Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Reform Reflections: Fakers and pretenders | BlogCentral: By Rabbi Eric Yoffie
When a Jew tells you that the Messiah will soon arrive, run for cover.
There is a messianic element in Judaism that is hinted at in the prophets and further developed by the rabbis. But it is not a central strand of Jewish practice, and popular messianic beliefs flow largely from the world of sentiment and folklore. Recognizing the dangers of messianic tendencies, rabbis of all persuasions and in all eras have tried to control apocalyptic and redemptionist themes.

Yet from time to time, especially during periods of upheaval, danger, or uncertainty, messianic enthusiasm has burst through rabbinic constraints, leaving despair, economic dislocation, and disbelief in its wake.
Today, as in days past, those who find romance in the language of the messianic future are embarking on a perilous path. The Jewish enterprise is devoted to the observance of Torah and fulfilling God’s will; messianic claims, on the other hand, are inevitably used to justify ethical lapses, to promote organizational and personal interests, and to glorify military victories or explain military defeats. Modern-day messianic practitioners – including the religious settlement leaders and the messianic elements of Chabad – have been no exception to this pattern. ...

I'm not a fan of contemporary messianism in Jewish life, and largely agree with Rabbi Yoffie on its hazards, particularly as they relate to Israeli politics.
That said, I find Rabbi Yoffie's canned history and theology much too pat on this subject, reflecting Reform thought of previous generations but oblivious to the important historical work of recent decades. Academic study of the role of messianism (and its relation to Jewish mysticism) has opened a window on deep and fascinating aspects of Jewish life, and no intellectually responsible approach to Jewish history and life should treat it as dismissively as Rabbi Yoffie attempts to do here. I expected better from him.

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