25 October 2019
"We Jews are ... not a chosen people"
Albert Einstein, 1927
EINSTEIN, Albert (1879-1955) and BYK, Suse (Photographer, 1890-1960). Photograph inscribed and signed ("Albert Einstein"), n.p., 1927.
Silver print photograph, 137 x 101mm, affixed to Byk's blindstamped studio mount, 230 x 170mm (small tear at top margin of mount, light foxing, silvering at margins).
Albert Einstein dismisses the notion that the Jews are "a chosen people." A powerful quotation written below a masterful portrait by the Berlin photographer Suse Byk: “We Jews are absolutely not a chosen people, but one that has been sifted and hardened by millennia of pressure" ("Wir Juden sind zwar kein auserwähltes, aber ein unter Jahrtundende währenden Druck gesibtes und gestähltes Volk").
Here Einstein encapsulates the core tenant of his identification with Judaism. Just as he rejected repeatedly the notion of an anthromorphic god, so he rejected the possibility that a particular group of people could be chosen by such an entity for some divine purpose. Einstein appreciated that the Jewish people had endured a unique history that shaped their culture profoundly, but that this shared identity did not confer privilege over others—sentiments he expanded upon in his 1954 letter to Eric Gutkind: "the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples. As far as my experience goes, they are in fact no better than other human groups, even if they are protected from the worst excesses by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot perceive anything 'chosen' about them.” (Christie's, New York, 16 December 2018, lot 1).
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