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Mashiach according to Rabbi Hillel

Discussion in 'Orthodox Judaism DIR' started by Harel13, Sep 30, 2022.

  1. Harel13

    Harel13 Am Yisrael Chai
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    A curious statement is brought in Sanhedrin 99a:

    "ר' הילל אומר אין להם משיח לישראל שכבר אכלוהו בימי חזקיה"​

    "R' Hillel says: Yisrael do not have a Mashiach any longer because they already ate him in the days of Chizkiyah."​

    The statement is very famous and has brought upon some discussions as to how R' Hillel could dare to say something like that, for example here.

    I've found myself pondering this view over the last couple of days, mostly because I came upon an interesting suggestion by Yehudah Even Shmuel. Apparently (I only saw this in a second-hand source, haven't yet checked the original) he had suggested that when Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said, on his deathbed, to prepare a chair for Chizkiyah, King of Yehudah, he was referring to the then-Reish Galuta, Chizkiyah ben Shechanyah. I haven't completely formulated an opinion on this suggestion yet, but that got me thinking:

    A couple of months ago I had started to consider the possibility that the Chizkiyah R' Hillel was referring to was not Chizkiyahu the famous Tanachic king, but actually, perhaps, Chizkiyah the Galilean, head of anti-Roman rebels who had been put to death by Herod. The reason I had considered this because there's a suggestion that Menachem ben Chizkiyah, the aggadic name of the Mashiach, is connected in some way to Menachem, a descendant of Chizkiyah who led a faction of zealots during the Great Revolt (here's a thread I made on it). This would make R' Hillel's statement more aggadic in fashion and probably not intended to be taken literally, in historical terms.

    But now I have a different idea: What if R' Hillel's statement was referring to the Reish Galuta Chizkiyah ben Shechanyah? Consider this: R' Hillel isn't saying that Chizkiyah himself was the Mashiach. He's just saying that he lived during his time and was destroyed somehow. So this does not match with the famous idea the King Chizkiyah was supposed to have been the Mashiach. On the other hand, we don't know the exact years that Chizkiyah the Reish Galuta held his position. But he might have lived circa the end of Rabban Yochanan's life, which puts us at the end of the 1st century CE. What if Chizkiyah lived long enough to see Bar Kochva? Yes, it's a bit of a bold suggestion, that the Mashiach R' Hillel was referring to was none other than Bar Kochva.

    The key point that I think this idea would work is R' Hillel's reasoning for the fall of the Mashiach: "שכבר אכלוהו בימי חזקיה" - "because they already ate him in the days of Chizkiyah" - this is fairly similar in conceptual terms to the explanation for the fall of Bar Kochva given by the Rambam, who evidently had sources we don't have about that period of time (we don't know, for example, how he knew that Rabbi Akiva was the נושא כלים of Bar Kochva): "וְדִמָּה הוּא וְכָל חַכְמֵי דּוֹרוֹ שֶׁהוּא הַמֶּלֶךְ הַמָּשִׁיחַ. עַד שֶׁנֶּהֱרַג בַּעֲוֹנוֹת" - "and he and all of the sages of his generation thought that he was the King Mashiach. Until he was killed by sins" Not by his sins, but by sins in general. Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Zini had suggested in an essay on Bar Kochva that Rambam is pointing out that Bar Kochva had been killed because of the sins of Klal Yisrael, i.e., that the term "בעוונות" as used by the Rambam typically refers to "our sins" (see Rambam's commentary here for example)

    This, I believe, serves to explain the odd term used by R' Hillel, that he was "eaten in the time of Chizkiyah". In Hebrew it works better, because it is more obvious that the "they" who ate him are Yisrael. In short, שכבר אכלוהו (ישראל) בימי חזקיה = עד שנהרג בעוונות (ישראל).

    Of course, we still have the question of why R' Hillel would choose to refer to that era with Chizkiyah's name. I still don't have a clear answer to that, although yesterday I chanced upon an interesting tradition brought in Seder Olam Zuta 9 which states that Chizkiyah was buried in the estate of the kohen Yehoshua ben Nisraf in Givat Arbel. This is interesting to me because Yeshua Nisraf Arbel was the piyutistic title of the priestly division (mishmar) Yeshua. Perhaps this tradition about Chizkiyah hints somehow to a connection to Bar Kochva. Chizkiyah was not at all the only famous person living outside of the land to be buried in the land, but perhaps there's a hint of something more. A sign of strong Zionism? Or perhaps he died in connection to the Bar Kochva Revolt itself? Who knows.

