Members of the Jewish faith often feel that they are God’s chosen people. Given this view, how can the Jewish community stand on equal ground with those of other faiths? Doesn’t this opinion of themselves as God’s chosen people make Jews become arrogant? - Prof. Dr. Komaruddin Hidayat Rector, Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic National University, Jakarta
Jews do see themselves as chosen – chosen for the responsibility of observing more commandments than non-Jews. According to the Talmud, non-Jews who observe seven commandments are considered righteous, and get to Heaven. Jews, on the other hand, are responsible for 613. They are rewarded for them, but also punished for shortcomings in any one of them. When G-d in the Bible calls the Jewish people “my first-born son,” what is meant is that G-d appreciates the commitment that Jews made to Him to bear His word throughout history, often suffering for it at the hands of others.
There is absolutely nothing in Jewish tradition that argues that Jews are smarter, more talented, purer, or more entitled than non-Jews.
All Western religions (and almost all world religions) see themselves as chosen. They may be chosen as the only way to find redemption, or Heaven, or G-d’s authentic teaching. Is there a more exclusive kind of choseness than arguing that only members of your own faith gain eternal life?
Yet Judaism alone does not make that claim, teaching instead that the righteous of all nations go to Heaven. And it teaches and demands as a matter of law that Jews do not murder, injure, steal from, cheat or deceive non-Jews before they get to Heaven!
Additionally, Judaism embraces with open arms all those who want to share the Jewish kind of “choseness.” How exclusive can you be when all you have to do to enter the “inner club” is to ask to join – and show that you are serious about it? Judaism is not restricted to any race or background, which is why you will find Jews today from every color, nationality, racial group and language.
Does Jewish choseness lead to arrogance? Certainly there are some Jews who distort a teaching of their faith, just as there are people who do the same in all faiths. They transpose the word “better” for “chosen.” They have nothing in tradition to base this upon, and they are a small minority.
There is a famous Jewish story that directly addresses you question. Two merchants came back from a large fair, where both had purchased merchandise that they would try to sell in the following months. One was in good spirits, feeling proud over the quality and quantity of his purchases. The second returned with a quantity of merchandise hugely larger than the first. He, however, was quiet, even somber.
The first turned to his friend and asked, “I’m puzzled. I am in a good mood because of all that I brought back from the fair. You’ve brought back many times more. You should be ecstatic. Why are you not rejoicing?”
The second merchant replied. “Everything that we purchased we bought on credit. It is true that I have far more than you. But I have much more to pay back!
To Jews who are conscious of the role of G-d in their lives, every gift they receive from G-d should make them realize their indebtedness. They have much to pay back to G-d for what He has given them. The responsibility of justifying G-d’s investment in them is an awesome one.
You cannot feel arrogant regarding something that is not yours, but merely entrusted to you in order to improve G-d’s world.