Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Maimonidean View of Messiah

Note: ThinkApologetics does not agree with certain aspects of the Maimonidean view of Messiah. The goal of this article is to educate the Christian community about the Maimonidean view since it still plays a large role in the Jewish view of Messiah.

by Elliot Klayman

The concept of the personage of Messiah1 is embedded in the Tanakh.2 Throughout the ages the nation of Israel has embraced hope in a coming Messiah. In the late Second Temple period, and its immediate aftermath, messianic expectations were heightened and there was a proliferation of messianic claimants.3 In the modern period Shabbatei Zvi and the late Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson stand out as colorful claimants to the office. During the medieval period messianic pretenders were no less prominent.4 It seems that foreign dominance and persecution of the Jewish people trigger a longing for a Messiah to redeem them from their plight.5 This in turn opens the floodgates for pretenders to make messianic promises.6 Often, because of despair, the Jewish people are ready to embrace a hope, however outlandish and false it may be. The motivating factor appears to be the desire for a permanent state of utopia, free from the battles and hardships of this life; for some, this means freedom to worship G-d in the way prescribed by scripture and tradition. Over the years there have been various concepts of Messiah7 from a variety of learned sources. Many have allegorized scripture and transformed the messiah into an age rather than a distinct personage.8 Some traditional writings, however, tout Israel as the messiah.9 Other tradition recognizes messiah to be really two messiahs.10 Still other authoritative writings exalt messiah as a literal person who will fulfill scriptural credentials. This is the position of the learned scholar Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides).11 What he said concerning the Messiah over 800 years ago continues to influence the minds of contemporary Jews on this subject. It is not surprising that a man of the stature of Maimonides would address the person and the work of Messiah, and engage in messianic speculation. In his vast writings he concentrated on a wide corpus of Jewish writings, philosophy and thought, which included messianism. Maimonides’ view of Messiah must be gleaned from a number of his writings, namely Epistle to Yemen,12 Mishneh Torah — Kings,13 and his Commentary on the Mishnah — Sanhedrin,14 which includes the Twelfth Principle of his Shlosha Asar Ikkarim (Thirteen Principles).15 From these writings we are able to piece together a composite of Maimonides’ concept of Messiah. The design of this article is to first sketch the life of Maimonides. It then formulates a composite sketch of the Messiah as conceived by Maimonides and gleaned from the three primary sources that contain his view of Messiah. It is the thesis of this paper that Maimonides’ concept of Messiah was shaped by a number of factors, including his life experiences, scripture, tradition and reaction to Islam and Christianity.

Maimonides16 was born on Passover eve, 113517 in Cordova, Spain. When scarcely 13, great persecution broke out when Cordova was overrun by the Almohades, a fundamental wing of Mohammadism. The Almohades presented Jews and Christians with the alternatives of death, conversion to Islam, or expulsion. Maimonides fled with his family, first to Port Almeria which a few years later was conquered by the same fanatical Almohades. They imposed the same trilogy of alternatives — death, conversion or expulsion. Once again the family was on the run and they wandered for years without a permanent home.18Maimonides was first taught by his father, scripture, Talmud and other Jewish subjects,19 math and astronomy. He attended lectures on science and medicine and immersed himself in the philosophical writings of the Greeks, particularly Aristotle and Plato; with rare intellect he sought clarity in a maddening world of entropy, substituting order for chaos, and rationalism for mysticism. While wandering, Maimonides was enmeshed in learning on land and sea.20In 1159-1160 Maimonides emigrated with his father, brother, and sister to Fez. It is still a matter of speculation as to why they relocated right in the heart of Islam, of the intolerant variety. It is most probable that the family feigned a belief in Islam to escape persecution, and worse. During this interval Maimonides made his writing debut by refuting a distinguished Talmudist who insisted that it was necessary to be martyred rather than purport to embrace Islam.21 Perhaps because of the guilt of professing Mohammad, and the desire for an unadulterated service to God, the family embarked for Palestine, in the spring of 1165, and remained for a brief period, before moving to Egypt, settling in Fostat, old Cairo. Yet fortune did not settle on the man who was destined to be the light of medieval Jewry. Here, physical disease, heavy financial losses, informers, and most rending, the death of his brother at sea, pierced what was left of any solace.22 Probably, in efforts to raise money for his writing projects and to assuage his grief, he reactivated his rabbinic-philosophic career, and added the practice of medicine.23 In 1168 he completed his first monumental work, a commentary on the Mishnah in Arabic.24 Thereafter, he wrote his epistle to the community in Yemen, which was plagued by strong influences to convert to Islam, and a messianic pretender.25 His fame gradually grew and by 1177, he was recognized as the Rabbi of Cairo.26 In 1180 he completed his Mishneh Torah, a comprehensive religious code27 which categorized and simplified the Mishnaic laws into a friendly format.Maimonides was not without those who accused him of error in his writings and even heresy.28 His grave monument encapsulates the two views, which were prevalent even while he was living. One states: “Here lies Moses, the excommunicated heretic.” The other reads: “From Moses to Moses, there is none like Moses.”29