    Thoughts, comments, ideas, further sources - of course welcome.
     
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  2. Harel13

    Harel13 Am Yisrael Chai
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    So, it turns out that in Midrashei Geulah pp. 47-49, Even Shmuel does suggest that the Chizkiyah referred to by R' Hillel was Chizkiyah I, the same person who fathered Menachem the supposed Mashiach. He has a fascinating idea on how to tie all of the sources and even brings some that I didn't think about, which is the connection of Mashiach and the geulah to the area of Arbel (for example, one version of the story of Menachem ben Chizkiyah), as well as this well-known one:

    "דֵּלֹמָא רִבִּי חִייָא רַבָּא וְרִבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן חֲלַפְתָּא הַוּוּ מְהַלְּכִין בַּהֲדָא בִקְעַת אַרְבֶּל בִּקְרִיצְתָּא וְרָאוּ אַייֶלֶת הַשַׁחַר שֶׁבָּקַע אוֹרָהּ. אָמַר רִבִּי חִייָא רַבָּא לְרִבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן חֲלַפְתָּא בִּירְבִּי כַּךְ הִיא גְאֻלָּתָן שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּתְּחִילָּה קִמְאָה קִמְאָה כָּל־מָה שֶׁהִיא הוֹלֶכֶת הִיא רָבָה וְהוֹלֶכֶת." (Yerushalmi Brachot 1:1 and elsewhere)
    However, Even Shmuel does not suggest that the Mashiach referred to is Bar Kochva, but Menachem ben Chizkiyah himself. He suggests that Chizkiyah took part in the Great Revolt and was given the Judean fortresses בירת ערבתא and בירת מלכתא (the birthplaces of Menachem according to different versions of the story), and there his son was born. This son was thought to be the potential Mashiach. Eventually Chizkiyah went back to Babylon, but at some point returned to the Galilee and used his Persian-given foreign immunity to protect the Galilean Jews. That's how we find Messianic ideas tied to the Galilee in those days, and in particular, the area of Arbel.

     
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  3. rosends

    rosends Well-Known Member

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    There is much in what you write (fascinating stuff, btw) but I am still stuck on the choice of achluhu. The sefaria translation adds in "from" and makes it "ate from him" though that doesn't clarify how meforshim see that as meaning that prophecies were already fulfilled.
     
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  4. Harel13

    Harel13 Am Yisrael Chai
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    So I'm still playing around with this idea. Here are a few more points to add to the mix.
    First:
    I half-forgot that R' Hillel's statement is brought twice in Sanhedrin. Here's the first quote, which shed a teeny bit more light on the wording:
    "אמר רב גידל אמר רב עתידין ישראל דאכלי שני משיח אמר רב יוסף פשיטא ואלא מאן אכיל להו חילק ובילק אכלי להו לאפוקי מדרבי הילל דאמר אין משיח לישראל שכבר אכלוהו בימי חזקיה"

    "Rav Giddel says that Rav says: The Jewish people are destined to eat from the bounty of, i.e., enjoy, the years of the Messiah. Rav Yosef says: Isn’t this obvious? And rather, who else will eat from them? Will Ḥillak and Billak, two shiftless characters, eat from them? The Gemara explains that Rav Giddel’s statement serves to exclude the statement of Rabbi Hillel, who says: There is no Messiah coming for the Jewish people, as they already ate from him, as all the prophecies relating to the Messiah were already fulfilled during the days of Hezekiah." (Sanhedrin 98b)

    This quotes is also useful in narrowing done the identity of R' Hillel (there were quite a number). We can see that not only he was before Rav Yosef's time, but he was also before Rav Giddel's time. That brings us to the late Tannaic-early Amoraic period.

    Second:
    It's possible that R' Hillel was half-basing his statement on the Mashaich-type verses about Chizkiyahu in Yesha'ayhu. So Rav Yosef's interpretation of his statement wasn't so far off the mark (per my understanding). But R' Hillel wasn't talking about the Tanachic Chizkiyahu. He was referring to the later Chizkiyah. He took the verses referring to one and turned them into a kind of drasha on the other.

    Right now I need more solid sources on this Chizkiyah the Resh Galuta, and there's likely not much more than what I've found so far. It'll probably end up being this half-developed idea based on a lot of conjecture.
     
  5. Harel13

    Harel13 Am Yisrael Chai
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    So, I kept digging and today I finally got some promising leads!

