Crisis of Faith in the Wake of Unfulfilled Expectations
Beginning in the 1820s, a symbiotic relationship prevailed between the Perushim and the Protestant missionaries active in the Land of Israel such as Joseph Wolf and the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Amongst the Jews. The missionaries saw the return of the Jews to the Promised Land as essential to the messianic process; the Perushim were happy to accept economic, medical, and other forms of material aid from the missionaries, and saw gentile involvement in the rebuilding of the land as part of the messianic process as they envisioned it. At the same time, there were tensions related to the missionaries’ efforts to convert the Jews. Matters grew more complex in the 1830s when the Perushim saw the enlightened, European (read: Christian)-style reign of Muhammad Ali as displacing to a degree the role of the Christian missionaries, and Jews and Christians throughout the world began to anticipate more intensely the fateful year of 1840. The atmosphere is vividly portrayed in Lehren’s correspondence. Ties between the Perushim’s leadership and the Christian missionaries were strengthened in the wake of the terrifying Damascus blood libel in March 1840, when the missionaries turned out to be the Jews’ only allies. At the same time, the missionaries increased their efforts to proselytize, taking steps as radical as the appointment of a Jewish convert as Anglican bishop in Jerusalem. The passing of 1840 without the Messiah’s appearance produced a crisis of faith, making many Jews more vulnerable to the missionaries’ efforts. Jewish writers (such as Aviezer of Ticktin) sought to play down the crisis, offering reasons for the Messiah’s delay.
Keywords: London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Amongst the Jews, John Nicolayson, Damascus blood libel, Aviezer of Ticktin, eschatology, proselytize, missionary activity, Joseph Wolf, messianic process, messianic crisis
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