"Talmudo-Rabbinical Eschatology"


This fifty-two page essay is presumably the "Thesis in Semitic" mentioned in Bernard's grade sheet, cat. BB.II.2, for which he received a 95. An impressive example of biblical scholarship, it addresses the beliefs of Russian Jews on a range of Talmudic questions, including: how many kinds of fire are there in hell, how many angels sit about your body after death, what are the mnemonics for remembering your own name in the forgetfulness that comes after death, and what is the meaning of the 800,000 trees that occupy each corner of Paradise. See below for a complete transcription.

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Biblioteca Berenson, Villa I Tatti - The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. Bernard and Mary Berenson Papers, Series: Research and Writings, Unpublished





Talmudo-Rabbinical Eschatology

Resumé of recent [?] work on subject


Whatever the ancient Israelites may have believed regarding the future, eschatology forms the entire foundation and much of the body of rabbinical Judaism. The philosophy of life, as far as he has one, the actions, the thoughts of the typical modern Jew centers about his belief and hopes in a future existence.


It is generally accepted that in the making of the world, God created a definite number of souls which have their habitation in a chamber called ḥeder gûph (חֶדֶר גּוּף), where they are said to live an unmerited life, and to eat the bread of idleness, although they spend their whole time in the study of the [2] Law, which was created even before the creation of the world, until, by life upon Earth, they prove their right to such bliss.[1]


When about to be born on Earth the material destiny of the soul is proclaimed, but the option is left to it of being virtuous צַדִּיק‪(‬), or wicked (רָשָׁע). It comes into the world “not in entire forgetfulness and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory” and fragments of heavenly knowledge. Very soon after birth an angel snaps the child under the nostrils whence the indenture of the upper lips and thus makes it oblivious of the past. The child soon begins to act, and through the remainder of earthly life, for every virtuous action [3] an angel who will defend it and for every sinful deed, an angel who will accuse it, is created.


According to the book Yār’ē Haṭṭā’im (יָרֵא חַטָאִים), a sevenfold punishment awaits the wicked.[2] The first punishment is inflicted when the soul is about to leave the body, when four ministering angels (מַלְאַכֵי הַשָׁרֶת) appear before it, of whom one is the angel of death (מַלְאַךְ הַמָּוֶת), an other, a scribe, and the remaining ones, witnesses. The angel of death, whose body reaches from our end of the world to the other, and who is full of eyes and clothed with fire then questions it about its earthly life, somewhat as follows: Hast thou [4] diligently studied the Word of God? Hast thou been busy with good works? Hast thou always recognized thy Creator as thy Lord; and hast thou dealt according to his commandments? If it can answer “Yea” to all these questions, its separation from the body is painless, if not, its torture is indescribable.


The second punishment is the restlessness of the soul between death and burial. (Jewish law, therefore, demands that the dead be buried within twenty-four hours).[3] The accusing angels surround the bier, proclaiming the misdeeds of the deceased and the punishment awaiting him.[5] The third punishment comes after the body has been laid in the grave. Then the angel of death sits upon the grave, and awaking the body through repeated blows says: “Arise and give me thy name.” This the godless forget upon their departure from the world. The angel then drives the soul back into the body, that he may punish them together, with excruciating tortures. (To prevent the forgetting of the name “our wise men have ordained that in the last strophe of the שְׁמוֹכָה עֶשְׂרָהַ, which is repeated thrice daily, between אֱלֹהַי נְצוֹר and יְהִי רָצוֹך , we should repeat a verse of scripture which shall begin with the initial, and end with the final letter of the name”[4] 


[6] The fourth punishment is deemed to be the worst of all, and is known as the “striking in the grave.” (חִכּוּט הַקֶּכֶר). The process of judgment before the sentence is as follows;[5] The man is brought body and soul before the Lord, and is thus addressed: Thou hast occasioned me great trouble in sustaining you in your mother’s womb, as well as through life and in protecting you against every misfortune. Hast thou, on thy part, diligently studied my Word, etc? As none can answer “Yea” to all that they are questioned they are immediately delivered over to five angels of destruction (מַלְאַכֵי חַכָּלָה), one for each of the books of Moses.  The first of these angels scourges the sinner,[7] the second counts the blows, the third belches fire upon him, the fourth prepares him a salad of bitter herbs, and the fifth brings his parents to the place of punishment, and if they are yet among the living, his grandparents, to see how far they are at fault for the sins of the culprit. If they are actually found guilty, they are also scourged by the avenging angels, if not the sinner receives double the punishment. The body is then restored to the grave near which the soul must flutter. Then the angel Dumah (מַלְאַךְ דּוּמָה), who has charge of the damned, appears with his fiery rod. Associated with him is the angel of death, carrying a glowing iron chain, which he swings thrice [8] against the corpse. At the first stoke all the joints are torn asunder; at the second, all the limbs, which are, however, reunited by other angels of vengeance, and at the third blow the body is changed into dust and ashes. The last execution continues for three days; then comes the fifth punishment, that of the worms. For thirty days the body is gnawed by worms. The Talmud remarks that the dead are far more sensitive to the gnawing of worms than the living would be.


