What is the “End of Days”?
The term “End of Days” is taken from Numbers 24:14. This has always been taken as a reference to the messianic era. Here we shall explore—albeit briefly—the Jewish belief in the coming of Moshiach.
What does the word Moshiach mean?
Moshiach is the Hebrew word for “messiah.” The word messiah in English means a savior or a “hoped-for deliverer.” The word moshiach in Hebrew actually means “anointed.” In Biblical Hebrew, the title moshiach was bestowed on somebody who had attained a position of nobility and greatness. For example, the high priest is referred to as the kohen ha-moshiach.
In Talmudic literature the title Moshiach, or Melech HaMoshiach (the King Messiah), is reserved for the Jewish leader who will redeem Israel in the End of Days.
What is the belief in Moshiach?
One of the principles of Jewish faith enumerated by Maimonides is that one day there will arise a dynamic Jewish leader, a direct descendant of the Davidic dynasty, who will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, and gather Jews from all over the world and bring them back to the Land of Israel.
All the nations of the world will recognize Moshiach to be a world leader, and will accept his dominion. In the messianic era there will be world peace, no more wars nor famine, and, in general, a high standard of living.
All mankind will worship one G‑d, and live a more spiritual and moral way of life. The Jewish nation will be preoccupied with learning Torah and fathoming its secrets.
The coming of Moshiach will complete G‑d’s purpose in creation: for man to make an abode for G‑d in the lower worlds—that is, to reveal the inherent spirituality in the material world.
Is this not a utopian dream?
No! Judaism fervently believes that, with the correct leadership, humankind can and will change. The leadership quality of Moshiach means that through his dynamic personality and example, coupled with manifest humility, he will inspire all people to strive for good. He will transform a seemingly utopian dream into a reality. He will be recognized as a man of G‑d, with greater leadership qualities than even Moses.
In today’s society, many people are repulsed by the breakdown of ethical and moral standards. Life is cheap, crime is rampant, drug and alcohol abuse are on the increase, children have lost respect for their elders. At the same time, technology has advanced in quantum leaps. There is no doubt that today man has all the resources—if channeled correctly—to create a good standard of living for all mankind. He lacks only the social and political will. Moshiach will inspire all men to fulfill that aim.
Why the belief in a human messiah?
Some people believe that the world will “evolve” by itself into a messianic era without a human figurehead. Judaism rejects this belief. Human history has been dominated by empire builders greedy for power.
Others believe in Armageddon—that the world will self-destruct, either by nuclear war or by terrorism. Again, Judaism rejects this view.
Our prophets speak of the advent of a human leader, of a magnitude that the world has not yet experienced. His unique example and leadership will inspire mankind to change direction.
Where is Moshiach mentioned in the Scriptures?
The Scriptures are replete with messianic quotes. In Deuteronomy 30:1 Moses prophesies that, after the Jews have been scattered to the four corners of the earth, there will come a time when they will repent and return to Israel, where they will fulfill all the commandments of the Torah. The gentile prophet Balaam prophesies that this return will be led by Moshiach (see Numbers 24:17–20). Jacob refers to Moshiach by the name Shiloh (Genesis 49:10).
The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Joel and Hosea all refer to the messianic era. (For full references, the reader is referred to the book Moshiach by Rabbi Dr. J. I. Schochet.) It is interesting to note that the wall of the United Nations Building in New York is inscribed with the quote from Isaiah (11:6), “And the wolf shall lie with the lamb.” Furthermore, it is clear from the prophets, when studied in their original Hebrew, that Moshiach is a Jewish concept, and his coming will entail a return to Torah law, firmly ruling out any “other” messianic belief.
What sort of leader will Moshiach be?
Moshiach will be a man who possesses extraordinary qualities. He will be proficient in both the written and oral Torah traditions. He will incessantly campaign for Torah observance among Jews, and observance of the seven universal Noahide laws by non-Jews. He will be scrupulously observant, and encourage the highest standards from others. He will defend religious principles and repair breaches in their observance. Above all, Moshiach will be heralded as a true Jewish king, a person who leads the way in the service of G‑d, totally humble yet enormously inspiring.
When will Moshiach come?
Jews anticipate the arrival of Moshiach every day. Our prayers are full of requests to G‑d to usher in the messianic era. Even at the gates of the gas chambers, many Jews sang “Ani Maamin”—I believe in the coming of Moshiach!
However, the Talmud states that there is a predestined time when Moshiach will come. If we are meritorious, he may come even before that predestined time. This “end of time” remains a mystery, yet the Talmud states that it will be before the Hebrew year 6000. (The Hebrew year at the date of this publication is 5772.)
This does not rule out the possibility of Moshiach coming today and now, if we merit it. It should be noted that many Torah authorities are of the opinion that we are in the “epoch of the Moshiach,” and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, stated on numerous occasions that the messianic redemption is imminent.
Could Moshiach come at any time, in any generation?
Yes. In every generation there is a person who potentially could be the Moshiach. When G‑d decides that the time has arrived, He will bestow upon that individual the necessary powers for him to precipitate that redemption.
Any potential Moshiach must be a direct descendant of King David, as well as erudite in Torah learning. It should be noted that many people living today can trace their lineage back to King David. The chief rabbi of Prague in the late 16th century, Rabbi Yehuda Loew (the Maharal), had a family tree that traced him back to the Davidic dynasty. Consequently, any direct descendant of the Maharal is of Davidic descent.
Maimonides, a great Jewish philosopher and codifier of the 12th century, rules that if we recognize a human being who possesses the superlative qualities ascribed to Moshiach, we may presume that he is the potential Moshiach. If this individual actually succeeds in rebuilding the Temple and gathering in the exiles, then he is the Moshiach.
What exactly will happen when Moshiach comes?
Maimonides states in his Mishneh Torah—a compendium of the entire halachic tradition—that Moshiach will first rebuild the Temple and then gather in the exiles. Jerusalem and the Temple will be the focus of divine worship, and “from Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the L‑rd from Jerusalem.”
The Sanhedrin—the supreme Jewish law court of 71 sages—will be re-established, and will decide on all matters of law. At this time, all Jews will return to full Torah observance and practice. It should be noted that in this present age of great assimilation and emancipation, an unprecedented return of Jews to true Torah values has taken place. This “baal teshuvah” phenomenon is on the increase, and paves the way for a full return in the messianic era.
Will miracles happen?
The Talmud discusses this question and again arrives at the conclusion that, if we are meritorious, the messianic redemption will be accompanied by miracles. However, the realization of the messianic dream, even if it takes place naturally, will be the greatest miracle.
According to some traditions, G‑d Himself will rebuild the third Temple. According to others, it will be rebuilt by Moshiach; still others suggest a combination of the two opinions. Some suggest that there will be two distinct periods in the messianic era: first a non-miraculous period, leading into a second, miraculous period.
Maimonides writes, “Neither the order of the occurrence of these events nor their precise detail is among the fundamental principles of the faith . . . one should wait and believe in the general conception of the matter.”
What will become of the world as we know it?
Initially, there will be no change in the world order, other than its readiness to accept messianic rule. All the nations of the world will strive to create a new world order, in which there will be no more wars or conflicts. Jealousy, hatred, greed and political strife (of the negative kind) will disappear, and all human beings will strive only for goodness, kindness and peace.
In the messianic era there will be great advances in technology, allowing a high standard of living. Food will be plentiful and cheap.
However, the focus of human aspiration will be the pursuit of the “knowledge of G‑d.” People will become less materialistic and more spiritual.
What are the “birthpangs” of Moshiach’s arrival?
The Talmud describes the period immediately prior to the advent of Moshiach as one of great travail and turmoil. There will be a world recession, and governments will be controlled by despots. It is in this troubled setting that Moshiach will arrive.
There is a tradition that a great war will take place, called the war of Gog and Magog, and there is much speculation as to the precise timing of this war in relation to Moshiach’s arrival.
There is a tradition that Elijah the Prophet will come to the world and announce the imminent arrival of Moshiach. However, according to other opinions, Moshiach may arrive unannounced. Elijah would then arrive to assist in the peace process. Some suggest that if the Moshiach arrives in his predestined time, then Elijah will announce his arrival; but if Moshiach comes suddenly, then Elijah will appear after Moshiach has come.
