Monday, August 04, 2008

Does The Gemara Predict That America Will Fall At the Hands Of Iran?

So it does, according to a quote taken out of context over at Dreaming Of Moshiach:

עתידה רומי ליפול ביד פרס

This quote from Yoma 10a purportedly means a nuclear strike by Iran on the US.

My problem with this is manifold. But just for starters, two points:

1) I do not accept the premise that the US is equal to Romi, which the gemara is talking about.

2) That is one opinion in the gemara. The other opinion, which she conveniently omits (or else was unaware of), is עתידה פרס שתפול ביד רומי -- that Persia (Iran) will fall in the hands of Rome (which she has equated with the United States). And looking at the gemara, it is a dispute. Why mention one position and not the other? Because this is what is being done in general -- interpreted disparate, highly selected quotes, out of context.

Let us try to learn through this gemara and attempt to get a sense of its peshat.

In Yoma 10a:
אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי אמר רבי עתידה רומי שתפול ביד פרס שנאמר (ירמיהו מט) לכן שמעו עצת ה' אשר יעץ [אל] אדום ומחשבותיו אשר חשב [אל] יושבי תימן אם לא יסחבום צעירי הצאן אם לא ישים עליהם נוהם
מתקיף לה רבה בר עולא מאי משמע דהאי צעירי הצאן פרס הוא דכתיב (דנייאל ח) האיל אשר ראית בעל הקרנים מלכי מדי ופרס ואימא יון דכתיב (דנייאל ח) והצפיר השעיר מלך יון
כי סליק רב חביבא בר סורמקי אמרה קמיה דההוא מרבנן אמר ליה מאן דלא ידע פרושי קראי מותיב תיובתא לרבי
מאי צעירי הצאן זוטרא דאחוהי
דתני רב יוסף תירס זה פרס

אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר רבי יוחנן משום ר' יהודה ברבי אלעאי עתידה רומי שתפול ביד פרס
קל וחומר ומה מקדש ראשון שבנאוהו בני שם והחריבוהו כשדיים נפלו כשדיים ביד פרסיים מקדש שני שבנאוהו פרסיים והחריבוהו רומיים אינו דין שיפלו רומיים ביד פרסיים
אמר רב עתידה פרס שתפול ביד רומי
אמרו ליה רב כהנא ורב אסי לרב בנויי ביד סתורי
אמר להו אין גזירת מלך היא
איכא דאמרי אמר [להו] אינהו נמי הא קא סתרי בי כנישתא
תניא נמי הכי עתידה פרס שתפול ביד רומי חדא דסתרי בי כנישתא ועוד גזירת מלך הוא שיפלו בונין ביד סותרין
דאמר רב יהודה אמר רב אין בן דוד בא עד שתפשוט מלכות רומי הרשעה בכל העולם כולו תשעה חדשים שנאמר (מיכה ג) לכן יתנם עד עת יולדה ילדה ויתר אחיו ישובון על בני ישראל

I am not going to take the time to translate here. But a rough summary. First, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi cited Rabbi {Yehuda HaNassi} that Rome will fall in the hands of Persia. And there is a proof from a pasuk. And then, Rabba bar bar Chana cites Rabbi Yochanan who cited Rabbi Yehuda beRabbi Illai. This is the plain Rabbi Yehuda we see in the Mishna. And he says the same thing, that Rome will fall in the hands of Persia. His proof is from a kal vachomer. If the first Temple was built by the sons of Shem and destroyed by the Kasdim, and the Kasdim then fell at the hands of Persia (namely, Belshatzar at the hands of Daryavesh the Mede and Koresh the Parthian), then the second Temple, which the Parthians built, if it was destroyed by Romans, then certainly the Romans should fall at the hands of the Parthians.

Perhaps a little bit of biography and history is relevant here. Rabbi Yehuda haNassi and Rabbi Yehuda beRabbi Illai lived in Israel, under Roman rule. And there was Roman oppression in those days. Indeed, Rabbi Yehuda beRabbi Illai received semicha during a time it was forbidden, and was forced to flee Hadrian's persecution (see Wikipedia). Roman rule was not so good, and besides, they destroyed the Beis HaMikdash.

In his days, there was indeed struggles between the Romans and the Persians. Here is a page at Wikipedia, dedicated to discussing Roman relations with the Parthians and Sassanids. To cite:
In the first century AD the balance of power shifted emphatically in favour of the Romans. A series of invasions repeatedly overran Mesopotamia and sacked the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon, made substantial territorial gains in northern Mesopotamia and benefited from the manipulation of frequent Parthian dynastic civil wars, which eventually undermined the Parthian state. Under Caracalla an interesting twist in Parthian relations occurred. After submitting a request to marry the daughter of Persian king Artabanus (potentially allowing an heir to assume control of both empires) Caracalla massacred the diplomatic party sent to arrange the marriage and attempted a Persian invasion in 216. This was eventually unsuccessful and the Persians soon retaliated, inflicting heavy losses on the Romans.
Rabbi Yehuda beRabbi Illai both were about the second century CE. But they were predicting an eventual Persian victory over the Romans.

The gemara continues with an opinion of Rav, that Persia would fall at the hands of Rome, rather than vice versa. And he gives reasons, and there is a brayta in accordance with this position. (Though a brayta would presumbly be earlier.) Rav lived in Bavel, and Bavel was under Persian rule. First it was the Parthians, but then the Sassanian dynasty took over from the Parthians. They were still Persians. This transition was just in the time of Rav and Shmuel.

To continue that Wikipedia article where we left off:
The replacement of the Parthian Empire by that of the Sassanids, which was more stable and effectively organised, shifted the balance of power against the Romans. Frequent Persian aggression during the third century placed Roman defences under severe strain, but the Romans were eventually successful in warding these off and avoiding any territorial losses. Indeed, they eventually made significant gains towards the end of the century, although these were reversed in the mid-fourth century. By that time, as Rome had become monotheistic like the Persians with their Zoroastrianism, conflicts attained the added religious dimension. It is in this format that the future of Roman-Persian relations would be played out over the remaining centuries, continuing into the Byzantine era. Neither side would wage an entirely victorious war against the other, and the alternation between hostilities and diplomacy would continue.
See also this Wikipedia article on Roman-Persian wars. We get to see who eventually won, or lost -- they both did:
The resources expended during the Roman–Persian Wars ultimately proved catastrophic for both empires. The prolonged and escalating warfare of the sixth and seventh centuries left them exhausted and vulnerable in the face of the sudden emergence and expansion of the Caliphate, whose forces invaded both empires only a few years after the end of the last Roman–Persian war. Benefiting from their weakened condition, the Arab Muslim armies swiftly conquered the entire Sassanid Empire and deprived the Eastern Roman Empire of its Near Eastern and North African territories.
Thus, perhaps we can say that Rabbi Yehudah BeRabbi Illai and Rav were correct, in a sense. Persia fell because of Rome, and Rome fell because of Persia. But perhaps that is a kvetch.

At any rate, when these statements were made in the gemara, there was a real Roman empire and a real Persian empire, and these were constantly clashing -- and so these statements had some reality and weight. It would be like declarations, during the Cold War, of a Russian victory or an American victory.

Applying these statements to modern times is tempting -- particularly because the end of the gemara cited ties in Rav's predicted Roman victory into a statement of Rav Yehuda citing Rav about the wicked Roman empire spread over the entire world, immediately before Mashiach.

However, I find it difficult to apply these statements to modern times. They were talking about a real Roman empire, which is now long gone. They were not equating Romi with the United States of America, a connection I find far-fetched and often based on the speculation into Torah Codes. And they were talking about a real Persian empire, not a dinky little country like Iran, that happens to be situated on ancient Persia.

Indeed, my guess is either that one or both of their predictions came to be a long, long time ago, or else they were both simply mistaken in their assessment and prediction. This was, after all, based a lot on sevara.

Plug: Check out my Rif Yomi blog.


thanbo said...

You seem to be spending a lot of time debunking statements on DreamingOfMoshiach. Why do you give them credence, that they're worthy of rebuttal, rather than ignoring them as cranks? Are they very popular?

joshwaxman said...

part of it is that some sites of people I know take them as non-cranks. and part of it is that they provide translations into English of a lot of the words of the "holy autistics," which many people treat as non-cranks. but part of it is that, as in cases like the above, it gives opportunity to try to develop an accurate understanding of the actual source.

but you are right. and I really should lay off them for a while.

Anonymous said...

If someone makes an accurate prediction once, then twice... then again... it's more than a coincidence.
Nava dreamt about the grave of Devorah HaNeviah, she then travelled to Israel, found the grave,with many documented miracles along the way.... and it has been verified by the Israel government and renovations are under way.
This really happened, it is documented, and I witnessed it via the internet (Nava blogged as she travelled to Israel etc).
yes her blog is very popular, simply because people want Moshiach and are desperately searching for someone who can give them the news.
So far Nava has been right about everything.
Just by the way.... the bees began to disappear from the world at the same time as Kever Devorah was discovered.... as we all know, Devorah means "bee".
I highly recommend Dreaming of Moshiach to inspire and give chizzuk to everyone who awaits Moshiach.
In the merit of all the hardworking Jewish bloggers giving encouragement to Am Yisrael.... Moshiach should come immediately, if not sooner.

joshwaxman said...

I have also been following her blog, and I do not believe that she has been making accurate predictions multiple times.

Rather, she makes a whole lot of predictions, many of them really off the wall. And many of them do not come true. For example, her prediction of a nuclear war in 2006. However, if you make lots and lots of predictions, just by random chance, and the "law of large numbers," one or two of them will come true. Especially if you allow for rather "charitable" interpretations of events in order to claim that they are fulfilled. She is not a navi. She is perhaps a navi sheker, though in her defense, she may be patur from mitzvos.

In terms of the kever of Devorah, first off, I do not believe that that is actually Devorah's kever. There was no tradition from Chazal where it was, and many people died and were buried over the centuries. The identification of this as the kever is based on a document, not made public, if I understand correctly -- I would like to see it -- of the Arizal, who claimed to identify the kevarim of many Biblical and Tannaitic figures, based on his ruach hakodesh. For various reasons, I do not believe that the Arizal had this type of ruach hakodesh. Just to cite Shadal on this matter: if the Arizal did have ruach hakodesh, why did state that all the words in the sefer Brit Menucha were written with ruach hakodesh, when that sefer makes serious errors in describing the chain of tradition of kabbalah? (See here.) And why did the Arizal and all of his students not realize that Raya Mehamna and the Tikkunim of the Zohar was inauthentic, and instead based much of his kabbalah on it? (See here.)

At any rate, even if the kever actually *does* belong to Devorah haNeviah, did Nava dream of the latitude and longitude? As I understand it, she found someone who was in possession of this document from the Ari. I would chalk it up to the 99% perspiration.

Finding Devorah's kever also has absolutely nothing to do with bringing of Mashiach. It is a made up theology.

But we will see in a few months, won't we? What will you say if Bush does not end up canceling the November elections?

Kol Tuv,


Blog Widget by LinkWithin