Rethinking the Messianic Idea in Judaism

Views: 466
Ratings: (0)

Over the centuries, the messianic tradition has provided the language through which modern Jewish philosophers, socialists, and Zionists envisioned a utopian future. Michael L. Morgan, Steven Weitzman, and an international group of leading scholars ask new questions and provide new ways of thinking about this enduring Jewish idea. Using the writings of Gershom Scholem, which ranged over the history of messianic belief and its conflicted role in the Jewish imagination, these essays put aside the boundaries that divide history from philosophy and religion to offer new perspectives on the role and relevance of messianism today.

List price: $9.99

Your Price: $7.99

You Save: 20%

 

15 Slices

Format Buy Remix

1. Messianism between Judaism and Christianity

ePub

Annette Yoshiko Reed

In “Towards an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism,” Gershom Scholem famously proclaimed messianism as the defining difference between Christians and Jews: “It is here that the essential conflict between Judaism and Christianity has developed and continues to exist.”1 Few today would contest his assertion. In fact, the notion is now so widespread as to seem obvious. In what follows, however, I would like to take this apparent obviousness as an invitation to look more closely. I reflect upon the prehistory, power, and limits of the trope of messianism as defining difference, and I examine some of the most influential articulations and subversions of the trope, past and present. What I shall suggest is that Christianity’s origins in Jewish messianism has served as a potent site for reflection on religious identity—not just in the first century, but in Late Antiquity and modernity as well.

At the heart of this chapter is a paradox: it may be a truism that the belief in Jesus as Messiah is what differentiates “Christian” from “Jew,” but this point of differentiation is predicated on the entanglement of their histories. By both ancient and modern accounts, after all, the origins of Christianity are part of Jewish messianism. Already in the first century CE, the New Testament literature attests the culling of proof-texts from Jewish scriptures to argue for Jesus’s status as the mashiah (Greek, christos) long promised to the Jews. Into Late Antiquity and well beyond, Christian authors richly continued the practice, even while decrying Israel as superseded by the church or proclaiming the Torah as abrogated by the Gospel. Likewise, within modern scholarship, the earliest movement surrounding Jesus is commonly characterized as a Jewish messianic sect.2 Some scholars, in fact, reserve the term “Christianity” for a later age, when the movement reinvented itself as a distinct “religion.”3

 

2. He That Cometh Out: On How to Disclose a Messianic Secret

ePub

Steven Weitzman

Judaism, in all its forms and manifestations, has always maintained a concept of redemption as an event that takes place publicly, on the stage of history.

—Gershom Scholem, “Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism”

If it is the Messiah’s work that makes him the Messiah and reveals him as such, then it is obvious that as a human being he may live part of his life without coming forward and being acknowledged as the Messiah.

—Sigmund Mowinckel, He That Cometh

As Gershom Scholem makes clear in the first of the two passages cited above, the messianic age in Jewish tradition features at its core an act of disclosure.1 In contrast to the Christian conception of redemption, as Scholem characterizes it—an experience that is interior and invisible—redemption for Jews is an occurrence “which takes place in the visible world and which cannot be conceived apart from such a visible appearance.”2 The messianic age, as Moshe Halbertal has noted, is often accompanied by the opening up of the gates of secrecy—in the end of days, the gap between the hidden and the revealed dissipates, and everything becomes transparent. The Messiah’s disclosure of himself is one of the first of these secrets to be revealed.3

 

3. Maimonides and the Idea of a Deflationary Messiah

ePub

Kenneth Seeskin

On the importance of belief in the coming of the Messiah, Maimonides leaves no room for doubt:1 “King Messiah will arise and restore the kingdom of David to its former state and original sovereignty. . . . He who does not believe in a restoration or does not wait the coming of the Messiah denies not only the teachings of the prophets but also those of the law of Moses our Teacher” (Mishneh Torah 14, “Laws of Kings,” 11.1). These words were written in a time of exile and oppression. They offered hope that the current state of things was not permanent and that someday, not only Israel, but, according to Maimonides, all of humanity would be redeemed.

The simple elegance with which Maimonides states his position masks a great deal of confusion in the sources from which he drew. For many of the prophets, the situation in which we find ourselves is so awful that only a full-blown cataclysm can correct it. Every evil must be exposed and every sinner punished. Thus Amos (8–9) claims that the day of the Lord will not be a joyous time but a bitter, awful one, when no light will shine and famine will destroy the land. The punishment will be so severe that no one, from those in Sheol to those at the top of Mount Carmel, will escape. Jeremiah (4) tells us the earth will be waste and void, the heavens will have no light, the mountains will quake, cities will lie in ruins, and “disaster will follow upon disaster.” Isaiah (6) goes so far as to ask God to stop up the people’s ears and shut their eyes so that cities will lie in waste and the land will be totally desolate. It is passages like these that led Gershom Scholem to remark that “Jewish messianism is in its origin and by its nature . . . a theory of catastrophe.”2

 

4. “And the Crooked Shall be Made Straight”: Twisted Messianic Visions, and a Maimonidean Corrective

ePub

Menachem Kellner

One might expect that belief in one God who created all human beings in the divine image should lead to a universalist ethic, according to which all human beings are equal in the eyes of God and equally beloved by God. One might also expect that a messianic belief grounded in such a view of humanity should lead to a view of the messianic era in which all human beings stand equally before God.

But, as it turns out, many Western monotheists have managed to avoid the universalist consequences of the notion that all human beings are created in the divine image, often by arguing that if there is only one God, then there is only one “approved” way of approaching that God. Anyone who seeks to approach God in any other way is often seen as being excluded from communion with God and even as less than fully human.1

With respect to messianism, classical Christianity and Islam, as part of their self-definition as universal religions, excluded unbelievers from enjoying life in the hereafter, on some views condemning them to eternal damnation.2 Classical Judaism, which never defined itself as a universalist religion, was able to accord the righteous of the nations a share in the world to come and was thus never tempted to declare “outside of the synagogue there is no salvation.” But—and this is a large but—some strands of classical Judaism that recognized a this-worldly eschaton, the messianic era, as opposed to the purely other-worldly eschaton typical of classical Christianity and Islam, were content to exclude Gentiles from a full share in messianic benefits.3

 

5. Seeking the Symmetry of Time: The Messianic Age in Medieval Chronology

ePub

Elisheva Carlebach

In his classic paper “Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism,” Gershom Scholem remarks that “Jewish Messianism is in its origins and by its nature . . . a theory of catastrophe.”1 He goes on to explain, “This theory stresses the revolutionary, cataclysmic element in the transition from every historical present to the Messianic future.” This catastrophic and apocalyptic dimension of Jewish messianism expresses the discontinuity between the redemptive future and the historical process, the domain of time and all those devices we use to measure it—clocks and calendars among them. Moreover, if Scholem is right, then the consciousness of ultimate redemption “always contains the elements of dread and consolation intertwined,” for the anticipated end of history is fraught with the weight of divine judgment and yet elevated with the benefits of divine grace. Jews, alive to the contingencies of history, may fear the one while they hope for the other, a combination that makes the very notion of the messianic coming paradoxical and disturbing.

 

6. Messianism and Ethics

ePub

Matt Goldish

Gershom Scholem’s argument that Jewish messianic movements are linked to antinomianism has gained widespread acceptance among scholars. A related question is whether Jewish messianism enforces ethics, threatens ethics, or has no relationship to ethics. I will attempt in this chapter to offer a working definition of ethics for the current discussion, then to argue that messianism sometimes threatens ethics or attempts to propose a new ethical system. For many people, the idea of an unethical Messiah or messianic movement might seem paradoxical or even farcical because the messianic age is described in the Bible as a time of ultimate justice and truth (e.g., Isaiah 11). Yet ethical breaches (by our standards) have indeed been a common part of Jewish messianism. Perhaps this is human nature, since the role of a Messiah is also a position of power. The ethical issues involved in messianic movements concern both the views and actions of the proposed messianic prophet or Messiah and the views and actions of his followers. The main factor at work here is a certainty on the part of all these actors that God reveals truths to the Messiah or messianic prophet that can transcend his society’s accepted ethics. This, in turn, is an extension of ethical issues in the Bible. I will thus treat the biblical questions briefly, then show how they reach forward in history through messianic movements and thought.1 I shall treat the two largest Jewish messianic movements to illustrate the point: that of Jesus of Nazareth and that of Sabbatai Zevi.