As mentioned before, it is unclear as to exactly how these events will unfold. However, this uncertainty does not affect the general matter of Moshiach’s arrival.
When will the resurrection of the dead take place?
One of the principles of Jewish faith is belief in the resurrection of the dead. According to the Zohar—an early Kabbalistic text—the resurrection will take place forty years after the arrival of Moshiach. However, certain righteous individuals will arise with the coming of Moshiach. All the dead will be resurrected in the Land of Israel.
There is a small bone in the body called the luz bone (some identify this bone as the coccyx), from which the body will be rebuilt at the time of resurrection. Our daily prayers are replete with requests for the resurrection, and there are many customs connected with it. (See the book To Live and Live Again by the present author, published by S.I.E. Publications.)
What can be done to bring Moshiach?
In general, mankind must strive to perform more acts of goodness and kindness. The Jew is mandated to learn and be aware of the messianic redemption, and strengthen his or her faith in Moshiach’s ultimate and imminent arrival.
Charity is a catalyst for redemption. And every day in our prayers, we sincerely plead many times for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the ingathering of the exiles and the return to Torah observance under the leadership of Moshiach. The Lubavitcher Rebbe mounted a worldwide Moshiach campaign to heighten the awareness of Moshiach’s imminent arrival. The Rebbe constantly urged every Jew to prepare on a personal, family and community level for the arrival of Moshiach. This can best be achieved by “living with Moshiach”—that is, by learning
about Moshiach and yearning for his coming.
"Jewish Messiah", "Messiah of Israel", "Mashiach" and "Moshiach" redirect here. For the Israel windsurfer, see Nimrod Mashiach. For individuals who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, see Jewish Messiah claimants. For the religious movement, see Messianic Judaism. For an overview of the title in Abrahamic religions, see Messiah.
In Judaism, messiah (Hebrew: מָשִׁיחַ, translit. māšîaḥ; Greek: χριστός, translit. khristós, lit. 'anointed, covered in oil') is a title for a savior and liberator of the Jewish people. The concept of messianism originated in Judaism, and in the Hebrew Bible, a messiah is a king or High Priest traditionally anointed with holy anointing oil. However, messiahs were not exclusively Jewish, as the Hebrew Bible refers to Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, as a messiahfor his decree to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple.
In Jewish eschatology, the Messiah is a future Jewish king from the Davidic line, who is expected to be anointed with holy anointing oil and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age and World to come. The Messiah is often referred to as "King Messiah" (Hebrew: מלך משיח, translit. melekh mashiach) or malka meshiḥa in Aramaic.
In Jewish eschatology the term mashiach, or "Messiah", came to refer to a future Jewish king from the Davidic line, who is expected to be anointed with holy anointing oil and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age. The Messiah is often referred to as "King Messiah", or, in Hebrew, מלך משיח (melekh mashiach), and, in Aramaic, malka meshiḥa.
Orthodox views have generally held that the Messiah will be descended from his father through the line of King David,] and will gather the Jews back into the Land of Israel, usher in an era of peace, build the Third Temple, father a male heir, re-institute the Sanhedrin, and so on. Jewish tradition alludes to two redeemers, both of whom are called mashiach and are involved in ushering in the Messianic age: Mashiach ben David; and Mashiach ben Yosef. In general, the term Messiah unqualified refers to Mashiach ben David (Messiah, son of David).
The Talmud extensively discusses the coming of the Messiah (Sanhedrin 98a–99a, et al.) and describes a period of freedom and peace, which will be the time of ultimate goodness for the Jews.
Tractate Sanhedrin contains a long discussion of the events leading to the coming of the Messiah, for example:
R. Johanan said: When you see a generation ever dwindling, hope for him [the Messiah], as it is written, "And the afflicted people thou wilt save."[II Samuel 22:28] R. Johanan said: When thou seest a generation overwhelmed by many troubles as by a river, await him, as it is written, "When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him;" which is followed by, "And the Redeemer shall come to Zion."
R. Johanan also said: The son of David will come only in a generation that is either altogether righteous or altogether wicked. in a generation that is altogether righteous, — as it is written, "Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever." Or altogether wicked, — as it is written, "And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor;" and it is [elsewhere] written, "For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it."
