Pintele Yid: A Rabbi meditates on the meaning of ‘chosenness’ and Jewish particularism

(The following is a guest post by Adam Frank, Rabbi at Congregation Moreshet Israel, a Conservative Synagogue in Jerusalem.  Though CiF Watch is not a ‘Jewish Blog’ as such, we are, to be sure, proudly philosemitic, and thus Frank’s brief meditation should be seen as an opportunity to thoughtfully and soberly discuss what Jewish ‘chosenness’ and ‘particularism’ truly means in the context of Jewish history. –  AL)

Though born and raised in a proudly Jewish and Zionist home, I was not exposed to the term Pintele Yid until reaching adulthood. 

Literally, the words mean ‘the little point of a Jew,’ though colloquially it refers to the idea of the Jewish spark inside each member of our community.  Pintele Yid is a term that has been used to refer to some element of the essence in each Jew that refuses to be extinguished. 

Some  give labels to pintele yid such as chutzpah or determination or stubbornness or soul.  Unarguably, for those who accept and embrace the concept of pintele yid, it does serve to distinguish a Jew from others.

Recently, I engaged in a thoughtful conversation with a Jewish friend for whom the idea of ‘Chosen People’ is an anathema.  Simply put, she does not believe that Jews are different from the other peoples of the world.  While I certainly understand the discomfort that one may feel over the Torah’s reference to our nation as ‘chosen,’ I believe wholeheartedly in the Jewish people’s unique and unambiguous relationship with Gd and, accordingly, with the rest of the humanity.  Still, does the People Israel being ‘chosen’ pertain to each individual or is it a collective label?

For guidance, I look to our tradition’s teachings and belief that stems from the Torah’s verses, You all stand here today before Adonai your Gd….that you enter into a covenant that Gd makes with you this day that you are His people… not only with you standing here today but also with those who are with us but [physically] not here this day. (Deuteronomy 29:9-14)

Begrudgingly or willfully, our people is defined as involved in an ongoing, unbreakable covenant with the universe’s one and only Gd.  Each one of us stood before Gd that day and committed to a relationship of great privilege and even greater responsibility.  

The existence of each individual Jew in the world is neither random nor happenstance; and each Jew’s existence is the result of calculated and uncompromising decisions of the chain of generations that came before us.  Through all of the persecution, all of the oppression, all of the pograms, crusades, libels and massacres – the existence of each and every Jew alive today is deliberate and purposeful; and, our survival has no doubt been assisted by our belief that we are unique, different, and essential.

Pintele Yid is the fiber in each Jew that resists the darkness of the complacent and the ordinary.  Like the menorah in the time of the Maccabees, the spark of each Jewish soul refuses to be extinguished.  

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