Part of a Series on Core Beliefs of Judaism
The claim that the imperfect world in which we live will be redeemed by a divinely appointed human is plausible because it has already happened – Moses took the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The word “moshiach” is Aramaic and means “saved” in English. The word “mashiach” in Hebrew refers to one appointed by God, and anointed by Him. Torah mentions that the high priest is anointed with olive oil, as are the kings of Israel. In Isaiah 45 we learn that Cyrus, the Persian king who allowed the exiled Judeans to return to Judah was called a mashiach. Following the Exile, dispersion (Diaspora) became a central motif in rabbinic Judaism and desire for a new mashiach to fight for the Jews and lead them back to their promised land became an enduring theme.
In Christianity, of course, we are taught that our Messiah is a personal one. In 18th and 19th century Chasidic Judaism, the theme of an anointed leader who will redeem the Jews became a communal idea. All future legitimate kings of Israel will be of Davidic lineage.The Jewish ideal for the mashiach of the future is built on hope for re-establishment of Jewish political sovereignty in the Land of Israel. One of the false messiahs was Simon bar Kochba who failed in his revolt against the Roman Empire in AD 132-135. He was for a time deemed the Mashiach and his revolt introduced an apocalyptic strain with reference to messianic saviors. He did establish an independent Israel for two years in Judea.
The Gemara literature offers a wide variety of opinions of the advent of the Mashiach: He is not born of a virgin, he is not immortal, he did not die and resurrect. He has already come and will not be returning. We don’t want to be alive when he comes because everything will have been destroyed – the apocalyptic idea. His coming will cause political and social upheaval as well. He will arrive in a generation that is totally pure or totally wicked. Only teshuvah (repentance) will hasten his arrival. There will be peace: lion with lamb, nations will fight no more. People and animals will be in right relation with one another. There will be two messiahs – one from David (Judah) and one from Joseph. They will be killed, lay in the streets 3 days and then rise to heaven before everyone’s eyes. The latest messianic figure was Rabbi Schneersohn who died in 1994. The Reconstructionist sect of Judaism teaches that Israel is the messianic ideal. They do not believe in a personal, social or political savior.
So Messianism is more central to Rabbinic Judaism than biblical Judaism because rabbinic Judaism lives in the present and is still amenable to the coming of a great leader who will bring about a new time in history, even a new dispensation in LDS terms. Joseph Smith was a great man, chosen of God, a descendant of Joseph, an answer to prophecy, but we know he is not a messiah nor is he the Messiah. We do not worship him. But he is not unlike the Jewish equivalent of a messianic figure.
What are the change this messianic figure will make to the souls of Jewish believers? They cannot speculate, they cannot suspect the change wrought by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost . But we Mormons know. We know that Jesus is the Messiah of many worlds, that he is the Son of God, that he came to us as a Jew of the tribe of Judah. He walked the earth, he taught, thousands of Jews believed on him and were baptized. He began this church, and it is restored today. He came here to die and to rise from death, to show mankind that the way to eternal life is to follow him. He had no politics, he took part in no demonstrations, neither did he make war, but turmoil ceased for the few years he was with us.
There are many thousands of Messianic Jews, Jews for Jesus and the like. They have a testimony of Christ but continue to live the Law of Moses. They are discounted by mainstream Jews and vice versa. In fact, there is great divisiveness among the various sects, each going their own way, in and out of various congregations as it suits their personal persuasion and ease of living, without a central authority or unity, without a temple in their midst, without knowledge of their priesthood, without truly understanding what it is to be a modern Jew in a modern world. And this is become true in Israel as well, where thousands of Jews do not practice their religion at all. The Orthodox sects are the only exception. They live as they once did in Jerusalem, descendants of the Pharisees, followers of the strictest laws, scornful of change, exclusionary and private in their worshipping and in their daily lives.
Marlena Tanya Muchnick