Chosen People, Chosen Purpose

This unit explores the concept of chosenness, and what it means when Jewish tradition says the Jewish people are a “Chosen People”.

Unit Ages: 15-18 | 4 lessons


Chosenness has been a core element of the way Jews have seen themselves, inspired by ancient sources and traditions. In this unit we will explore and analyze this concept, understanding the sometimes complex and controversial interpretations that this has produced. The elements of the concept of a “Chosen People” examined in the blocks are:
Biblical and talmudic references to chosenness as well as a selection of Jewish philosophers to evaluate whether “chosenness” means intrinsic holiness or extrinsic holiness to be achieved.
Who chose who? Were the two partners in the transaction equally free to accept the ramifications?
Is the status as chosen people conditional? Is it a privilege or is there responsibility that comes with these blessings?
What does segula mean? What have the Jews been chosen for?

Desired Outcomes

Big Ideas
  • Jewish ancient texts, including the Torah and Talmud, describe the Jewish people as “chosen” and a “treasure” to God
  • The Jewish people have a covenantal relationship with God 
  • Chosenness is both a privilege and a responsibility
  • Chosenness is deeply connected to the Jewish national mission
  • The Jewish national mission is to model ethical monotheism
  • Jewish thinkers have grappled with the concept of the Chosen People debating its implications (intrinsic or extrinsic holiness)  and how it relates to other nations
Essential Questions
  • When is it appropriate to challenge the beliefs or values of society?
  • What can we learn from different generations?
  • How does being Jewish affect what I do in my daily/weekly life?
  • What are the responsibilities of the individual in regard to issues of social justice?
  • How can literature serve as a vehicle for social change?
  • What are the Jewish values (e.g., freedom, responsibility, justice, community, respect of diversity etc.) that should be honored in an ideal society?
  • How is the Torah story my story?
  • How would we define a utopian society?
  • How can exploring the past impact our present?
  • How do Jewish texts help me grapple with questions of life, the universe and everything?
  • How is Jewish text a vehicle to help us access connections to God?
  • How do beliefs, ethics, or values influence different people’s behavior?
  • Core Jewish texts which indicate chosenness
  • Divergent views among Jewish thinkers about the big questions about chosenness
  • What a covenantal relationship with God looks like 
  • The connection between chosenness and national mission
  • Students will be able to analyze biblical and talmudic texts in order to ascertain the ancient source for Jewish chosenness
  • Students will be able to analyze divergent views of Jewish thinkers on what chosenness means in practice
  • Students will be able to develop their own thinking and relationship to the concept of Jewish chosenness.
  • Students will be able to navigate a Tanach, finding the chapter and verse when provided with a reference.

Assessment Evidence

What evidence will students provide to demonstrate that they:
Know the knowledge; Can do the skills; Can respond thoughtfully to the EQs and BIs

Teacher creates authentic assessments before beginning the unit

Learning Experiences

Possible Unit Plan

You could use the following text from kiddush for festivals to trigger a discussion on what chosenness means, and what emotions it generates in your students:

:בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-להֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר בָּנוּ מִכָּל עָם וְרומְמָנוּ מִכָּל לָשׁון וְקִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְותָי

Blessed are you, Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who has chosen us from every people, exalted us above every tongue, and sanctified us with His commandments. 

Ask your students:

  • How do these words make you feel?
  • What do you think it means that God “chose us”?
  • Do you have any questions on this? Write them down and then see if they are addressed as you learn more about this subject in the lessons that follow.

Content Study: 

Each of the four lessons in this House stands alone, and can be taught independently.

Unit Closing/ Assessment: 

In this video Rabbi Spiro summarizes many of the ideas discussed in the unit. You could ask your students to draw a mindmap from the concepts, writing each idea they have explored in the unit as he mentions it on a piece of paper, and then drawing lines from each idea adding other texts and interpretations that they have learned emanating out from them.

(This video could be used as a trigger to the unit,  ask your students to write down as many questions as possible on the video, and then revisiting them at the end of the unit to see if they have any clarity/answers. However, there are a lot of complex ideas referred to here that need unpacking, and it may be information overload to use as a trigger, and more appropriate as a concluding activity).