The Talmud tells many stories about the Messiah, some of which represent famous Talmudic rabbis as receiving personal visitations from Elijah the Prophet and the Messiah. For example:
R. Joshua b. Levi met Elijah standing by the entrance of R. Simeon b. Yohai's tomb. He asked him: "Have I a portion in the world to come?" He replied, "if this Master desires it." R. Joshua b. Levi said, "I saw two, but heard the voice of a third." He then asked him, "When will the Messiah come?" — "Go and ask him himself," was his reply. "Where is he sitting?" — "At the entrance." "And by what sign may I recognise him?" — "He is sitting among the poor lepers: all of them untie [them] all at once, and rebandage them together, whereas he unties and rebandages each separately, [before treating the next], thinking, should I be wanted, [it being time for my appearance as the Messiah] I must not be delayed [through having to bandage a number of sores]." So he went to him and greeted him, saying, "Peace upon thee, Master and Teacher." "Peace upon thee, O son of Levi," he replied. "When wilt thou come, Master?" asked he. "Today," was his answer. On his returning to Elijah, the latter enquired, "What did he say to thee?" — "peace Upon thee, O son of Levi," he answered. Thereupon he [Elijah] observed, "He thereby assured thee and thy father of [a portion in] the world to come." "He spoke falsely to me," he rejoined, "stating that he would come today, but has not." He [Elijah] answered him, "This is what he said to thee, To-day, if ye will listen to his voice."
Views of Maimonides
The influential Jewish philosopher Maimonides discussed the messiah in his Mishneh Torah, his 14 volume compendium of Jewish law, in the section Hilkhot Melakhim Umilchamoteihem, chapters 11 & 12.
According to Maimonides, Jesus of Nazareth is not the Messiah, as is claimed by Christians and Muslims.
Many of the scriptural requirements concerning the Messiah, what he will do, and what will be done during his reign are located in the Book of Isaiah, although requirements are mentioned by other prophets as well. Views on whether Hebrew Bible passages are Messianic may vary from and among scholars of ancient Israel looking at their meaning in original context and from and among rabbinical scholars.
- Isaiah 1:26: "And I will restore your judges as at first and your counsellors as in the beginning; afterwards you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City." Some Jews interpret this to mean that the Sanhedrin will be re-established." (Isaiah 1:26)
- Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance. (Isaiah 2:4)
- The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:11–17)
- He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:8–10, 2 Chronicles 7:18)
- The "spirit of the Lord" will be upon him, and he will have a "fear of God" (Isaiah 11:2)
- Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)
- Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)
- He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10)
- All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12)
- Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8)
- There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)
- All of the dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)
- The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)
- He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 52:7)
- Nations will recognize the wrongs they did to Israel (Isaiah 52:13–53:5)
- The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)
- The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)
- Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)
- The people of Israel will have direct access to the Torah through their minds and Torah study will become the study of the wisdom of the heart (Jeremiah 31:33)
- He will give you all the worthy desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4)
- He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13–15, Ezekiel 36:29–30, Isaiah 11:6–9)
The majority of Second Temple texts have no reference to an individual end-time Messiah. Exceptions among the Dead Sea Scrolls include 4Q521, the "Messianic Apocalypse." Other messianic concepts are found in the Old Testament pseudepigrapha. Messianic allusions to some figures include to Menahem ben Hezekiah who traditionally was born on the same day that the Second Temple was destroyed.
Present-day Jewish positions
Orthodox Judaism maintains that Jews are obliged to accept the 13 Principles of Faith as formulated by Maimonides in his introduction to Chapter Helek of the Mishna Torah. Each principle starts with the words Ani Maamin (I believe). Number 12 is the main principle relating to Mashiach. The text is as follows
אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח, ואף על פי שיתמהמה עם כל זה אחכה לו בכל יום שיבוא
Ani Maamin B'emunah Sh'leimah B'viyat Hamashiach. V'af al pi sheyitmahmehah im kol zeh achake lo b'chol yom sheyavo.
I believe with full faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he tarries, with all that, I await his arrival with every day.
Hasidic Jews tend to have a particularly strong and passionate belief in the immediacy of the Messiah's coming, and in the ability of their actions to hasten his arrival. Because of the supposed piousness, wisdom, and leadership abilities of the Hasidic Masters, members of Hasidic communities are sometimes inclined to regard their dynastic rebbes as potential candidates for Messiah. Many Jews, (see the Bartenura's explanation on Megillat Rut, and the Halakhic responsa of The Ch'sam Sofer on Choshen Mishpat [vol. 6], Chapter 98 where this view is explicit) especially Hasidim, adhere to the belief that there is a person born each generation with the potential to become Messiah, if the Jewish people warrant his coming; this candidate is known as the Tzadik Ha-Dor, meaning Tzaddik of the Generation. However, fewer are likely to name a candidate.
Emet Ve-Emunah, the Conservative movement's statement of principles, states the following:
Since no one can say for certain what will happen in the Messianic era each of us is free to fashion personal speculation. Some of us accept these speculations are literally true, while others understand them as elaborate metaphors... For the world community we dream of an age when warfare will be abolished, when justice and compassion will be axioms of all, as it is said in Isaiah 11: "...the land shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." For our people, we dream of the ingathering of all Jews to Zion where we can again be masters of our own destiny and express our distinctive genius in every area of our national life. We affirm Isaiah's prophecy (2:3) that "...Torah shall come forth from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
We do not know when the Messiah will come, nor whether he will be a charismatic human figure or is a symbol of the redemption of humankind from the evils of the world. Through the doctrine of a Messianic figure, Judaism teaches us that every individual human being must live as if he or she, individually, has the responsibility to bring about the messianic age. Beyond that, we echo the words of Maimonides based on the prophet Habakkuk (2:3) that though he may tarry, yet do we wait for him each day.
Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism
Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism generally do not accept the idea that there will be a Messiah. Some believe that there may be some sort of "messianic age" (the World to Come) in the sense of a "utopia", which all Jews are obligated to work towards (thus the tradition of Tikkun olam).
In 1999, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the official body of American Reform rabbis, authored "A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism", meant to describe and define the spiritual state of modern Reform Judaism. In a commentary appended to the platform, it states:
Messianic age: The 1885 Pittsburgh Platform rejected the traditional Jewish hope for an heir of King David to arise when the world was ready to acknowledge that heir as the one anointed (the original meaning of mashiach, anglicized into "messiah"). This figure would rule in God’s name over all people and ultimately usher in a time of justice, truth and peace. In the Avot, the first prayer of the Amidah, Reformers changed the prayerbook’s hope for a go-el, a redeemer, to geulah, redemption. Originally this idea reflected the views of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and the French Positivist philosophers that society was growing ever more enlightened. The cataclysmic events of the first half of the 20th Century smashed that belief, and most Reform Jews saw the messianic age as a time that would probably be far off. Still, we renew our hope for it when we express the belief that Shabbat is mey-eyn olam ha-ba, a sampler of the world to come, when we sing about Elijah, herald of the messiah, when Havdalah brings Shabbat to a close, when we open the door for Elijah late in the Pesach Seder, and when we express the hope in the first paragraph of the Kaddish that God’s sovereignty will be established in our days.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson declared often that the Messiah is very close, urging all to pray for the coming of the Messiah and to do everything possible to hasten the coming of the Messiah through increased acts of kindness. In the late 1980s, the Rebbe called for his followers to become involved in outreach activities with the purpose of bringing about the Jewish Messianic Age,[ which led to controversy surrounding the messianic beliefs of Chabad. Some Chabad Hasidim, called mashichists, "have not yet accepted the Rebbe’s passing"] and even after his death regard him as the (living) 'King Messiah' and 'Moses of the generation', awaiting his second coming.
The Chabad-Messianic question, regarding a dead Moshiach, got oppositional addresses from a halachic perspective by many prominent Orthodox authorities, including leaders from the Ashkenazi non-Hasidic Lithuanian (Litvak) institutions, Ponevezh yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Israel, and got vehement opposition, notably that of the Rabbinical Seminary of America (Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim) in New York and that of the Rabbinical Council of America (See The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference)