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Sanhedrin 98a-b: Candidates for Messiah

The Gemara on today’s daf continues its discussion of mashi’aḥ – the Messiah. One of the questions that is dealt with is “What is his name?” Several possibilities are suggested in the Gemara –

In Rabbi Sheila’s study hall the suggestion was “Shiloh” (see Bereshit 49:10)

In Rabbi Yannai’s study hall the suggestion was “Yinnon” (see Tehillim 72:17)

In Rabbi Ḥanina’s study hall the suggestion was “Ḥanina” (see Yirmiyahu 16:13)

Another suggestion raised was that he is “Menaḥem ben Ḥizkiyya” (see Eikha 1:16).

Clearly all of these Sages were suggesting the names of their teachers as potential candidates to be the Messiah – something that we find regarding the names of other Sages in different midrashim, as well. This is, apparently, based on the continuation of the Gemara where it is taught that in every generation there are individuals who are worthy of being the Messiah, but because the time has not yet come he cannot be crowned as such. The students sitting in the various study halls each saw their own Rabbi as being the one most likely to play that role in that generation.

The Gra suggests that the names listed in the Gemara form an acrostic –

Menaḥem

Shiloh

Yinnon

anina

whose opening letters spell out “Mashi’aḥ.”

Rav Naḥman is quoted as saying that if the Messiah was someone who was living in his generation, then he – Rav Naḥman himself – would be the obvious candidate. The passage that he refers to in order to support his claim appears in Sefer Yirmiyahu (30:21) where we learn that it is someone already in a leadership position who will be the mashi’aḥ, and Rav Naḥman filled that role.

Even in later generations it was not uncommon to find Jewish leaders who hinted in their writings to the possibility that they were worthy of bringing the redemption, something that was, on occasion, taken very seriously by their students.


This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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