Throughout his writings, Rabbi Haim David Halevy expressed unwavering faith that the founding of the State of Israel and the Six Day War were overt miracles. Anyone who denied the supernatural nature of these events was spiritually blind (Mekor Hayyim 4, pp. 367–368). There were two options: to believe that this was the beginning of the messianic era, or to be wrong (Mekor Hayyim 2, p. 9).
At the same time, the Sages debate fundamental aspects of the messianic age. Is redemption contingent on repentance? Will the messianic age be a supernatural era, or completely natural? Will it be a lengthy process with ups and downs, or a consistently ascending path? The Rambam concluded from these and related disagreements that there was no single authoritative tradition on the messianic age. We would not know its nature until it arrived (Hilkhot Melakhim 12:1–2). Rabbi Halevy was fully aware of the uncertainties inherent in identifying the messianic period.
Rabbi Halevy, quoting Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, considered two aspects of the modern period as definite signs of the first stages of redemption: the return of agricultural fertility to the Land of Israel (cf. Sanhedrin 98a); and the ingathering of exiles (Asei Lekha Rav 1:7–12; 4:6). For Rabbi Halevy, it was the responsibility of world Jewry to recognize the miraculous nature of the founding of the State of Israel, make aliya, repent, cooperate with each other, and live a unique national existence in order to set a religious and moral example for the world to emulate (Dat uMedinah, pp. 21, 34–35). 
Rabbi Halevy’s writings reflect a conflict. On the one hand, he firmly believed that we were at the beginning of the period of redemption. On the other hand, he acknowledged that no one knew for certain how the redemption process would unfold. Rabbi Halevy evaluated sources about messianic calculations, natural vs. supernatural redemption, repentance during the period of redemption, and other matters relating to Divine Providence.
Confident that we were living in the period of redemption, Rabbi Halevy justified messianic calculations. Although the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) had criticized such calculations, Rabbi Halevy argued that this caveat applied only if a failed prediction might diminish one’s faith in the advent of the Messiah. If one certainly believed that the Messiah will come, and made calculations for the purpose of religious awakening, one did not violate the talmudic injunction. Rabbi Halevy further maintained that talmudic opposition to messianic calculations arose because redemption was so remote from their period; now that the messianic age had arrived, there was no impediment to trying to determine its precise date. Initially, he proposed 5750/1990 as the deadline for the final redemption; but if people repented, it could come earlier (Asei Lekha Rav 1:2).
In a later Responsum, he offered an original interpretation of a talmudic argument about the messianic age based on events from the past century. In Sanhedrin 99a, the Sages debated whether the period of redemption would span 40 years, 70 years, or three generations. Rabbi Halevy explained that all three positions turned out to be true. Forty years covered the period from the 1947 U.N. partition plan until 1987; 70 years spanned the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to 1987; and three generations went back to 1897, the year of the first World Zionist Congress. Given the coincidence of those three dates in relation to 1987, Rabbi Halevy predicted the final messianic redemption for 1987, only ten years after he composed the essay (Asei Lekha Rav 2, pp. 253–256).
When his prediction for 1987 proved false and yet another major wave of Arab terrorism had recently begun, Rabbi Halevy did not back away from his prediction, nor did he conclude that the Jews had missed a great opportunity for the final redemption. Rather, he stressed that Arab nations were sitting down with Israel to discuss peace, a major component of redemption (Asei Lekha Rav 9, pp. 395–396). Rabbi Halevy had offered a similar rationale for the Yom Kippur War, which led to peace talks afterward (Asei Lekha Rav 1:6).
R. Alexandri said: R. Yehoshua b. Levi pointed out a contradiction. It is written, in its time [will the Messiah come], but it is also written, I [the Lord] will hasten it! (Isa.60:22). If they are worthy, I will hasten it; if not, [he will come] at the due time. (Sanhedrin 98a)
This talmudic passage presented a resolution to a contradiction within a biblical verse in Isaiah: will the messianic age come “on time” (beItah), or will God hasten it (ahishenah)? The Talmud answered that the outcome would depend on the merit of Israel.
