An essay donated by Rabbi Allen S. Maller
Jewish Messianic Prophecy Today
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were fifteen or sixteen million Jews in the world. Less than 1 percent of them lived in the Land of Israel. Today, after the Holocaust and the resurrection of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, there are eleven or twelve million Jews in the world and almost 45 percent of them live in the Land of Israel. Due to declining birth rates, rampant assimilation in the Diaspora, and the continued immigration of Russian and other Jews to the State of Israel, there is little doubt that 80-90 percent of the world's Jews will live in the Land of Israel by the end of the 21st century.
In our own generation, therefore, we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy: "I will bring your offspring from the [Middle] east and gather you from the [European] west. To the north [Russia] I will say `Give them up' and to the south [Ethiopia] `Do not hold them.' Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth" (43:5-6). The "ingathering of the exiles," one of the most important categories of biblical promises, is being fulfilled right now, and we are almost halfway through this process.
Reform Jews who are philosophically forward looking should be particularly open to these ideas. But, amazing as it seems, most Messianic speculation these days is coming from Chabad; an ultra-Orthodox Hassidic group. Some of them are focusing on their leader, Menachem Schneerson, as a worthy candidate to become the Messiah. But others in Chabad who have been promoting the publicity about Schneerson being the Messiah are doing so in part because they want people to realize the revolutionary turning point we are now living through. One recent Lubavitch publication states:
"As we contemplate the changing face of the world around us, the collapse of the Communist bloc, the unification of Europe, the drive to disarmament, the Gulf War and its aftermath, it becomes obvious that we are in a transitional process of awesome scope. And this message hits home even harder as we see these fluctuations in the geopolitical sphere being paralleled by radical changes in the areas of economics, education, and community relations. The existing frameworks for human relations on the local, national, and international levels are giving way to new definitions. In this flux of values and goals, people throughout the world have directed their attention to the ultimate redefinition of society that will be inspired by Mashiach's [Messiah's] coming."
A positive outcome of all this ferment would be a greater awareness of the new world possibilities that lie before us and a greater willingness and enthusiasm about working to achieve them. So the Messianic excitement emanating from the Chabad Chassidim might be a part of the Messianic process (although their opposition to an accord with the PLO might indicate that theirs is a false Messiah).
Not everyone in Chabad believes that the late Rabbi Menachem Schneerson was and still is the Messiah, but most do. However, only a minority believes in actively and publicly promoting the Messianic claim. The majority always say that in his lifetime the rebbe never declared himself to be the Messiah. The majority maintain that in each generation there is at least one holy man who is qualified to become the Messiah, if the Jewish people merit being redeemed in that generation (redemption can occur because of Israel's spiritual merits, or because the enemies of Israel endanger its very survival, or because God has decided for reasons of his own that the time is now). The Chabad Hassidim are certain that, if this is indeed the time of redemption, then Menachem Schneerson is the best candidate for Messiah. If a Christian points out that Rabbi Menachem Schneerson was hardly known to the majority of the world's Jews, and totally unknown to the Gentile world, the Hassidim would reply that the same thing was true of Jesus during and for many decades after his lifetime.
However, most Orthodox Jews would not commit themselves to any individual as a Messiah unless he successfully rebuilds the ancient temple in Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah:
"He shall build the temple of the Lord, and he shall bear the glory, he shall sit on the throne and rule, there shall be a priest before the throne, and peaceful counsel will exist between both of them" (6:13).
Now that a large part of the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel and resurrected a Jewish state, one might think that rebuilding a temple of the site where Solomon originally built one almost three thousand years ago, would be relatively simple. And it would, except for the fact that the site is presently occupied by a Muslim shrine called the Dome of the Rock. Often erroneously called the Mosque of Omar, it is not a mosque and was not built by Omar. It was built in 691 by Abd-al-Malik, and it is regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in the world. Any attempt to replace the Dome of the Rock would provoke a Muslim holy war of cataclysmic proportions.
There is, however, a lot of vacant land on the Temple Mount, and a Jewish house of worship could be built adjacent to the Dome of the Rock provided the Muslims would cooperate. Most observers agree that anyone who could arrange such Jewish-Muslim cooperation would really be the Messianic Ruler of Peace (Isaiah 9:5) Christian support for such a cooperative venture would also be important, and anyone who can bring Jews, Christians and Muslims together in mutual respect and cooperation would surely fulfill the greatest of all
"“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives; nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall never again teach war." (Isaiah 2:4)
Indeed, such Jewish/Christian/Muslim cooperation would not be possible without great spiritual leadership in all three communities. Thus, each community could consider its leadership to be the Messiah and this would fulfill the culminating verses of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy as enlarged upon by Micah (4:3-5):
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives. Nation shall not take up against nation, they shall never again teach war, but every man shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him, for it is the Lord of Hosts who spoke. Though all peoples walk each in the name of its God, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever."
If each people truly follows the best of its own religious teachings; the Messiah will surely have arrived, and God’s Kingdom will be established.
Originally posted: 2012-APR-18
Author: Rabbi Allen S. Maller