Thus far the punishments of individuals differ only in degree and intensity. For the rest, not only do the punishments of various individuals differ, but the opinions [9] and beliefs with regard to these punishments vary almost as do individuals. The books that have been written on the subject are numberless, and all of them of equal repute and authority, as until some fifty year ago, all that happened to be printed in Hebrew type was equally sacred. Of these the writer will choose the most general, and most reconcileable beliefs.


Unless the soul is of remarkable purity, in which case after undergoing the punishments spoken of above, it would go to Purgatory, and after a lapse of twelve months to Paradise, further punishments of various degrees and kinds await it. As part of these and yet to a great extent independent of the general system of punish[10]ments, we have Giglgul (גִּלְגּוּל) transmigration. To go into all or any of the intricacies of this system would more amusing than profitable. We must recognize two causes for transmigration; one as punishment here upon Earth, for sins committed upon Earth;[6] the other, as completion of the destiny which had been proclaimed for the soul at its first incarnation, and which it failed to fulfil during that incarnation.[7] 


[11] Transmigration as punishment may be into inanimate as well as animate objects, the theory being that the soul rushes in to the first object which it meets, or rather, which is placed before it. The soul must continue on is wanderings until it shall have expiated for its sins, or come into the hands of a pious man who shall say a blessing upon the objects into which it dwells, before eating it.


According to the Kabbalah (Midrash Chaiim, vol. 152, col. 2) Adam’s soul passed into David, and the latter having also sinned, it passed into the Messiah.


Transmigration explains the misery of the just while on Earth, as well as the happiness of the wicked. Thus, Job in whom the soul of Sarah dwelt had to expiate for the latter’s sins. Bodily deformities are explained in the same way. Thus, if a man caused another to lose a limb, he would be reborn without that [12] limb.


Each sin brings as a necessary consequence transmigration into a certain specific object. Thus: “If a man be niggardly either financially or spiritually, giving nothing of his money to the poor, or not imparting of his knowledge to the ignorant, he shall be punished by transmigration into a woman.[8] The soul of an unclean person will migrate into an unclean animal, or into abominable creeping things or reptiles. For one form of uncleanness the soul will be invested with the body of a gentile who will finally become a proselyte. For another form, the soul will pass into the body of a mule, for others, into an ass, a bat, a rabbit, a hare, a she mule, or camel. Thus the soul of Ishmael migrated into the she-ass of Balaam.[9]


The soul of a slanderer is transmigrated to a stone,[10] of a murderer into water.[11] He [13] who does not wash his hand before a meal, will be transferred into a cataract.[12] The souls of the righteous may be found in the bodies of clean animals as fowls.[13] The souls of the pious and the learned only migrate into fishes, as such migration is deemed honorable, for the expression דַיַאָסֶף is used of them in numbers XI, 22. Therefore at each meal of the Sabbath, especially at the third, the utmost time of grace, one should eat fish[14]


During all these wanderings at least two angels of wrath accompany the soul, one of whom goes before proclaiming its sins, another scourging it with the scourges of hell.


Souls may also “possess” themselves of the living bodies of others tainted with sin, many cases of the occurrence of which are recorded. Exorcism is then employed. A case that occurred in a Polish village recently just came to my notice, when various kinds of exorcism were employed.


[14] The most wicked souls are not yet ready for migration after the fifth judgment. They are taken up by two angels each armed with a sling, and are slung backward and forward from one end of the universe to the other, for an infinitely long period. This punishment is known as כָּף הַקָּלַב (cf. 1, Sam. 25, 29), and it seems to be more terror-inspiring to believers.


Hell as a place of punishment is hardly known to the Jews. The prevailing idea, against which there are many contradictions, is that after the soul has expiated for all its sins, it goes into purgatory, where it is purified of every mortal stain, and after a stay of twelve months, is ready for Paradise. There seems to be too great a likeness between the Roman Catholic and Jewish purgatories to admit of their being [15] independent growths of the respective churches, although they might possibly be the results of the same mental machinery.


As the Catholic above all things makes sure that appropriate masses of shall be said to lighten his term of purgatory, so the Jew is above all things anxious that a son shall survive him to repeat the “Kadish” as often as possible through the year[15] after his decease. The “Kadish,” a hymn of praise written in biblical Aramaic, which the accusing angels can not understand, is to be repeated at each service, i.e. thrice daily, and a pious dutiful son can even find many more opportunities. For each repetition of the “Kadish” an hour and a half immunity is obtained for the soul in purgatory.[16] [16] Hell, differing from the so called Christian Hell, in having a limit set to its duration, is evidently a later growth in belief. There is enough in rabbinical literature, however, to furnish the poet with material, which in realism, will far surpass Dante’s Inferno.


Gehenna was created according to P’sachim (Fol. 54, col. 1) before the creation of the world; according the Saryum Yerushalmi 2000 years before creation, together with the Law, Repentence, Paradise, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. In P’sachim (Fol. 94, col. 1) it is also said that Egypt is a sixtieth part of Ethiopia, Ethiopia a sixtieth of the whole world; the world is a sixtieth part of Eden, and Eden is a sixtieth part of Gehenna. “Hence the world in proportion to Gehenna is but as the lid to a cauldron.”


