National Redemption

The blessings that conclude the Amidah's center section emphasize God's redemption of Israel.

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The minimizing of the Davidic role in the Amidah is reminiscent of the minimizing of the Mosaic role in the Passover Haggadah. By minimizing the role of the human redeemer, both tannaitic-based narratives of redemption (i.e., from the first two centuries CE) highlight that of the divine.

The Amidah thus corresponds to a tendency of rabbinic literature of downplaying the significance of Davidic rule. With regard to the Mishnah (the primary document of Rabbinic literature), there is not even a mention of a Davidic messiah. The Tosefta (a companion volume to the Mishnah), for its part, denies the blessing of David a distinct status by incorporating it into the blessing on the building of Jerusalem. As such, the Palestinian version of the Amidah lacks a separate blessing on David, whereas two of the three versions of blessing 14 and one of the Havinenu abridgements make no mention of David at all either in conjunction with the rebuilding of Jerusalem or with the restoration of the Temple. Indeed, a Palestinian amora (talmudic sage) says explicitly that the Temple will be rebuilt before the appearance of the Davidic monarchy, while the talmudic explanation for the sequence between blessing 14 and 15 simply states: "Once Jerusalem is built, David comes." None of these sources grant the Davidic house any role in precipitating the redemption.

The key player, indeed virtually the only player, is God. The motif of God as redeemer as opposed to a human redeemer appears in the Midrash (rabbinic interpretations of Scripture) to underscore the permanence of divine redemption as opposed to the temporary nature of human redemption. Redemptions by temporal beings are temporary.

In contrast to the transient redemptions by human beings, blessing 14 states that God's rebuilding of Jerusalem will last forever ('olam). The point is made explicit in the Midrash: "In the future, I will rebuild her and not destroy her forever (le'olam)." This contrasts starkly with the biblical and sometimes postbiblical ideal of Davidic rule forever. Such a contrast is made all the more poignant by positioning blessing 14 on Jerusalem immediately before blessing 15 on the Sprout of David. It is clear, therefore, that God alone is the redeemer and the restorer of Israel's fortunes. In the same vein, R. Hillel's statement, "Israel has no Messiah," was taken by Rashi to mean: "The Holy One, blessed be He, will reign by Himself and redeem them on His own."

In this emphasis upon exclusive divine redemption, the vision of the Amidah harks back to that of the prophets Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Joel, Malachi, and Daniel, and conforms to that of the Mishnah. Like the Mishnah, the Amidah presents redemption as a restorative enterprise. Blessing 10 seeks the return of the dispersed, blessing 11 the restoration of leadership models of yore, blessing 14 the return of God to Jerusalem, and blessing 15 the restoration of the Davidic line (as blessing 17 seeks the restoration of the cult to the Temple and the return of the divine presence to Zion).

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Dr. Reuven Kimelman

Reuven Kimelman is a Professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University.