On Wednesday afternoon, two of the greatest rabbis of the generation met and discussed how very close the Messiah is, and how Christians and Muslims have an important role to play in that process.
Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch,Vice-President of the Rabbinical Court and the Head of the Edah HaChareidis in Jerusalem, paid a rare visit to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky at his home in Bnei Barak. They are two of the most prominent Torah figures alive today. Conversations between such great men have enormous significance and the Hebrew-language website Kikar Shabbat recorded the dialogue between these two great rabbis.
After warm greetings, the rabbis began to discuss the problems facing the Jews in this generation. Rabbi Kanievsky said that troubles were to be expected. “It is the days before Messiah,” he explained.
Rabbi Sternbuch agreed. “In the End of Days, those who fear God will despair and their hands will loosen from fighting God’s war against the sinners, and there will be no one to rely upon except God,” he said, adding, “We have to bring the Messiah.”
Rabbi Kanievsky answered that the Messiah should be arriving in the very near future. He quoted the Talmud (Megillah 17b) again, saying, “In the year after shmittah the Son of David will come.”
Rabbi Kanievsky was referring to a prediction he had made earlier in the year based on the Talmud. The shmittah (sabbatical) year comes once every seven years and ended this year on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. The year in which Rabbi Kanievsky predicted the Messiah would come, according to the Talmud, will end next Rosh Hashana, in September.
“The year after the Shemitta isn’t over,” he added.
Rabbi Sternbuch answered by quoting Jeremiah 8:2, which reads, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” – implying that according to the Talmud, the Messiah should have already arrived if it was truly coming in this year.
Rabbi Kanievsky insisted that the Messiah was indeed coming in this year. He opened the Talmud folio (Ketubot 112b) that contained the prediction and began to read out loud to Rabbi Sternbuch.
Rabbi Sternbuch considered this and responded with a different source.
“We have an ancient authenticated hand-written manuscript from the Rambam (a Spanish Torah authority from the twelfth century), in which he says that before the coming of the Messiah, the Christians and the Ishmaelites (Arabs) will come to Israel,” he pointed out.
The manuscript the rabbi referred to is a recent version of the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah, recently published with restored sections censored by medieval Christian authorities.
Rabbi Sternbuch’s interpretation of the Rambam does seem to happening today. The creation of the State of Israel was a miraculous fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham, restoring the land of Israel to the Jewish people, but it also benefitted Christians, establishing a bubble of religious freedom in a region of the world that does not tolerate pluralism. Almost three million Christians come to Israel every year to visit their holy sites in a way that is not permitted in regions under Muslim rule, and the Jewish state is home to a considerable Christian population as well.
Gabriel Naddaf, an Israeli priest of the Greek Orthodox Church, said in an interview with the Algemeiner that “the Jewish state is the only country in the Middle East where Christians can practice their faith free from persecution”, noting, “The Christian community in Israel has more than quadrupled since independence in 1948, from 34,000 to 158,000 in 2012.”
Though not as positive or as beneficial as the Christian connection, the Arabs have also multiplied in the Land of Israel as the Messiah approaches. Before the British Mandate, Palestine, a neglected corner of the Ottoman Empire, had barely 700,000 people living in the country. As the Jewish population increased between World War One and World War Two, the Arab population also increased by 120 percent.
Rabbi Kanievsky continued reading in the Talmud, which described yet another aspect of the days preceding the Messiah.
“In the days to come, all the non-fruit bearing trees in israel will bear fruit.” Rabbi Kanievsky explained, “When the Messiah comes, everyone will repent, and the people that ‘didn’t bear fruit’ will bear fruit and learn Torah.”
Rabbi Kanievsky seemed to be saying that in the Messianic era, Christians and Muslims will be a source of Torah learning – and this phenomenon is appearing as well. Many movements in Christianity are beginning to seek out their roots in Torah and Judaism. Hebrew Roots and Bnai Yosef are growing movements that advocate doing Mitzvot and Torah study.
Both Rabbi Kanievsky and Rabbi Sternbuch are brilliant Torah scholars whose decisions regarding Torah law are unquestionably authoritative. When rabbis of this stature agree that the Messiah is imminent, it is clearly a sign to sit up and take notice.