Rethinking the Messianic Idea in Judaism

Rethinking the Messianic Idea in Judaism

Rethinking the Messianic Idea in Judaism

Rethinking the Messianic Idea in Judaism

Synopsis

Over the centuries, the messianic tradition has provided the language through which modern Jewish philosophers, socialists, and Zionists envisioned a utopian future. Michael L. Morgan, Steven Weitzman, and an international group of leading scholars ask new questions and provide new ways of thinking about this enduring Jewish idea. Using the writings of Gershom Scholem, which ranged over the history of messianic belief and its conflicted role in the Jewish imagination, these essays put aside the boundaries that divide history from philosophy and religion to offer new perspectives on the role and relevance of messianism today.

Excerpt

The messianic idea in Judaism has compelled a life lived in deferment, in
which nothing can be done definitively and irrevocably accomplished.
—Gershom Scholem, “Toward an Understanding of the
Messianic Idea in Judaism”

In 1959, the great scholar Gershom Scholem published an essay entitled “Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism” that in the space of less than forty pages manages to tell a story of messianic belief stretching from antiquity into the modern era. The English title of the essay—“Toward an Understanding …”—suggests a scholar approaching his subject, taking steps toward its analysis, but not yet achieving understanding itself. More than fifty years later, the field of Jewish studies is still moving toward that understanding, not yet exhausting what the sources can tell us about the subject or settling on an intellectual approach. The following volume, gathering together essays from historians, philosophers, and literary scholars, is an effort to continue the project that Scholem began. This is not a book about Scholem’s essay, and Scholem himself will only make sporadic appearances throughout its pages. It is an attempt—from across a distance of fifty years and in the light of a now immense body of scholarship on the past and present of Jewish messianism—to keep moving toward the understanding Scholem was striving to achieve, to develop new angles on the issues that he broached, to bring new sources into the discussion, or to look at sources, ideas, people, and movements more carefully.

“Toward an Understanding of the Messianic Idea in Judaism” is actually a late expression of Scholem’s views on messianism, a theme that had occupied his thinking from the late 1910s and his first efforts at deciphering Kabbalah. As Scholem went on to study the Lurianic Kabbalah and especially its role in the messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi, he came increasingly to understand the messianic dimensions of the Kabbalah and of rabbinic Judaism as a central feature of a Jewish philosophy of history. On the one hand, messianism has erupted in Jewish history as a real, concrete expression of frustrations and hopes and has regularly had important political and social consequences. On the other hand, messianism is a cluster of beliefs that play a role in Judaism and are an index of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.