Rabbi Halevy found different ways of interpreting and applying this passage, depending on the message he was trying to convey and on current political events. For example, in Dat uMedinah (p. 26), Rabbi Halevy applied the interpretation of Radak (Isa. 60:22): Once the proper time for redemption arrives, the process will accelerate. Only 19 years separated the founding of the State in 1948 until the victory of the Six Day War in 1967, demonstrating the imminence of the final redemption.
But after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Rabbi Halevy shifted to a modified reading of the aforementioned talmudic interpretation of beItah, ahishenah: If the messianic age were merited early, it would not be accompanied with suffering. If it came “on time,” it would be a natural process, entailing affliction. No longer did Rabbi Halevy think in terms of a quick process; he began to view the prolonged struggle of the State as part of a longer divine plan of redemption (Asei Lekha Rav 1:7–12).
To explain the prominent role of secular Zionism in the redemption process, Rabbi Halevy wrote that the State of Israel arose as a result of beItah, a natural process. The Talmud (Megillah 17b; Sanhedrin 97a) stated that wars would precede the final redemption. Historically, Jews had gradually adopted the idea of a supernatural redemption since they had suffered so much during their exile.
Thus, by the time the process of redemption began during the twentieth century, most religious Jews rejected the possibility of natural redemption. It was specifically the secularists who were able to achieve success. Yes, some religious Jews were involved, but the majority of modern Zionists were not religiously observant. In retrospect, it had become obvious that the process of establishing and defending the State had been miraculous. God’s plan of redemption was achieved, but most of the religious community had failed to respond. Unwittingly, the secularists became God’s agents of redemption (Asei Lekha Rav 1:3).
Rabbi Halevy explained the struggles and wars of Israel not only through beItah, but also with the idea that it would not be dignified were God simply to deliver the Land on a silver platter. Ancient Israel understood this message, evidenced by the way they fought Amalek (Exod. 17:8–17). They did not expect supernatural intervention once they had left Egypt. Rabbi Halevy expressed disappointment that many contemporary Jews still had not recognized the messianic potential of today, mistakenly waiting for supernatural miracles (Asei Lekha Rav 1:4-5).
Rabbi Halevy viewed natural and supernatural as different stages in the messianic process, rather than as alternatives. Mashiah ben Yosef (the first stage of redemption) will be characterized by suffering, whereas Mashiah ben David (the final stage of redemption) will be characterized by a supernatural redemption and the ingathering of the exiles (Asei Lekha Rav 4:6, 4:8). He thought that the Six Day War completed the first stage in the process of redemption, but we still required national repentance to merit the final redemption (Dat uMedinah, pp. 23–24). To this end, Rabbi Halevy considered his five-volume series, Mekor Hayyim, to have been driven by his passionate desire to hasten the arrival of the messianic age through repentance (introduction to Mekor Hayyim 1, pp. 9–14).
The common denominator of Rabbi Halevy’s responses is that we certainly are in the early stages of the messianic age. Rather than allowing the Yom Kippur War, Arab terrorism, or other tragedies to negate that belief, Rabbi Halevy offered interpretations that were in tune with unfolding realities. At the same time, he continued to advocate national repentance and unity as the primary catalysts to effect the full redemption.
Rabbi Halevy adopted a finely nuanced position toward military exemptions for yeshiva students. Fundamentally, he favored military exemptions for yeshiva students. Were the entire nation to engage in Torah study, supernatural miracles would occur to protect Israel (see Sanhedrin 14b). But after his praise for full-time Torah study, he emphasized that this exemption applied exclusively to those who were truly dedicated to Torah learning. Those who enrolled in yeshivot simply to dodge the draft desecrate God’s Name. Additionally, all yeshiva students must serve in the military during actual wartime. Acknowledging the difficulty of explaining this concept to those not committed to Torah values, he praised yeshivot hesder, which combine yeshiva learning with military service, thereby sanctifying God’s Name (Asei Lekha Rav 1:21, 3:58).
In a response to pamphlets opposing military service for yeshiva students, Rabbi Halevy defended his position that all yeshiva students must serve in the military during wartime. Training did not take that long; and even if the students could not be trained quickly, they could serve in non-combat roles. In this Responsum, Rabbi Halevy maintained that those who did not serve at all during wartime were violating halakha, not just giving religion a bad name. He also reiterated his earlier position that any exemption referred exclusively to those who were genuinely engaged in serious Torah study. Insincere students should be drafted to regular military service (Asei Lekha Rav 7:72).
In these discussions, Rabbi Halevy revealed a strong belief in the supernatural powers of Torah, combined with a fervent commitment to the sanctification of God’s Name. He also explicated what halakha really taught about military service for yeshiva students. His deepest desire was for all Jews to be dedicated to Torah study, so as to merit God’s miraculous protection and bring about the full redemption. Until that ideal state was realized, though, Jews would have to maintain military defense forces.
The Yom Kippur War: A Challenge to Redemption?
Rabbi Halevy’s earlier writings expressed unreserved enthusiasm about the redemption process. Yet, many of his followers were perplexed by the Yom Kippur War. This war had exposed Israel’s vulnerability. No longer did the messianic age appear to be marching forward with increasing brightness.
Rabbi Halevy opened his Asei Lekha Rav series with several essays addressing this problem. He paralleled the contemporary situation with the redemption from Egypt. During the exodus, God created a moment of panic at the Red Sea, when the Israelites thought they were doomed. Only when the sea split did the Israelites retrospectively understand God’s plan of redemption. Similarly, the Yom Kippur War initially seemed like a setback, but it resulted in Egypt sitting down to talk peace with Israel for the first time (Asei Lekha Rav 1:6).
Rabbi Halevy observed that the Yom Kippur War was not a challenge to one’s messianic hopes unless one expected a consistently upward progression in redemption. Since we were not privy to God’s plans, we could not assume a trouble-free road to redemption (Asei Lekha Rav 1:7–12, 4:6).
The Role of Peace Talks in the Redemption Process
Rabbi Halevy suggested that peace talks and recognition by Arab nations were essential to the redemption process (Asei Lekha Rav 1:6, end Asei Lekha Rav 9, pp. 395–396). Despite the losses caused by the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the wave of Arab terrorism in 1987, Rabbi Halevy maintained his belief in the redemption process by appealing to the ensuing peace negotiations.
At the same time, he expressed skepticism about Israel’s so-called peace partners. Egypt entered negotiations only because it concluded that it was unable to annihilate Israel in a war, not from a genuine desire for peace. Rabbi Halevy was troubled about Israel being pressured to make land concessions, a process that threatened Israel’s security.  Additionally, he claimed that “the redemption of Israel will not be complete if the Land of Israel will not be complete” (Asei Lekha Rav 1:7–12, 3:62, 4:1). 
After expressing his personal reservations about land concessions to Egypt, Rabbi Halevy concluded that the ultimate decision in this matter rested with the Israeli government. Only high officials were expert in the political and security details; they had the halakhic authority to make such decisions (Asei Lekha Rav 3:62, 4:1).  Although he did not trust Egypt’s motives for making peace with Israel, Rabbi Halevy expressed the hope that a new generation would arise in Egypt, accustomed to peace.
Is Redemption Contingent on Repentance?
Rabbi Halevy cited the talmudic debate (Sanhedrin 97b) whether repentance is a precondition for redemption or not (Asei Lekha Rav 1:7–12). He quoted a ruling of the Rambam, that repentance was mandatory (Hilkhot Teshuvah 7:5).  But elsewhere, the Rambam wrote that the messianic king would encourage repentance, implying that the messianic age could commence prior to a full national repentance (Hilkhot Melakhim 12:1–2). Rabbi Halevy reconciled the two statements by proposing that the messianic process could begin without repentance, but complete redemption required it.
Rabbi Halevy balanced optimism with realism in viewing the religious life of Israel. On the one hand, many Jews were returning to their religious roots; but many others were drifting away from religion. Rabbi Halevy noted that the aliya movement also started as a trickle. Yet, this trickle led to the creation of the State. Moreover, kabbalists predicted that the messianic age would be a time of religious confusion—many Jews would be religiously involved, but many others would be apathetic (Asei Lekha Rav 4:6). Although he appealed for more repentance, he still saw the “positive” aspect of non-religious behavior, that is, it was a characteristic of the early stages of the age of redemption. 
Had you made yourself like a wall and had all come up in the days of Ezra, you would have been compared to silver, which no rottenness can ever affect. Now that you have come up like doors, you are like cedar wood, which rottenness prevails over. (Yoma 9b)
The Sages say: The intention was to perform a miracle for Israel in the days of Ezra, even as it was performed for them in the days of Yehoshua bin Nun, but sin caused [the miracle to be withheld]. (Berakhot 4a)
In the above passages, the Talmud taught that messianic opportunities could be squandered if people did not respond appropriately to the initial signs of redemption. The beginning of the Second Temple period could have heralded the messianic age; but since the Jews of the time failed to return to Israel and otherwise sinned, the redemption was postponed.
Rabbi Halevy frequently quoted the Yoma passage in his efforts to encourage aliya. He recognized that most Diaspora Jews remained in exile after the founding of the State and that assimilation among them was rampant. However, he never concluded that the current messianic potential was lost—only that we were missing opportunities to achieve gains within this definite period of redemption. 
Noting that many Jews were still not making aliya after the Yom Kippur War, Rabbi Halevy optimistically suggested that perhaps God was giving the Jews living in Israel a chance to establish and consolidate themselves financially. Increased economic stability ultimately would encourage others to come (Asei Lekha Rav 3:62). He further suggested that had the first 30 years of statehood been easier, perhaps the Jewish passion for independence would not have been as strong. Moreover, perhaps the Yom Kippur War would jolt Israelis out of their complacency, and intensify their devotion to the Land of Israel (Asei Lekha Rav 1:7–12).
Rabbi Halevy halakhically justified ascending the Temple Mount, since we know the precise dimensions of the Temple and we can avoid going to those spots that are ritually forbidden. The rest of the Mount is accessible to Jews who ritually immerse themselves and remove their shoes. He added that rabbis should not prohibit observant Jews from going to the Temple Mount out of concern that non-observant Jews will not follow the proper regulations (Asei Lekha Rav 1:15). He recommended that a synagogue should be built atop the Temple Mount (Asei Lekha Rav 6:82).
Two years after the liberation of the Temple Mount, Rabbi Halevy sadly noted that Israel had squandered the opportunity to build a synagogue there. He expressed anguish that Israel allowed our most sacred site to remain in Arab hands. Jews should have created facts on the ground by building a synagogue when we had the chance (Dat uMedinah, p. 117).
After the Sinai concessions and peace treaty with Egypt, he added that Jews were now forfeiting the opportunity to settle Judea and Samaria. Had a million Jews moved in right after the Six Day War, there would not have been any chance of negotiating its return. Rabbi Halevy quoted Yoma 9b, which criticized the Jews’ failure to make aliya during the Second Temple Period. If Jews did not freely come now, perhaps they will be forced to come in order to complete the process of redemption (Asei Lekha Rav 4:1). Elsewhere, Rabbi Halevy added a more ominous note to encourage aliya, observing that neo-Nazi movements continued to thrive all over the world (Dat uMedinah, p. 15).
Rabbi Halevy thought that Jews had erred in not having made aliya after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, a time when the Arabs were largely inactive politically. A large influx of Jews would have changed the reality drastically. Since Jews did not come willingly, then, they were compelled to come in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Perhaps the prophetic prediction of a purging nightmare before the final redemption (Ezek.20) was fulfilled as a result of Jewish reluctance to make aliya earlier in the twentieth century. He again emphasized that we cannot know the workings of God’s mind—but we could offer interpretations after the fact, in order to derive religious inspiration and guidance (Asei Lekha Rav 4:6).
Despite his claims of the forfeiture of individual blessings, though, Rabbi Halevy asserted that God never would abandon Israel (Dat uMedinah, p. 16). He continued to believe that the process of redemption was slowly and irreversibly unfolding, and he interpreted each new event in this light.
Because of Rabbi Halevy’s belief that we were living in the period of redemption, he reached a number of important halakhic conclusions. He believed that Israel Independence Day (5 Iyyar) and Jerusalem Reunification Day (28 Iyyar) should be observed as formal religious holidays, with Hallel recited (Dat uMedinah, pp. 88–113). Rabbi Halevy criticized those who opposed celebrating these holidays on the grounds that they were primarily military victories. Hanukkah also was celebrated because of military victories (Asei Lekha Rav 5:17). He noted that these opponents were driving less observant Jews to view those events in purely secular terms. If religious Jews refused to acknowledge God’s hand, why should secular Jews (Dat uMedinah, pp. 86–87)?
Rabbi Halevy reevaluated traditional practices pertaining to mourning over the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Halevy maintained that we still must observe the Fast of the 9th of Av until the Temple itself is rebuilt (Mekor Hayyim 4:202, pp. 179–180). But after the Six Day War, we should reword parts of the “nahem” prayer into the past tense. Since the prayer laments a desolate Jerusalem without any Jewish inhabitants, it simply would be a falsehood to retain the original text of the prayer (Asei Lekha Rav 1:13–14, 2:36–39).
Likewise, he suggested emending a passage in the Grace After Meals, which currently reads, “We thank You, God for the good and ample land that You gave to our ancestors.” Now that we are living in the age of redemption, we should say, “…that You gave to us” (Mekor Hayyim 2:81, p. 97).
With the settling of the Land, we should again recite the blessing, “Barukh matziv gevul almanah” (blessed is He who establishes the borders of a widowed [nation]). Rabbi Halevy was hesitant to rule that one should recite the full blessing with God’s Name, although he noted that Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook had done so. Rabbi Halevy agreed with his reasoning (Asei Lekha Rav 4:5).
We still should say kinot (prayers of lamentation) on the 9th ofAv, since the Temple is not yet rebuilt and the majority of Jews still lived outside of Israel. But we may reduce the number of kinot, as he himself did after 1948 (Asei Lekha Rav 4:34).
Although the original practice was to tear one’s clothing upon seeing the desolate cities in Israel, or the ruins of Jerusalem (Mo’ed Katan 26a), Jews now lived in Israel and the Temple Mount was again under Jewish control. Therefore, one no longer should tear one’s garments when going to the Western Wall. However, he thought that the Chief Rabbinate should issue the final ruling on this matter. 
The practice in Jerusalem was to don tefillin in the morning of 9th ofAv at home, and then to come to synagogue for the recitation of kinot. Even one who previously did not observe this tradition should accept it, since we were living at the beginning of the redemption (Mekor Hayyim 1:35, p. 131).
Rabbi Halevy complained about the prevalent custom at the end of weddings to break a worthless glass rather than something of real value. After concluding that this was not a major issue worth fighting over, he added that especially now, in the age of redemption, we do not have to be as mournful as we had been in the past—and therefore the current practice may be tolerated (Mekor Hayyim 5:237, p. 36).
Although Rabbi Halevy allowed some room for leniency as a result of this being the period of redemption, he did not permit choir practice during the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. During that period, we should remain mournful (Mayim Hayyim 1:35).
May we accept converts nowadays, given rabbinic traditions that we will not accept converts in messianic times (Yevamot 24b; 76a; Avodah Zarah 3b)? Rabbi Halevy noted that only a minority of Jews, and very few non-Jews, have appreciated that we now have entered the beginning of the messianic era. Thus, no one would convert to Judaism today merely to join the messianic bandwagon. Additionally, several authorities (Rambam, Rashba, Meiri) ruled according to Berakhot 57b, that non-Jews would convert to Judaism even in the messianic age. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 3b) noted that the Messiah would weed out insincere converts, so there was nothing to fear by accepting converts nowadays (Asei Lekha Rav 3:29).
The Talmud (Berakhot 54a) stated that one should make the blessing “Barukh haTov ve-haMetiv” for rainfall, but that practice stopped while Jews lived in exile. Rabbi Halevy ruled that since Jews have returned to Israel, they should once again recite this blessing— either after a prolonged drought is ended by rain, or if there is unusually heavy rainfall. The final decision on when the community should make this blessing should be left to the Chief Rabbinate (Mekor Hayyim 2:92, pp. 181–182).
Rabbi Halevy discussed whether the original practice of lighting Hanukkah candles outdoors should be restored. He quoted the Hazon Ish, who ruled that we still should light indoors, since (1) people might blow the candles out if they were left outdoors; (2) Israel was surrounded by enemies, and there was no guarantee that Israel would survive. Rabbi Halevy emphatically disagreed. Since this is the beginning of the redemption, one in Israel should light Hanukkah candles outdoors, when possible (Asei Lekha Rav 7:42).
