During the Cold War, plenty of people were aware (I think?) that detonating enough nuclear bombs could lead to human extinction. Did any rabbis address whether the belief that Moshiach will come mean that a believing Jew is sure there will be no nuclear extinction (or something to that effect)?

(Rabbi J.D. Bleich in Tradition Fall 1984 says that because the Gemara says a king would not be punished for killing up to one sixth the world's population in war, that means a nuclear war killing more than that would be prohibited. But he's not addressing the question -- "does our faith claim there will not be nuclear extinction?")

  • 4
    ואף גם זאת בהיותם בארץ איביהם לא מאסתים ולא געלתים לכלתם להפר בריתי אתם כי אני יהוה אלהיהם. Is God a rabbi?
    – Double AA
    Nov 25 '18 at 1:20
  • This is just speculation but I would imagine many Orthodox Jews believed that the nuclear age might be evidence of the coming of Moshiach
    – JJLL
    Nov 25 '18 at 1:39
  • Also addressing the ethics but not the theology of nuclear war: '"RED OR DEAD?": An Attempt at Formulating a Jewish Attitude', by Maurice Lamm, Immanuel Jakobovits and Michael Wyschogrod, in Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought Vol. 4, No. 2 (SPRING 1962), pp. 165-209 (45 pages), available online with free registration at JSTOR
    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 26 '18 at 3:57

In a public address by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe z"l (circa 1981), at which I was present, he told the crowd, that he can assure them that there will never be nuclear extinction.

He explained, that he is not a prophet, but he can still state so with the utmost confidence.

That is because according to Jewish thought, throughout the generations, there is a constant battle between "good" and "bad". However ultimately, "good" will triumph, and the Messianic era will be ushered in.

The scenario of nuclear extinction, he posited, would mean that "bad" has triumphed, and the Messianic prophecies would never be fulfilled. Theologically, that is impossible, he concluded.

  • Were you present for this address? If so, please edit to make this clear. If not, please edit to make it clear how you know what R' Wolbe said at this address. Any additional information about the venue, context, etc. would be nice, too.
    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 26 '18 at 16:56
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    I was present at the address, and heard it from him personally. I edited the answer accordingly. IMHO the venue and context is immaterial. Those familiar with his teachings, might be able to point to someplace in his writings, where he might have mentioned the same idea. The truth is, that the main point of my answer is the message, not the messenger. Do you disagree with the message? Nov 28 '18 at 14:56
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    @IsraelReader no the main part of the answer is the messenger since the question asked if any rabbis did so. If he asked "is full extinction possible" the main point would be the message.
    – Double AA
    Nov 28 '18 at 14:57
  • @IsraelReader context is very often important to understand the full meaning of a statement, especially when the statement is paraphrased from memory. Whether I agree with the message or not is certainly immaterial.
    – Isaac Moses
    Nov 28 '18 at 14:59

The Vilna Gaon (quoted by Dayan Abramsky) famously said: "the war of Gog and Magog will last 12 minutes. A third of the world will die, a third will suffer from plague and a third will survive."

Although it is purely conjecture, many believe that Nuclear Warfare is the likely interpretation of the Gaon's 'prophecy'.

  • 2
    Thank you, but that's not extinction.
    – Shalom
    Nov 25 '18 at 12:21
  • Gd forbid. (Who are "many"? @chortkov2 )
    – SAH
    Nov 25 '18 at 17:19
  • With apologies to the Vilna Gaon (ha, ha), isn't the War of Gog and Magog supposed to last 7 years? ...There should be no more war.
    – SAH
    Nov 25 '18 at 17:25

The below quotations describe certain conditions that may need to apply in order for the messiah to come. They both speak of destruction, and that it has to be possible (see end). But the presumption is that at such a time, the messiah will arrive, with things not having been destroyed, obviously.

Pasikta Rabati 1:

אין מלך המשיח בא אלא בדור שפניו של כלב רבי אלעזר אומר בדור שראוי כלייה מלך המשיח בא

Shir Hashirim Rabbah 2:13:

אָמַר רַבִּי לֵוִי אֵין בֶּן דָּוִד בָּא אֶלָּא בְּדוֹר שֶׁפָּנָיו חֲצוּפוֹת וְחַיָּב כְּלָיָה.

Rabbi Kaplan (Handbook II 24:10) understands the above bolded phrases to be referring to a generation capable of destroying itself.

Thus, if you wanted fro extrapolate from this, yes the Rabbis were expecting such threats and possibilities. However, this seems to imply the imminent non-usage of such things.

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