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Jewish Chosenness and Tribalism. Modernized Judaism in a British Setting

jan peczkis|Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Claude G. Montefiore (1858-1938) was a leading British Jew. This work, originally published in 1903, provides a snapshot of liberal Jewish thinking that existed before the defining events of the two world wars.

The author begins with his concept of God. He sees the attributes of God as defined by the negative. Thus, for instance, God’s omnipresence means that no part of the universe is locally any nearer to God than any other part of the universe. (p. 17).

As expected of a liberal, Montefiore reject the miraculous. He also considers traditional Jewish beliefs and practices outdated. For instance, the teaching in the Talmud (Mishnah) that “seven kinds of punishments come into the world for seven important transgressions” is considered by Montefiore as an absurd example of the Rabbinical dogma that all calamities must be the punishment for sin. (p. 65). On another issue, the author realizes the conflict caused by the Jew serving in the military, and therefore violating the dietary laws. This conflict is resolved by liberal Judaism and its abandonment of the dietary laws. (p. 131). On still another matter, Montefiore considers the separate seating of men and women, in synagogues, an outdated oriental custom. (p. 144).


Montefiore sees the original Jewish conception of a Chosen People as follows, (quote) Jehovah or Yahweh was originally a national God, whose pleasure and profit was to protect and aggrandize his own. This was the popular conception. The wars of Israel were the wars of Yahweh, and Israel’s victories were Yahweh’s victories as well. (unquote). (p. 184). Montefiore continues, (quote) But why did Yahweh “choose” Israel? In old days nobody asked the question. The race had its god, as the child had his father. The one relation was as natural as the other. (unquote). (p. 185).

The informed reader can see the striking similarities between the ideas of Claude G. Montefiore and that of Polish scholar Feliks Koneczny (in his work, JEWISH CIVILIZATION). Koneczny spoke of Judaism consisting of both monolatry and monotheism. In monolatry, God was a Jewish tribal war deity. In monotheism, God became more universal, concerned with ethics, etc. In like manner, Montefiore sees the development of a sense of universality, and ethics, as a later development in ancient Judaism. (pp. 184-185).

In fact, Montefiore specifically repudiates Jewish Chosenness, (quote) We no longer believe that Israel was called and chosen for its own well-being. History shows that Israel was chosen for suffering and trial…We no longer believe that God has any partial love for Israel… (unquote). (p. 192).


Even among the highly-assimilated British Jews of the early 20th century, Montefiore found a need for them to “de-nationalize”, and to think themselves “Englishmen of the Jewish persuasion”, and not cling to vestigial concepts of Jews as a race or nation. This would make Jews living in England Jews by religion only. After all, one cannot belong to more than one nationality at a time. (p. 205). [If this consideration was true of the mostly-assimilated English Jews, how much more true was it of the infrequently-assimilated Polish Jews? One can also see the basis behind Endek concerns that even assimilated Jews in Poland commonly retained an essentially non-Polish identity.] Search Customer Reviews
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