    The main lead right now is a likely 7th century apocalyptic Jewish text called Sefer Zerubavel. Through researching the book, I came across two academic books that discuss apocalyptic and messianic trends surrounding this book and other works. The key idea right now is that there are several sources that tie Zerubavel to the Mashiach. One example is Sefer Zerubavel, but there are others. Some sources seem to deem him to be the Mashiach, but a lot consider him to be some kind of companion of the Mashiach, sometimes instead of Eliyahu and sometimes alongside Eliyahu. This is important because traditionally, the descendants of the Resh Galuta are considered to be descendants of Zerubavel. In that sense, Chizkiyah may be representing the archetype of Zerubavel his ancestor. This would serve to explain why Rabbi Hillel referred to the Mashiach as living in his time but does not identify him with Chizkiyah himself (as one would expect the case to be from the classic and modern interpretations of the quote, where the Mashiach is identified with King Chizkiyah).

    I have not looked into enough sources yet, so I don't know what ancient and modern commentators say on the relationship between Mashiach and Zerubavel, but right now I think Zerubavel represents the Jews of the diaspora and their role in the Geulah.

    A secondary lead is a whole slew of sources and studies regarding messianic trends in the Galilee. Apparently it's far from just being Jesus. This ties into the Yehoshua ben Nisraf tradition. Though these traditions are very theological in nature, the direction of this lead spills into historical speculation - can we accept Even-Shmuel's view that Chizkiyah Ben Shechaniah settled in the Galilee after the destruction of the Temple? If there's a strong way to connect Chizkiyah to the Galilee, that might be a way to explain his importance in the quote: He both represents the diaspora and a strong connection to the Galilee, two connections that Bar Kochva very likely didn't have. In that sense, Bar Kochva is the legit Mashiach but Chizkiyah has the connections. A parallel that comes to mind is David and Yehonatan. Had Yehonatan not died, he was planning on ushering in the kingdom of his friend David. David was considered less legitimate because he wasn't related to Shaul.

    One major question remains: Why doesn't Rabbi Hillel name the Mashiach? I have some half-answers that I'm not too crazy about at the moment.
     
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  6. Harel13

    Harel13 Am Yisrael Chai
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    I've decided to include my theory in a big project I'll have to hand in by the end of the year. The subject of the project is "Jewish messianic despair during the 3rd and 4th centuries CE". After the subject was approved by my professor, it occurred to me that if my idea is correct, then perhaps not only did no one properly understand Rabbi Hillel, but nobody understood Rav Yosef's disputation either!

    After some more thinking, it suddenly hit me: Rav Yosef's answer is structurally similar to what Rabbi Akiva told the sages when they saw a fox come out of the holy of holies in Makkot 23b. In both cases, Rabbi Akiva and Rav Yosef refer to both Temples and to individuals from the different periods: Rabbi Akiva refers to Uriah Hakohen from Bayit Rishon and to Zechariah from Bayit Sheni, while Rav Yosef refers to Chizkiyah (purportedly King Chizkiyah) from Bayit Rishon and Zechariah from Bayit Sheni.

    What's interesting, however, is that Rabbi Akiva uses a verse referring to the destruction of Bayit Rishon (ציון שדה תחרש etc) with regards to the destruction that he and the other sages saw: That of Bayit Sheni. This is of course a common Jewish interpretation of prophetic texts, but perhaps this means that Rav Yosef was also only talking about some time after the destruction of Bayit Sheni! In other words, Rav Yosef knew perfectly well that Rabbi Hillel was not talking about Chizkiyah King of Yehudah, but about someone from the early Tannaitic, post-Churban period. However, he disagreed with this despairing opinion, much like Rabbi Akiva refused to accept his friends' and colleagues' despair.

    To the end of trying to find a basis for this idea, I've started looking for sources that connect Rav Yosef and Rabbi Akiva. The first that came to mind instantly was Gittin 56b, where the story of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai appears. There it says that Rav Yosef and some say Rabbi Akiva rebuked RYb"Z with a verse from Yeshayahu. This has always seemed strange to me: How could you mix up a second generation Tanna with a third generation Amorah? At first I thought that the confusion was based on the name of Rabbi Akiva's father, Yosef. But that still seems like a weak explanation. So it's possible that the ואיתימא in the gemara is not referring to a split tradition, but to a suggestion that both Rav Yosef and Rabbi Akiva said this - they were like-minded.

