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According to Genesis 49:10, when Yaakov was at his deathbed, he called in his sons and desired to bless them. At Judah's turn, his father said that the scepter should not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh should come; and to him should the gathering of the people be. What is the meaning of Shiloh here in this prophecy?

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Rash"i, agreeing with אונקלוס, says it refers to משיח.

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One might add that while Onkelos maintains that it refers to mashiach, the עד does not mean that it will stay until mashiach's arrival at which point it will depart (as implied in the question). Rather, it won't depart starting from mashiach's arrival. See here: parsha.blogspot.com/2010/01/yetiv-on-ad-ki-yavo-shilo.html – josh waxman Oct 26 '11 at 14:07
The Rama (CM 67:1) seems to think this way as well. – Double AA Dec 28 '12 at 0:14
Rashi is also following the opinion of the Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 99:8). – Bruce James Dec 31 '12 at 17:30

A sampling of other explanations

  • It refers to Achiyah of Shiloh (as in Ben's answer), the prophet who announced to Yeravam that Hashem was giving him rulership over ten of the tribes. (Baal Haturim, first explanation)

    • A variation on this: Shiloh here stands in for the nearby city of Shechem, where the secession of the Ten Tribes took place. (Rashbam; Daas Zekeinim, third explanation)

    • Another variation: it refers to the Mishkan (Sanctuary) of Shiloh, which was destroyed shortly before David was chosen as king (and indeed, these events are associated together in Ps. 78:60ff). According to this, the meaning of the verse is: "The kingship will not depart from Yehudah... [but this kingship will not begin] until Shiloh" (Daas Zekeinim, first explanation); or that יסור means "arrive," so "the kingship will not arrive to Yehudah... until Shiloh" (Rabbeinu Bechayei).

  • It's speaking of Moshe Rabbeinu, since the numerical value of שילה is the same as that of משה. The verse would then mean that Moshe's leadership will mark a (temporary) suspension of Yehudah's primacy (Rabbeinu Bechayei), or exactly the opposite - that Yehudah's rise to greatness will begin in his times - specifically, when they were the first to jump into the Red Sea out of total trust in Hashem (Baal Haturim, second explanation).

Then there are the various detailed explanations that do refer שילה to Moshiach (as WAF noted), on various grounds. (According to all of them, the prophecy means not that Moshiach's kingship will mark the end of Yehudah's primacy, but on the contrary - that this will be its climax.)

  • It comes from the word שלו - the one to whom kingship belongs. Or, alternately, from שי לו - the one to whom presents will be brought. (Rashi)

  • It's from שלה, "to give birth," or שליה, "amniotic sac." So it means "the son, or descendant, of Yehudah." (Ramban; Ibn Ezra; Rabbeinu Bechayei - who also adds, possibly with a view to countering non-Jewish distortions of this verse, that the Torah is stressing that Moshiach is a regular human being, born of a woman exactly like everyone else.)

  • The two words יבא שילה have the same numerical value as משיח. (Baal Haturim)

  • It's from שלום, "peace," and also שולים, "hems" (the ends or lowest parts of a garment), so it means "the final and lasting peace" of history (Sforno).

    • Variation on this: it's from שולים only, and means "[Moshiach will come, unexpectedly,] when the Jewish People are at their lowest ebb" (R' S.R. Hirsch).
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Alex, you mention above that "the Torah stresses that Moshiach will be a regular human being, born of a woman exactly like everyone else." Would you be so kind as to quote where in the Torah it stresses that revelation? I will be grateful for that. – Ben Masada Dec 16 '10 at 23:56
This is Rabbeinu Bechayei's explanation of why the Torah chooses the name Shiloh for Moshiach. In other words, it's implicit in the text, not necessarily spelled out in so many words. (In general, much of what we know about Moshiach is primarily described in the Oral Torah, and only hinted at in Biblical verses.) – Alex Dec 17 '10 at 9:48
See what I mean? First, you claim that the Torah stresses that the Moshiach will be a regular human being, born of a woman exactly like eveyone else. Now, I get that it is just hinted at in Biblical verses. Okay, I'll settle for that one. Where in Biblical verses is the Moschiach hinted at as an individual regular human being, born of a woman exactly like everyone else? If you don't know, just tell me so. – Ben Masada Dec 17 '10 at 16:02
I have claimed nothing. Rabbeinu Bechayei, whose knowledge of Torah - needless to say - far exceeds mine, is stating that this is implied or hinted at in this verse by the choice of the word Shiloh rather than another one, since it is a basic principle of Judaism that every word of the Torah's language is carefully chosen to convey important ideas. Maybe you think it's good enough to read on the surface; this attitude bespeaks gross disrespect for the Divine words, not to mention intellectual laziness. – Alex Dec 19 '10 at 6:32
I am sorry Alex, and please don't take this as an ad hominem but I find your answers embarrassing. – Ben Masada Jan 27 '11 at 15:34