Rabbi Halevy opened Dat uMedinah (p. 9) with an idea from R. Yehudah Halevy’s Kuzari: Redemption will not come until people desperately wanted it. Rabbi Halevy’s life was dedicated to inspire messianic hopes, to encourage people to take an active role in the process of redemption, and to promote a religious awakening (cf. Asei Lekha Rav 8:94–95). He added (p. 26) that the special role of rabbis during this period of redemption was to devote their energy to inspire the hearts of people with an understanding of God’s role in history. It comes as no surprise that he concluded his Mekor Hayyim series with a chapter on the Messianic age. Although the full redemption has not yet come, Rabbi Halevy did his best to hasten the Messiah’s arrival. 
This article is adapted from my chapter in Rabbi Haim David Halevy: Gentle Scholar and Courageous Thinker (Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2006), pp. 218–236.
 Cf. Asei Lekha Rav 4:7, 9, where he added that Israel should emphasize its divine rights to the Land at the United Nations. Aside from the desirability of projecting a religious image for the State, Rabbi Halevy believed that this argument would be effective in the international community. By maintaining a purely secular stance, other nations would likely respond in a secular manner, promoting their own interests, such as oil and strategic alliances with stronger nations. In Ben Yisrael laAmmim (pp. 3–4), he added that Israel’s enemies have moved their battlefronts to “diplomacy” at the United Nations.
 In his discussions of Sinai concessions, Rabbi Halevy noted that land for peace negotiations would create the dangerous precedent of offering the same for Judea and Samaria. He stated unequivocally that “God forbid” that we should ever reach that state of affairs. See Asei Lekha Rav 1:7–12, p. 42.
 Rabbi Halevy quoted the Zohar, which maintained that full redemption would not occur with non-Jews living in the Land of Israel. Elsewhere, though, Rabbi Halevy accepted that Noahides, i.e., those observing a lifestyle of ethical monotheism, could live in the land (see his lengthy halakhic analysis in Ben Yisrael la-Ammim, pp. 5–71).
 In Dat uMedinah, pp. 49–60, Rabbi Halevy developed a more comprehensive halakhic analysis to explain the authority of the government of Israel.
 Rabbi Halevy began Asei Lekha Rav volume 4 with a lengthy treatment of the implications of the recently signed peace treaty with Egypt.
 Cf. Rabbi Halevy’s further analysis of this ruling and the dissenting opinion in Mekor Hayyim 4:215, pp. 250–251.
 In Asei Lekha Rav 4:9, Rabbi Halevy expressed a remarkably fatalistic approach to the role of repentance in the redemption: if God gave us the Land of Israel, then it almost does not matter that many people still are sinning. God has revealed His will that the Jews should have their Land again.
 Zvi Zohar (“Religious Zionism and Universal Improvement of the World,” in He’iru Penei haMizrah [haKibbutz haMe’uhad, 2001], p. 305) quotes Ben Yisrael laAmmim, p. 89, where Rabbi Halevy wrote that “we do not know how much longer the influence of the rise of the State will last…after which this page will be closed in history.” But despite this statement, Rabbi Halevy never reached the negative conclusion suggested as possible in Ben Yisrael laAmmim. It would appear that Rabbi Halevy appealed to the window of opportunity to inspire others, but he maintained a firm belief that full redemption definitely would occur in our era.
 Mekor Hayyim 2:95, pp. 207–209.
 For further discussions of aspects of Rabbi Halevy’s messianic thought, see Malkah Katz, “Rabbi Haim David Halevy as the Successor of the World and Views of the Sephardic Sages in Israel Who Associated with Religious Zionism in the Days of the Mandate”; Dov Schwartz, “Changes in the Messianic Thought of Rabbi Haim David Halevy,” in the volume of papers about Rabbi Halevy, edited by Zvi Zohar and Avi Sagi; Zvi Zohar, “Religious Zionism and Universal Improvement of the World,” in He’iru Penei haMizrah (haKibbutz haMe’uhad, 2001), pp. 298–311.