth thee unto Me for ever, Yea I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness and in judgment and in loving-kindness and in mercy.”

But it is in the glowing, poetic soul of Jehuda Ha-Levi that this election of Israel, like the passion for Palestine, finds its supreme and uncompromising expression. “Israel,” declares the author of the “Cuzari” in a famous dictum, “is among the nations like the heart among the limbs.” Do not imagine he referred to the heart as a pump, feeding the veins of the nations Harvey was still five centuries in the future he meant the heart as the centre of feeling and the symbol of the spirit. And examining the question why Israel had been thus chosen, he declares plumply that it is as little worthy of consideration as why the animals had not been created men. This is, of course, the only answer. The wind of creation and inspiration bloweth where it listeth. As Tennyson said in a similar connection:

And if it is so, so it is, you know,
And if it be so, so be it!