The Messianic Age in Judaism

Jewish text offers glimpses into the time of the Messiah.

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Classical Jewish texts depict a Messiah who will come to redeem the Jewish people, gather the exiled to the land of Israel, and rule over a prosperous nation, and relate other more detailed (and diverse) traditions about the Messiah's arrival as well as the conditions of the messianic era. Excerpted and reprinted with the permission of Schocken Books, a division of Random House, Inc., from What Do Jews Believe?

The Arrival of the Messiah

The rabbis speculated on the conditions under which the Messiah was likely to appear.afterlife messiah

He will not arrive on the Sabbath, since that would require people to violate the Sabbath in welcoming him [Babylonian Talmud Pesahim 13a]. [The prophet] Elijah [who is supposed to usher in the messianic age] will arrive no later in the week than Thursday, leaving room for the Messiah to arrive by Friday. Elijah will announce the arrival of the Messiah from Mount Carmel in the Land of Israel [Jerusalem Talmud Pesahim 3:6].

Many rabbis believed that the Messiah would arrive suddenly on the eve of Passover, the first redemption, which serves as a model of the final redemption [Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Pischa 14].

Corruption and Degradation Will Precede Redemption

One statement from the time of the rabbis describes the era leading up to the Messiah in the darkest terms of societal corruption:

"In the footsteps of the Messiah, arrogance [chutzpah] will increase; prices will rise; grapes will be abundant but wine will be costly; the government will turn into heresy; and there will be no reproach. The meeting place [of scholars] will become a bordello; the Galilee will be destroyed; the highland will lie desolate; the border people will wander from city to city and none will show them compassion; the wisdom of authors will stink; sin‑fearing people will be detested; truth will be missing; young men will humiliate the elderly; the elderly will stand while the young sit; sons will revile their fathers; daughters will strike their mothers, brides will strike their mothers‑in‑law; and a man's enemies will take over his house. The face of the generation is like the face of a dog! Sons have no shame in front of their fathers; and on whom can one depend? Only upon our father in heaven [Sotah 9:15]."

This era will be characterized by God's war against Gog and Magog and other catastrophic events. Another statement, which may date from the time of the Hadrianic persecutions (132‑35 C.E.), offers the dark assessment that the Messiah will arrive in a period when Jews collaborate with their enemies, Torah learning disappears, poverty increases, and religious despair deepens:

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Dr. David S. Ariel

Dr. David S. Ariel is head of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He was previously president of Siegal College of Judaic Studies (formerly the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies). He is author of Spiritual Judaism: Restoring Heart and Soul to Jewish Life and The Mystic Quest: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism.