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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The hisotory of Jewish political messianism

Many chareidim claim that the view of the religious Zionists that the mitzva of yeshuv haAretz is a catalyst for redemption is a modern religious innovation. Arie Morgenstern, in his article Dispersion and the Longing for Zion, 1240-1840 shows that such a view is a-historical at best and revisionist at worst. It is worth while to read the entire article. Keep in mind that the article does not give an overview of those rabbis in history that opposed the messianic ferment and its expression into mass aliya, if you are interested in reviewing the history of such opposition, I highly recommend Avi Ravitzki's essay The Impact of the Three Oaths in Jewish History Published in the back of his book on modern Jewish Messianism, הקץ המגולה ומדינת היהודים: משיחיות ורדיקליזם דתי בישראל which has been translated into English as Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism.

Here is an excerpt from Morgenstern's article:

"Indeed, from the time of the Crusades until the nineteenth century, Jewish life was infused with a sense of messianic anticipation, which found expression, among other things, in aliya. This messianic anticipation was focused on specific dates, which were endowed with mystical significance. Starting with the year 5000 on the Jewish calendar (1240 c.e.), the beginning of each new century signaled for many the possibility of redemption, leading large groups of Jews to make the journey to Palestine as a necessary step in bringing it about. Some of these aliyot were unknown to us until recently; in other cases, recent research has added substantial detail to the historical record. The picture which emerges is one of a clear, recurrent trend of immigration to the land of Israel, which was by no means limited to the “lower” elements of society but took with it Jews from all walks of life. Indeed, in many cases, some of the outstanding Jewish figures of their day led the way. Although the number of Jews who succeeded in making the voyage and settling in Palestine never constituted more than a small portion of world Jewry, these messianic aliyot were of enduring significance, partly because of the renown of those who took part, partly because of their regular appearance over the centuries, and partly because of the variety of diaspora communities which participated. The messianic impulse which spawned these waves of immigration, and the belief in the centrality of the land of Israel upon which they depended, were in no way marginal to the Jewish tradition, but in fact became an axis of Jewish spiritual life. Indeed, the story of aliya from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries illustrates the depth and force of the Jewish people’s connection to its ancestral homeland, a connection that was carried into the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when modern Zionism found a new way of giving it voice."