Jewish messianism

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Not to be confused with Messianic Judaism.

Messiah (Hebrew: מָשִׁיחַ‎; mashiah, moshiah, mashiach, or moshiach, "anointed [one]") is a term used in the Hebrew Bible to describe priests and kings, who were traditionally anointed with holy anointing oil as described in Exodus 30:22-25. For example, Cyrus the Great, the king of Persia, although not a Hebrew, is referred to as "God's mashiach" in the Bible.

Views[edit]

Historical[edit]

In Jewish eschatology, the term mashiach, or "Messiah," came to refer to a future Jewish King from the Davidic line, who is expected to be anointed with holy anointing oil and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age.[1][2][3] The Messiah is often referred to as "King Messiah" or, in Hebrew, מלך המשיח (melekh mashiach), and in Aramaic, malka meshiḥa.[4]

Orthodox views have generally held that the Messiah will be descended from his father through the line of King David,[5] and will gather the Jews back into the Land of Israel, usher in an era of peace, build the Third Temple, father a male heir and re-institute the Sanhedrin, among other things. Jewish tradition alludes to two redeemers, both of whom are called mashiach and are involved in ushering in the Messianic age: Mashiach ben David and Mashiach ben Yosef. In general, the term Messiah unqualified refers to Mashiach ben David (Messiah, son of David).[1][2]

Talmud[edit]

The Talmud extensively discusses the coming of the Messiah (Sanhedrin 98a, et al.) and describes a period of freedom and peace, which will be the time of ultimate goodness for the Jews and for all humankind.

Tractate Sanhedrin contains a long discussion of the events leading to the coming of the Messiah, for example:

R. Johanan said: When you see a generation ever dwindling, hope for him [the Messiah], as it is written, "And the afflicted people thou wilt save."[II Samuel 22:28] R. Johanan said: When thou seest a generation overwhelmed by many troubles as by a river, await him, as it is written, "When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him;" which is followed by, "And the Redeemer shall come to Zion."

R. Johanan also said: The son of David will come only in a generation that is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked. in a generation that is altogether righteous, — as it is written, "Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever." Or altogether wicked, — as it is written, "And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor;" and it is [elsewhere] written, "For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it."[6]

The Talmud tells many stories about the Messiah, some of which represent famous Talmudic rabbis as receiving personal visitations from Elijah the Prophet and the Messiah. For example:

R. Joshua b. Levi met Elijah standing by the entrance of R. Simeon b. Yohai's tomb. He asked him: "Have I a portion in the world to come?" He replied, "if this Master desires it." R. Joshua b. Levi said, "I saw two, but heard the voice of a third." He then asked him, "When will the Messiah come?" — "Go and ask him himself," was his reply. "Where is he sitting?" — "At the entrance." "And by what sign may I recognise him?" — "He is sitting among the poor lepers: all of them untie [them] all at once, and rebandage them together, whereas he unties and rebandages each separately, [before treating the next], thinking, should I be wanted, [it being time for my appearance as the Messiah] I must not be delayed [through having to bandage a number of sores]." So he went to him and greeted him, saying, "Peace upon thee, Master and Teacher." "Peace upon thee, O son of Levi," he replied. "When wilt thou come, Master?" asked he. "Today," was his answer. On his returning to Elijah, the latter enquired, "What did he say to thee?" — "peace Upon thee, O son of Levi," he answered. Thereupon he [Elijah] observed, "He thereby assured thee and thy father of [a portion in] the world to come." "He spoke falsely to me," he rejoined, "stating that he would come today, but has not." He [Elijah] answered him, "This is what he said to thee, To-day, if ye will listen to his voice."[6]

Views of Maimonides[edit]

One Jewish understanding of the messiah is based on the writings of Maimonides, (also known as Rambam). His views on the messiah are discussed in his Mishneh Torah, his 14 volume compendium of Jewish law, in the section Hilkhot Melakhim Umilchamoteihem, chapters 11 & 12.[7]

According to Maimonides, Jesus of Nazareth is not the Messiah, as is claimed by Christians and Muslims.[8]

Ancient Israel[edit]

Main article: Hebrew Bible

Many of the scriptural requirements concerning the Messiah, what he will do, and what will be done during his reign are located in the Book of Isaiah, although requirements are mentioned by other prophets as well. Views on whether Hebrew Bible passages are Messianic may vary from and among scholars of ancient Israel looking at their meaning in original context and from and among rabbinical scholars.

Second Temple period and apocalypticism[edit]

The majority of Second Temple texts have no reference to an individual end-time Messiah.[11] Exceptions among the Dead Sea Scrolls include 4Q521, the "Messianic Apocalypse." Other messianic concepts are found in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.[12] Messianic allusions to some figures include to Menahem ben Hezekiah who traditionally was born on the same day that the Second Temple was destroyed.[13]

Present-day Jewish positions[edit]

Orthodox Judaism[edit]

Orthodox Judaism maintains that Jews are obliged to accept the 13 Principles of Faith as formulated by Maimonides in his introduction to Chapter Helek of the Mishna Torah.[citation needed] Each principle starts with the words Ani Maamin (I believe). Number 12 is the main principle relating to Mashiach. The text is as follows:[14][15]

אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח, ואף על פי שיתמהמה עם כל זה אחכה לו בכל יום שיבוא

Ani Maamin B'emunah Sh'leimah B'viyat Hamashiach. V'af al pi sheyitmahmehah im kol zeh achake lo b'chol yom sheyavo.

I believe with full faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he tarries, with all that, I await his arrival with every day.

Hasidic Judaism[edit]

Hasidic Jews tend to have a particularly strong and passionate belief in the immediacy of the Messiah's coming, and in the ability of their actions to hasten his arrival. Because of the piousness, wisdom, and leadership abilities of the Hasidic Masters, members of Hasidic communities are sometimes inclined to regard their dynastic rebbes as potential candidates for Messiah. Many Jews, (see the Bartenura's explanation on Megillat Rut, and the Halakhic responsa of The Ch'sam Sofer on Choshen Mishpat [vol. 6], Chapter 98 where this view is explicit) especially Hasidim, adhere to the belief that there is a person born each generation with the potential to become Messiah, if the Jewish people warrant his coming; this candidate is known as the Tzadik Ha-Dor, meaning Tzaddik of the Generation. However, fewer are likely to name a candidate.

Reform Movement[edit]

The Reform movement in Judaism holds different opinions in regard to the Mashiach, the Messianic age and the World to Come.

Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism[edit]

Reform Judaism and its split-off Reconstructionist Judaism generally do not accept the idea that there will be a Messiah. Some believe that there may be some sort of "messianic age" (the World to Come) in the sense of a "utopia", which all Jews are obligated to work towards (thus the tradition of Tikkun olam).

In 1999, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the official body of American Reform rabbis, authored "A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism", meant to describe and define the spiritual state of modern Reform Judaism. In a commentary appended to the platform, it states:

Messianic age: The 1885 Pittsburgh Platform rejected the traditional Jewish hope for an heir of King David to arise when the world was ready to acknowledge that heir as the one anointed (the original meaning of mashiach, anglicized into "messiah"). This figure would rule in God’s name over all people and ultimately usher in a time of justice, truth and peace. In the Avot, the first prayer of the Amidah, Reformers changed the prayerbook’s hope for a go-el, a redeemer, to geulah, redemption. Originally this idea reflected the views of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and the French Positivist philosophers that society was growing ever more enlightened. The cataclysmic events of the first half of the 20th Century smashed that belief, and most Reform Jews saw the messianic age as a time that would probably be far off. Still, we renew our hope for it when we express the belief that Shabbat is mey-eyn olam ha-ba, a sampler of the world to come, when we sing about Elijah, herald of the messiah, when Havdalah brings Shabbat to a close, when we open the door for Elijah late in the Pesach Seder, and when we express the hope in the first paragraph of the Kaddish that God’s sovereignty will be established in our days.[16]

