Sunday, July 18, 2010

Do you really want Moshiach?

REVISED 7/18 @ 6 pm

Do you really want Moshiach? Think about this question carefully.

There are many views about what Moshiach means and what he will do, but among the Orthodox, the most common expectation is that when Moshiach gets here the whole world, or at least the whole of Jewery, will live under the law of the Torah. This is less cool than it sounds. Living according to Torah law means bringing back kings, and permitting slavery, and child marriage and polygamy and brutal forms of execution. If the moshiach is a Charedi, it will also mean severe limitations on personal freedom and fewer rights and opportunities for women. A charedi moshiach would also mean the elimination of all the non-Torah industries and the widespread unemployment that would follow. All of the lawyers, entertainers, journalists, politicians and the people who depend on them will need new vocations.

But will Moshiach be Charedi? Unclear. He might be some other flavor of Orthodox Jew, or perhaps he won't be Orthodox, at all. In any event, his arrival and anticipated preference for one expression of Judaism to the exclusion of all others will also mean the elimination of Jewish diversity. If you're like most Jews you sort of unreflectivly expect that the messianic era means your sect will dominate, but how can you be sure? Perhaps the King Mossiach will be a reform Jew. Perhaps he'll argue that all the familiar and cherished rabbinic pieties we've accumulated over the last 2000 years are invalid, or no longer needed. Will the Orthodox stand for that? And even if he's Orthodox, he might not be your kind of Orthodox. What if he's a Litvak? Will the Hasidic rebbes resign their authority, and recognize his? Unlikely. And what if he's Satmar? Would Lubovitch stick around for a Satmar king? No chance.

In short, the whole beautiful idea of one unified Judaism under a universally accepted Jewish king sounds impossible unless quite a few heads are broken first. The King Mossiah will need an army of secret police to root out and destroy all the competing flavors of Judaism, even within Orthodoxy. It will be like something out of an Orwellian nightmare, at least at until the opposition is defeated. Perform the wrong ritual, think the wrong thought, worship God in a way not authorized by the King, and you can expect severe punishment. That's the Torah way, isn't it? And no out-of-favor-sect will be safe. If the King is a Maimonidian all of you who believe in magic, demons, and specific divine providence will require re-education. Utter any of the well known, beloved prayers which reference the saving powers of angles, and the Maimonidian king will have not just the grounds, but the obligation to execute you for heresy. And similar examples can easily be found no matter what style of king has the throne. Every Jewish sect does something terribly wrong by the lights of the other sects. Unless these real, entrenched, differences of opinion are made to magically disappear the king will be required to root out the opposition and to bring the rest of Judaism into line by force.

Are you really desirous of a Messianic era ushered in with vicious infighting and a murderous civil war? Given what you know about human nature, and the history of Judaism do you think it could happen any other way?

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