I was reminded by seeing this question regarding racism that I had always wondered about how to interpret the well-known prayer of "Aleinu". The first half of the prayer seems to be thanking Hashem for making us uniquely believers in Him, in other words, we are happy that we are the only ones who serve him. This seems like a step further than merely thanking Hashem for singling us out to give us the Torah or the like, because we seem to be happy about the fact that other nations continue to worship idols.

Not only does such an interpretation fly in the face of most people's intuition that we really do want the other nations to also believe in Hashem, but it contradicts the next paragraph of the very same prayer: we hope for the day when all nations will bow to Hashem.

Are we happy about the fact that other nations worship (or worshiped) idols, which is what give us our uniqueness?

  • 1
    I'll give you a great answer to this...next Rosh Chodesh Adar....
    – Jake
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 12:40

2 Answers 2


Actually, the first paragraph of Aleinu, can be viewed as an explanation or "list" that expounds on the first sentence:

"It is our obligation to praise the Master of all..." (Why???): ... "That he did not make us like the nations of the earth..."

This is not any insult to the other nations by any means. I am thanking G-d for making me DIFFERENT than other nations, by giving me (Jews) the task of performing mitzvot. THAT is the focus of the thanks. G-d chose Jews to carry the responsibility and task of observing mitzvot. There is nothing implied that this makes us superior to other nations, in any way. By analogy, it's like thanking your boss for giving you a project rather than to someone else. That doesn't necessarily imply that the other person was inferior or unworthy. Perhaps, your co-worker got a different project that may be MORE "important".

Likewise, it is not that we are "happy" that "they bow down to idols..." That sentence is a further explanation of why we are thankful that G-d didn't place us like the other nations. The REASON G-d didn't place us with their "share" is BECAUSE ... "they bow down..."

FYI - See the Art Scroll (among other places) that explain why many places have eliminated that last phrase. Historically, it was eliminated for a while b/c non-Jews thought that this was insulting to them - a claim similar to yours - and Jews were trying to prevent pogroms or other violence that might have happened b/c of this misunderstanding. Too bad that Jews at that time didn't have the means or opportunity to explain it to them similar to what I am doing. I doubt even that would have mattered, though.


The simple answer is that you're reading the prayer wrong: we aren't saying that we're happy that no other nations serve Hashem, but we're merely happy that at least we get to, for without the Torah, we too would be bowing to emptiness and nothing

  • You're answering your own question here? You're setting up a weird strawman above. Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 21:00
  • I guess but it seems like the better interpretation (that fits the words more literally) is the one in the question, and the answer is sort of a "well it can't really mean that so it must mean this". I'm curious if anyone discusses the prayer as if it really does mean to thank Hashem for making Jews unique at the expense of the other nations Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 3:45

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