 

7. To Infinity and Beyond: Cohen and Rosenzweig on Comportment toward Redemption

ePub

Benjamin Pollock

Eternity means the eternal task; the task of eternity. Heaven and earth may pass away; ethics remains.

The Messiah’s . . . coming is not an actual end, but means merely the infinity of his coming, which in turn means the infinity of development.

—Hermann Cohen

I have no idea how one should pray for something one holds beforehand to be impossible. I cannot pray that 2 × 2 should be equal to 5. . . . The eternal which we Jews mean lies not in the infinite, but rather in the “speedily, and in our days.” . . . That which only comes in eternity—doesn’t come for all eternity.

—Franz Rosenzweig

In Judaism the Messianic idea has compelled a life lived in deferment.

—Gershom Scholem

Among the handful of über-schmalzig stories about the elder Hermann Cohen that Franz Rosenzweig bequeathed to posterity, perhaps none is as famous as the story he tells of a conversation between the two regarding the future coming of the Messiah.1 “Hermann Cohen once said to me,” Rosenzweig writes, “‘I still hope to experience the advent of the messianic age.’” Rosenzweig attributes Cohen’s hope to his having been “a believer in the false messiah of the nineteenth century”—that is, ethical socialism—a movement through which, Rosenzweig surmises, Cohen imagined Christians as converting to the “‘pure monotheism’ of his Judaism.” Rosenzweig continues the story as follows: “I was startled by the force of this ‘speedily, in our days,’ and dared not say that these signs were no signs for me. Instead, I replied only that I did not believe I’d experience it. Thereupon he asked, ‘But then when do you think [it will come]?’ I hadn’t the heart not to name a number, so I said, ‘Well, only after hundreds of years.’ But he thought [I said], ‘Well, only after a hundred years,’ and cried, ‘Oh, please say fifty!’”2

 

8. Levinas and Messianism

ePub

Michael L. Morgan

In a well-known interview, Richard Kearney asked Emmanuel Levinas if the “ethical criterion of the interhuman” were not employed by him as a “sort of messianic eschatology.” Levinas objected to the expression “eschatology” and yet accepted the proposal that the “ethical relation with the other” is messianic, but only when properly understood. That is, he rejected the idea of a historical eschaton, an end or goal, whether we think of it as a face-to-face exposure to an absolutely other, God, or as the completion or perfection of our face-to-face encounters with human others. Ethics has no end; it is not about a historical telos. As he put it, “I have described ethical responsibility as insomnia or wakefulness precisely because it is a perpetual duty of vigilance and effort that can never slumber.” The key word here is “perpetual.” Love, he says, has something incessant and impermanent about it. He refers to the image of Talmudic sages going from meeting to meeting, always discussing the law, in this life and the next, without end. Love or the ethical is like this process that demands ongoing wakefulness and attention.1 If ethics is messianic, it is an episodic messianism that is never complete.

 