Hell has several names: Sheol (שְׁאוֹל) Jonah 2, 2), Shachat (שַׁחַת Ps. 16, 10), Horrible Pit (בּוֹר שָׁאוֹן). Miry Clay (טִּיט הַיָּוֵן Ps. 40, 2.), Abhaddon (אַבַדּוֹן Ps. 88, 11), the Shadow of death (צַלְמָוֶת Ps. 107, 14), the Subterranean Land (אֶרֶץ תַּחְתִּית), and Taphet (תָּפְתֶהּ) Isaiah 30, 33).[17] [17] Hell is separated from Paradise by a simple wall of a hands’ breath in thickness. Three gates open out of it; one into the sea (Jon. 2, 3), one into the wilderness (Numb. 16, 13), and one into the inhabited world (Psa. 31, 9).


There are five kinds of fire in hell: one all devouring, a gulping, a destructive, a neither devouring nor gulping, and a fire which devours fire itself. In them are coals of fire like the largest mountain, in size. The regents of hell are three, each in possession of a palace, and all are under the command of the chief Dumah, who is attended by numberless scorpions and serpents. Under his sway are to found they who have thought lightly of Scripture, who have despised the rabbis, who have despised their fellow men, they who have been late at the synagogue, etc.


[18] Dumah and his underlings inhabit that part of hell known as בּוֹר. In one of these palaces שַׁחַת, a great fire burns, and yet it is ever dark. Three passages lead to this palace, one of which is guarded by the arch-fiend Ashteria [?], with many millions of his attendants, who gather together those that have been guilty of self-pollution. The second passage is guarded by Saskifa, whose attendants bring together those that have been guilty of rape. He is the keeper of the cup of confusion (כּוֹס הַתַּרְעֵלָה) which the Angel of Death gives the dying to drink.[18] The keeper of the third passage is Sanagdiel, who has charge of them who have had intercourse with gentile women. In [19] this company are found the slanderers, they who have insulted the rabbis, they who have enriched themselves at the expense of others, they who have despised the church, etc.


In the apartment Miry Clay (טִּיט הַיָוֵן) there are three grand dignitaries: Strange God (אֱלֹהֵי נֵכָר), whose business it is to mislead the irreligious learned, through lusts and bodily pleasures; Plague (נֶגַע), whose pleasure it is to inflict leprosy, cancer, and such other diseases upon mankind; and the Accursed (אַרִירָא) who delivers them that curse and swear, and the self-accursed, over to punishment, together with the serpent that was cunning above all the beasts of the field. Here the oppressors of the poor, the unrighteous judges receive their punishment. [20] The apartment Sheol has one entrance, whose gatekeeper is Echad (אֵיכָה) entangles men in war and quarrels. The regent of this apartment is the Destroyer (שׁוֹדֵד) who lies in wait with his companions, to drive men to murder. His chief companions are Hunger (כָּפָן), the patron of corn sellers who raise the price of corn, Gesardina (גֵזַרְדִּינָא), who has charge of them who have sinned with regard to the circumcision, and Aplira (אַפְרָא) who rouses men against god. This is the abode of traitors, of them than deny the Word of God, and of them that do not believe in the resurrection of the dead.


The apartment Shadow of Death (צַלְמָוֶת) has four gates guarded by Death (מָוֶת) Ra (רַא), Shadow of Death, and the Gloomy One (אלפֵל). This is the dweling of the arch fiends Satkufa, Appearance מַרְאֶהi[21] and the arch-she-devil Lilith (לִיליִת)i[19]


The apartment, Subterranean Land (אֶרֶץ תַּחְתִּית) has four gates one towards each of the cardinal points. Here are subjected to punishment they who have no hope of salvation whatsoever, and whose annihilation alone, will put of misery.


Each one of these apartments is so long that is would take three hundred years for any one to pass through any of them. In each one there are six thousand houses. Each house has six thousand windows, and in each window stand six thousand vials of gall. Each house is divided into separate apartments. Hell has a registrar, and quartermaster, whose duty it is to register and quarter the new arrivals, according to their demerits. Upon the Sabbath even they in Hell enjoy a respite.[20] A Jewess deems it her duty therefore to light the Sabbath-candles as early as feasibly on Friday, and not to sing the hymn to the departing Sabbath, until late after sunset the next day.


[22] The reader’s curiosity is perhaps already roused to know the fate of the gentile. The ordinary gentile has no soul (נְשָׁמָה). He may not even posses the spirit which puts him above the beast (רדּחַ). He simply has the breath of life (נֶפֶשׁ), and that is not immortal.[21] But the extraordinary virtuous gentiles­—virtue in a gentile consisting of good done to Israel—shares the fate of the Israelite. The extraordinary wicked gentile—wickedness meaning injury done to Israel, “Titus the Wicked,” whom we are inclined to call the “amor et deliciae generis humanis” being the arch-type of wickedness—is to be tortured in hell, while that endures, is to resurrected to witness the glory of Israel,[22] and is then to be annihilated.


[23] The beliefs regarding Paradise are too much entangled with the beliefs regarding the state after the coming of the Messiah, to be readily disentangles, and this fusion will be only too evident in what follows.

The Jewish Paradise is not altogether the sensuous one of the Mohammedans; nevertheless there are many starved and needy Jews, more than one would supose among a people reputed so wealthy, whose sole happiness consists in looking forward to the feasts of paradise, in spite of the strong assertion of Samuel of Nardaya[23] that “Paradise consisteth not in eating and drinking”, but that “the just sit with tiaras upon their heads, contemplating the glory of the divine presence” (שְׁכִינָה).