    My focus now - besides working on strengthening the Rabbi Hillel-Bar Kochva theory - is to see if there are enough aggadic sources that connect Rav Yosef and Rabbi Akiva, whether explicitly or implicitly (i.e., Rav Yosef may say an idea similar to something Rabbi Akiva said, but wiethout saying it in his name).
     
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  7. Harel13

    Harel13 Am Yisrael Chai
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    I saw an interesting idea today in Alter Valner's book אומה במאבקיה where he discussed Jewish sources that allude to the Gallus Revolt of the mid-4th century CE - he opined that the story about the birth of the Mashiach in Yerushalmi Brachot 2:4 and Eichah Rabbah 1:51 reflects amoraic views regarding the troubled times of circa the Gallus Revolt - both sages mentioned there - Rabbi Yudan beRabbi Aibo and Rabbi Bun - lived, apparently, in the 4th century. I'm still not sure what nafka mina this has on understanding Rabbi Yudan's bringing of the story (in context, the story was brought to prove that Menachem = Tzemach), but according to Valner, Rabbi Bun was trying to give the Jews of his time hope by telling them that the Lebanon - Rome, apparently, according to Valner (if I understood correctly. Traditionally this has been understood as simply proving that the Mashiach will be born on the day of the churban) - would fall by a great one, who will be the Mashiach. I. e., they should not yet give up hope that such a champion will rise. This understanding in itself is useful for my project.
     
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  8. Harel13

    Harel13 Am Yisrael Chai
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    It occurred to me earlier today that we see here some kind of connection between the Resh Galuta and a kohen whose name matches that of one of the mishmarot - Yehoshua ben Nisraf of Givat Arbel = Yeshua Nisraf-Arbel. And circa the Bar Kochva revolt we find two sages whose names also matched that of a particular mishmar: Rabbi Chutzpit the Metorgeman and Rabbi Yeshvav the Sofer = Yeshva'v Chutzpit-Shuchin. I have long wondered about the possible connection between the mishmar and these two sages.
    Rabbi Chutzpit was certainly tied to the Nasi; he worked for Rabban Gamliel. Perhaps Rabbi Yeshvav was a scribe of Nasi? And both were thought to have been part of the Ten Martyrs. So it appears that there's some kind of connection here between the mishmarot and the two big Jewish leaders at the time.
     
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  9. Harel13

    Harel13 Am Yisrael Chai
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    I'm spit balling here a bit. Based on that essay I linked in the Jewish group about Eliyahu in shul mosaics and the apparent popularization of his character among Jews from circa the 4th century and onwards, per the author of that essay, I'm wondering if I can use that idea for my project on messianic despair. The direction I'm considering at the moment is related to the story of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi meeting the Mashiach. The story ends with RYbL partially disappointed at the fact that the Mashiach said he was ready to come at any time but couldn't without permission from Hashem. On the other hand, we find multiple stories about sages meeting Eliyahu, and in a very nonchalant manner. In other words, Eliyahu is very imminent, while the Mashiach - not so much. Thus, we might be seeing a process in which the figure of Eliyahu asserts itself in the Jewish mind as being the go-to guy, so to speak, of the Jews, while the Mashiach is kind of a...no-show? This might connect also with the awareness that the nesiim weren't patrilineally descendants of David (they were only so matrilineally), while the Resh Galuta was...flawed in a number of aspects.
    At the same time, this might have strengthened the view that the Mashiach is more of a spiritual figure, compared to the very physical, militaristic attempted Meshichim of the past, in particular Bar Kochva. Again, I'm just throwing around ideas.
     
  10. Harel13

    Harel13 Am Yisrael Chai
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    Something further to consider on this topic is that the Mashiach in Sefer Zerubavel and later works isn't stated to being specifically a descendant of the Kings of Yehudah. He's not a first cousin of Zerubavel or a descendant of his or something. The only hint we have to this possibility is that his mom is named Cheftzi-bah which was the name of Yeshayahu's daughter, who married Chizkiyahu and was the mother of Menasheh. On the other hand, Cheftzi-bah is stated to being the wife of one Natan. It's possible that this refers to Natan ben David and Bat Sheva. That would also serve to explain his name Menachem ben Amiel, because in Chronicles, Bat Sheva is called Bat Shua and her father Eliam is called Amiel.

    As a side note, perhaps this is also some kind of anti-Lukian polemic?

    This might reflect a despaired view of the most famous Houses of David at the time, the Nesiim and the Rashei Golah, each just not qualifying enough, for whatever reason.
     
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