Messiah, messianism and the world to come, are inextricably related. The focus, however, in the pages that follow, is on the Messiah and how Maimonides perceived him through the lens of tradition, and “the marks by which he is to be identified.”30 It is an attempt to extract from Maimonides’ writings his thoughts on the characteristics of Messiah. What does the Messiah look like through the eyes of Maimonides? It is true that there are some contrasts within the array of Maimonidean writings on this topic. However, most, if not all, may be explained by the circumstances surrounding the subject matter, and the people he was addressing. In his Epistle to Yemen Maimonides was responding to a present crisis of faith attributed to present afflictions.He addressed a community that was being threatened from within and from without. There was the threat of a messianic pretender.31 There was thepersuasive force of an ex-Jew who had converted to Islam and was seeking to persuade others to do the same on the strength of the argument that Mohammad was the true prophet foretold in scripture.32 And, there was the threat of an Islamic rebel leader who was compelling the Jews to desert their religion in favor of Islam.33 The community teetered on a lever where the fulcrum shifted between faith and doubt. In Mishneh Torah — Kings, Maimonides addressed the topic of Kings and the order of the future kingdom in connection with the Messiah. The present chaos in Yemen concerning messianic faith and the future vision concerning messianic order demanded different approaches. Here, Maimonides reflected a calm non-argumentative approach steeped in rationalism. And, his Commentary on the Mishnah, Sanhedrin (Perek Helek) focuses attention on the Thirteen Principles of Faith and an exegesis of the “world to come,” and messiah, in an effort to impose dogma designed to distinguish between those who are “orthodox” in their thinking and those who are “outside the pale.” The audience here was primarily those who “believed,” but disagreed on the meaning of the literature on principles of the faith, messiah and the world to come. As usual, Maimonides employs a rational approach steeped in the natural order of things.The three monotheistic religions all look forward to a messiah who will redeem the people and usher in a new age. The identity of the Messiah is formed in scripture and tradition. The characteristics of the Messiah for each of the religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are similar with shades of differences.34 This paper identifies some of the similarities and differences among the Messiah of Judaism as expressed by Maimonides and the Messiah of traditional belief in Christianity and the prophet Mohammad. It also recognizes that there are some differences between Maimonides’ view as concerning messiah and the traditional view espoused by some Jewish sages who came before him. According to Maimonides, the Messiah would be from Davidic descent, a prophet like Moses, who would be a superior man. He would appear at a date not so certain, but generally predictable. The Messiah, according to Maimonides, could not be identified for certain until he met defined prerequisites and accomplished particular tasks. Finally, Maimonides recognized the purpose of the Messiah and his relationship to the age to come. Each of these is discussed seriatim.

According to Maimonides, messiah would be a man from Israel who would be of Davidic descent.35 Of all of the characteristics of the Messiah this is perhaps the most universal — that he would sit on the throne of David through Solomon. It is hard to find any disagreement on this point among the sages throughout the ages. Maimonides follows this traditional view-point, which is rooted in Torah, both written and oral. David’s throne was to be forever. Although David died and so did his successors, the throne will be occupied in the future by King Messiah himself. Rabbinic writings are replete with this understanding of scripture. There was nothing new in messianic thought contributed by Maimonides on this point. In support of Maimonides’ contention that the Messiah was an Israelite he cited Deuteronomy 18.15:The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people,like myself.?...36 (emphasis added)This was sufficient to refute the claim of the followers of Mohammad since he was not from the land of Israel, and not Jewish. Unlike Islam, Maimonides and Jewish tradition’s concept of a Davidic messiah who would originate in Israel was not contrary to Christian understanding. The major difference, of course, was that for Christians the Son of David had come in the Messiah Jesus, while for Maimonides and the Jewish people, he was yet to come.

