Most of the Jewish and general world is fuming over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea. But some ultra-Orthodox Jews are positively delighted by it.
This week, Grand Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, the vice president of Israel’s Rabbinical Court and a descendant of the revered rabbi known as the Vilna Gaon (aka “Genius of Vilnius”), announced to his disciples that Putin’s actions are a sure sign that the Messiah is on his way.
Apparently, Shternbuch heard this secret prediction from Rabbi Yitzchak Chever, who heard it from Rabbi Chaim of Volozhyn, who heard it from the Vilna Gaon himself, who said shortly before his death:
When you hear that the Russians have captured the city of Crimea, you should know that the times of the Messiah have started, that his steps are being heard. And when you hear that the Russians have reached the city of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), you should put on your Shabbat clothes and don’t take them off, because it means that the Messiah is about to come any minute.
Shternbuch’s pronouncement, which was reported this weekend in the ultra-Orthodox press in Israel, has some Haredi Jews working themselves into a messianic frenzy. A few, like this rabbi, are even going so far as to say that “we owe a note of thanks” to Putin for hastening the coming of the Messiah.
Unfortunately, there’s a problem with Shternbuch’s revelation — aside from the glaring moral one, that is. As blogger Shmarya Rosenberg has pointed out, Russia actually invaded Crimea during the Vilna Gaon’s own lifetime, and yet the Messiah failed to materialize:
In 1783, during the Vilna Gaon’s own lifetime (1720-1797), the Russian Empire invaded and annexed Crimea from the Tatar-governed Khanate of Crimea. So Shternbuch’s “deep secret” makes little sense.
Of course, the other problem with Shternbuch’s prediction is this: It suggests the Russian takeover of Crimea is just a precursor to the Russian takeover of Istanbul. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan doesn’t seem to be shaking in his boots right now — so it seems the Messiah is still a good ways away.
Don’t put on those Shabbat clothes just yet.
Sigal Samuel is the former Opinion Editor at the Forward. When she’s not tackling race or identity politics, she’s hunting down her Indian Jewish family’s Kabbalistic secret society. Her novel THE MYSTICS OF MILE END tells the story of a dysfunctional family with a dangerous mystical obsession. Her writing has also appeared in The Daily Beast, The Rumpus, and BuzzFeed. Follow Sigal on Twitter.