Jews And Muslims Will Survive: Optimistic Eschatology – OpEd


The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization said global temperatures recorded in early July 2023 were among the hottest on record. Keeping Earth on a global warming fast track that could devastate large parts of humanity. The eight years since 2015 are the eight warmest ever registered, as are 20 of the last 21, evidence of a persistent and deepening trend.

The target of keeping long-term global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) is moving out of reach, climate experts say, with nations failing to set more ambitious goals despite months of record-breaking heat on land and sea. Countries agreed in Paris in 2015 to try to keep long-term average temperature rises within 1.5C, but there is now a 66% likelihood the annual mean will cross the 1.5C threshold for at least one whole year between now and 2027, the World Meteorological Organization predicted in May. 

Global average sea surface temperatures hit 21C in late March and have remained at record levels for the time of year throughout April and May. Australia’s weather agency warned that Pacific and Indian ocean sea temperatures could be 3C warmer than normal by October.

A warming world is transforming some major snow-falls into extreme rain over mountains instead, thus worsening both dangerous flooding like what devastated Pakistan as well as long-term water shortages, a new study found. Using rain and snow measurements since 1950 and computer simulations for future climate, scientists calculated that for every degree Fahrenheit the world warms, extreme rainfall at higher elevation increases by 8.3% (15% for every degree Celsius), according to lead author Mohammed Ombadi, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory hydrologist and climate scientist in a study in the journal Nature.

Human society changed more rapidly, violently and fundamentally in the last century of the second millennium than ever before in history.  Doctors saved the lives of millions.  Dictators sacrificed the lives of millions. Populations exploded and birthrates declined.  Technology produced both worldwide prosperity and pollution at the same time.  

Knowing all this, should we look upon the first century of the third millennium with optimistic hope or with fatalistic trepidation?  Are the world and our society heading towards a wonder-filled new age, or toward a doomsday; or are both occurring concurrently because breakdown is always a prelude to breakthrough?  

Many who believe in the Biblical vision of a Messianic Age use the insights of the Prophets of Israel to provide guidance in understanding the social, economic, scientific and cultural upheavals sweeping society.  Usually it is the dramatic dangers of the pre-Messianic tribulation that are emphasized.  I will focus on the positive signs developing throughout the world that accord with the Messianic vision of the Biblical Prophets.

In most religious traditions, redemption is defined only in terms of individual enlightenment or personal salvation. However, the Biblical Prophets of Israel conceived redemption as a transformation of human society that would occur through the catalyst of the transformation of the Jewish community. This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age.  

The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah.  The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of an easy or difficult labor.  If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her religious tradition, we would ourselves bring about the Messianic Age.  

But, if we will not do it voluntarily, it will come through social and political upheavals, worldwide conflicts and generation gaps.  The Messiah and the Mahdi refers to agents of God who help bring about this transformation.  The Jewish tradition teaches that these agents of God (and there may be three or four such agents) will be  human beings, with great leadership qualities similar to Prophets Moses, Jesus or Mohammed.  

The arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the personality of the agents who bring it about, since they are simply the instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer.  

The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails will provide challenges to society for many generations to come. 

The vast improvements in human health are unprecedented in human history.  Truly we will be coming close to Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy, “One who dies at 100 years shall be reckoned a youth, and one who fails to reach 100 shall be reckoned accursed.” (65:20) Such radical change will necessitate major changes in the way we think and act when faced with decisions about life and death 

The fulfillment of Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy has thus gone unnoticed and uncelebrated.  But even when the events are rapid and dramatic, people rarely connect them to their Messianic significance for very long.  

The amazing rescue of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in an airlift lasting less than 48 hours stirred and inspired people for a few weeks. Subsequently, the difficult problems the newcomers faced (similar to those of the 900,000+ recent Soviet immigrants) occupied the Jewish media.  

Now both are taken for granted.  The miracle has become routine.  But if you had told the Jews of Ethiopia two generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a Messianic miracle.  

If you had told Soviet Jews a generation ago that the Communist regime would collapse, the Soviet Empire disintegrate, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic dream.  

In our own generation therefore we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy:  “I will bring your offspring from the (Middle) East and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’. Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (43:5-6)  

In 1948 only six percent of a global Jewish population of 11.5 million lived in Israel. Today 45% of the world’s 15 million Jews reside in the Jewish state. 

Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget the past.  Indeed, the Prophet Isaiah himself said, “Behold, I create a new Heaven and a new Earth, and former things shall not be remembered.”  (65:17)

Where does the Messiah fit in with all of this?  He will still have lots to do when he arrives.  Most Orthodox Jews would not commit themselves to any individual as a Messiah unless he successfully rebuilds the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah, “He shall build the Temple of the Lord, and he shall bear the glory, he shall sit on the throne and rule, there shall be a priest before the throne, and peaceful counsel will exist between both of them.”  (6:13)  

Now that a large part of the Jewish people have returned to the Land of  Israel, and resurrected a Jewish State, one might think that rebuilding a temple of the site where Solomon originally built one almost 3,000 years ago, would be relatively simple.  

And it would, except for the fact that a Muslim Shrine presently occupies the site called, The Dome of the Rock.  Often erroneously called the Mosque of Omar, it is not a mosque and it was not built by Omar.  It was built in 691 by Abd-Al-Malik and it is regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in the world.  Any attempt to replace the Dome of the Rock would provoke a Muslim Holy War of cataclysmic proportions.  

There is, however, a lot of vacant land on the Temple Mount, and a Jewish house of worship could be built adjacent to the Dome of the Rock provided the Muslims would cooperate.  

According to Rabbi Art Vernon, the concept of an ideal or heavenly Jerusalem emerged in Jewish tradition in the late second century CE five to six generations after the destruction of the Second Temple . There is a midrash, a rabbinic homily, in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, a leading rabbinic figure in Tiberias in the early third century, who asserts, (Rabbi Art Vernon, “The Heavenly Jerusalem,” in My Jewish Learning, part,) that in the future the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem will be reunited as one. This teaching is based on Psalms 122:3, “Jerusalem built up, a city knit together. “

According to the midrash, ‘knit together’ means the uniting of the earthly Jerusalem with the heavenly Jerusalem as one. Rabbi Vernon says: “The midrashic literature from the second century on is filled with descriptions of the rebuilt Jerusalem of the future. 

The Heavenly Temple in modern terms could be a large artificial reality, three dimensional  projection, from a small physical space adjacent to the Dome of the Rock.

Most observers would agree that anyone who could arrange such Jewish-Muslim cooperation would really be the Messianic Ruler of Peace. (Isaiah 9:5) Christian support for such a cooperative venture would also be very important, and the recent, first time ever, appointment of the Latin Bishop of Jerusalem to the College of Cardinals is a sign of this possibility. 

Anyone who can bring Jews, Christians and Muslims together in mutual respect and cooperation would surely fulfill the greatest of all Messianic predictions: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives; nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall never again teach war.”  (Isaiah 2:4) 

Rabbi Yochanan seems to argue that it is only when the earthly Jerusalem is restored fully that the heavenly Jerusalem will be realized fully as well. But perhaps it is the other way around. 

Heavenly Jerusalem is an aspirational one – the pluralistic, open, inclusive, harmonious one – in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims could live together in harmony and peace. In this Jerusalem, we would all even be able to pray together in the Old City of Jerusalem, and even on Temple Mount, where Prophet Isaiah says:  “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).

Such Jewish/Christian/Muslim cooperation would not be possible without great spiritual leadership in all three communities.  Thus, each community could consider its leadership to be the Messiah and this would fulfill the culminating verses of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy as enlarged upon by Prophet Micah (4:3-5), 

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives. Nation shall not take up against nation, they shall never again teach war, but every man shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him, for it is the Lord of Hosts who spoke. Though all peoples walk each in the name of its God, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.”  

Perhaps the Abraham Accords in the Mid-East will start a swing towards optimism and the fulfillment of another prophecy of Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)

If each religious community truly follows the best of its own religious teachings the Messiah will surely have arrived, and God’s Kingdom on Earth will be established.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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