Retreat from the Idea of “Redemption Through Return to Zion”
To deal with the post-1840 crisis of belief, Jewish leaders sought to limit the at-risk masses’ contacts with the Christian missionaries and to bolster and renew their faith in Judaism. They also tried, by various arguments, to defer the expected appearance to 5606 (1846) or some later date. There ensued a retreat from the Perushim’s messianic activism, and some argued that the Messiah’s failure to appear was punishment for that activism. Aviezer of Ticktin and Zevi Hirsch Lehren forcefully advocated that position, and Lehren saw the Damascus blood libel in that light as well. The leadership of the Perushim, however, took the view that 5600 heralded the beginning of the messianic era, which would unfold gradually, and they continued their efforts despite the new difficulties. By 1846, more Perushim changed their views, and some of the new leaders retreated from the activist stance and reverted to the traditional view that repentance, study, and spiritual activity were the mechanisms through which the Messiah might be brought. Concern for the future of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel and its economic infrastructure and productivity gave way to concern for survival in the present through fundraising among Jews in Europe; fundraising organizations proliferated. The new byword of the Perushim’s leadership became “Unless God builds the house, its builders labor on it in vain”, and reverted to the view that the only legitimate position within traditional Judaism was the belief in miraculous redemption. Some grandchildren of the earlier leaders of the Perushim (Joseph Rivlin and Joel Moses Solomon) were among the initiators of the construction of Jewish neighborhoods outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The new leaders of the Perushim did not support their efforts and sought to suppress the history of their predecessors’ messianic activism.
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