26 Slices
Medium 9780253014696

3. Maimonides and the Idea of a Deflationary Messiah

Michael L Morgan Indiana University Press 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

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253014696

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

Michael L Morgan Indiana University Press 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.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253014696

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

Michael L Morgan Indiana University Press 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

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253014696

13. Isadore Isou’s Messianism Awry

Michael L Morgan Indiana University Press 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.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253021069

3 The Third Party: Transcendental Ethics and Realistic Politics

Michael L. Morgan Indiana University Press ePub

Suppose we take the human condition primarily to involve the self or subject, on the one hand, and the world, on the other. The philosophical project of articulating the structure of human experience would be the characterization of all the ways in which self and world are related and interrelated. If so, then there are surely going to be relations that account for the way the self is related to nonhuman constituents of the world—from sense perception, observation and analysis, belief, and knowledge to desire, various modes of appetite and aversion, and so forth. And there will also be a host of relations such as the physical ones (e.g., the subject is far from the object, near the object, to the left or right of it) and social and economic ones (e.g., the subject is the owner of the object, is the occupant of the object, is using the object, has just paid for the object). With regard to human beings in the world, too, there will be a complex set of relations and relationships—momentary or briefly continuing relations, such as the subject’s being angry with another subject, and ongoing relationships, such as the subject’s being the father or mother of the other subject or the teacher of the subject. Let us take Levinas to be aware of all of this and to include it within the broad domain of human experience, which he would take Heidegger to have called the being of Dasein, and we might call the domain of ordinary, everyday human existence. Levinas’s distinctive claim is that an account of all of these aspects or dimensions of human relatedness to the world is by and large what we think of as our existence as natural beings, but it is incomplete and inadequate to characterize the totality of human experience. Something significant is here omitted, and it is what broadly we might call, after Wilfrid Sellars, the “space of reasons” or what we might refer to as the dimension of evaluative normativity, especially moral normativity. In Otherwise Than Being, with special reference to language, Levinas calls the former aspects of our natural existence “the Said,” and he calls the dimension or aspect that brings with it or introduces into human existence this evaluative normativity and especially moral normativity “the Saying.” The latter, of course, is the descendant of the face-to-face of Levinas’s earlier writings, and it is what he has called the relation with “transcendence” and “enigma” and the relation with the infinite, the face, and so much else.1

See All Chapters

See All Slices