[24] Abraham is the keeper of the keys of Paradise, and “sees to it”, that the uncircumcised are not admitted.


There is an earthly as well as a heavenly Paradise, and admission to the latter is only possible through the former. The dwellers of the heavenly also descend into the earthly Paradise, thus by comparison—for the Talmudists are in this respect all Hegelians—to enhance the value of their abode.


The Sohar gives seven names for each Paradise. The names of the celestial one follow: צרור הַחַיִּים Bundle of Life, or Bundle of the living (1 Sam. 25, 29); אֹהֶל יהוה, Tent of Yaveh (Ps. 15, 1); הַר הַקֹּדֶשׁ, Mount of Holiness (Ps. 65, 5); מְקוֹם הַקֹּדֶשׁ Place of Holiness (Ps. 24, 3); חַצְרוֹת יהוה Courts of Yaveh; בֵּית יהוה House of Yaveh (Ps. 101, 7.); הַר יהוה Mount of Yaveh ——.


[25] The following are the names of the earthly paradise: גַּן עֶדֶן, Garden of Eden, (Gen. 2, 8); הֵיכָל יהוה, Palace of Yaveh (Ps. 24, 4); אֶרֶץ הַחַיִּים Land of Life, or Land of the living[24] (Ps. 27, 13); מִקְדְּשֵׁי אֵל , Holies of God, (Ps. 101, 8); מִשְׁכְּנוֹת יהוה, Resting Places of Yaveh (Ps. 43, 3); אַרְצוֹת הַחַיִּים Lands of the Living, or of Life (Ps. 116, 9).


Paradise[25] is divided into seven apartments, each 120,000 miles square. The walls of the first apartment are of crystal, and its beams of cedar. It is inhabited by proselytes only, and its chief in the prophet Obadiah. The walls of the second palace are of silver. This is the dwelling of the penitents, and its chief is Manaase. In the third palace build of pure gold, dwell the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, together with the Israelites that went out of Egypt, and died during the forty years wandering in the wilderness. [26] With them are David and Solomon, and all the other kings of Judah, excepting Manasse, and all the sons of David except Absalome. Moses and Aaron are their chiefs. The costliest vessels of gold and silver are to be found here, precious stones, oils of richest fragrance and balsam; the most beautiful chambers, with beds, chairs, and other furniture, with candlesticks made of gold, diamonds, and pearls.


The fourth palace whose beams are olivewood is inhabited by the very few perfectly just.

The fifth palace is built of purest gold, inlaid with crystals, silver, and precious stones. It is fragrant with the most intoxicating perfumes of Lebanon. The floor is covered with dazzling carpets embroidered by Eve and the angels, upon which are purple cushions woven of gold and silver. This palace is the dwelling of Elias and the Messiah. Here there is a chamber known as אַפִרְיוֹן (palanquin), built of the cedar of Lebanon, in which the Messiah is wont [27] to retire to lament the hard lot of Israel. Every Monday and Thursday, the patriarchs, David, Solomon, and the kings of Israel and Judah accompanied by the tribes, visit him and endeavor to console him, and to inspire him with hope.


There are two gates[26] to Paradise, built of rubies, each guarded by 600,000 ministering angels, whose countenance rival the splendor of the heavens. When a deceased righteous man appears before them, they take off his burial robes, and clothe him in celestial raiment, woven of clouds of glory; place two crowns upon his head, one of pearls and jewels, the other of the gold of Parvayim (זְהַהַ פַּרְוָיםi2 Chron. 3, 6.); and finally give him eight myrtle rods and say to him: Go, eat thy bread [28] in joy.


Streams of milk, of wine, of honey, and of balsam flow in Paradise. Each one has his own canopy, overgrown with the vine, and adorned with thirty glittering pearls. Under every canopy stands a table artistically constructed of pearls and precious stones, where sixty angels thus address the righteous man upon his entrance: Come, eat honey in joy, for thou hast busied thyself with the study of the Law.—Ps. 19, 11, compares the law to honey—drink the precious wine which has been preserved for thee since the six days of creation (שֵׁשֶׁת יְמֵי בְּרֵאשִׁית).—The walls of Paradise glitter with shining pomegranates—. The countenances of the righteous,—ugly as they may be on Earth—equal in beauty that of Joseph, and of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zachai, who were, the former according to Genesis 9, 6, the latter according to Tractat Baba Meziah (Sehr 4, Tract. 2), the most beautiful among men.


[29] Each one undergoes three transformations while in Paradise. The first evening one is changed into a child, and is taken to where only children are, that he may enjoy their happiness. The second evening, he is transformed into a youth, and rejoices with the youth. The third evening he is made an old man, and participates in all the happiness due to the old.


An infinite number of trees grow in Paradise, of which at least 800,000 different kinds occupy each corner. Six hundred thousand angels sit in the shade of these trees and delight the ears of the righteous with the sweetest music. The central region of Paradise is adorned by one tree only, but that one surpasses all the rest in majesty and grandeur. It is the Tree of life, whose branches overshadow the whole of Paradise. [30] It expands a five-hundred thousand fold perfume, one more fragrant than the other. When the four winds nestle in its branches, the universe is filled with its fragrance. Seven clouds of glory cover it, and under it is the abode of the rabbis who have expounded the law.


R. Manaase in the Mishnath Chayim says: As soon as the soul reaches Paradise, many souls of the just come to greet it in the friendliest fashion, especially its friends and relatives. For the habit that man have in relating occurring events, continues into the next life. They rejoice especially in news from the Earth.


In proof of the actual existence of the Earthly Paradise, Tractat Tamid (Seder 5, Tract. 9) gives the following: As Alexander the Great, after a fatiguing march came to a clear flowing brook, he halted there for rest. As he had only a little bread and salted fish left, he took a [31] bit of fish, and washed it in the water. Eating, he was amazed at the wonderfully good taste which it has received. He therefore conjectured that the source of the brook must be in Paradise. He knocked, and cried: Open. A voice answered him: This is the gate of the Lord, in which the just only may enter. He rejoiced. I am a great and rekowned king, and if I may not enter, give me at least a token of my being here. A deathshead was given him, which he received. To solve this riddle he had the skull weighed, but it overbalanced all the gold and silver in his possession. This was most incomprehensible still, and finally he turned to the Rabbis for assistance. They told him that the skull which outweighed all his gold and silver symbolized his own greed. Then they strew a little earth upon [32] the skull, and lo! It became as light as any other.[27]


Nine[28] entered Paradise bodily: Enoch the son of Yared; Elijah; the Messiah; Eliezer, the servant of Abraham; Hiram King of Tyre, who, after a thousand years, was cast into hell for his pride; Ebed Melech, the Ethiopian; Jabez, the son of Rabbi Jehuda Hannasi; Bathia, the daughter of Pharaoh; and Sarah, the daughter of Asher. The Yalkut Chadash mentions thirteen, among them Joshua ben Levi (reimmortalized by Longfellow), to whom we owe the minute and circumstantial account of Paradise, which we posses.


The Abodath Hakkodesh says distinctly that every Jew is beholden to believe all that is written regarding [33] heaven and hell; yet Maimonides in his commentary on “Sanhedrin” expresses himself as follows: Some of us believe that the greatest bliss in Paradise consisteth in eating and drinking, free from toil and care, in dwelling in houses built of precious stones, in lying upon silken couches, coming upon streams of wine, and balsam, and objects of a like nature. Others expect their greatest bliss in the coming of the Messiah, imagining that then all Jews will live like angels, will become gigantic in stature, and thereby so terrifying that they will be able to subdue the whole earth. In that time, so they believe, beautifully embroidered garments will grow out of the Earth; the Earth will also produce nice white bread, ready baked. Other rejoice that even before this, they will sit like great monarchs upon golden thrones, [34] adorned with the costliest precious stones.—The context shows how much Maimonides despised these beliefs.


Besides Paradise, the possession of three hundred and ten worlds (שׁי עוֹלָמוֹת) awaits each of the just—but there are only 180,000 worlds.


Our subject would hardly deserve its title were we not to speak of the greatest happiness which awaits the Jew, the coming of the Messiah. It is universally agreed that he is to be an offspring of David. (מְשִׁיחַ בֶּן-דָּוִד) and Abarbanel expressly states that he is to arise from the Jews dwelling among the Christians; He has the following appellations: Yinnon (ינּוֹן) as awakening the dead;[29] Our righteous Messiah (מְשִׁיחַ צִדְקֵם); Shoot of David (צֶמַח דָּוִד) the Consouler (מְנַחֵם); and finally, Son of Perez (בֶּן פֶּרֶץ) as a descendant of Perez, the son of Judah.


[35] According Sanhedrin (Fol. 97, col. 1) the school of Elyahu taught that the world was to last six-thousand years. Two-thousand of these are termed the period of disorder; two-thousand belong to the dispensation of the Law; and two thousand are the days of the Messiah. Taloma Yarchi [?] remarks: One hundred and seventy-two years before the termination of the second period, the temple was destroyed; meanwhile we have entered upon the period when the empire of the godless should have been destroyed, and Israel’s bondage be ended. Through our sins, not only has the third period appeared, but a great part of it has already flown by, and the Messiah has not yet come.


Want of penitence is the chief reason assigned in Sanhedrin, by R. Yehudah, R. Eliezer, and R. Jeshuah, for the delay of the Messiah. In the book Sh’moth Rabbah, it is said that if all Israel [36] would only observe one Sabbath as it should be observed, the Son of David would come.


[36 insert] The Talmud gives instances of men of such extraordinary purity that they could bring about the resurrection, and the coming of the Messiah. Thus R. Chaiiah once repeated in concert with his sons, the Shemonah Essra, and as they began to say מַשִׁיב הָרוּחַ “He causeth the wind to blow,” the wind began to blow and as they said וּמוֹרִיד הַגָּשֶׁם “and he causeth the rain to descend” the rain began to fall, and had they began to say וְנֶאֱמָן אַתָּה לְהַחֲיוֹת מֵתִים “Yea, faithful art thou to waken the dead,” the dead would have risen. To prevent this God caused Gabriel in the form of a fiery bear to rush before them, and thus frightened them away. Upon investigation it was discovered that Elijah had informed R. Chaiiah of his power. For this, it is added, the former received a sound lashing. [36, cont.]


In Midrash Koheleth it is said that the Messiah will only come when all the souls that have been created shall have passed through the probation and consequences of life upon Earth[30]


Before the coming of the Messiah, says R. Jehuda in Sanhedrin, all the houses where the Law was wont to be studied, will be turned into brothels; the scribes will only use their wisdom for the misinterpretation of God’s Word; the god-fearing, if any remain will be despised, and the shamelessness of men will be even like unto that of dogs. R. Nehorai says that before the Messiah’s coming all natural [37] order will be subverted. The old will arise before the young, and allow themselves to be scolded by them, daughters will arise against their mothers, sons against their fathers. Men will bear upon their open features, the stamp of canine impudence. R. Nehemias adds that the vine will flourish, yet wine will be very dear, and that the rich will turn to freethinking, “and no one shall there be to put a check to this condition of things.”


Although the Talmud forbids conjectures regarding the time of the Messiah’s coming yet countless ones have and are being made. R. Yehudah claimed to have received it orally from Elijah, that the Messiah would come at the end of eighty-five years, i.e. 4250 A.M. [AD 490] [38] R. Eliezer teaches that in the last days, the Turks will wage three wars against Rome — Rome being a synonym for Christendom — in the third of which, Rome will be burned. Then will the Messiah arrive in that city, witness the fall of both Christians and Turks, and depart unheeded, to the Holy Land. As late as the last Russo-Turkish War [1877-1878], there were not a few Jews who believed that it immediately preceded the coming of the Messiah.


Ten terrible events will presage the Messiah’s coming: 1) Three masters in wickedness will appear, who will so blind and misled men, that not only all the gentiles, but also many Jews will cease to believe in the Messiah. The friends of religion and truth will hide in caverns and chasms, and the world will be without defenders of truth and righteousness. Israel will for a long time con[39]tinue without princes and kings, without sacrifice and altar. The gates of heaven will be closed so that men shall be without sustenence: all industry will cease.


2) God will cause the sun to approach so near the Earth that fevers and pests will arise, which shall cause thousands upon thousands to fall each day; but for the Jews he will prepare a healing balsam, and thus fulfil the prophecy of Malechi (4, 2): But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness appear with healing in his wing.


3) God will cause a dew of blood to fall, which shall be as deadly poison unto heathens and those that do not await the Messiah, but which will leave all good Israelites uninjured. This dew will cover the earth for three days, so that it will look bloody. (Joel 2.30. ג.ג)
4) Then God will send a healing dew upon the Earth, which shall cure [40] the half-believing (בֵּינוּנִים), who shall have been almost poisoned and with the bloody dew. This will fulfill the prophecy of Hosea (14, 6.): I will be as dew unto Israel.

5) The world will be covered with darkness for thirty days (Joel. 2, 80). Then the sun will recover its former brilliancy. All nations will then recognize that these tokens have been for Israel, and will be ashamed and terrified, so that many will become Jews in secret.

6) God will bring it about that the wicked empire of Edon, i.e. Christianity shall spread over the whole Earth. At Rome a king shall arise, who for nine months will rule the Earth. He will oppress Israel to the utmost. After these nine months shall have passed, the Messiah, son of Joseph (מְשִׁיחַ בֶּן יוֹסֵף) the forerunner and vicar of the Messiah, [41] son of David — whom, by the way, Abarbanel identifies with the Antichrist —, bearing the name of Nehemiah ben Kushiel will appear, and gather the tribes of Ephraim, Manaase, Benjamin, and a part of the tribe of Gad. As soon as the remaining Jews shall hear of this they will all hasten to the camp of the Messiah. He will offer battle to the king of Edon, conquer and slay him; he will devastate the Roman Empire, and finally depart for Jerusalem, with much booty, among which will be the vessels of the Temple, concealed in the palace of the emperor Julian; he will slay the inhabitants of all the lands between Damascus and Ascalon, and will make peace with king of Egypt only.


7) As the fruit of unnatural embrace of a marble statue, made through [42] God’s might, and not by human hands, representing a maiden of surpassing beauty — Venus de Medici? —  a double-headed, flaming-haired, green-footed monster, in human shape, shall be born, who will be twelve ells [cubits] long and as many broad. This is the Armillan, the real Antichrist, who will proclaim himself as Messiah, nay as God himself, to the Edomites (Chritians). All will believe him, and crown him king. After conquering many lands he will have the New Testament brought before him, and speak thus: This law which I have given you is the truth; I am your savior, believe on me! Then will he send for Nehemiah ben Kushiel, and demand like homage from him; but he will come with thirty thousand valiant Ephraimites, and [43] read to him the commandment; I am the Lord, thy God, thou shalt have no other Gods before me. But as Armillan will jeer at him, the Messiah will offer battle, in which more than two-hundred thousand Edomites will perish. There Armillus will concentrate all his troops, and retreat to the Vale of Extermination (עֵמֶק הֶחָרֽוּץ Joel 3, 14). Here Armillus will put the Jews to flight, and slay the Messiah. His death will remain unknown for the archangels will take his body up, and bury it with the patriarchs. The Jews will then suffer terribly, while not only Armillus, but the archangel Michael also, will persecute them, in order to purify them, and lessen their number. (Dan. 12, 1). The Jew just will then [44] hide in the wilderness and await the salvation of Israel. The dispirited will say: Is this the salvation which we have so long awaited, is this the long expected Messiah, now dead like other men? We must feel ashamed that we ever let ourselves be betrayed into a belief him. Then hosts will depart from Israel.[31] But that is the time in which God will purify Israel, like gold and silver acc. Zach. 13, 9; Ezek. 20, 38 and Dan. 12, 10. They that remain will dwell for forty-five days in the wilderness of Judah, sustaining themselves with nettles and shrubs. Meanwhile Armillus will wage war against Egypt and turn towards Jerusalem.


