Friday, February 04, 2011

Are We in Messianic Times?

What do Satmar, Rav Elchanan Wasserman, Lubavitch, and Religious Zionism, have in common? They have all made statements about Moshiach or Messianic times.

The Satmar argument is a very powerful one. Very few people had the level of Torah knowledge that the Satmar Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum had. He was a Gadol and a Posek by anyone’s definition. He argued that based on the Gemarah we are in violation of God’s will by establishing Jewish rule in the land of Israel. This is despite the vast majority of even the most Charedi Gedolim of both the past and present that support religious participation in an Israeli government once it has been established. So as powerful an argument as is made by someone as great as the Satmar Rebbe, I simply do not buy what he says as the last word on the subject.

Then there is the Lubavitch. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was obsessed with Moshiach’s arrival near the end of his life – claiming it was imminent and would occur in our own generation. His Chasidim believed the Rebbe was Moshiach and were waiting for the revelation to come at any moment.

After his death many of his Chasidim continued with this obsession reinterpreting it to mean he would be resurrected to complete his mission and become Moshiach. Many of Lubavitchers still point to ‘proofs’ about this belief. But – again – how do they know? All those proofs have been disputed – even by some of their own members. That most of them still harbor at least the possibility of the resurrection of the Rebbe to become Moshiach is a troubling but separate issue.

Rav Elchanan Wasserman who back in the 30s wrote something called ‘Ikvesa D’Meshicha’ – In the Footsteps of Moshiach. He holds that ours is the era that is very close to the time of Moshiach’s arrival. He too was a Gadol and made his arguments. But how could he be so sure?

Without strong evidence why would I choose one view over another? These are great rabbinic figures whose views contradict each other. Who is right?! I therefore remain very skeptical about any of those views.

Then there is Religious Zionism – also known as Mizrachi. Many people have asked me why I am not a Religious Zionist. After all - my support for the State of Israel is very strong. I stand second to no one in that regard. The reasons for my support are based on my religious belief that the land of Israel was given to the Jewish people by God in fulfillment of the promise He made to the Avos. It is therefore our Jewish homeland.

If not for that there is no other moral reason to be there. If not for God’s promise to the Jewish people, the Arabs would be right!

Lest anyone think this is some sort of left wing view of things - this view was articulated by my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik. I heard him say it in one of his Shiurim. No one could ever accuse him of being a left winger on this subject. He was opposed to ever giving up one inch of Eretz Yisroel under any condition. Land for peace was anathema to him. He was a big supporter of settling all parts of recaptured Eretz Yisroel.

Without the religious argument we would be no better than a bunch of European colonizers who have created a country at the expense of its non Jewish indigenous populace. Who gives anyone the right to do that? Colonizing a foreign country because of persecution in their country of origin is a morally reprehensible thing to do. Two wrongs do not make a right.

If on the other hand one believes that the country was ours to begin with- that does make it right. Claims to the contrary by Muslims notwithstanding. As a believing Jew I take God’s promises seriously. This does not mean we have to be tyrants or oppressors when taking back our country. But it does mean we defend out rights to settle in our own land. The devil of course is in the details Balancing Pikuach Nefesh against settling in parts of Eretz Yisroel that have hostile Muslim residents is something that must always be considered. But that is another discussion.

Once we establish our religious rights to the land – there are other moral dimensions that justify our presence there. Like the need post holocaust of survivors have a place to live. Then there is the ‘Never Again’ argument. Never again will the Jewish people be in a position where the borders of countries are sealed to the Jewish people trying to escape Nazi like tyranny. We now have a Jewish homeland where any Jew can immigrate and claim citizenship just by virtue of being a Jew.

That sounds about as religiously Zionist as one could be. One would think that Mizrachi would be my natural home. So again, why am I not a religious Zionist?

The reason is because of a very important building block to this movement that I do not subscribe to. It is a position that takes Rav Wasserman’s view a giant step further to make the claim that the founding of the State of Israel is ‘the first flowering of the redemption that will usher in the era of Moshiach. In other words the redemption has actually begun and is in its earliest ‘budding’ stages. This is where I part company with them. How do they know? If I reject Rav Wasserman’s thesis, I certainly reject this one.

I realize that belief is very strong and has some pretty strong backing by some very great Rabbanim and Gedolim of the past. They try and make their case for it via their understanding of Torah, much like the Satmar Rebbe, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Rav Elchanan Wasserman. They also use anecdotal evidence of ‘wonders and miracles’ during the creation of the State and later the recapture of the Temple Mount where the Beis HaMikdash once stood.

I’m sorry. I just can’t buy into a theology where other legitimate theologies completely reject it. I see no compelling argument to one position over the other. Not only that but much of the anecdotal evidence is really no evidence at all. Miracles and wonders say nothing about the era of redemption. They only say things about miracles and wonders. I am a minimalist and skeptic by nature. And frankly I will believe Moshiach is coming when I see him coming. As far as I am concerned - until that time all bets are off. We can be hundreds of years away from it.

On the other hand - with what’s happening at the moment on the ground in Muslim countries surrounding Israel… who knows! Certainly not me!