9. What Zvi Yehudah Kook Wrought: The Theopolitical Radicalization of Religious Zionism

ePub

Shai Held

In his classic essay on Jewish messianism, Gershom Scholem famously warned of one of messianism’s undersides: “There is something grand about living in hope, but at the same time there is something unreal about it. . . . In Judaism the messianic idea has compelled a life lived in deferment, in which nothing can be done definitively, nothing can be irrevocably accomplished.”1 The hyperactivism of Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook, spiritual father of Israel’s West Bank settlement movement, was at least partly rooted in a refusal to wait, in a sense that the final, total redemption is unfolding right now and that waiting is thus no longer necessary (or even permissible). “The End is being revealed before our very eyes,” Kook announced, “the End is here!”2 The redemption is coming ineluctably, and yet, crucially, we can speed up the process even more. In Kook’s world, determinism yields not fatalism or passivity but rather an urgent need (and responsibility) to act.3 If Scholem worried that “there is nothing concrete which can be accomplished by the unredeemed,” the younger Kook offered a bold and even breathtaking response: maybe so, but we who discern the divine miracles unfolding before us day after day are decidedly not the unredeemed. “There are people who speak of the beginning of redemption in our day. Open your eyes and see that we are now in the middle of redemption. We are in the parlor, not the entry hall.”4 We can act “concretely” and “definitively” (to borrow Scholem’s terms), and we must. And yet, as we shall see, for precisely this reason, another of Scholem’s concerns comes bubbling to the surface: “Can Jewish history manage to re-enter concrete reality without being destroyed by the messianic claim?”5

 

10. Messianic Religious Zionism and the Reintroduction of Sacrifice: The Case of the Temple Institute

ePub

Motti Inbari

This chapter discusses the establishment and the activities of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem. This institution is the product of a messianic crisis that developed in Israel after the Six-Day War (1967), in which Israel captured territories described in the Hebrew Bible as the core of the ancient Land of Israel. While the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent territorial expansion opened the door to an outburst of messianic speculations, the following stage involved disappointment and the possibility of prophetic failure.

The Temple Institute is an educational institution located in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem that runs various Jewish religious enterprises, including a college preparatory school, a museum, a publishing house, a yeshiva for young adults, a yeshiva for youth, and a project that seeks to produce and re-create the objects used in the Temple. The Institute was established in 1984 by Israel Ariel, and over the past three decades its activities have become an influential force. The Institute is recognized as an official institution by the Israel Ministry of Education, which sends thousands of students from state-religious schools to its programs; soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) often visit the Institute in organized groups; dozens of young religious women volunteer in its programs; and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has even organized at the Institute religious conferences about the Temple. Thousands of Christian evangelists also visit the Institute each year.

 

11. The Muted Messiah: The Aversion to Messianic Forms of Zionism in Modern Orthodox Thought

ePub

David Shatz

Scholarly literature on Jewish messianism, galvanized by Gershom Scholem, highlights an array of distinctions: between a personal Messiah and a messianic age, between passivist and activist forms of messianism, between apocalyptic and naturalistic versions, and between restorative and utopian ones. But there is another, relatively neglected distinction, having to do not with external events—the content of the messianic age—but rather with the thoughts and attitudes of believers. That distinction is between messianic belief and messianic consciousness.

By messianic belief I mean the obvious: assent to the proposition that the Messiah, or at least a messianic age, will someday come. By messianic consciousness I refer to the adoption of one or more of five ways of thinking or acting:

1. Interpreting contemporary events as components of a messianic process, such as realizations of prophecies and rabbinic dicta1

2. Calculating when the Messiah will come

 

12. The Divine/Human Messiah and Religious Deviance: Rethinking Chabad Messianism

ePub

Shaul Magid

When Kabbalah came, it made of God a human; when Hasidism came, it made of the human a God.

—Rashbatz

[The Jew] is not an independent being; rather, all of his existence is the existence of the Holy One, Blessed be He!

—Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Hitva’aduyot Tashmav (5746), 515

—Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Yishmaru Da’at, 44

In March 1970 Gershom Scholem delivered “The Neutralization of the Messianic Idea in Early Hasidism,” the first Joseph Weiss Memorial Lecture, established to honor Scholem’s student who tragically had taken his own life in August the previous year. Scholem had a complicated relationship with Weiss, though he spoke of him at the beginning of the lecture as “in many ways the closest of my pupils.”1 Weiss studied the radical strains of Hasidism, specifically Nahman of Bratslav, the subject of his dissertation, which Scholem famously rejected.2 While in principle Scholem’s March 1970 lecture may have been inspired by the messianism of Nahman and its treatment by Weiss, it was more likely a response to Martin Buber’s claim that Hasidism has basically erased the messianic idea from its worldview.3 Scholem responded that such a claim is not substantiated in Hasidism’s homiletic literature. Yet, he argued, Hasidism did in fact defang the messianic idea by internalizing collective exile as personal alienation from God and using deveikut (cleaving to God) as an experience of “self-redemption,” personalizing the messianic idea and severing it from its collective roots.4 “What formerly had occurred on an ontological level was now repeated on an anthropological one,” he declared.5 More generally, Scholem argued that after Sabbateanism, there were essentially three ways open to Kabbalah. He spoke of the third one thus:

