The generic term, Messiah, means "anointed one." Kings and priests were anointed in ancient times to set them apart as specially designated leaders of society. The anointed one will bring redemption to this world. It will be a time of true bliss, unparalleled in our own existence. It will not be a new world, a qualitatively different world, rather will it be this world brought to perfection. Universal peace, tranquility, lawfulness, and goodness will prevail, and all will acknowledge the unity and lordship of God.

Will the Messiah be a specific person, or will he only represent an era of perfection—the "days of Messiah?" Traditional Judaism believes, without equivocation, in the coming of an inconceivably great hero, anointed for leadership—a descendant of the House of David, who will lead the world out of chaos. He will be of flesh and blood, a mortal sent expressly by God to fulfill the glory of His people. The traditional belief is that man must work to better the world and help bring on the Messiah. It believes the idea that mankind by itself will inevitably progress to such an era to be unfounded optimism. A supernatural gift to mankind, in the person of the Messiah, will be required to bring the world to this pinnacle of glory. God will directly intervene to prevent the world from rushing headlong into darkness, and will bring the redemption through a human personality. The personal Messiah, supernaturally introduced to mankind, will not, however, be a Divine personality. He will only bring about the redemption that is granted by God. The Messiah will have no ability to bring that redemption himself. He will have no miraculous powers. He, himself, will not be able to atone for the sins of others. He will have no superhuman relationship to God. He will be an exalted personality, of incomparable ability, who will usher in the rehabilitation of the Jewish people and the subsequent regeneration of all mankind.

How the Messiah will come, and how we will be able to identify him has aroused the magnificent imaginative inventiveness and poetic fancy of masses of Jews in every age. Many of these ruminations are contradictory. Some are founded in biblical interpretation, some on traditional beliefs handed down from father to son, while others are flights of folkloristic fancy.

The time of the coming of the Messiah has aroused such fantastic conjecture by so many who confidently predicted specific dates and signs, causing so much anxiety and unreasonable anticipation, and culminating in such heartbreaking and spiritually-shattering frustration, that the Sages have had to chastise severely those who "count the days" to "bring near the end" of redemption.

While some theologians have sought to dispute the supernatural introduction of the Messiah, or to denigrate the idea of a personal Messiah, there is no a priori reason to deny either. On the other hand, however, there does stand a millennium of unwavering conviction on the part of our most profound scholars and the great masses of Jews to affirm it. The authority of hundreds of generations will withstand superficial rational analysis, let alone the metaphysical misgivings and begrudging consent of contemporary, sophisticated theologians.