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Question 12.7:
What is the Jewish concept of the Messiah?

Answer:

"Messiah" means annointed. Whenever a line of kingship was established, such as Saul, David, or after a disagreement about who should get the throne, the king was "crowned" by being annointed with olive oil. This was also done for the High Preists from Aaron until the end of the first Temple period. Cyrus is also called by G-d, "My annointed king". So, when we talk about "a messiah", we are merely talking about a king of the Davidic line. Not some kind of supernatural entity or one-of-a-kind event. It also means that the first mention of the messiah in the Torah would be any mention of King David or of Judah maintaining rule beyond the death of Gedalyah (the last governor of First Commonwealth Judea), which would imply a restoration of the rule. This we find toward the end of Genesis, 49:10.

Do Jews believe the Messiah will live an eternal life? No. The messiah, like all people, will live and die. He will then be succeeded by his son (if he has one), and the line of Davidic kings will continue. He will be resurrected when the rest of the righteous are. But that's (in nearly all opinions) a different era than the messianic one.

The different movements via the Messiah differently. The traditional opinion was best expressed by Moses Maimonides (RaMBaM), who said the following about the Messiah:

"If a king will arise from the House of David who is learned in Torah and observant of the mitzvot [the Torah's commandments], as prescribed by the written law and the oral law, as David his ancestor was, and will compel all of Israel to walk in [the way of the Torah] and reinforce the breaches [in its observance]; and fight the wars of G-d, we may, with assurance, consider him the Messiah.

"If he succeeds in the above, builds the Temple in its place, and gathers the dispersed of Israel, he is definitely the Messiah. ...

"If he did not succeed to this degree or he was killed, he surely is not [the redeemer] promised by the Torah. [Rather,] he should be considered as all the other proper and complete kings of the Davidic dynasty who died. G-d only caused him to arise in order to test the many, as [Daniel 11:35] states; "and some of the wise men will stumble, to try them, to refine, and to clarify until the appointed time, because the set time is in the future."

The Rambam then continues by explaining why Judaism has rejected the claims of other religions, notably Christianity, that "caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnants to be scattered and humbled, the Torah to be altered, and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the L-rd." Since, he said, the required criteria [as described in the preceding paragraphs] have not been met, all messianic claims to date, such as Christianity or the the beliefs of the followers of Shabtai Zvi, have been proven false.

The full text is in his Mishneh Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Hilchot Melachim U'Milchamoteihem, Chapter 11. This translation was done by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Moznaim Press, from Halacha 4.

The Rambam's statement is probably the definitive rendering of the traditional Jewish view on the subject. Others believe that the Messiah will usher in an age of miracles, and will come in a miraculous manner.

The liberal movements, such as Reform) do not believe in a personal messsiah, but do believe in the concept of a messianic age.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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