Besides the other answers given here, I would add the following (which I develop at greater length here):

The ketiv of the word is שילה, Sheilah, who was Yehuda's youngest son. The entire pasuk is a coded reference to the incident with Yehuda and Tamar. Recall that he gave Tamar his staff, his signet ring, and his identifying cord, as surety for payment. And that this only came about because he held back his youngest, Sheilah.

לֹא-יָסוּר שֵׁבֶט מִיהוּדָה: the staff shall not depart from Yehuda וּמְחֹקֵק: and his engraved signet ring מִבֵּין רַגְלָיו: from between his legs עַד: until he said כִּי-יָבֹא שִׁילֹה: that Sheilah would eventually come.

Note that other parts of Yaakov's blessing are also coded references to incidents of the shevatim. For instance, גּוּר אַרְיֵה יְהוּדָה, מִטֶּרֶף בְּנִי עָלִיתָ as a reference to the sale of Yosef; and כִּי עָלִיתָ מִשְׁכְּבֵי אָבִיךָ; אָז חִלַּלְתָּ, יְצוּעִי עָלָה as Reuven and Bilhah; and כִּי בְאַפָּם הָרְגוּ אִישׁ, וּבִרְצֹנָם עִקְּרוּ-שׁוֹר as a reference to Shimon and Levi wiping out Shechem.

As for the contentions with Christian interpretations of the verse, see here.

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Sounds good. Personally though, I'm not up to disagreeing with rishonim. – msh210 Oct 26 '11 at 17:12
@msh210 Who said he's disagreeing? Any given pasuk can/does have multiple meanings. related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/17249/759 – Double AA Sep 9 '12 at 22:47
@DoubleAA, sure, but offering a novel one which doesn't fit in with rishonim's explanations is something that I'm not up to (and that I'd call "disagreeing", unable at the moment to think of a better term for it). – msh210 Sep 10 '12 at 4:43
@msh210 when it comes to aggadic passages, even tanaaim are contended with! – Baby Seal Oct 13 '14 at 21:06
@msh210 judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/17249/… – Baby Seal Oct 13 '14 at 21:08

Well, since I haven't had the responses I expected, here is my contribution in terms of what I think about the prophecy:

Shiloh - Genesis 49:10

When Jacob thought he was about to die, he invited all his sons unto himself at his deathbed for the last blessings. At the turn of Judah, Jacob said that the scepter would not depart from his Tribe until Shiloh came.

Christians in general assume that's a prophecy about Jesus, and I have researched about the matter, and happened to have found out that's not true.

The Tribe of Judah had grown to become the leader over all the other Tribes, and kept the monopoly to exert hegemony over them all. That's the scepter that would not depart from Judah till Shiloh came.

After the death of Solomon, the Prophet Ahijah from Shiloh took his coat and went out to meet Jeroboam, who was the leader of forced labor among the Northern Tribes. As the Prophet met Jeroboam, he tore his coat in twelve parts and gave ten to Jeroboam, saying that God had decided to split the Tribes in two Kingdoms, and that ten of those Tribes would be governed by Jeroboam. That's when Shiloh came, and Judah lost the hegemony over ten of the Tribes. (I Kings 11:29-32) It's important to understand that Shiloh is not the Prophet who came from his home city called Shiloh, but the split between the Tribes and the secession of the Ten Tribes. That's what Isaiah the Prophet considered the worst thing ever to happen in the History of United Israel until the Ten Tribes were removed from existence. (Isa. 7:17)

Rehoboam, the King who had succeeded Solomon his father did not understand and started preparing the Country for civil war when Shemaiah, the man of God dissuaded him by making him understand that Shiloh had come. He got it and recalled the Army. (I Kings 12:21-24)

Now, kindly share with me your comments.

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Fair enough - there are reliable sources for such an explanation (as noted in my answer). – Alex Dec 14 '10 at 21:30
Sorry Alex, I missed your answer. – Ben Masada Jan 27 '11 at 15:25

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