When You Hear That the Russians Have Captured Crimea
Rabbi Elijah of Vilna (also known as the Vilna Gaon) is a Jewish scholar from the 18th century well known for his writings about the coming of the Messiah. Shortly before his death, the Vilna Gaon said,
“When you hear that the Russians have captured the city of Crimea, you should know that the times of the Messiah have started, that his steps are being heard. And when you hear that the Russians have reached the city of Constantinople, you should put on your Shabbat clothes and don’t take them off, because it means that the Messiah is about to come any minute.”
Two things need to be explained here in order to understand what the rabbi probably meant. First, the capture of Crimea by the Russians. It is important to understand the Vilna Gaon’s prediction in its entire context.
The recorded history of the Crimean Peninsula begins around the 5th century BC when the first Greek colonies were established. Then for almost two thousand years Crimean was part of the Roman Empire (47 BC – 330 AD) and part of the Byzantine Empire (330 AD – 1204 AD). In the medieval period, it was acquired partly by Kievan Rus (the cradle of modern Russia) followed by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th to 18th centuries.
In 1783 Crimea became part of the Russian Empire and after 1917: part of the Soviet Russia. In 1954, Crimea was transferred from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR by the Ukrainian Nikita Khrushchev, then a Soviet leader, who made himself a birthday gift, and was part of it until 1991 when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Crimean was a part of Ukraine from 1991 until March 2014 when Russia assumed again the peninsula after sixty years.
When the Vilna Gaon made his prediction about the coming of the Messiah, Crimea was part of the Ottoman Empire or today’s Turkey. Therefore, in 1783 and 2014, the first part of the Vilna Gaon’s Messianic prediction came true when Russia annexed Crimea. But, why did Russia’s President Putin take this drastic act of invasion in 2014 of what had been Ukraine’s territory for sixty years and the incitement of autonomy of the eastern regions? First and foremost Putin’s goal was to counteract the U.S. influence in Ukraine after the coup, when a pro-western forces took over the country. If Putin had not acted in such a drastic and decisive fashion, Russia could have lost its only warm water navy port for its Black Sea fleet.
The second part concerning the Russians have reached the city of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) may come to realization through Turkey’s military alliance with Russia in the Syrian war. This alliance is in odds Turkey’s alliance with the United States and NATO, which is steadily eroding. The things have gone so far that the two countries have discussed the supply of Russian air defense missiles to the Turkish army, all despite the tension after the downing of a Russian bomber over Syria by Turkey. Even more, voices have been heard that Turkey may give an air-force base for the Russian operations in Syria.
So, the Vilna Gaon’s Messianic prediction might have come to realization not through a Russian invasion or war with Turkey, but through the military cooperation between the two countries: Russia has reached Constantinople.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.