Eschatology ho!
Elul concentrates the mind wonderfully.

I have been reading the ninth chapter of Maimonides' Laws of Repentance, with its differentiations among the various final chapters of our worldly existence. Maybe because the world at times feels well-nigh unraveled, there's not just one end of days but multiple: the world to come (where the righteous sit, crowned by the Divine radiance), which is not the same as the Messianic age. Per Maimonides (quoting the Talmud), the Messianic age is different from the present age in one particular only: the Jews' sovereignty over the Land of Israel.

"But we're there!" you might say. Not so fast. If you are in the mood to quibble, you might say that (a) the current State of Israel is not coextensive with the Land of Israel, and/or (b) the current sovereignty is not the same as the Kingdom to which the traditional sources refer.

But I don't quibble - not because I think the current political situation in Israel can be identified with malkhus ("sovereignty"), but because I don't think that malkhus is the criterion for the messianic age. Even if there weren't multiple opinions in the Talmud about what the messianic entails, I still wouldn't think such sovereignty is important enough to serve as the hook to hang the Messiah's hat on.

Certainly sovereignty is important (I'm enough of a Zionist to say that), but we need something else to convert the world-that-is into the world-that-ought-to-be, something basic and transformative. It doesn't seem like the return of Jews to our historical homeland, as positive and uplifting (and basic) an endeavor as this is, quite fits the bill.

How then will the messianic age differ from our own? (Providing one believes in such an age.) I don't have any neat answers.; anything neat enough to propose here would be flat and unsatisfying. But I agree with a friend of mine, Richard Claman at Town and Village Synagogue, who has said more than once in his lectures that Conservative Jews have been afraid of discussing eschatology - the end of the days. We have left that stuff to the fundamentalists, at our own peril.

The point he makes is this: when we teach our children about Judaism, we brainwash them. Clearly we think that the benefit of this brainwashing outweighs the downside of coercion. What is the benefit? Do we think that our Judaism will bring redemption to the world? a dawn of peace? does the Jewish people have a unique role to play, and if so, what? What is the malkhus which our Messianic age will bring?

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