Author Archives: Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman

Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman

About Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman

Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman is a noted speaker and author whose work includes the National Jewish Book Award finalist Sacred Parenting (URJ Press, 2009) and The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope (Jewish Lights, 2013).

The Messianic Concept in Reform Judaism

Adapted with permission from The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope, published by Jewish Lights.

In 1848, the Jews of Germany were emancipated – that is, they were granted citizenship for the first time in the two thousand years they had lived in Europe. Emancipation presented Jews with the opportunity to participate in secular society – and the challenge of maintaining a meaningful Jewish identity while doing so. Many Jews met this challenge by adopting the recent innovation of Reform Judaism, which applied the era’s values of rationality, optimism, and universality to religious life. Among the changes Reform Judaism embraced was a radical redefinition of the Messiah and the Messianic Age.

Traditional Jewish views on the Messiah could not, Reformers believed, withstand the changes of Emancipation. Reform Jews prized an intellectual outlook on Judaism and valued religious tenets that could be upheld even in a rational, secular milieu. They did not, therefore, embrace traditional messianism – rooted in complicated Scriptural allusions and folklore, filled with images of apocalyptic battles, a superhuman deliverer, and even a physical resurrection of the dead. And with its emphasis on Jewish triumph over the enemies of Israel, messianism also sharply contradicted Emancipation tenets of equality and universalism. Finally, traditional Jewish messianism expressed a yearning to return to Zion, to rebuild the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, and to restore rule over Israel to the descendants of King David. Such hopes undermined the Jews’ new status as loyal citizens of Germany.

Perhaps the most powerful reason to jettison traditional messianic belief, the Reformers argued, was that it was simply not needed anymore. Human beings – guided not by a Messiah but by their own intellect – had already begun the work of redemption. Reformers believed that the principles of Emancipation would inspire every nation and bring liberation to the entire world. Spreading from Germany and taking especially strong hold in the United States, Reform Judaism abolished the concept of a divinely-sent Messiah and promised instead that humanity would accomplish its own redemption.

Moses’s Fate

Reprinted with permission from
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).

It was the moment for which Moses had prepared nearly all his life. Reared in Egyptian luxury, mothered by a princess, Moses might have lived out his 120 years in careless splendor, unconcerned with the fate of hordes of Israelite slaves who labored outside his palace. Yet, from the moment that Moses–still a young man–slays the Egyptian taskmaster, he chooses to cast his lot with the slaves.
women's commentary
For their sake and their God’s–Moses spends forty years traversing the wilderness, leading a complaining and defiant people, interceding with an inscrutable and demanding Sovereign, and somehow transforming the despised and oppressed into witnesses of miracles and keepers of revelation. The work is almost finished. God and Moses have brought the people to the edge of the Promised Land, a place Moses will not reach. He will gaze upon it from the heights of Mount Nebo, but he will die before he enters it.

Why will Moses forgo the glorious completion of the task into which he has poured his very life? In parashat Vayelekh, Moses himself explains: “I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be active” (31:2). Translated more literally, Moses says, “I can no longer go out and come in.” Either way, the message seems clear: Moses is tired out; he is no longer feeling strong or vigorous. So he will remain on this side of the Jordan River, take a peek at the Promised Land, and then die a peaceful and contented death. It may seem strange that he is willing to miss this crowning achievement; but this appears to be his choice.

The Tragedy of It All

Except, of course, that he has not made such a choice. As the verse continues, Moses adds what might seem to be a secondary explanation, an afterthought–yet it contains some crucial information: “Moreover, God has said to me, ‘You shall not go across yonder Jordan'” (31:2).