A. R. Abbahu was bereaved. One of his children had passed away from him. R. Jonah and R. Yose went up [to confront him]. When they called on him, out of reverence for him, they did not express to him a word of Torah. He said to them, "May the rabbis express a word of Torah."
B. They said to him, "Let our master teach us."
C. He said to them, "Now if in regard to the government below, in which there is no reliability, [but only] lying, deceit, favoritism, and bribe taking—
D. "which is here today and gone tomorrow—
E. "if concerning that government, it is said, And the relatives of the felon come and inquire after the welfare of the judges and of the witnesses, as if to say, 'We have nothing against you, for you judged honestly' [M. San. 6:9],
F. "in regard to the government above, in which there is reliability, but no lying, deceit, favoritism, or bribe taking—
G. "and which endures forever and to all eternity—
H. "all the more so are we obligated to accept upon ourselves the just decree [of that heavenly government]
I. And it says, "That the Lord . . . may show you mercy, and have compassion on you ..." (Deut. 13:17).
The heavenly government, revealed in the Torah, was embodied in this world by the figure of the sage. The meaning of the salvific doctrine just outlined becomes fully clear when we uncover the simple fact that the rule of heaven and the learning and authority of the rabbi on earth turned out to be identified with one another. It follows that salvation for Israel depended upon adherence to the sage and acceptance of his discipline. God's will in heaven and the sage's words on earth—both constituted Torah. And Israel would be saved through Torah, so the sage was the savior.
To conclude, let us ask Chrysostom and the framers of the Talmud of the Land of Israel to take up the same issue.
Will there be a Messiah for Israel?
Will the Messiah save the world, including Israel?
Sages: Yes, in the future.
Chrysostom: He already has.
And if we ask whether or not the parties to the dispute invoke the same facts, in the form of a shared corpus of texts, the answer is affirmative. The messianic texts of Isaiah and other passages, important to Christians, gain a distinctive reading on the part of sages as well. So the issue is shared, the probative facts a point of agreement. True, Chrysostom and the authors and framers of the Yerushalmi in no way confront the viewpoints of one another. But they do argue about the same matter and invoke the same considerations: Is the Messiah coming or has he come? Do we have now to keep the law or not? The linking of the Messiah to the keeping of the Torah joins the two sides in a single debate. To be sure, Chrysostom's framing of the messianic issue responds to concerns of the Church and the young presbyter's worry for its future. That is why the matter of the keeping of the law forms the centerpiece of his framing of the messianic question. But the issue of keeping the laws of the Torah then joins his version of the Messiah theme with that of sages. Again, everything we hear from sages turns inward, upon Israel. There is no explicit confrontation with the outside world: with the Christian emperor, with the figure of Christ enthroned. It is as if nothing has happened to demand attention. Yet the stress for sages is on the centrality of the keeping of the laws of the Torah in the messianic process. Keep the law and the Messiah will come. This forms an exact reply to Chrysostom's doctrine: do not keep the law, for the Messiah has come.
What follows is a simple fact. The formation by both Christian theologians and Judaic sages of their respective Messiah doctrines, their points of stress and concern, turn out to form a remarkably apt and appropriate response to precisely what has happened. Has Israel lost out in the messianic drama?
Chrysostom: Indeed so.
Sages: Not at all, Israel remains in command.
Do the events in Rome make a difference?
Chrysostom: All the difference in the world.
Sages: Not at all, Rome (merely) forms the counterpart to Israel, so that what happens now will play out the next to last act in the history of humanity.
Israel will take the heroic part in that final act by becoming, in all humility and submission to the Torah, all together and all at once, a society in the model of the sages' community even now: like God, in accord with the image of the Torah. The figure of Christ in the icons in the churches and the figure of the Torah in the persons of the sages in the streets truly formed mirror-images of one another, and each, in the eyes of the respective communities, really was in the image and after the likeness of God. So the argument was fairly joined.
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