In defence of Messianism - Comment - Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper
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    • Yakov Abrahams
    • 14.03.13 | 14:09 (IST)

    In defence of Messianism In an interview which appeared in an recent edition of HaAretz, Professor Yehuda Bauer, a distinguish elder Israeli historian, says Extreme religion is utopian by its very existence, anticipating “redemption and the Last Days, and the coming of the messiah to fulfill the utopia”- which as I repeatedly write and say, is a murdering utopia. Every utopia murders. Beware of those who believe in the coming of the messiah. Indeed, belief in the coming of the messiah is an essential tenet, one of Maimonides’ articles of faith, and as such one of the fundamentals of Judaism, which Professor Bauer so absolutely denies. Perhaps he would call this the conflict of history and myth. It is from this perspective, therefore that this essay is written. Up until a few hundred years ago, no serious thinker or writer shared the Professor’s opinion. There is no doubt that Professor Bauer is an ardent Zionist and lover of the Jewish people, and would describe himself as a child of the Enlightenment, which sought to free the Jews from the fog of obscurantist superstition and worse. That all our great leaders and thinkers and not to say the common people had seemingly from the earliest history of the Jews, accepted in their writings and in their lives, the myth of Judaism, including the fantasy of the messiah, is we must assume according to the professor, because they lived in this fog, a historical phenomenon, which blinded the vision of almost all, until Moses Mendelson and others, including Professor Bauer, came to enlighten their paths. None the less, it is worth comparing the myth with the history. The Jewish myth, even in summary, is well known and remarkable. In brief, it begins around four thousand years ago, with Avram. He has an encounter with the Creator of the universe, who sends him on a journey from Mesopotamia his birth place to the land of Canaan, to the west. There, although he and his wife Sarei, are barren, his name will be changed to Avraham and hers to Sarah and G-d promises them that they will be blessed with child, from whom will spring a great nation that will occupy the lands of the surrounding nations, ten in fact, and bring blessing and divine revelation to the world. (It should be added that the myth begins earlier with Noah and the flood, not to say Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, but this in a sense pre-mythological and not uniquely related to the Jewish people.) The myth continues with the accounts of the patriarchs, the sale of Josef by his brothers and his slavery and successes in Egypt, his appointment as the viceroy of that nation, the years of plenty and famine, Jacob’s descent to Egypt with the family and their subsequent multiplicity of progeny and enslavement by Pharaoh. Then comes the birth of Moses, his escape from the royal household in which he was raised, his encounter with the Creator at the burning bush, and his return to Egypt as the messenger of the redemption. The myth continues with the ten plagues, the freedom from slavery and the exodus from Egypt , the splitting of the Red Sea and the divine revelation at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah, the written and oral law. After forty years in the wilderness, the Jewish nation, for such now it is, enters, conquers and settles the land of Canaan. Later comes the establishment of the Monarchy, the unity of the nation and peace from its enemies under King David, the subsequent division of the nation in two, the decline of the national ethos, the conquest of the Northern Kingdom by Sanherev and then of the kingdom of Judea and the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar and seventy years of exile under Babylon and the Medes and the Persians. This is all followed by the domination of the Greeks and Romans, the second sack of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple and the long and bitter exile and the various sufferings and wanderings that were foretold for the Jewish nation. Then, would come the ingathering of the exiles, the revelation of the Messiah aa the restored monarch of the house of David and the rebuilding of the temple, heralding an age of universal peace and prosperity and times and events which are beyond our imagining. including the Resurrection of the Dead and things that no eye has seen and no mind has discerned. That in brief is the myth of Judaism. The history of the Jewish people picks up around the time of the monarchy – not much certain is known before then, except for Biblical accounts which are not historically ratified. History is fairly certain about the first temple and the destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and much more certain about the second temple and its destruction by the Romans and the subsequent dispersal. From then on, the history is pretty clear, the North African communities, the great flourishing of Spanish Jewry, the expulsion, the early European communities, the atrocities at the time of the Crusade and later, culmination in the unspeakable horrors perpetuated at the hands of the Nazis, may their name be obliterated. At the same time history records the Zionist movement and the foundation and present reality of the state of Israel When one looks at this history two things are immediately apparent. The first is that the history of the Jews is not only remarkable, it is inexplicable. By all standards, after the Babylonian conquest, the Jews should have been confined to a footnote in Professor Toynbee’s tome of The Study of History. And if not then, certainly after the Roman occupation and dispersal. And how could they have survived all those hundred years, scattered over the face of much of the world as they were. And then, the somewhat absurd idea of Zionism, apparently invented by an Austrian journalist brought up with no connection to Judaism, how could it have so fired not only the hearts of Jews to return to the ancient homeland and then to establish a state there,but also that this endeavor would be supported by the international community and receive recognition. And finally that the fledgling nation survived wars with its numerous and powerful neighbours. All this is a phenomenon that is not explicable in normal historical terms. The second remarkable thing is the uncanny parallels with the myth at least for the time that history is relevant. The myth of course talks of the time before history and the time after history and to that history does not relate. But for the time that history and the myth coexist they are more or less identical. The destruction of the Temples, the dispersion, the survival of centuries of persecution and the return to the land of Canaan these are essential elements of the myth, and at the same the essential elements of the history. Does this not raise the possibility that in the same way the myth is borne out by the history so too the prehistory and the post history will also be borne out by the history and are true. Does it not raise the possibility that the universal longing for an age of peace and universal harmony, the achievement of which says the myth is the purpose of the Jewish people, may also be true. How and when this will be achieved is not known but that is not to say that it will not happen or that it is an absurd fantasy of minds that have not left the dark ages of primitive and medieval thought. On the contrary, it seems to an open mind as the only rational explanation of the history as we know it. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov states that faith is based on truth. He explains that when we see the truth of something which we cannot explain, and at the same time we know it is true, that brings us to faith. Messianism is the faith that everything will work out well in the end – may it be speedily and in our times, amen.

    from the article: In last-minute hitch, Habayit Hayehudi refuses to sign coalition agreement
    First published 15:56 14.03.13 | Last updated 00:52 15.03.13
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