The eight marvelous token will be the trumpet sound of the archangel Michael (Isa. 27, 13,[45] Zach 9, 14) to gather the lost Israelites. Michael will blow three blasts. After the first, the Messiah, son of David accompanied by Elias, will appear before the Israelites who shall have been languishing for forty-five days in the wilderness, and will console them. The same trumpet-blast will terrify the gentiles, knowing it well to be the herald of their downfall. Armillus, enraged at the effect of this blast, will once more start for Jerusalem to battle with the Messiah. The Lord will not, however, permit the Messiah to engage in the battle, but will say unto him “Sit at my right hand,” and to the Israelites he will say “Stand still, and witness the help of the Lord, which he is about to grant unto you [46] this day. God himself will battle, (Zach. 14, 8) and will cause a rain of fire and sulphur to descend upon his enemies (Ezek. 38, 22) Through such weapons, Armillus with his hosts, and all Edon shall perish.


The second blast of Gabriel’s trumpet will uncover all the graves about Jerusalem, and God will raise the dead. Popular belief has it that the Jews buried outside of the Holy Land will have to burrow their way through the Earth, to the Holy Land. The custom therefore, is yet prevalent of putting two forks into the grave which shall assist in burrowing. This also accounts for the anxiety of the Jew to die in the land of Israel, in consequence of which thousands of Jews yet flock to Palestine at the approach of old age. The Messiah son of Joseph will be awaked by the Messiah son of David himself.


At the third blast of the trumpet, [47] the Lord will gather the ten tribes out of the countries of Challah, Chabor, and Media (2 Kings 17, 6). From over the river Gosen unto Jerusalem, under the leadership of the sons of Moses. The host will be entirely surrounded with clouds of glory. God in person will be its guide and the rout of its march a Paradise.[32]


Then all the wicked shall be annihilated. The tempter, the accuser, and the destroyer, who are all one, shall perish. Hell as a place of punishment will cease to exist, and shall be changed unto Paradise. Jerusalem will be rebuilt.[33] The temple will be eighteen miles broad, and will be built of all sorts of precious stones. Three walls will surround it; one of silver; one of gold; and one of precious [48] stones resplendant with all the colours of the rainbow. Each wall will be six ells [cubits] in diameter, and surrounding these walls there shall be one of fire crowned with fourteen-hundred and eighty-eight towers. Between each pair of towers shall there be one hundred and twenty gates built of precious stones, and three thousand and two springs shall bubble forth from under the mountains on which the temple shall stand, Sinai, Carmel, Tabor, and Hermon. Jerusalem shall be four hundred [cubits] long and as many wide. Then shall the celestial temple, of which the temples of previous times were but imitations, be placed upon Earth.


When this shall have occurred, God, according to Midrash Tehillim, will make a ball for the righteous, at which He himself will dance with them. Then the just shall point at Him saying: [49] See this is our God, it is He in whom we have believed (Isa. 25. 9). A thousand times a thousand angels [34] shall stand by the righteous and play upon pipes, timbrels, and lyres, and thus God will open the first dance. Sun and Moon and stars shall place themselves about Him, and dance with Him around the tables. Then[35] the countenances of the just shall be joyful and like unto the heavens in brightness, and to the stars in brilliancy. No eye hath seen the happiness which awaits the just. They shall about the garden of Eden with the Shechinah. Then shall they enjoy the Leviathan;[36] and the wild ox (שׁוֹר הַבַּעֲר) which the Lord shall prepare for them.[50] They shall sit down at tables of carbuncle and precious stones, and refresh themselves with goblets of wine kept at the cool since “creation’s first six days.” “Each day the Lord will explain and comment upon a new portion of the Law, and the old shall then be understood. And may all this happen in our days, Amen!”


At the end of the sixth thousandth year since creation, i.e. six days of God, a thousand years being but as a day to him, this world shall be destroyed. Then shall there be a Sabbath of a thousand years, during which the just will be upheld by God about his throne of glory. Then creation shall begin again[37] Evil is to be no more, however. The rabbis are not as philosophical as Vergil, who give us a motive for action in the recreated world.[38]


[51] The reader will ask: “And are these fables and apologues really believed to-day?” Yes, and among the older generation of Jews with a tenacity and intensity that is difficult for us to imagine. The Jew of Russia, of Galicia, of the East lives his mental life, and compared to the gentiles about him, he does lead a mental life, in the future (עוֹלָם הַבַּא).