Messiah, according to Maimonides, will be in the mode of Moses in many respects and greater in others.37 He most certainly surpasses all of the other prophets,38? which would include Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Appellations ascribed to him by the prophet Isaiah are superlative: “the Mighty God is planning grace; the Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.” 39 He will prophesy, but the biblical injunction of death will fall upon those whose prophecies fail to come to pass.”40 Hence, false prophecy discounts a messianic claimant, and condemns him to death. Christian commentators’ interpretation of the Deuteronomy passage as related to the Messiah does not deviate significantly from this position.
SUPERIOR BUT NOT DEITYIt was Maimonides’ contention that the Messiah is a man, and not a God. He would be superior in his wisdom and study of Torah. The rulers of the earth, whom he will subdue, will be sorely afraid of him.41 He will be greater than the prophets.42 Yet, he will have a very human side. He will not immediately know that he is the Messiah43 and even his family and parentage will not be known, initially.44The Christian Messiah is Deity. As the second part in the trinity, he is God manifest in the flesh. Not so for Maimonides! Messiah is a great man who fulfills the calling and attributes contained in the prophecies in the Tanakh, and the hope for redemption from foreign oppression. Yet, like a man, he will die after completing his task. And, his posterity shall continue to rule on the throne of David, forever.45Christians would find this traditional concept as expressed by Maimonides troubling. Jesus died but he rose to the right hand of the Father. As such, he will never die but rather awaits the time of his return to earth. His redemption was not only for the Jews but for all of mankind, a concept upon which Maimonides would probably disagree, while embracing the traditional belief that righteous gentiles, who keep the seven Noachide laws, do have a place in the world to come.

Maimonides acknowledged that no one could know the date of the coming of the Messiah. It is a mystery.46 In his “twelfth principle” he states:… We shall believe and affirm that he will come, and we shall not think that he will be late. If he should tarry, wait for him. Nor shall the individual set a date for his coming. Nor shall he attempt to derive deductively from Scriptural verses, a set date for his coming. The Sages said, ‘May the souls expire of those who calculate the date of the coming of Mashiach.’ 47According to this twelfth principle of faith we are not even to inquire into the date of his coming. The reason behind this is undoubtedly to remove the disappointment of dates that do not come to pass.48 The Book of Daniel which is thought to contain some of the dark secrets of the messianic appearing is a “closed book,” and it is expressly forbidden by the rabbis to search it for the time of the coming of the Messiah.49 Those who do are cursed. Nonetheless, in his Epistle to Yemen, Maimonides defends at least one sage who inquired into the end and dated the Messiah’s appearing. This was Saadiah Gaon, an earlier sage, who was the head of the prestigious academy of Surra in Babylon. Maimonides rationalizes the Gaon’s dating without backing down from his position that it is forbidden to calculate. He notes that the Gaon possessed proper motives to inspire the people with hope to Truth, and hence this was the exception to the general injunction.50 Finally, Maimonides himself suggested to the Yemen community that there was a tradition in his family passed down to his father and now repeated by him that in 1216 messiah would come.51 This seemed rather odd after he had gone to pains to deny access to such an inquiry and dating. He did make it clear that this date was not for sure. And, Maimonides was writing to a community who was in need of hope, defrauded by the “pretender” and lured by the “converter,” both of whom Maimonides had just debunked.Generally, in his Epistle to Yemen, Maimonides states that messiah will come during a time of great catastrophe and upheaval for Israel.52 It is to occur, according to Maimonides, some time after the expansion of the Roman and Arab empires;53 hence, his appearance was possible in Maimonides’ time.54 It would occur after the advent of Mohammad55 according to a scriptural interpretation.56 Re-emergence of prophecy is another sign of the coming of the messiah.57 And the restoration of the Sanhedrin was still another.58Christians related “signs and wonders” preceding the coming of the Messiah to the “second coming” of the Messiah, while Maimonides and traditional Jewish interpreters related the “signs and wonders” to the Messiah’s only advent to come.

A TWO-TIERED APPROACHIn his Mishneh Torah, Book of Kings, Maimonides institutes a two-tiered approach to messianic identification.59 Meeting the attributes in tier one qualifies one as a messiah potential. Fulfillment of tier two confers the title of King Messiah upon the candidate.As pertaining to tier one Maimonides writes:And if a king shall arise from the house of David who studies the Torah and is occupied in doing the commandments as his ancestor David according to the written and oral Torah, and compels all Israel to walk in its ways and to strengthen its foundation, and fights the battles of G-d — then it is presumed that he is the Messiah.60The qualifying round may be summarized as follows:• He traces his lineage to the house of David.• He studies Torah.• He performs good deeds, in accord with Written and Oral Torah.• He reinstates widespread Torah observance.• He fights battles for the LordThe fulfillment of these “Five” qualifies the person as a messiah potential, a type of messiah-in waiting. According to Maimonides, the 2nd century Bar Kosiba, who led a revolt against the Romans in 162 C.E. in an effort to reestablish the sovereignty of Israel, was a messiah potential. He allegedly fulfilled the Five prerequisites. Nonetheless, he was clearly not the Messiah, but instead wrongly dubbed so by Rabbi Akiva, the chief rabbi of the time, and one of the Ten Martyrs in Judaism. Bar Kosiva was slain before he fulfilled any of the second tier activities.61Maimonides continues in the method of identifying Messiah by stating: “If he succeeded in accomplishing these [five things], and he subdued all the surrounding nations and he built the Temple in its place, and collected the dispersed of Israel — then this is the Messiah for certain.”62Hence, Maimonides believed that there have been messiah potentials throughout the ages, but that the messiah certain had not arisen as yet. The second tiered characteristics may be summarized as follows:• He subdues Israel’s enemies.63•He rebuilds the Temple at the ancient site.64•He re-gathers the dispersed of Israel.Probably, the closest to fulfill these conditions was Zeruvavel, who rebuilt the Second Temple, and some of the dispersed of Israel returned. However, it is obvious that Maimonides was speaking of a future King Messiah who was yet to arrive. Neither did the Christian Messiah fulfill Maimonides’ eight requirements. According to Maimonides, “if he did not accomplish all those [eight things] or was killed, then it is understood that he is not the one that the Torah promised.”65 Jesus failed to overcome Israel’s enemies, rebuild the Temple and regather the dispersed ofIsrael. And, he was slain before he accomplished these requirements. The Believers’ response is that Jesus will return and yet fulfill thesemessianic requirements.Hence, Maimonides, in establishing a type of formulae for identifying messiah, accomplished a number of objectives. He was able to quench the frenzy and the mesmerization that often accompanies a messianic pretender who arrives on the scene and makes promises to an oppressed and gullible community. At the same time he was able to convey faith and hope in a coming messiah who would indeed restore the oppressed and the dispersed to the inheritance in the Land promised to them by the L-rd. This “wait and see” approach is a practical one that is intended to eliminate the risk of false messiahs.66 They are not the Messiah until they deliver on the Torah promises. This is exactly the presentation the Yemen community needed to hear. It was premature to believe that the “mad pretender” was the Messiah; and, in fact, he had already disqualified himself by a number of failings.67

The Messiah will usher in a normative world of Torah-keeping and teaching. Torah will not be altered,68 but it will be freely exercised in Israel69 where there will be no foreign usurpation or obstacles.70 According to Maimonides, King Messiah will be a teacher and keeper of Torah. One who adds to, or detracts from, Torah is surely not the Messiah.71 The bulk of Christianity embraced the view that Messiah Jesus altered the Law and ushered in a new covenant, not after the Law of Moses.72 For Maimonides, this is a disqualifier.The time of the Messiah will not, according to Maimonides, signal a new order, but a fulfillment of the ideal. The laws of nature will continue in its course without change.73 Maimonides cites with approval a Talmudic reference that states: “The only difference between the present world and the messianic era is our present subjection to foreign powers.”74 The redemption from the shackles of oppression in the messianic days will free the Jewish people to study Torah, and thus receive their just reward in the world to come.75Knowledge will increase. There will be no war, famine or discord.76 Simply, it will be a perfect environment for study of Torah. It will be very easy to earn a living, without expending a great deal of work, because the land will be so fertile.77 That means that the bulk of the time will be available for engaging in Torah study, which probably, for Maimonides, means a major emphasis on Talmud.78
CONCLUSIONMaimonides’ conception of the Messiah was rational. This is not surprising. As a philosopher who harmonized Greek rationalism with Jewish law, he paints messiah as a natural person who ushers in a natural order in fulfillment of scripture and tradition. Everything is transitional. Nothing is radical and apocalyptic. Maimonides was truly moderate. He rejected the kabbalists, who embraced mysticism and practically deified messiah, and ascribed supernatural powers to him.79 He strengthened those whose faith was in danger of being shipwrecked. He fused the Jewish G-d with the Greek mindset and created a harmonized universe. His position, like he prescribed for others in Hilchot Da’ot,80 was the one in the middle, and that is the one that made all the difference for Maimonides and his followers.His position concerning the Messiah was also pragmatic. Neither is this surprising for one steeped in rationalism. His letters spoke to real issues confronting communities and people who were living in a world of persecution. He could empathize. It was his experience as well. Thus, he tells the community in Yemen that they should reject the pretenders but await the true messiah who will come, and probably in the not-too-distant future, as evidenced by the prophecies and the signs.81Maimonides had suffered terribly in his life, with persecution and personal tragedies. He was a rationalist in the mode of the Greek mind, who sought to explain matters in rational terms. Moreover, it was a world of Christians and Mohammedans. They pressed the Jews to convert, and often became brute beasts in their attacks on the Jews.82 Maimonides was well aware of the need to live and the need to stay faithful to Torah. At great risk to his life he refuted the Islamic Prophet and the Christian Messiah,83 and encouraged the Jews, in near and distant lands, to hold fast to Torah and to believe in perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah and though he tarry, to wait, and not think that he will be late.84

ENDNOTES1 Messiah is Mashiakh in Hebrew, which means “anointed one.” 2 See, for example, Daniel 9.5-26. Although there are many messiahs in the Tanakh, kings and judges who were anointed with oil, the Jewish tradition is that there is one King Messiah who will reign over all of Israel from the Temple in Jerusalem.3 A number of the claimants are recorded in Acts 5.36-37. Bar Kosiva, acclaimed by Rabbi Akiba to be the Messiah, led a revolt 132-135 B.C.E. Messiah Jesus initiated his ministry circa 30 C.E., and the record of his work and claims are contained in the New Testament.4 Maimonides catalogued four false Messiahsof the medieval period, who appeared outside of the Land. Crisis and Leadership: Epistles of Maimonides, Abraham Halkin, trans. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985), 127-30 (hereafter referred to as Epistle to Yemen). This list included the account of (1) a Persian Jew, probably Abu Isa, who was slain, ibid., 127-28 (2) Moses al-Darri, ibid., 128-129, who advised the people to sell all their property to their ultimate financial ruination (3) ibn Arieh, ibid., 129-30, who was exposed, flogged and put under the ban, thus averting gentile reprisals (4) a man of Linon, ibid., 130, who swung from the top of trees on moon-lit nights, and was put to death by the French. 5 Jacob Minkin, The Teachings of Maimonides (Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aaronson, 1987), 399 (hereafter referred to as The Teachings of Maimonides), citing Maimonides, Repentance, 9. “Hence, all Israelites, their Prophets and Sages, longed for the advent of Messianic times, that they might have relief from the wicked tyranny that does not permit them properly to occupy themselves with the study of the Torah and the observance of the commandments … .” Ibid.6 See Harris Lenowitz, The Jewish Messiahs: From Galilee to Crown Heights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).7 However, not all the sages recognized a personal messiah. Rabbi Hillel denied that there would be a messiah for Israel. BT, Sanhedrin 99a.8 This position is common among the reform branch of Judaism. 9 See RASHI’s commentary on Isaiah 53. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Samuel Driver & Adolph Neubauer, transs. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999), 37-39. 10 The Talmud, Adin Steinsaltz, ed., Sanhedrin 98a (New York: Random House, 1999), 19.11 Epistle to Yemen, 91-149. Contrary to RASHI, note 9, Maimonides renders, at least portions of Isaiah 53, as referring to messiah. The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, ed., Harry Orlinsky (New York: KTAV, 1969), 374-75. 12 Epistle to Yemen, 91-207.13 Mishneh Torah: Maimonides’ Code of Law and Ethics, abridged, Phillip Birnbaum, trans. (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co, 1974), 322-31 (hereafter cited as Mishneh Torah).14 Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishnah: Tractate Sanhedrin, Fred Rosner, ed. (New York: Sepher-Hermon Press, 1981).(hereafter cited to as Commentary on Mishnah}.15 Rabbi Zechariah Fendel, Torah Faith: The Thirteen Principles (New York: Hashkafah Publications, 1985). (hereafter cited as The Thirteen Principles).16 His Arabic name was Abu-Amran Musa ben Mamun Obaid Allah. Heinrich Graetz, History of the Jews III (New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1894), 447 (hereafter cited as History of the Jews).17 This is not a precise date. Historians differ on his date of birth. Some have placed it at 1038 by back dating from his completion of Commentary on the Mishnah, which he states by his autograph was at age 30. We know that he completed this work in 1168. Therefore, that would place his birth at 1137 or 1138.18 History of the Jews, III, 447-48.19 In Hilchot Talmud Torah Maimonides recites the customary rules required by scripture for the father to teach the child. Mishneh Torah, 23.20 History of the Jews, III, 448-50.21 Epistle to Yemen, 13-45.22 History of the Jews III, 451-457.23 Ibid. 457-58.24 Ibid. 45825 Ibid 461-64.26 Ibid. 465.27 Ibid. 466.28 Ibid. 470-472; 475-47829 Ibid. 493. The quote has been modified by the author to reflect the more popular translation.30 Epistle to Yemen, 124.31 Ibid. 123. 32 Ibid. 107. He is referred to as “the apostate.” ibid. 33 Ibid. 95.34 For Islam, the hope is in a mahdi, who is ordinarily the forerunner of the messiah who ultimately becomes the messiah, and who after death is thought to be hiding in a cave awaiting the appropriate time to return. For an interesting discussion ofIslamic mahdistic movements see Israel Friedlaender, “Shiitic Influences,” in Essential Papers on Messianic Movements and Personalities, Marc Saperstein, ed. (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 113-161. For Christians, John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Messiah, but he did not become the messiah. Matthew 3.1-11. Similarly, Judaism has the concept of a forerunner in the person of Elijah, the prophet, who never died. Malachi 4.5. Jesus is awaiting a second advent, although not believed to be hiding in a cave. Acts 1.11.35 Epistle to Yemen,121.36 Ibid. 109-110.37 Ibid. 124.38 Ibid. 123.39 Ibid. 124.40 Ibid.; Deuteronomy 18.20. 41 Epistle to Yemen, 125-26.42 Ibid. 124.43 See Jacob Dienstag, Eschatology in Maimonidean Thought: Messianism, Resurrection and the World to Come (New York: KTAV, 1983), 32-35.44 Epistle to Yemen, 125, citing Isaiah 53.2.45 Commentary on Mishnah, 148.46 Epistle to Yemen, 114. “For these words are secret and sealed.” Daniel 12.947 The Thirteen Principles, 226. Maimonides’ quote is from Sanhedrin 97b.48 … [M] any people will calculate the time of the advent of the Messiah, but they will be disappointed and fail.” Epistle to Yemen, 115.49 “May the calculators of the final redemption come to grief … .” Ibid. 116.50 Ibid.51 Joseph Sarachek, The Doctrine of the Messiah in Eschatology in Maimonidean Thought: Messianism, Resurrection and the World to Come, Jacob Dienstag, ed. (New York: KTAV, 1983), 31. This was gleaned from a passage concerning Balaam in Numbers 23:23. Epistle to Yemen, 122.52 Epistle to Yemen, 121.53 Ibid.54 In fact, Maimonides’ date of 1212, based upon his family tradition was just 8 years after his death. He was spared the disappointment.55 Epistle to Yemen, 121.56 Isaiah 21.7,9.57 Joel 3.58 Commentary on Mishnah, 3.59 Mishneh Torah, XI, 4, 329.60 Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (Yad Ha-Hazakah), abridged, Phillip Birnbaum, ed. (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1944), 327. (original translation by author)(hereafter referred to as Mishneh Torah, original translation).61 Mishneh Torah, Kings, 329.62 Mishneh Torah, 327, original translation.63 In fact, messiah’s “advent will strike terror into the hearts of all the kings of the earth, and their kingdoms will fall; neither will they be able to war or revolt against him.” Epistle to Yemen, 125. He also cites the verse, “Kings shall be silenced because of him.” Isaiah 52.15, ibid.64 Maimonides refers to the biblical reference, Malachi 3.1: “He will suddenly come to his temple.” Epistle to Yemen, 125.65 Mishneh Torah, 327, original translation.66 Hence, Bar Kosiva was a messiah potential, but not a messiah certain. According to Maimonides he was slain before he fulfilled the qualifications. Mishneh Torah, Kings, 329. 