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In Sanhedrin 99a, we find the phrase אין להם משיח לישראל שכבר אכלוהו בימי חזקיה.

ר' הילל אומר אין להם משיח לישראל שכבר אכלוהו בימי חזקיה אמר רב יוסף שרא ליה מריה לרבי הילל חזקיה אימת הוה בבית ראשון ואילו זכריה קא מתנבי בבית שני ואמר (זכריה ט) גילי מאד בת ציון הריעי בת ירושלים הנה מלכך יבא לך צדיק ונושע הוא עני ורוכב על חמור ועל עיר בן אתונות

What is the sense of אכלוהו here, and is it (i.e., אכל) used elsewhere (in the same sense) in any contemporary Jewish writings or even in the Tanakh?

I know אכל typically means "to eat," but that doesn't seem to be the sense the author (ר' הילל) used it in that passage (since there are no extant accounts testifying that Hezekiah was ever literally eaten by his peers).

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2 Answers 2

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To the first point: "Achluhu" means, consumed rather than merely eaten. In this context it means that the Moshiach was consumed, used up, in the days of Chizkiyahu.

To the second: One other example is Shemot 24:17 - וּמַרְאֵה כְּבוֹד יְהוָה, כְּאֵשׁ אֹכֶלֶת בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר, לְעֵינֵי, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. The term eish ochelet comes from the same root word achilah, but refers to a consuming fire rather than an eating fire.

If you are still worried about R' Hillel seeming heretical, see this post by R' Gil Student that sheds some light on your aforementioned passage:

http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2010/06/was-rabbi-hillel-heretic.html

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This means that all of the prophecies concerning Mashiach and how great things will be in his generation were already 'consumed' in the time of Chizkiyahu; that those prophecies were already used up and enjoyed. Examples abound (see this dictionary which gives 'use up' as a definition for אכל), many involving fire's consumption: see Shemot 3:2 וְהִנֵּה הַסְּנֶה בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ וְהַסְּנֶה אֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּל and Shemot 24:17 וּמַרְאֵה כְּבוֹד יְהוָה, כְּאֵשׁ אֹכֶלֶת בְּרֹאשׁ הָהָר לְעֵינֵי, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

The implication is that there will therefore not be a future Mashiach, because after all, you can't eat your Mashiach and have it too. However, there are alternative interpretations. Rashi and Yad Ramah (there) say that Hillel believed in an era of redemption but that it wouldn't be led by a particular person. Sefer HaIkarrim (1:1) mentions an opinion that R. Hillel still believed that Mashiach would come, but that he knew that based on other verses, or as the Chasam Sofer (Teshuva Y.D. II no. 356) insists, he still believed in the Mashiach because of a tradition, but not because of any particular prophecies. Either, way, as both of those sources point out, it would be prohibited for someone to believe that today.

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