 

13. Isadore Isou’s Messianism Awry

ePub

Cosana Eram

I would have very much liked to spend my life writing the history of those Messiahs, almost unknown to other peoples, but who assert and document our soul.

—Isidore Isou

In a late interview, Isidore Isou (1925–2007) mentioned that the influential surrealist writer André Breton once accused him of trying to be the Messiah and writing about himself in the third person like Salvador Dalí.1 Who was Isou? A Jewish-French author of Romanian origin, he initiated the avant-garde movement called Lettrism/Lettrisme and fashioned his image through his many books, films, plays, small print magazines, literary concepts, and public interventions.2 His work cuts across the subjects of economy, politics, music, aesthetic theory, and theater and has implications for religion, psychology, and sociology. Yet Isou has been singularly neglected although he is a cult figure in several film or poetry circles in Europe. Due to his prodigious activity and his influence upon the well-known visual theorist Guy Debord and the revolutionary artistic group Situationist International, his name is a necessary reference for post-1945 avant-garde; his work is still in need of a full-fledged critical study.

 

14. Arthur A. Cohen’s Messianic Fiction

ePub

Emily Kopley

In memory of Dan Walden, generous mentor and friend

We are too soon to be acclaimed for having given to the world a literature, but of one thing I am certain: we have the seismic faults, the pit in the heart, the long silence before the dawn to know that we draw upon the real stuff out of which literature comes, out of which the new narrative of God’s walk upon the earth and conversation with creatures is born.

—Arthur A. Cohen, “Our Narrative Condition”

In September 1977, Commonweal solicited Arthur A. Cohen’s recommendations for Religious Book Week. Among his choices was Gershom Scholem’s 1971 The Messianic Idea in Judaism. Cohen wrote, “Scholem is the fons vitae of Jewish mysticism . . . he defined the grammar and rhetoric of Jewish mystical thinking.”1 Cohen, in his turn, used grammar and rhetoric to define, or at least imagine, the Jewish Messiah. In his theological writing he fit words to intangible concepts held in faith, while in his fiction he rendered the abstract concrete by imagining messianic protagonists. Scholem noted in the title essay of The Messianic Idea, “Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism,” that “the figure of the Messiah . . . remains peculiarly vague.”2 To Cohen, that vagueness was an invitation. Faced with the void of the Messiah’s individuality, he posited fictional messiahs who, he hoped, would hurry along their hazy exemplar.

 

15. Reading Messianically with Gershom Scholem

ePub

Martin Kavka

Rethink messianism? Has this issue, which Gershom Scholem rightly described as the site of the “essential conflict between Judaism and Christianity,”1 really been under thought? Have not scores of articles and books appeared on the various messianic ideologies of the Second Temple period, of medieval Jewish philosophers, of the followers of Sabbatai Zevi, of post-Enlightenment Jewish philosophers, not to mention the stances of a whole range of Zionist, non-Zionist, and anti-Zionist actors? Indeed they have. And yet one should not be surprised to learn that in Jewish studies, like in so many other academic fields, people who research one historical period do not talk regularly to those who research another historical period, and people who research one or two philosophical figures or one geographical area rarely think in terms of broad themes. The narrow or the concrete is known; the thematic or the abstract remains terra incognita. As a result, to treat messianism in, say, Maimonides would be to rethink something, but to treat messianism tout court might actually be to think something for the first time.

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub (DRM)
Encrypted
true
Sku
2370006330479
Isbn
9780253014771
File size
1 KB
Printing
Disabled
Copying
Disabled
Read aloud
No
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata