What is Apocalyptic Eschatology?

The term "apocalyptic" describes an element within a worldview that "reveals" a previously hidden facet of a divine plan.

In classical Judaism and Christianity this often describes an "eschatology" - that is a story of the end of time as we know it.

So, "apocalyptic eschatology" is not just a multi-syllabic phrase that you will want to know in order to impress people at cocktail parties. It describes a set piece of beliefs that speaks about revealing to the select few the details of the impending end of time, the end of civilization as we know it, and the initiation of a new more perfect order.

Its story goes that for society to end and be transformed there needs to be first a global struggle of the forces of good against the powers of evil. We will know the time is upon us by the signs of changing events which are revealed to the select.

More often than not, the community in the throes of an episode of apocalyptic eschatology will produce an increase in social conflict growing out of a paranoia, will engender a phase of hyperactive preaching offset by political passivity, and will experience a growing sense of the ominous as the group edges towards the expected dramatic end of time.

Our concern in the past has been to explore some of the apocalyptic moods and motivations that we identified in recent phases of Orthodox Judaism.

We originally wrote an essay in 1987 to analyze some of the characteristics that we started to see more pronounced within Orthodox Judaism at that time. We posted this in 2005 with revisions that we made in 1994, taking into account Rabbi Schachter's responsum regarding women's prayer groups.

In this assessment we didn't consider the violence committed by Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein, important events with religious apocalyptic contexts.

We have taught a university course several times called, "War and Peace in Judaism, Christianity and Islam" where we did take into account those traumas and other relevant data.

Here is the opening of my essay:
Fundamentalist spokesmen in Orthodox Judaism of late have grown more vocal and militant. Recent protests, proclamations, and actions of Orthodox Jews have not just risen in intensity. Rather a substantive transformation has overtaken a segment of the Jewish community. It does not suffice to categorize Orthodox groups as "reversionary" "ultra" or "right-wing". We must explain what generative conception distinguishes one group claiming to be Orthodox observers of Torah and mitzvos (commandments), true to the ideals of halakhah (Jewish law), and loyal to their rabbinic figures of authority, from another group claiming the same traits, but appearing to form its social life and defend its ultimate goals in recognizably different manners. Some forms of fundamentalist Orthodoxy have become apocalyptic styles of Judaism. This form of Judaism has coherent world views and particular ways of life that thrive on conflict, that live on the margins of society and that employ predictable modes of discourse.


Anonymous said...

I mean this in the nicest possible way: your article is as inane as it is sad. You come off sounding like an overeducated pseudo-intellectual who, like a petulant child, responds to things he doesn't like by calling them names (in this case, "Apocalyptic Judaism").
Just because you find your hashkafa increasingly marginalized among serious benei Torah and the Rabbinic elite does not mean that those who oppose you are some sort of demon-loving war-mongers. R. Schachter paskened according to the best of his considerable abilities, in accordance with his best hashkafic and halakhic lights. And contrary to what you imply, teshuvot have never read like academic legal discourses, and have often veered into polemic. The reason is simple: for toshavei Beis Hamedrash (the study halls of those bastions of closeminded obscurantism- yeshivot), Torah and Halakha are not simply sets of laws whose fine points form the basis of interesting academic discussions. They are the living expression of Retzon Hashem; not matters to be treated lightly, or with cold equanimity.

The sooner you realize this, the better off you'll be.

By the way, what do you think Rav Lichtenstein would think of your article?

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Thanks for your feedback and for confirming the thesis of the article.