Conservative Judaism[edit]

Emet Ve-Emunah, the Conservative movement's statement of principles, states the following:

Since no one can say for certain what will happen in the Messianic era each of us is free to fashion personal speculation. Some of us accept these speculations are literally true, while others understand them as elaborate metaphors... For the world community we dream of an age when warfare will be abolished, when justice and compassion will be axioms of all, as it is said in Isaiah 11: "...the land shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." For our people, we dream of the ingathering of all Jews to Zion where we can again be masters of our own destiny and express our distinctive genius in every area of our national life. We affirm Isaiah's prophecy (2:3) that "...Torah shall come forth from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.


We do not know when the Messiah will come, nor whether he will be a charismatic human figure or is a symbol of the redemption of humankind from the evils of the world. Through the doctrine of a Messianic figure, Judaism teaches us that every individual human being must live as if he or she, individually, has the responsibility to bring about the messianic age. Beyond that, we echo the words of Maimonides based on the prophet Habakkuk (2:3) that though he may tarry, yet do we wait for him each day.

Chabad Messianism[edit]

Main article: Chabad messianism

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson declared often that the Messiah is very close, urging all to pray for the coming of the Messiah and do everything possible to hasten the coming of the Messiah through increased acts of kindness, and so on.[17] In the late 1980s, the Rebbe called for his followers to become involved in outreach activities with the purpose of bringing about the Jewish Messianic Age,[17] which lead to controversy surrounding the messianic beliefs of Chabad.[18] In fact, some Chabad Hasidim, called mashichists, "have not yet accepted the Rebbe’s passing"[19] and still regard him posthumously as the (living) 'King Messiah' and 'Moses of the generation'.

The Chabad-Messianic question,[20] regarding a dead Moshiach, got oppositional addresses from a halachic perspective by many prominent Orthodox authorities, including leaders from the Ashkenazi non-Hasidic Lithuanian (Litvak) institutions, Ponevezh yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Israel, and got vehement opposition, notably that of the Rabbinical Seminary of America (Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim) in New York and that of the Rabbinical Council of America (See The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference).[21]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Schochet, Rabbi Prof. Dr. Jacob Immanuel. "Moshiach ben Yossef". Tutorial. http://moshiach.com. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Blidstein, Prof. Dr. Gerald J. "Messiah in Rabbinic Thought". MESSIAH. Jewish Virtual Library and Encyclopaedia Judaica 2008 The Gale Group. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  3. ^ Telushkin, Joseph. "The Messiah". The Jewish Virtual Library Jewish Literacy. NY: William Morrow and Co., 1991. Reprinted by permission of the author. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Flusser, David. "Second Temple Period". Messiah. Encyclopaedia Judaica 2008 The Gale Group. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  5. ^ See Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan: "The Real Messiah A Jewish Response to Missionaries" at the Wayback Machine (archived May 29, 2008)
  6. ^ a b B. Talmud Sanhedrin 98a
  7. ^ Maimonides writes: "The anointed king is destined to stand up and restore the Davidic Kingdom to its antiquity, to the first sovereignty. He will build the Temple in Jerusalem and gather the strayed ones of Israel together. All laws will return in his days as they were before: Sacrificial offerings are offered and the Sabbatical years and Jubilees are kept, according to all its precepts that are mentioned in the Torah. Whoever does not believe in him, or whoever does not wait for his coming, not only does he defy the other prophets, but also the Torah and Moses our teacher. For the Torah testifies about him, thus: "And the Lord Your God will return your returned ones and will show you mercy and will return and gather you... If your strayed one shall be at the edge of Heaven... And He shall bring you" etc.(Deuteronomy 30:3-5)." "These words that are explicitly stated in the Torah, encompass and include all the words spoken by all the prophets. In the section of Torah referring to Bala'am, too, it is stated, and there he prophesied about the two anointed ones: The first anointed one is David, who saved Israel from all their oppressors; and the last anointed one will stand up from among his descendants and saves Israel in the end. This is what he says (Numbers 24:17-18): "I see him but not now" - this is David; "I behold him but not near" - this is the anointed king. "A star has shot forth from Jacob" - this is David; "And a brand will rise up from Israel" - this is the anointed king. "And he will smash the edges of Moab" - This is David, as it states: "...And he struck Moab and measured them by rope" (II Samuel 8:2); "And he will uproot all Children of Seth" - this is the anointed king, of whom it is stated: "And his reign shall be from sea to sea" (Zechariah 9:10). "And Edom shall be possessed" - this is David, thus: "And Edom became David's as slaves etc." (II Samuel 8:6); "And Se'ir shall be possessed by its enemy" - this is the anointed king, thus: "And saviors shall go up Mount Zion to judge Mount Esau, and the Kingdom shall be the Lord's" (Obadiah 1:21)." "And by the Towns of Refuge it states: "And if the Lord your God will widen up your territory... you shall add on for you another three towns" etc. (Deuteronomy 19:8-9). Now this thing never happened; and the Holy One does not command in vain. But as for the words of the prophets, this matter needs no proof, as all their books are full with this issue." "Do not imagine that the anointed king must perform miracles and signs and create new things in the world or resurrect the dead and so on. The matter is not so: For Rabbi Akiva was a great scholar of the sages of the Mishnah, and he was the assistant-warrior of the king Bar Kokhba, and claimed that he was the anointed king. He and all the Sages of his generation deemed him the anointed king, until he was killed by sins; only since he was killed, they knew that he was not. The Sages asked him neither a miracle nor a sign..." "And if a king shall arise from among the House of David, studying Torah and indulging in commandments like his father David, according to the written and oral Torah, and he will impel all of Israel to follow it and to strengthen breaches in its observance, and will fight Hashem's [God's] wars, this one is to be treated as if he were the anointed one. If he succeeded and built a Holy Temple in its proper place and gathered the disperesed ones of Israel together, this is indeed the anointed one for certain, and he will mend the entire world to worship the Lord together, as it is stated: "For then I shall turn for the nations a clear tongue, to call all in the Name of the Lord and to worship Him with one shoulder (Zephaniah 3:9)." "But if he did not succeed to this degree, or if he was killed, it becomes known that he is not this one of whom the Torah had promised us, and he is indeed like all proper and wholesome kings of the House of David who died. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, only set him up to try the public by him, thus: "Some of the wise men will stumble in clarifying these words, and in elucidating and interpreting when the time of the end will be, for it is not yet the designated time." (Daniel 11:35)."
