One of our readers wrote and asked if the Bile predict the future arrival of a godly messiah. The following was my response.
I agree with Maimonides that there is no clear explicit statement in the entire Hebrew Bible about a miraculous messiah coming to save the Jews or, better stated, the world. While some (even highly-respected rabbis) who need to believe (for many psychological reasons) that there are statements that can suggest the coming of a miraculous messiah, these statements refer to the future when there will be a human leader who will aid the people and lead them to a better life. The prophets are saying that the people should not despair. The future will be bright. But this future, says Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah, Law of Kings, chapters 11 and 12, will be a human and the messianic age will be a natural affair. The human leader will die like all humans. Life at the time will be like life now except that Jews who are now despairing will live in peace.
A good example of what I am saying is an act by Maimonides. The Jewish people of Yemen were suffering greatly from how the country and its citizens treated them. They wrote to Maimonides for help. Upon receiving the letter, Maimonides worried greatly about the Yemenite Jews. He wrote back telling them a lie, what he elsewhere called an “essential truth,” what the Greek philosopher Plato called a “noble lie,” one that the people needed to believe to be able to live without fear. While he did not believe in a miraculous messiah and even wrote so explicitly, he told them that one will appear and that he even knew the date of the arrival. The Yemenite Jews felt good about his reply, so much so that they inserted into their kaddish prayer a prayer for Maimonides, which the Yemenite Jews still remember today. There were many ancient rabbis who acted as “The Great Eagle” Maimonides (and used the noble lie as Plato and ibn Tufayl and many other philosophers) did, and told their co-religionists that someone will come and save them from their despair; it will be “miraculous,” and they will thereafter live a wonderful life.
I read an essay by Rabbi Marc Shapiro last night on the private (censored) views of Rabbi Kook. In the essay, Shapiro brings new censored documents/letters explaining how Kook sought to do away with the sacrifices in the messianic age by implementing derash in the court of the Sanhedrin (so that the Torah would not be changed per se). If you want I can send you the link via email, or it on his blog if you type “Kook on sacrifices” in search. The reason I bring this here is that your essay reminded me of it when you wrote about Maimonides writing to the Yemenite Jews about the coming of the Messiah. This made me think that when Kook wrote later to other Jews, explaining that sacrifices would continue, it could be an “essential truth,” a thing he felt he needed to write. This is thought-provoking in that it shows how many philosophers used this technique. Although some rabbis feel this technique makes Rambam look to sneaky, Kook’s writings are an example.
Fascinating article, which prompted me to wonder how you understand the relationship between the oral and written Torah? I was taught that where it say in Avot1.1, ” make a fence round the Torah,” this refers to the oral Torah which was also given to Moses at Sinai. If that is the case I am left wondering why is there no direct reference to it within the written Torah? I am often confused when opinions and laws in the oral Torah appear to contradict, or role back the rulings and force of statements made in the written Torah, yet these views are considered more authoritative than the those in the written Torah. Its not that I mind as the consequence of the Talmud and the Rambam, amongst others, is often to make Judaism more humane then the Biblical religion of the Hebrews and Israelites, but theologically it is rather schizophrenic and ahistorical in my opinion.
Dear Jonathan and Anna,
I agree that Rabbi Kook used an “essential truth” when he spoke about sacrifices continuing in the future. The ancients needed them. We do not. Thank you for telling me about this.
I do not think that the Oral Law was given at Sinai. Rabbi Binyamin Lau gives a well-written very informative exposition on the development of the Oral Law by the Pharisees and Rabbis in his four volumes called “The Sages.” I reviewed the books and you call find a synopsis of them in my reviews on Amazon. The changes were made in the law because of the necessities of the later time.