Messianism, Mysticism, and Magic: A Sociological Analysis of Jewish Religious Movements

By Stephen Sharot | Go to book overview

12.

The Secularization
of Millenarianism

THE TRANSPOSITION of beliefs based on supernatural assumptions into beliefs that emphasize human creation and responsibility is an important dimension of secularization. This chapter describes the three major secular transformations of Jewish millenarian beliefs and relates them to the social contexts in which they arose: first, the "progressive" universalistic version, which abandoned the notions of a personal messiah and the ingathering of the exiles and envisaged a messianic era of peace and harmony as a consequence of human progress; second, the secular revolutionist version, which foresaw a socialist revolution followed by a period of equality and happiness; third, the secular nationalist version, which argued that the Jews would overcome the evils of the diaspora by establishing their own state. The first proposed an accommodation to non‐ Jewish society, the second an overthrow of the total society, and the third an escape from non-Jewish society.


"Progressive" Millenarianism

This belief appeared mainly among western Jews (of central and western Europe and the United States). The cultural and religious accommodation of western Jews to non-Jewish society was a consequence of the breakdown of their legal, vicinal, and economic separation. Citizenship was granted to all French Jews in 1791, and legal emancipation was subsequently extended to many other European communities by the French occupation. After Napoleon's defeat the central European states reintroduced legal restrictions on Jews, but although the attainment of full legal and political equality was a slow process in many European states, the segregation of Jews was much reduced from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The central European Jews were subject to civil disqualifications and excluded from a number of occupations until late in the century, but they were no longer isolated in ghettos, excluded from the major towns, or limited to a few despised occupations. The abolition of restric

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