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In what sense is belief in the eventual coming of Moshiach fundamental to Judaism? Rambam famously includes it as the twelfth in his list of iqarim, but why?

Considering the other iqarim, Judaism would be very different without them—non-existent or nonsensical without some. But it seems to me that if we had been promised something else in place of a restoration of the Davidic monarchy (a generic “Messianic Age”, or a Torah republic, etc.) there wouldn’t be much difference in Jewish practice or thought.

Note: I’m not asking whether belief in Moshiach is required; I’m assuming that since Moshiach is prophesied, belief in the eventual redemption and restoration of the Davidic monarchy is a necessary consequence of belief in nevu’ah. I’m also not asking why a melekh hamoshiach is needed (rather than the alternatives I mentioned above). I’m only asking why (or, in what sense) this belief is part of Judaism’s foundations rather than being one of its consequences.

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Do you want to know, "in what sense," or "why"? –  Seth J Nov 6 '13 at 16:45
@SethJ, I suspect the two are intertwined. If you can answer one without the other, I may accept that as well; but if your answer to one implies (but does not make explicit) the answer to the other, I will request a clarifying edit. –  J. C. Salomon Nov 6 '13 at 18:11
@SethJ, note the (very similar) answers I've received; they both address “why?” and “in what sense?”. –  J. C. Salomon Nov 6 '13 at 18:13
Maybe this question needs a Rambam tag added. I say this because R. Chasdai Crescas, Rashbatz and R. Yosef Albo, all relegate belief in the coming of the Mashi'ach from the core, to a second or third tier, with R. Albo being the most outspoken against including it in the Iqarim. –  Tamir Evan Dec 31 '13 at 8:32
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3 Answers

It is part of the fundamental principle of yichud Hashem - that not only is there only one God, but God alone has full control of the the world and His will reigns supreme. The Ramchal starts off klach pitchei chachma discussing this. (See also Daat Tevunot).

There he explains that everything in the world, (even what a human being does with free will such as sinning) must be authorized by God. Even when a person commits a sin, it must first be authorized by Him and He considers how it will fit in His divine plan of total rectification in the end. This rectification will be accomplished through either repentance or punishment.

Without this fundamental belief, the Ramchal explains, one can assert that the Jews sinned against God and "ruined" His plan, and are therefore eternally damned (as some Christians believe).

Hence, the belief in Messiah is the belief that history is not a chain of events going nowhere, but there is a plan for creation and that God has exclusive control of that plan and history is inevitably moving towards this goal.

(this last statement by an audio from Rabbi Uziel Milevsky zt'l)

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Wouldn't an ikkar about God's guidance be sufficient? Who needs mashiach? –  Double AA Oct 31 '13 at 7:08
without Moshiach there cannot be God's guidance since there's no divine plan. it's like driving a car without a destination plan. you cant call that guidance. guidance implies purpose - and Mashiach means the world is going towards a purpose. –  ray Oct 31 '13 at 10:07
There could be other things besides Mashiach which are the goal of the plan. You're answer is giving exactly the kind of reasoning the OP didn't want. He wanted to know why mashiach is important qua mashiach, not how it fits in to the other ikkarim. –  Double AA Oct 31 '13 at 13:48
what other things? Moshiach symbolizes that history is not a chain of events going nowhere. i.e. that there is a plan. letaken olam b'malchut shadai, which you say three times a day, in the alenu leshabeach prayer. - from Rabbi Milevsky. it is important because this is part of yichud Hashem as my answer clearly states. –  ray Oct 31 '13 at 18:32
books.google.com/… –  wfb Oct 31 '13 at 19:36
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The question assumes that the Ikkar is independent of a generic Messianic age. Rather the Ikkar is about it being fundamental to believe in a Messianic age. The Ikkar is:

1) That the complete fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvos is the purpose of the world. 2) That G-d will ultimately make that happen through Moshiach. 3) To want that to happen.

If someone doesn't think that about Torah and Mitzvos, then they are fundamentally missing something, not really different than someone fully keeping Torah and Mitzvos but not really believing reward and punishment - it takes it that they are of no real consequence.

This is from an article from Rabbi Yoel Kahn in one of his articles from the series called Macheves HaChassidus which was printed regularly in Kfar Chabad Magazine over 20 years ago. I have a binding of a bunch of those articles that was made as a special printing back in the day, and the one I'm referring to is titled למה האמונה בביאת המשיח היא יסוד בדת? on page 132. Part of this book was re-typeset and reprinted in 2001 and is available here, but that is only volume one, which does not cover this article. Perhaps a volume 2 exists or is coming out (the Rabbi is still alive and actively writing).

On the specific question of why Moshiach and not without a king, that is a detail, not unlike why believing in Chabakkuk is a necessary part of the Ikkarim, even though Chabakkuk on his own isn't fundamental to Judaism. Similarly, although Moshiach as a king of specified linage is a specific detail of Messianic Redemption, it is the general concept he is tied to that makes it fundamental.

That last paragraph is not in the article I mentioned. However, he does explore the difference between what is fundamental and what is not. What is not fundamental, if someone mistakenly believes something (in my example above, it would be that there was no such prophet as Chabakkuk) out of ignorance, that is just ignorance, not a lacking in his faith. But if he doesn't believe in an Ikkar, then his faith is bad. (If memory serves, that distinction is from Rav Chaim Brisker).

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Your first 4 paragraphs don't seem to have anything to do with the question. Moreover, none of the three things you claim are ikkarim are listed on the Rambam's list... –  Double AA Oct 31 '13 at 16:16
That last paragraph is an interesting answer, in that it basically lav davka's the Rambam. But a source would be nice. –  Double AA Oct 31 '13 at 16:16
No. The Ikkar (per Rambam) is that he will come. Not that his coming will be the complete fullfillment of the purpose of the world vis-a-vis Torah and Mitzvos. And 3 is not there. It just says you have to fully expect him to come. –  Double AA Oct 31 '13 at 16:31
@DoubleAA, 1) The question assumes that the Ikkar is independent of a generic Messianic age. The point is that it is not, that is part and parcel of the Ikkar. 2) It isn't a lav davka, rather a prat. Kind of like if someone asked why Chabakkuk is so important a prophet that he is part of the Ikkarim. The correct belief in the principle requires believing in the correct form of it, not an alternative belief that would also be fundamental, in harmony but just happens to be wrong. –  Yishai Oct 31 '13 at 18:45
@Yishai It's more like asking why there is (a hypothetical) 14th ikkar called "the prophecies of Chavakkuk are true" above and beyond the 6th ikkar. We have ikkarim already of believing in prophets and reward/punishment. Why do we need an ikkar about mashiach? We've been forced to believe in mashiach since the ikkar about believing prophets. –  Double AA Oct 31 '13 at 20:43
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Maimonides, in the introduction to his commentary to Tractate Sanhedrin Ch. 10 of the Mishnah, in the section on the twelfth foundation, alludes to the reason why the sixth foundation isn't enough to justify our awaiting the Messiah. he says (in Yosef Qafih's translation; see here):

‏ ... והוא להאמין ולאמת שיבא, ואין לומר שנתאחר, 'אם יתמהמה חכה לו', ואין לקבוע לו זמן, ולא לפרש את המקראות כדי להוציא מהן זמן בואו, וחכמים אומרים 'תפוח דעתן של מחשבי קצין'. ‏

In my translation:

... and that [= the foundation] is to believe and assert that he [i.e. the Messiah] will come, and not to say that he is overdue [in coming], 'though he tarry - wait for him' (Habakkuk 2:3), and not to set a time for him [to come by], or interpret the scriptures to get from them the time of his coming. Our sages said 'blasted be those who calculate the end' (Sanhedrin 97b).

The sixth foundation only requires accepting that the prophecies were yet to be fulfilled when they were given. If the prophecies related to the coming of the Messiah are believed to be fulfilled by a certain date (which "those who calculate the end" set for it), and that date passes without him coming, the validity and relevance of the Torah is brought into question.

Worse yet, Christians argue that the prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah were fulfilled by the founder of their religion, supplanting parts the Torah with their system. the sixth foundation does not preclude the Messiah having already come, whereas the twelfth does.

The main point of the twelfth foundation is that the Messiah is still yet to come.

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What happens then when he does come? It's no longer a fundamental belief? –  Double AA Feb 3 at 15:52
@DoubleAA (1) That is a separate question. (2) I assume that, once he comes, it will transform into the "fundamental belief" that he is the Messiah. (3) Maimonides say at the end of the Mishneh Torah (Laws of Kings and Wars 12:8[5]) that in the Messianic Era all will be occupied with seeking knowledge of God, with the greatest scholars attaining it to the limits of human ability. In such a world, fundamental beliefs would be irrelevant. –  YYohanai Feb 4 at 7:40
1 and 3 are definitely wrong. 2 is interesting speculation; can you justify it somehow? –  Double AA Feb 4 at 14:39
I think we may be working under different premises here. lets take a step back. What's wrong with it (the coming of the Messiah) no longer being a "fundamental belief" once he does comes? (Your earlier question suggests there is a problem with that.) –  YYohanai Feb 5 at 7:51
Fundamental beliefs are such that without them you don't have the same religion. A judaism with 13 gods is not Judaism. So how could it be that a fundamental belief will stop being fundamental? –  Double AA Feb 6 at 6:39
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