The adjective du jour to ridicule the current government coalition is “messianic;” trying to smear religious Zionists and place them in the same category as Jews for Jesus. MK Lieberman calls the current coalition ‘the messianic right.” Columnists in Haaretz and others refer to the ruling coalition as “primitive, fanatic and messianic.” Universities in Israel are studying the phenomenon of religious messianic Jews in their political analyses and research. Obviously this Jewish messianism is different than the Christian version or any other messianism focused on leadership by a figure who previously lived on earth. Yet what does this adjective actually mean and what is its connection to main stream Judaism?
While MK Lieberman meant it as an insult, Judaism is at its core messianic. We Jews pray for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, three times each day. The upcoming Tisha B’Av holiday is a time when Jews pray fervently for a rebuilt Jerusalem with a functioning Temple. The Rambam (Moshe ben Maimon of whom we say from Moshe to Moshe there was none greater) says that Jews have thirteen principles in which they must believe, one of which is the coming of the messianic age. Messianism is simply a central tenet of Judaism.
While the secular world looks at history as an unfocused drifting buffeted by winds of changing culture and war, Judaism looks at history as working towards a better world, towards a positive destination, ultimately, for all of mankind. Within Judaism there is a spectrum of messianic thought from a human led messianic era with heaven’s guidance to a heavenly provided messianic era. Regarding the human led effort, most observant Rabbis today are convinced that we are living in pre-messianic times. The return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland and Israel’s strength and world leadership in so many areas, despite significant internal and external threats, confirms the Rabbis’ observations.
With all of the turmoil within and around Israel, according to a 2022 poll, she ranked in the top four in the UN sponsored, World Happiness Survey. Most psychologists would say that happiness is tied to living with purpose, the expectation of a better future (messianism) and being part of a caring society. Likewise, birth rates can also be a measure of hope and Israel’s birth rates are the highest in the developed world. Besides being the world’s research, development and innovation capital, Israel is also the world’s spiritual capital as more Torah is learned and taught here than anywhere.
Today, Israel is an admired world class military powerhouse. Israel is an energy powerhouse. Israel is also an agricultural power house, from a nation where the soil was washing away due to millennia of overgrazing and stripping the mountains of trees to feed an Ottoman railroad, to today an island of green in the middle east, a bread basket and exporter of food and agricultural technology. Rabbi Sholom Gold, a leader in what MK Lieberman would describe as Jewish messianism, who just passed away this past week, had a famous quip, if you want to talk to God – go to the Kotel – if you want to see God go to Machane Yehuda shuk (to see the abundance Israel’s farms produce). Who could have imagined this?
Israelis are building something amazing here. No, the Israeli government is not planning to reconstruct a Temple in the near future. Nevertheless, religious Jews would say that Israelis are doing their part, with God’s help, in building a better world where one day Jews hope and pray God will be more revealed.
Note to MK Lieberman: Judaism is messianic by definition – and if you are a member of our tribe and you are working towards and praying for a better future as described, you are messianic as well.