Who is the Messiah?

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--Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a

The Messiah as a Blighted Beggar

R. Joshua ben Levi [asked Elijah, the prophet who it is said will be the harbinger of the messianic age] "When will the Messiah come?" "Go and ask him himself." "Where is he sitting?" "At the gates of Rome." "What will identify him?" "He is sitting among the poor lepers; while all of them untie all [their bandages] at once, and rebandage them together, he unties and rebandages each separately, [before treating the next], saying 'I might be needed, so I must not be delayed.' "

--Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a

The Despised but Beautiful Messiah

I turned and someone touched me. I saw a man, despicable and crippled…and he said to me, "Do not fear, you were brought here so I could see you…This is Rome, where I am bound in prison until my end comes."

When I heard this, I hid my face; then I turned back to peek, and hid my face yet again from fear. "Why are you afraid?" "I have heard rumors. You are the Messiah." He then appeared to me as an incomparably beautiful youth.

[An angel explained to me,]  "Menachem the son of Amiel will come suddenly in the month of Nisan and stand at the Arbel valley. All of the sages of Israel will come out to him, and the son of Amiel will say to them, 'I am the Messiah whom God has sent as good tidings to save you from your enemies.' And the sages will despise him, just as you [initially] despised him and did not believe him. His fury will burn, and he will dress himself in vengeance and come to the gates of Jerusalem with Elijah the prophet and resurrect Nehemiah ben Hushiel who was killed, and then they will believe in Menachem ben Amiel."

--The pseudonymous Sefer Zerubavel, c. 7th century, published in Jellinek, Bet haMidrash.

Academic Head

All the righteous have been heads of academies on earth, and have become disciples of the heavenly academy, and the Messiah visits all these academies and puts his seal on the Torah that comes from the mouths of the teachers.

--Zohar Bereishit 1, 4b

A Successful Philosopher/King/General

If a king from the House of David studies Torah, busies himself with the commandments like David did, observes the laws of the written and the oral law, convinces Israel to walk in the way of the Torah and to repair its breaches, and fights the battles of the Lord, it may be assumed that he is the Messiah. If he succeeds at these things, rebuilds the Temple on its site, and gathers the dispersed of Israel, he is beyond all doubt the Messiah…But if he does not succeed fully, or is slain, it is obvious that he is not the Messiah promised in the Torah.

--Maimonides, Laws of Kings 11:3-4 (uncensored version)

There is No Messiah, Just a Messianic Age

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Jeffrey Spitzer is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at Gann Academy, The New Jewish High School, Waltham, Mass., and a member of the Institute's Tichon Fellows Program.