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On the verse in parsha Noach (Genesis 7:11): "In the six-hundredth year in the life of Noah... all wellsprings of the great deep burst open, and the windows of heaven were opened..."

The Zohar (part I, 117a) interprets along prophetical lines:

In the 600th year of the 6th millennium [1840 CE] the upper gates of wisdom will be opened and also the wellsprings of wisdom below. This will prepare the world for the 7th millennium like a person prepares himself on Friday for Shabbat, as the sun begins to wane. So it will be here. There is a hint about this in the verse "In the six hundredth year of Noah's life …all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened" (Gen. 7:11).

The wellsprings of wisdom below is interpreted as the industrial revolution, which according to wikipedia broke out in the 1780s was not felt until 1830s or 1840s. We are still feeling the effects today with all the scientific revolutions that followed.

Many Chasidim want to interpret the "upper gates of wisdom" as referring to the rise of Chasidut, which started a bit before that time (the Tanya which is considered by Chabad to be the "the Written Torah of Hasidus" was published between 1797-1814. Chasidut brought many revolutionary interpretations such as that of the Tzimtzum) Historian Rabbi Berel Wein describes the Chasidic movement as "the greatest revolution that ever occurred within the parameters of traditional Judaism".

Assuming the Zohar is authentic and that its prediction is correct, is there an alternative interpretation of a great revolution in torah ("upper gates") wisdom around that time that has been fulfilled?

I am looking for an alternative interpretation since most religious Jews think a) the Zohar is an ultimate essential primary text, and b) Tanya is not an ultimate essential primary text. Those two premises can't hold given the interpretation presented above.

Please provide a source.

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Ray, why does it seem to me as though you are totally dismissing two possibilities you've raised? You need a third? –  Seth J Nov 12 '13 at 19:40
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@SethJ, one of the two he mentions is an interpretation of the "lower gates"; the only thing he's rejecting is the interpretation he mentions of the "upper gates". If you call it rejecting: he's seeking an alternative. –  msh210 Nov 12 '13 at 19:46
    
In light of @SethJ's question, it would seem that the question would be stronger if it included some insight into why an alternative to the Chassidut hypothesis is presumed to exist and/or sought. –  Isaac Moses Nov 12 '13 at 20:18
    
well, the Vilna Gaon put a cherem on chasidim for example, so he probably learned it differently –  ray Nov 12 '13 at 20:31
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@SethJ Most religious Jews think a) the Zohar is an ultimate essential primary text, and b) Tanya is not an ultimate essential primary text. Those two premises can't hold given the interpretation presented in the question. –  Double AA Nov 12 '13 at 20:56

2 Answers 2

See Aryeh Morgenstern's Hastening Redemption which discusses the messianic agenda of the Vilna Gaon's student who immigrated to the Land of Israel in the early 19th century.

In Chapter 2, "Belief in 5600 (1840) As The Year of Redemption", Morgenstern provides two primary sources for the year 1840, the Zohar cited in your question and an opinion from Sanhedrin 99a. There, R' Dosa says that the days of Moshiach will be 400 years. Morgenstern explains, that since the world was to exist 6000 years, the messianic age had to being no later than 400 years earlier, which would be 5600, or 1840. See the book for a full treatment.

See also this biographical sketch of Judah Alkalai who also believed 1840 would be the year of redemption.

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interesting but does not really parallel the industrial revolution - which was a revolution in wisdom. –  ray Nov 12 '13 at 22:07
    
@ray Aren't you asking for explanations other than the industrial revolution and chassidus? And אמר רבי זירא שמע מינה אוירא דארץ ישראל מחכים (Bava Basra 158b), so this should fit the bill regarding wisdom. –  Fred Nov 12 '13 at 22:20
    
not first time jews lived in israel. but first time industrial revolution. –  ray Nov 12 '13 at 22:25
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@ray As you mentioned, much of the technology existed earlier, but it only proliferated in the 1840's. Likewise, aliya to Eretz Yisrael began to increase around then. –  Fred Nov 12 '13 at 22:27
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Ray, you've got a very good point here. The Zohar, at least on the surface, is dealing with wisdom and not the messianic age. But why take the Zohar superficially? Morgenstern demonstrates that the 1840 date was widely believed, and there were other proof-texts other than the Zohar and Sanhedrin 99a. It could be that this Zohar was included as a source text after the fact since it "dovetailed" so nicely with the prediction. Alternatively, we can understand the messianic age as being an age of wisdom: the משיח is supposed to be scholar, and אליהו will answer unresolved questions. –  Ephraim Nov 13 '13 at 7:01

Predictions are a Funny thing, especially when you allow a given year like 1840 to span a large amount of time.

The early half of the 1800s was a very "active" period in Jewish history, with many things greatly affecting Jewish life today.

During the era, was the formation of Modern Zionism. With the Students of the Vilna Gaon moving to Israel in the 1860s and the "First Alyiah" in the 1880s.

In 1836 R. Hirsh wrote his "19 letters" which had a huge impact in shaping how people viewed Judaism.

Exactly in 1840, Claude Montefiore, started "Liberal Judaism", an Anti-Zionist version of the "Reform Movement".

In 1832 the Ben Ish Chai was born.

In 1841, the First modern Jewish School was founded in Vilna, which criticized the Heder System, as well as opposed the Haskalah.

In 1838 the Chafetz Chayim, author of the Mishna Brura was born.

Basically, every system of Judaism Today, can lay claim to "their" Judaism making it's big world wide impact in 1840, if they really wanted to, assuming that they allow a wide range of years to be counted as "1840".

All dates taken from http://www.jewishhistory.org.il/

Another ironic piece of history from 1840, is that in that year, Yehudah Aryeh Mi-modena's work Ari Nohem was first published (though it had been written ~300 years earlier) In Ari Nohem, Yehudah Aryeh Mi'Modena "demonstrates that the "Bible of the Kabbalists" (the Zohar) was a modern composition."

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Reform Judaism back then was anti-zionist –  Shmuel Brin Jan 5 at 2:19
    
The Pittsburgh platform was in 1885, before then there was both nationalist and antinatuonalist versions of reform Judaism. In 1844 there was even a joint reform and orthodox Rabbi conference –  avi Jan 5 at 6:32

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