  8. ^ "As for Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be the anointed one and was condemned by the Sanhedrin. Daniel had already prophesied about him, thus: 'And the children of your people's rebels shall raise themselves to set up prophecy and will stumble.' Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Sefer Shofetim, Melachim uMilchamot, Chapter 11, Halacha 4. Chabad translation by Eliyahu Touge. Can there be a bigger stumbling block than this? All the Prophets said that the anointed one saves Israel and rescues them, gathers their strayed ones and strengthens their mitzvot whereas this one caused the loss of Israel by sword, and to scatter their remnant and humiliate them, and to change the Torah and to cause most of the world to erroneously worship a god besides the Lord. But the human mind has no power to reach the thoughts of the Creator, for his thoughts and ways are unlike ours. All these matters of Yeshu of Nazareth and of Muhammad who stood up after him are only intended to pave the way for the anointed king, and to mend the entire world to worship God together, thus: 'For then I shall turn a clear tongue to the nations to call all in the Name of the Lord and to worship him with one shoulder.'" "How is this? The entire world had become filled with the issues of the anointed one and of the Torah and the Laws, and these issues had spread out unto faraway islands and among many nations uncircumcised in the heart, and they discuss these issues and the Torah's laws. These say: These Laws were true but are already defunct in these days, and do not rule for the following generations; whereas the other ones say: There are secret layers in them and they are not to be treated literally, and the Messiah had come and revealed their secret meanings. But when the anointed king will truly rise and succeed and will be raised and uplifted, they all immediately turn about and know that their fathers inherited falsehood, and their prophets and ancestors led them astray."
  9. ^ The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology: Illuminating Expositions on Jewish Thought and Practice by a Revered Teacher (New York: Noble Book Press, 1991)- Page 323 "1:26), "And I will restore your judges as at first, and your counselors as at the beginning, afterward you shall be called ... However, if this is accomplished, we will already have fulfilled the essential part of the Messianic promise.
  10. ^ Orthodox Judaism: Covenant 2, covenant god, epistle to the hebrews
  11. ^ Origins of Apocalypticism in Judaism and Christianity: Volume 3 - Page 224 John J. Collins, Bernard McGinn - 2000 "That is, the vast majority of Second Temple Jewish texts have no reference to a messianic leader of the end-time. ... the Damascus Document, the Rule of the Congregation, the Commentary on Genesisa, 4Q521 (Messianic Apocalypse), .."
  12. ^ The Old Testament pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Page 111 James H. Charlesworth - 1985 "The seminar was focused on an assessment of the importance of the various messianic titles and ideas in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and their significance for a better understanding of the origins of Christology,"
  13. ^ The Messiah texts - Page 24 Raphael Patai - 1988 "The list of legendary Redeemers, or quasi-Messianic charismatic figures, includes Moses, Elijah (see chapter 14), ... the First Temple was destroyed), Menahem ben Hezekiah (who was born on the very day the Second Temple was destroyed;"
  14. ^ Parsons, John J. "12th Principle: Mashiach is Coming". http://www.hebrew4christians.com/. Hebrew for Christians. Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  15. ^ שליט"א (Shlita), הרב יהודה חיון (Rabbi Yehuda Hayon) (2011). יסוד האמונה בביאת המשיח וחיוב הצפיה לבואו [Foundation of faith coming of the messiah and viewing arrival charges]. אוצרות אחרית הימים (Treasures of the end times) (in Hebrew). Israel: ניאל ענתי (Daniel Enti). Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  16. ^ http://ccarnet.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=45&pge_prg_id=4687&pge_id=1656
  17. ^ a b The Encyclopedia of Hasidism, entry: Habad, Jonathan Sacks, pp. 161–164
  18. ^ "IDF Says ‘No’ to Meshichist ‘Yechi’ Yarmulkes". theyeshivaworld.com. The Yeshiva World News - 31 July 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  19. ^ Posner, Zalman I. (Rabbi) (Fall 2002). The Splintering of Chabad (Jewish Action-The Magazine of the Orthodox Union ed.). Orthodox Union. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  20. ^ Berger, Rabbi David. "On the Spectrum of Messianic Belief in Contemporary Lubavitch Chassidism". www.chareidi.org. Dei'ah Vedibur - Information & Insight -- Mordecai Plaut, Yated Ne'eman, and other corporate entities and individuals. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  21. ^ Center for Torah Demographics (2007). Identifying Chabad : what they teach and how they influence the Torah world. (Revised [ed.]. ed.). [Illinois?]: Center for Torah Demographics. p. 8 Extra |pages= or |at= (help). ISBN 9781411642416. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 

References[edit]

  • Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism, Ed. Robert Gordis, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1988
  • Cohen, Abraham (1995) [1949]. Everyman's Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages (paperback). Neusner, Jacob (paperback ed.). New York: Schocken Books. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-8052-1032-3. 
  • Mashiach Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, published by S.I.E., Brooklyn, NY, 1992 ISBN 978-0-18-814000-2; LCCN 92090728 (also available in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Persian, Hebrew, and Braille translations)
  • Miriam Naomi Mashiah
  • Mishneh Torah, Maimonides, Chapter on Hilkhot Melakhim Umilchamoteihem (Laws of Kings and Wars)
  • Moses Maimonides's Treatise on Resurrection, Trans. Fred Rosner
  • Philosophies of Judaism by Julius Guttmann, trans. by David Silverman, JPS. 1964
  • Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective, Central Conference of American Rabbis

External links[edit]