Good question, one which I can only answer from the Orthodox perspective. As far as I know, the Conservative and Reform movements don’t believe in an individual messiah anymore, although I could be wrong about that.
A descendant of Kings David and Solomon who will be acknowledged as legitimate king of the Jewish nation and who will lead the Jews back to Torah en masse and cause the entire world to acknowledge the truth and wisdom of the Torah. Also, he will gather together all of the Jewish exiles and rebuild the Holy Temple in its original spot in Jerusalem…although it’s conceivable that these will be things that occur during his reign, not necessarily by his actions.
Mainly because of his massive efforts to bring non-religious Jews back to Torah observance. This, coupled with their extreme respect for him, led them to believe he might be the Messiah, and that the references to “fighting the battles of G-d” might refer to rhetorical/intellectual battles rather than military ones.
a) Yes, he’d still be necessary, because the state of Israel hardly represents a triumph of spiritual Torah observance, and…
b) Israel is attacked, beats back its attackers, and finds itself under world pressure to give back land that was gained in those attacks to people who have not dropped their aspirations to destroy them…that’s “success”?
Chaim, you have to remember that messianic beliefs were a huge impediment to the creation of the state of Israel. For two thousand years Jews would say to themselves “well, things may be bad, but soon the Messaiah will come and rescue us”, until Herzel came aroud and said, basically, To Hell with that. That’s why most secular Jews - and a great deal of religeous ones - have adopted a “When he comes, he’ll come” attitude, and don’t think about him very much.
CMKeller has provided the Orthodox perspective. I think that among the Conservative and Reform, there is no particular consensus.
Most Reform Jews probably are not so much focused on Messiah as a person, but on a Messianic Era of universal peace, mankind conquering death and disease and hunger and all the ills that currently beset us. And most Reform Jews would say that this comes about, as Alessan says, not be the Miraculous Appearance of an Individual, but by mankind working together to bring it about.
Most Conservative Jews, I daresay, are somewhere in between the Reform and the Orthodox (as usual), agreeing with the Reform that we must strive for the Messianic Era, and agreeing with the Orthodox that God will someday intervene in that struggle on behalf of mankind.
I should also note that there are a large number (all too large) of uneducated Jews of all denominations, who have been so inundated with (assimilated into) the Christian notion of an individual savior that they believe that to be the Jewish concept as well. Deplorably, IMHO, but reality.
Impediment? You could see it that way. On the other hand, the non-Orthodox, non-Messianic movements were extremely anti-Zionist before the end of World War II, and the British, despite their promises to the Zionists, were quicker to grant independence to Transjordan and Saudi Arabia than to the Jews in Palestine. There were plenty of impediments, most having nothing at all to do with Orthodox Jewish Messianism.
More likely, the reason they don’t think about him very much is that they have more immediate concerns on their mind, not because they see belief in him as an impediment to the State of Israel.
It could be…most Messianic prophecies are extremely vague. That’s about the military aspect. The scriptures are pretty clear in that he must be a legitimately recognized king.