My religious neighbor points to the events in the Middle East and claims that we are seeing the end of days. It does feel rather scary and chaotic, but I'm not sure I believe in that whole concept. Can you explain Judaism's view on "Armageddon"? And could this be it?
The term ‘Armageddon’ is from the Christian bible, and not part of Jewish scripture at all. It describes (as I understand it) an apocalyptic event, when good and evil will battle for the world. In the end (as I recall the story) evil will triumph for a time, then be vanquished – but this will occur at the end of time, or end of days.
This viewpoint seems to me to be antithetical to Judaism because it is dualistic in nature. In effect, it sets up G-d as good, and something else as Evil personified or made manifest, and the evil is similar in power to G-d. Judaism rejects this utterly; as a (the original) monotheistic religion, there can be no rival gods to battle G-d. G-d created all; that means all is subject to G-d’s will and power. So the underpinnings of this idea are outside of Judaism, and not applicable for Jews.
At the same time, there is nowhere in Judaism that demands we hold the idea that G-d is controlling every single event and circumstance. That too, is not particularly in line with normative Judaism, because it contravenes the concept of free will, which is both normative and pretty much a ‘given’ condition. If G-d were making you act badly to your younger sibling, you would have no choice in the matter, and to punish you for bad behavior would be unfair. Instead, Judaism holds that G-d may know what you will choose (after all, your past behavior is likely to predict what you will do even in the view of your parents and friends), but you have the ability to choose, and a real choice. If you somehow rise above your habitual actions, you can choose to change what you do in this instance (and, we hope, for the future). Similarly, if G-d were to force someone to do evil, they would have no choice, and since they were doing G-d’s will, how could they be evil? So this approach doesn’t make much sense in a Jewish context.
Because people can choose to do evil and bad things, and peoples/nations are ruled and led by people, nations can also do evil and bad things. This can lead to chaotic and scary times, but the normative Jewish view is that it is not because G-d is picking out individuals to suffer and causing evil to them. Only in such books as Job (in the third section of the Tanakh/Hebrew bible) do we read that G-d singles out an individual, and that is for reasons we do not (and cannot) fathom.
So overall, this idea is not part of Jewish thought, and would not be valid currency in the Jewish community. My colleague in his answer from an Orthodox perspective has provided many of the citations that are pertinent and appropriate; I will not replicate them here.
My religious neighbor point to the events in the Middle East and claims that we are seeing the end of days. It does feel rather scary and chaotic, but I'm not sure I believe in that whole concept. Can you explain Judaism's view on "Armageddon"? And could this be it?
To properly answer this important and timely question, we must address
·what it means to be religiously Jewish
·the appropriateness of Jewish apocalypticism
·the role of dogma in authentic Judaism
·the impropriety of eschatological speculation
·What it means to be religiously Jewish
The religious Jew becomes holy by obeying God’s commands, which purify the character and sanctify the soul. This is not necessarily the religious mood of the Orthodox street with its folkways, foibles, conventions and practices; the beliefs of the community usually but not always conform to the Torah. Many Orthodox Jews say on Friday night “bless me with peace, angels of peace.” bHullin 40a teaches that prayers to anything, including angels, is idolatry.
By “religious Jews” we seem to mean the “Orthodox street,” the on-the-street folk religion of thoise Jews who are committed to observing the Torah, as best they can. In the popular street religion of Orthodoxy, Judaism is what Orthodox Jews happen to do; for the modern Orthodoxy presented here, Orthodoxy is the pure world of God, accurately read from the sacred canon, applied in and to and for everyday life.
Regarding the chicken-around-the-head rite, R. Isserles says the “street is doing it” so the rite cannot be wrong. Alternatively, R. Caro regards the rite to approximate idolatry, a grave religious offense.
[Shulhan Aruch O.H. 605]
·The appropriateness of Jewish apocalypticism
Apocalypticism, revelations regarding the end of days, began at the end of the prophetic period and ended with Paul. According to the Torah, it will be good for those who obey the Torah and not good for those who do not. [Deuteronomy 11:14,17]
This promise did not seem to reflect historical reality, calling the covenant and God’s justice into question. [Job 3, Jeremiah 12:1] The Dead Sea Sect and the 1st Century Jesus Movement saw the end fo days as immenent,, as the theological sky, like London Bridge, is falling down.
Daniel, Zachariah, Revelations of Christian Scripture, the historical Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels, and the historical Paul, were apocalyptical thinkers. Paul believed that Jesus’ return was about to happen soon. The “Paul” of Titus and the Timothy’s had Churches that were not expecting Jesus' immediate return.
Rabbi Aqiva was a mystic and apocalypticist. bSanhedrin 101a, 110b. The rabbis’ experience with the deadly and abortive wars of 70 CE and 135-7 CE made the rabbis peacenicks. Rabbis Jacob Neusner and Abraham Heschel have shown from canonical textual evidence that normative Rabbinic Judaism does not waste time predicting the end-time.
The two most normative canonical statements are bSanhdrin 97b, which would blast way those who calculate the end- time, and bHullin 142a, that the eschatological end-time reward for the good people and payback for bad people does not happen in this world. The Jewish Christians, called Ebionites/evyonim/the “poor” people also reflect this mindset; those who wait for the pie in the sky of the world to come are those with egg on the face in this world of everyday life.
·The role of dogma in authentic Judaism
Like the ancient paganisms of antiquity, Judaism was—and ought to remain—a religion of deed, not doctrine, of good works, not right doctrine. Privileging “faith” over “works,” Paul and the post-Pauline Church required right belief as a condition for salvation.
Medieval Judaism dealt with dogmas in response to the Church and, to a lesser extent, Islam. Moses was not yet a believer when he acted righteously in Exodus 2, and it is Moses’s works and not his doctrine that caused his call by God. Kallah Rabbati 5:1 teaches that the God of the Rabbis prefers Orthopraxis to Orthodoxy, obeying God being more pleasing to God than believing in God.
Rabbi Joseph Albo argued that there are but three beliefs that are necessary for what “moderns” would call “Orthodox.” These three beliefs are consistent throughout Hebrew Scripture and are also not subject to scientific or refutable by Bible Criticism’s critique,
i.that God is real
ii.that God communicates to humankind
iii.and that God holds humankind to account
·the impropriety of eschatological speculation
Biblical religion, as expressed by Jeremiah, and Rabbinic Judaism’s majoritarian pacifist view,
recorded at bGittin 56a’s narrative, discourages but does not explicitly forbid calculating the end time.
However, calculating the end time is and remains popular amongst mystics, and while discouraged was not strictly forbidden by canonical Jewish law. Consider the Chabad proclamation, “we want the Messiah now; we do nto want to wait.” We might speculate that the rabbis knew that the impulse for such speculation, in a period that bridges troubled waters, cannot be contained or restrained. Rabbis are forbidden to impose rules that are undoable. bHorayyot 3b, bBaba Batra 60b, bAvoda Zarah 36a.
Therefore, end-time speculation is discouraged, probably because it is pointless, almost always misguided, frustrating, and presumes to arrogantly read the mind of God. Nevertheless, such speculation iis misguided and mistaken but neither evil nor anathema.
While I am not sure what religion your “religious neighbor” espouses, there are some similarities between Judaism and Christianity on the issue of Armageddon and the ‘end of days.’ The term, ‘Armageddon’ (Perhaps from the Hebrew, Har Megiddo - mount of Megiddo) appears in the New Testament where it implies that a battle between kings will precede the coming of the Messiah. Judaism believes strongly in the coming of the Messiah, and if one looks in the book of Ezekiel, it may be inferred that the Messiah will come specifically after a large battle of Gog and Magog. While a lot of scholarly details are being glossed over in this simplified version of the concept – both religions seem to believe that the messianic age will come after some dark times, or even some fierce battle/s.
I believe that the idea of the messiah and of the ‘scary and chaotic times’ preceding the Messiah’s arrival, go hand in hand. Why would we need a Messiah to come in a time that was already fairly peaceful? These ideas have developed over time for and by people who were already feeling like they were living in frightening times, and likely provided some measure of comfort to them – since the Messiah was thought to be just around the corner. As to whether these times are the ones that will finally bring the Messiah, I cannot say. However, I would suggest that history repeats itself enough that people in every century likely though that they were living in equally terrifying times.
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