How long these beliefs will continue is hard to say. The last twenty-five years have been witnessing a movement among the Jews under Russian domination due to contact with Western civilization and ideas, which may well be called a Hebrew renaissance. The tendency of the movement is towards rationalism in religion and nationalism in politics. Among the rising generation are thousands of youth brought up on the works of Mapu, Schulmann, and Smolensky, who burn with passionate longing for a Jewish national [52] existence, based upon positivistic principles. As a direct consequence, all the superstitions, no matter how hoary, all the legends, all the mythology, so plentiful among them, is fast dying, and may even before the next century be practically extinct.


To the student of comparative mythology, folk-lore, and legends, the Russian Jew may yet yield a rich harvest, provided it be begun early enough.

Bernhard Berenson.

[1] Curiously enough the aim and purpose of existence implied in Jewish theology, is identical with that of modern scientific ethics “the survival of the species”. A Jew who lives to see his great-great-grandchildren is ipso facto assured of paradise.



[2] ×–והר פרשׁת נשׁא



[3] O’Donavan In his “Merve Oasis” describes the same costumes, with the same alleged raison d’être, as existing among the Sekke-Surkomans.



[4] ×¢×¥ חיים, סדר הַוִּידוּי



[5] ×¡×¤×“ דאשׁית חכמה



[6] He who neglects to observe any of the six hundred and thirteen precepts, such as were possible for him to observe is doomed to undergo transmigration (once or more than once) till he has actually observed all he neglected to do in a former state.” KilzÅ«r Sh’lu, p. 6, col. 2.



[7] Although I am warranted in bringing transmigration in as part of a system, yet it fits in but ill, and in the minds of the believers exists, of course, in a chaotic unanalyzed state. Transmigration has never been so thoroughly engrafted on a previously existing system of rewards and punishments,that the joint does not show badly. Generally it is no more than an accretion, as it is here, as well as in Empedocles, in Plato (cf. Republic 616-621), and in Vergil (cf. Aeneid VI).



[8] Yalkut Rubeni, nos. 1, 8, 61, 63



[9] Nishmath Chaiim, chap. 13, no. 14.



[10] Enieh Hammelech, ed. 1652 Amsterdam, fol. 153. col. 2



[11] ibid.



[12] Kitzur Sh’lu Fol. 21, col. 2.



[13] Caphtor Upherach Fol. 51, col 2.



[14] Yalkut Chadash, Fol. 20; col. 4, vs 9. See p. 11, above.



[15] The son, of course, assumes that the parent is of the most just, who go to purgatory at once. See p. 9, above.



[16] cf. Rabbi Akiva’s meeting with a man from hell (Midrash Hassareth Hadibroth). Same of Jochannan ben Zachai (Tana d’by Eliyahu). Also Kitzur Sh’lu. Fol. 11, col. 2.



[17] Eirubhin [?] fol. 19, col. 1)



[18] Cf. the now popularized Omar Khayam, the quatrain beginning:

“And when the angel of the darker drink.”



[19] The reader will doubtless pardon me for presuming to remind him that the legend of Lilith has found beautiful form in the rich verse, and mildly melancholic refrain of Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s “Eden Bower.”



[20] Cf. Matthew Arnold’s “St Brandan”



[21] ×¡×¤×¨ הגלגולים. See Robert Bromings “the glossa of Theotypas” in “A Death in the Desert”



[22] ×’יטין Fol. 56, col. 2



[23] ×¡× ×”דרין



[24] In the present Jewish vernacular the only words signifying cemetery are “less ‘alone’” בֵּית עוֹלָם and beschaiim בֵּית חַיִּים. With the latter, compare the similarity in signification and application of the Egyptian Akk-ta.



[25] Kolbo, “Legend of Rabbi Joshuah ben Levi”



[26] Yalkut Shinioni



[27] Very much the same legend is related by the Pseudocallisthenes, in his “Letters of Alexander the Great to his Mother,” and in Pfaffe Lamprechts’ “Alexanders Lief,” but the date of the former even would lead us to believe that the legend was taken from the Talmud.



[28] Derech Eress Seuta.



[29] The direct opposite would be implied in the name.



[30] vide supra.



[31] Cf. with the account of Armillan, the “Ludus paschalis de adventu et interitu Antichristi” ascribed to Wernher of Tegernsee



[32] The Jews of Poland, Little Russia, and Galicia believe that when the Messiah comes two bridges will be made leading from their homes to Palestine: One shall be of iron upon which the gentiles will attempt to cross, and perish. The other, though of glass will bear the Jews safely upon it in their journey. Here again rabbinical beliefs seem to have anticipated modern science.



[33] ×§Ö·×› הַיָשָׁר פרק קב



[34] ×¡×¤×¨, עַכֹרַת הַקֹּדֶשׁ



[35] ×Ö·×§Ö°×“ַּמוּת



[36] The curious may find many interesting comparisons between the Leviathan as he is described by the Jews of northern and central Europe, and Jörmungand of Norse mythology.



[37] Cf. Origen. De Princ. III, 5, 3. Nos vero consequenter respondebimus et dicentes, quoniam non tunc premum cum visibilem istum mundum fecit, coepit operari, sed sicut post corruptionem huius erit alius mundus, ita antequam hic esset, fuisse alios credimus



[38] Ecloga IV, 31-36.