67 Ibid.123-126. For example, the messianic pretender said that the rich should give all their money to the poor. Maimonides says, in effect, “This is wisdom!” We would only wind up reversing the economic conditions of the two extremes and be in the same state. Ibid. 124.68 Mishneh Torah, Kings, 329.69 In Commentary on Mishneh, Maimonides listed five common positions on “why” keep Torah and fulfill the commandments, ibid. 134-136. Some opine that it will determine whether you wind up in Gan Eden or Gehenna, ibid. 135. A second group believes that the good flowing is that the Messiah will come and everyone will be a king, and inhabit the world through eternity; and those who do not keep Torah will not enter into that state, ibid. A third group imagines a resurrection and eternal life with family and relatives, which will be denied those who do not keep Torah, ibid. A fourth group adopts the view that those who are faithful to Torah will enjoy the physical pleasures and an abundant life headed by a Jewish king, which will be denied to the unfaithful, ibid. 135-136. The fifth position is seized by those who combine the other four together, ibid. 136. Maimonides rejects all of these positions, instead advancing that studying Torah and keeping the commandments is for the sake of studying Torah and keeping the commandments, and that the motive should be nothing else. Doing Torah is out of love for G-d. Ibid. 136-140.70 Mishneh Torah, Kings, 330.71 Maimonides was of the opinion that Jesus altered the Torah. Epistle to Yemen, 98. “His purpose was to interpret the Torah in a fashion that would lead to its total annulment, to the abolition of its commandments, and to the violation of all its prohibitions.” Ibid.72 Jeremiah 31.31-34. This is generally the common Christian understanding of Jeremiah 31.31, which states in part, “Behold the days come saith the Lord that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” It is a supersessionist view, that the covenant has displaced Israel and replaced it with the Church who is now the heir of the covenant. This “displacement theology” has produced untold amounts of antisemitism.73 Mishnah Torah, Kings, 330.74 Ibid. 330, citing Berakhoth 34b.75 Ibid. 330.76 Commentary on Mishnah, 148.77 Ibid. 147.78 See Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah.79 The Teachings of Maimonides, 398.80 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Da’ot, 11-14.81 Epistle to Yemen, 121-23.82 Although Islam under the dhimmis status fared better for the Jews than the “no status” under Christian rule, nonetheless, outbreaks of serious persecution, for example under the Almohads, always loomed imminent.83 Epistle to Yemen, 131 (“… the public welfare takes precedence over one’s personal safety.” ibid.).84 The Thirteen Principles, 226.MAJOR WORKS CITEDCrisis and Leadership: Epistles of Maimonides. Abraham Halkin, trans. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985.Dienstag, Jacob. Eschatology in Maimonidean Thought: Messianism, Resurrection and the World to Come. New York: KTAV, 1983.Essential Papers on Messianic Movements and Personalities. Marc Saperstein, ed. New York: New York University Press, 1992.Fendel, Rabbi Zechariah. Torah Faith: The Thirteen Principles. New York: Hashkafah Publications, 1985.Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, The., Harry Orlinsky, ed. New York: KTAV, 1969.Graetz, Heinrich. History of the Jews, vol. III. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1949.Lenowitz, Harris. The Jewish Messiahs: From Galilee to Crown Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (Yad Ha-Hazakah), abridged ed., Phillip Birnbaum, ed. (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1944).Minkin, Jacob. The Teachings of Maimonides. Northvale, N.J.:Jason Aronson, 1987.Mishneh Torah: Maimonides’ Code of Law and Ethics. Phillip Birnbaum, trans. New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1974.Rosner, Fred. Maimonides on Mishnah Sanhedrin. New York: Sepher-Hermon Press, 1981.Suffering Servant of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, The. Samuel Driver & Adolph Neubauer, transs. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999.


No comments: