By Rabbi Allen S. Maller
17 September 2019
Human society changed more rapidly, violently and fundamentally in the last century of the second millennium than ever before in history. Doctors saved the lives of millions. Dictators sacrificed the lives of millions. Populations exploded and birthrates declined. Technology produced both worldwide prosperity and pollution at the same time. Knowing all this, should we look upon the first century of the third millennium with optimistic hope or with fatalistic trepidation? Are the world and our society heading towards a wonder-filled new age, or toward a Doomsday; or are both occurring concurrently because breakdown is always a prelude to breakthrough?
In some religious traditions, redemption is defined only in terms of individual enlightenment or personal salvation. However, the Biblical Prophets of Israel conceived redemption as a transformation of human society that would occur through the catalyst of the transformation of the Jewish community. This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age.
The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah. The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of an easy or difficult labour. If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her religious tradition, we would ourselves bring about the Messianic Age.
But, if we will not do it voluntarily, it will come through social and political upheavals, worldwide conflicts and generation gaps. The Messiah refers to an agent of God who helps bring about this transformation.
The Jewish tradition teaches that this agent of God (and there may be two or three such agents) will be a human being, a descendant of King David, with great leadership qualities similar to Moses or Muhammad. But the arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the personality of the agents who bring it about, since they are simply the instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer.
The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run, but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails will provide challenges to society for many generations to come. Most Orthodox Jews would not commit themselves to any individual as a Messiah unless he successfully rebuilds the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah, “He shall build the Temple of the Lord, and he shall bear the glory, he shall sit on the throne and rule, there shall be a priest before the throne, and peaceful counsel will exist between both of them.” (6:13)
Now that a large part of the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel, and resurrected a Jewish State, one might think that rebuilding a temple of the site where Solomon originally built one almost 3,000 years ago, would be relatively simple. And it would, except for the fact that a Muslim shrine, called The Dome of the Rock, as well as a mosque, the Masjid al-Aqsa, stand in the site presently. The Dome of the Rock is regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in the world. Any attempt to replace it or the Masjid al-Aqsa would provoke Muslims to a war of cataclysmic proportions. There is, however, a lot of vacant land elsewhere on the Temple Mount, and a Jewish house of worship could be built adjacent to the Dome of the Rock and the Masjid al-Aqsa while retaining these structures, provided Muslims cooperate.
Most observers agree that anyone who could arrange such Jewish-Muslim peaceful cooperation would really be the Messianic Ruler of Peace (Isaiah 9:5). Christian support for such a cooperative venture would also be important. Indeed, such Jewish/Christian/Muslim cooperation would not be possible without great spiritual leadership in all three communities. Thus, each community could consider its own leadership to be essential Messianic aids as is foretold: (“Saviors [plural] will come up on mount Zion” Obadiah 1:21) This would fulfill the culminating verses of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy (Isaiah 2:4), as enlarged upon by Micah (4:3-5): “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives. Nation shall not take up against nation, they shall never again teach war, but every man shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him, for it is the Lord of Hosts who spoke. Though all peoples walk each in the name of its God, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.”
If each people truly follow the best of its own religious teachings the Messiah/Mahdi will surely have arrived and God’s Kingdom will be established.
Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California, USA. Active in seeking to promote Jewish-Muslim understanding and harmony, he is the author of Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism.