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Volume Two
Zeev Gries The Definitions of Sabbatian Hagiographic
Literature 353
Moshe Fogel The Sabbatian Character of Hemdat
. Yamim:
A Re-Examination 365
Shifra Asulin Another Glance at Sabbatianism, Conversion,
and Hebraism in Seventeenth-Century Europe:
Scr utinizing the Character of Johan Kempper
of Uppsala, or Moshe Son of Aharon of
Krakow 423
Rachel Elior Jacob Frank and His Book The Sayings of the
Lord: Religious Anarchism as a Restoration of
Myth and Metaphor 471
Contributors 549
Bibliography 551
Index 581

English Section
Elisheva Carlebach The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry 1*
Jacob J. Schacter Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism:
The Case of Hakham
. Zevi
. Ashkenazi 31*
Michaeł Galas Sabbatianism in the Seventeenth-
Century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth:
A Review of the Sources 51*
Hillel Levine ‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’:
Politics and Spirituality in Early Modern
Jewish Messianism 65*
David Biale Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish
Orientalism 85*
English Abstracts of the Hebrew Articles 111*

Most of the articles published in these volumes (Nos. 16 and 17) of
Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought are based on lectures delivered in
connection with an international symposium held in memory of the
late Professor Gershom Scholem on
The Sabbatian Movement and its Aftermath:
Messianism, Sabbatianism and Frankism
which took place on 8–10 December 1997 under the auspices of the
Israel Academy of Sciences, organized by the Department of Jewish
Thought, The Hebrew University of Jer usalem, together with the De-
partment of the History of the Jewish People of Haifa University and
The Gershom Scholem Center for the Study of Jewish Mysticism and
Kabbala at the Jewish National and University Library in Jer usalem

The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

Elisheva Carlebach

`le mizq`n `l mdiai`Ÿ ux`a mzeida z`f mb s`e

mdidl` 'd ip` ik mz` izixa xtdl mzlkl mizlrb
(44 ek `xwie)
And yet for all that, when they are in the
lands of their enemies, I will not reject
them nor will I abhor them to destroy
them utterly, and to break My covenant
with them, for I am the Lord their God
(Leviticus 26:44)1

This ‘pasuk nehama’

. was one of several verses of consolation cited in
the great medieval anti-Christian polemical compilation, Nizzahon .. .
Yashan.2 Seventeenth century memoirist Glikl of Hameln cited it as one
of the several verses of consolation in the wake of her report on the
disillusionment over the failed messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi.3
It formed part of the arsenal of consolatory material routinely used by
Ashkenazic Jews in the wake of messianic disappointment.
By the time Glikl used this passage, it had acquired a defiant conno-
tation. It had come to signify the Jewish explanation for a seemingly
irrational hope in the face of persistent and pointed mockery. Chris-
tians, and Jews who had converted to Christianity, ridiculed the pas-
sage as ‘goldene Affe’ (the gilded ape), a play on the Hebrew word

* I thank audiences at the University of Scranton, the Hebrew University, the

¨ Judische
Institut fur ¨ Geschichte, Hamburg, and Touro College, New York, where
I delivered different versions of this lecture, for their questions and comments.
Some portions of this lecture may be published in other proceedings.
1 JPS Bible, Philadelphia 1951.
2 The Jewish-Christian Debate in the High Middle Ages: A Critical Edition of the
Nizzahon Vetus, ed. and tr. D. Berger, Philadelphia 1979, p. 227, parag. 242.
3 The Memoirs of Gluckel
¨ of Hameln, tr. M. Lowenthal, New York 1977, p. 197.

[Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, 16-17, 2001]

Elisheva Carlebach [2

‘ve-af ’ that opens the passage, with reference to the demonic nature of
these Jewish hopes. One of the earliest mockeries of this passage ap-
pears in sixteenth century convert Antonius Margaritha’s Der gantz
Judisch Glaub (The Entire Jewish Faith).4 Son and grandson of rabbinic
luminaries of fifteenth century Ashkenaz, Margaritha devoted his mag-
num opus to revealing Jewish traditions to the Christian world in the
most derisive and contemptuous light. No belief of the Jews provided
better grist for the mill of Margaritha, his precursors, and emulators,
than the Jewish belief in the messiah yet to come.
For medieval Christians, the messianic prophecies had been fulfilled
long ago in the person of their redeemer. The long duration of Jewish
hopes in a future messiah was explained as the result of innate Jewish
obstinacy, spiritual blindness, and even a sign that the devil had van-
quished their reason. German folk-tradition often represented the devil
or evil spirits in the form of an ape, an accursed and inverse image of
man.5 By referring to their cherished hope in this particular form, ‘the
golden ape’, Christians were taunting a belief that went to the very
heart of the Jewish-Christian divide.6
This interplay between Jewish sustenance and Christian mockery of
Jewish messianic hopes is emblematic of the tension which existed for
Jews living in the Christian world. It was a theme of the great Spanish
disputations, essentially staged polemics with predetermined out-
comes. After Jews were expelled from most of Western Europe, the lit-

4 Antonius Margaritha, Der gantz Judisch

¨ Glaub, Augsburg 1530, p. 105a.
5 ¨
H. Bachtold-Staubli, Handworterbuch
¨ des deutchen Aberglaubens, I, Berlin and New
York 1987, pp. 206-207. For an iconographic example, see the apelike figure
clutching the Antichrist as he is being put to death in the Anglo-Norman
Apocalypse, ms. fr. 403, fol. 18r, BN, Paris, reproduced in R. Emmerson,
Antichrist in the Middle Ages, Seattle 1981.
6 For other examples, see: C.L. Fels, Weg-Weiser der Juden, Frankfurt 1703, p. 83,
who cited this passage as the greatest cause of Jewish stubbornness, since Jews
use it as proof that God will lead them out of Edom. C.J. Friedenheim, Yehudi
me-ba-Hutz: das ist der ausserliche
¨ Jud in Ansehung ihres dermaligen vermeintlichen
Gottesdienstes..., Wirzburg 1785, p. 108, cited Mahari”l (R. Jacob Moellin, d. 1427)
as the source of Jews’ false consolation from that verse along with Deut. 30:1. He
gloated that Mahari”l, who offered this solace, died 357 years earlier according
to David Gans’ Zemah
. . David, ‘and still your messiah hasn’t come’. Gottfried Selig
(Der Jude, 1772, 9:29) cited the passage as being ‘of such worth that they call it
the Golden Af, which designation refers to the time when the pious King
Friedrich told them: The Jews have an ape (“Afen”) in their holy Scriptures
which they should inscribe in gold letters’. Selig linked this passage to the vain
consolations among the Jews as they waited for their messiah.

3] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

erature of ridiculing Jewish hopes remained a live and widespread tra-

dition in German and Italian lands where Jews continued to live. Many
Spanish and Portuguese Jews settled in the Ottoman Empire which
granted conditions that seemed magnanimous and tolerant by compar-
ison with the Christian world. These two cultural worlds form the set-
ting for the discussion of Jewish messianic posture to follow.

Classical Jewish scholarship has endowed the two preeminent Jewish
cultural communities, the Ashkenazic (Jews whose predominant
cultural influence in the medieval period was the Franco-German
sphere) and the Sephardic (those whose primary cultural influence was
the Spanish sphere) with distinctive messianic postures. In an essay
written some thirty years ago, and published four times, distinguished
scholar and historian Gerson Cohen mapped out an elegant and
influential set of typologies. In the essay, ‘Messianic Postures of
Ashkenazim and Sephardim’, Cohen characterized Ashkenazim as
messianically quietistic, passive, with a penchant for martyrdom, and
portrayed Sephardim as active, dynamic and revolutionary.7
It should be mentioned at the outset, parenthetically, that while Co-
hen never drew lines to the more contemporary resonances of his cate-
gories, notions of Jewish passivity and military activism as responses
to persecution have taken on new meaning in this century. The pain
filled polemics over Jewish responses during the Holocaust and the val-
ues of Zionism form a silent subtext to any discussion of Jewish activ-
ism and passivity.
Cohen’s thesis was one of those far reaching programmatic state-
ments that influenced all subsequent discussions of Jewish messianism.8

7 G. Cohen, ‘Messianic Postures of Ashkenazim and Sephardim’, Leo Baeck

Memorial Lecture, 9 (1967); Studies of the Leo Baeck Institute, ed. M. Kreutzberger,
New York 1967, pp. 117-156; Studies in the Variety of Rabbinic Cultures,
Philadelphia 1991, pp. 271-298; and in: M. Saperstein (ed.), Essential Papers on
Messianic Movements and Personalities in Jewish History, New York 1992, pp.
202-233. All subsequent references in this paper use the pagination of the latter
edition. For other approaches, see: S. Sharot, Messianism, Mysticism, and Magic:
A Sociological Analysis of Jewish Religious Movements, Chapel Hill 1982, esp.
chs. 4, 7, and 8; M. Idel, ‘Defusim shel Pe=ilut Go>elet bi-Ymei ha-Beinayim’,
in Z. Baras (ed.), Meshihiyut
. ve-Eschatologia: Kovez. Ma6amarim, Jer usalem 1983,
pp. 253-279.
8 Cohen’s revisitation of the subject of Jewish messianism (‘Messianism in Jewish

Elisheva Carlebach [4

It added a new dimension to the cluster of cultural and historical char-

acteristics commonly associated with the constr uctions Ashkenaz and
Sepharad.9 Several of the categories that form the basis of Cohen’s ar-
gument will require greater refinement if they are to be useful in ap-
proaching the question of Jewish messianism. These include the con-
cepts active and passive, the definitions of popular and elite, and even
the application of Sephardic and Ashkenazic as historical explanations
rather than as cultural markers. I want to address each of these issues
briefly before proceeding to a central problem in Cohen’s thesis, the
nature and limitations of the historical evidence.
To his description of Sephardic messianism, Cohen prefixed the ad-
jective ‘revolutionary’ and even the startling expression, ‘aggressive
military action’. The Jews of Ashkenaz ostensibly provide the starkest
contrast to this heroic and active profile. ‘Quiescence and passivity had
somehow so permeated the whole mentality of that community
[Franco-German Jewry] as virtually to eliminate such aggressive be-
havior’.10 In Ashkenaz, from the date of Palestine’s downfall through
the seventeenth century, violent apocalypse replaced action, subli-
mated it; ‘These attitude and posture were doubtless conveyed to all
parts of the Diaspora over which the academies of the Holy Land exer-

History: The Myth and the Reality’, Jewish History and Jewish Destiny, New York
and Jer usalem 1997, pp. 183-212) was not a scholarly presentation and not nearly
as influential. It presented a sweeping and dismissive re-evaluation of his earlier
essay as well as the entire historical enterprise that has accepted Jewish
messianism as an active reality.
9 The influence of these typologies has penetrated deeply. See most recently: S.
Eidelberg, ‘Gilgulav shel ha-Ra‘ayon ha-Meshihi bein Yehudei Germania’, in: S.
Nash (ed.), Bein Historia le-Sifrut: Sefer Yovel le-Yizhak
. . Barzilai, Tel Aviv 1997, p.
25: ‘It is well known that in the history of Jews in medieval Germany there are
not to be found appearances of redeemers and messiahs’. The controversial
essay by I.J. Yuval, ‘Ha-Nakam ve-ha-Kelalah, ha-Dam ve-ha-=Alilah’, Zion, . 58
(1993), pp. 33-90, took Cohen’s essay as its point of departure, see esp. pp. 33, 59.
A statement concerning a work from the medieval Judeo-Arabic world by
historian M.R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages,
Princeton 1994, is another example of how deeply the typology has penetrated:
‘The anecdotes are replete with depictions of classic, Ashkenazic-like responses
to suffering: fasting, prayer, and chronicling of events for posterity’ (p. 188), as
though these ‘passive’ reactions to suffering were not universal human, as well
as Jewish, reactions to suffering. But see the more nuanced approach suggested
by Saperstein, in his introduction to Essential Papers on Messianic Movements
(above note 7).
10 Cohen, ibid., p. 219.

5] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

cised influence’.11 According to Cohen’s constr uction, the Jews of Ash-

kenaz embroidered on the myth of the messiah by generating literary
apocalypses while those of Sepharad initiated genuinely apocalyptic
messianic movements. In fact, the clash or disintegration of great em-
pires always generated messianic activity among Jews both in the Mus-
lim and the Christian worlds.
Messianic movements were recorded from the late fifth and sixth
centuries, all apparently in anticipation of a confrontation between the
Byzantine and Persian Empires. One occurred in Crete and three in
Palestine, among the Samaritans. But even if we begin our discussion
with the messianic figures that arose within the world of Islam, we may
ask whether there was even one Jewish medieval messianic movement
which can legitimately be characterized as an aggressive, bona fide ‘mil-
itary’ movement. The movements which were so valorized in the influ-
ential essay by Cohen were disorganized, unarmed, often led by de-
luded visionaries. Cohen himself acknowledged this in a later essay.12
Cohen constr ucted an opposition between messianism and martyr-
dom: the first symbolizing active rebellion against history, the latter
passive resignation.13 Martyrdom was never alien to the Sephardic
world, nor messianism to the Ashkenazic, and neither accounted mar-
tyrdom as an expression of passivity.14 As the Jewish cr usade chronicles
graphically depicted, martyrdom was a last resort when every other

11 Ibid., p. 221.
12 See the excellent discussion of ‘The Jewish Messiahs of Early Islam’, in S.M.
Wasserstrom, Between Muslim and Jew: The Problem of Symbiosis in Early Islam,
Princeton 1995, pp. 47-89. The most active and popular of these Jewish
‘uprisings’ at its most militantly confrontational moment, was described as
follows: ‘They claimed that when he was embattled he made a line around his
followers with a myrtle stick, saying, “Stay behind this line and no enemy will
reach you with weapons”. [...] then Abu Isa went beyond that line, alone and on
horseback, and fought and killed many Muslims [...] When he fought against the
followers of Mansur at Rayy, he and his companions were killed’ (p. 76). Cohen’s
characterization, see above note 8, p. 197.
13 See: G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, New York 1973, pp. 87-89; J.
Dan, ‘Gershom Scholem and Jewish Messianism’, in: P. Mendes-Flohr (ed.),
Gershom Scholem: The Man and His Work, New York 1994, pp. 75-78. Nineteenth
century Jewish historiography tended to link mysticism and messianism as
forcible er uptions into the generally rational Jewish psyche under extreme catas-
trophic pressure.
14 On typologies of Sephardic martyrdom, see most recently M. Bodian, ‘Ha-=Aliya
al ha-Moked shel Nozerim
. Hadashim
. be-Einei Benei ha-Umah ha-Portugalit’,
Pe5amim, 75 (1998), pp. 47-62.

Elisheva Carlebach [6

active form of resistance had failed. Yet in his description of Ashkenazic

death at the hands of Christians, Cohen writes of a passive martyrdom
which simply does not accord with any remaining accounts. For exam-
ple, while Cohen agreed that during the Chmielnicki pogroms in Po-
land, Jews had no choices because the Cossacks were determined to kill
them all, they elected ‘to die passively’ at the hands of their attackers.15
Cohen linked the question of activism and pacifism to that of elite vs.
popular messianic movements. In this constr uction, Ashkenazic quiet-
ism is ‘rabbinic, elite’, while Sephardic activism is ‘popular ’. The grand
role in Jewish messianism of Sephardic rabbinic conservatism, from the
Geonim to Maimonides through Jacob Sasportas simply did not enter
into Cohen’s neat typology.16 In the Sephardic communities of Geonic
Babylonia and of medieval Spain, home to great Jewish population con-
centrations, messianic movements often took on anti-establishment,
anti-rabbinic character. In Ashkenaz, movements with a messianic
character were often led by the elite, the rabbis themselves, and so were
of a more profound and thoroughgoing nature. In classical Ashkenazic
culture, the practice of the God-fearing community carried the same
weight as a sacred rabbinic text. When the rabbinic teachers, the
tosafists, found contradictions between a text of the Talmud and the
practice of the community, the Talmud was reinterpreted.17 In such
communities, can it be as relevant to talk of anti-rabbinic animus as in
Geonic Babylonia? In the smaller communities of medieval Ashkenaz
there was a completely different communal configuration which gave
rise to different conceptions of leadership which have little bearing on
messianic postures.18
15 Cohen, p. 224. Emphasis on this phrase, the sole passage Cohen chose to
emphasize in the original.
16 J.L. Kraemer, ‘On Maimonides’ Messianic Postures’, in: I. Twersky (ed.), Studies
in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, II, Cambridge, Mass. 1984, pp. 109-142;
D. Berger, ‘Al Toze>oteha
. ha-Ironiyot shel Gishato ha-Razionalistit
. shel
ha-Rambam la-Tekufah ha-Meshihit’, . in: A. Hyman (ed.), Maimonidean Studies,
II, New York 1991, pp. 1-8.
17 H. Soloveitchik, ‘Religious Law and Change: The Medieval Ashkenazic
Example’, AJS Review, 12 (1987), pp. 205-222.
18 On the contrast between the conception of Thomas Carlyle that history is the
biography of great men and of Plekhanov who saw the great men as puppets
acting out the will of the people, see: I. Malkin and Z. Tzahor, Intro., Leaders and
Leadership in Jewish and World History, Jer usalem 1992 (Hebrew), p. 7. In the
analysis of narrative in Ashkenaz and Sepharad, Sara Zfatman, The Jewish Tale in
the Middle Ages: Between Ashkenaz and Sepharad, Jer usalem 1993, pp. 150-152,
demonstrated that in Ashkenazic stories, the heroes are of the community,

7] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

The assumption that each ‘Jewry’, defined monolithically, must be

aligned with a particular messianic typology, obscures the complexities
of class, geography, and communal str ucture. The movements on the
fringes of seventh century Persia were so different from the rarefied
atmosphere of the rational courtiers of Andalusia and their mathemat-
ical messianic calculations, as to arouse questions concerning the use-
fulness of the r ubric Sephardic for both. Differences in liturgy are not
valid categories of historical causality.
Even the use of the cultural paradigms Ashkenaz and Sepharad as
indicators of sweeping historical postures can be questioned. Imported
from the world of custom and liturgy, ‘nusakh’ and ‘minhag’, Cohen
argued that ‘What was tr ue of halakhah, philosophy, liturgy, poetry and
Hebrew style had its counterpart in messianic posture and expression
as well’.19 The constr ucts Ashkenaz-Sepharad as two absolutely distinct
cultural-geographic units is constantly being reassessed. The cultural
boundaries were not nearly as impermeable as was once thought. Mu-
tual cultural influences, although they took time to interpenetrate, of-
ten affected the very core of what we perceive as Ashkenazic or Sephar-
dic.20 Certain regions, such as Provence and parts of Italy, served as
centers of continuous cultural overlap.21 The two earliest anti-Christian
polemics to be written in Christian countries – ‘Milhamot
. ha-Shem’ by

relying on traditions of their forefathers; in Sephardic stories, they are outside

the community and rely on their own talents.
19 Cohen, 1992 (above note 7), p. 204.
20 The entire issue of Pe5amim 57 (Autumn 1993) was devoted to this theme. For
another general discussion of the pervasive myth that there was little cultural
contact between the two spheres, see: Zfatman (above note 18), particularly pp.
128-129. For some specific examples, see: S. Assaf, ‘Halifat
. She>elot u-Teshuvot
bein Sepharad u-vein Ashkenaz ve-Zarefat’,
. Tarbiz,
. 8 (1936-37), pp. 162-171; A.
Grossman, ‘Bein Sefarad le-Zarefat’,
. Exile and Diaspora: Studies in the History of
the Jewish People Presented to Professor Haim Beinart on the Occasion of his Seventieth
Birthday, Jer usalem 1988, pp. 75-101 (in Hebrew); idem, ‘Zikata shel Yahadut
Ashkenaz ha-Keduma el Eretz Yisrael’, Shalem, 3 (1981), pp. 57-92; Y.M. Ta-Shma,
Ha-Nigleh she-ba-Nistar: Le-Heker
. Sheki5ei ha-Halakhah be-Sefer ha-Zohar, Tel-Aviv
1995, pp. 19-40 on the Ashkenazic elements in the Zohar. For a modern
manifestation, see I. Schorsch, ‘The Myth of Sephardic Supremacy’, Yearbook of
Leo Baeck Institute, 34 (1989), pp. 35-47.
21 For example, see M. Perani, ‘The Italian Genizah: Hebrew Manuscript
Fragments in Italian Archives and Libraries’, Jewish Studies, 34 (1994), p. 49.
Fragments from books produced in Germany-Austria tended to remain in that
location; fragments of Iberian works, in Iberia. In Italy, both Ashkenazic,
Sephardic, and Italian materials were to be found.

Elisheva Carlebach [8

Jacob b. Reuben and ‘Book of the Covenant’ by Yosef Kimhi . – were

written by refugees from Muslim Spain – critiques of Christianity de-
veloped within Islamic context.22 In the sixteenth century, Josel of
Rosheim, representative of German Jewry in the Empire, wrote a mor-
alistic work which was a close paraphrase of the recently published
work by Sephardic thinker Abraham b. Shem Tov Bibago, ‘Derekh
Emunah’.23 R. Yair Hayyim
. Bacharach recalled a tradition that Sephar-
dic philosophical classics were studied in the yeshivot of Ashkenaz.24
In the wake of the expulsions from Spain and Portugal of 1492/7, fig-
ures like Eliezer Ashkenazi traversed both worlds and helped to diffuse
messianic dates, calculations, and ideas, so that hopes for deliverance
among Spanish Jews mingled with those of Italian and German Jews.25
Factors such as demography, geographic distribution and communal
str ucture must be taken into account along with the r ubrics Ashkenaz
and Sepharad.
I want to turn to consideration of another aspect of the comparative
dimension of Jewish messianism: the reporting, chronicling and com-
mitment to collective memory of Jewish messianic episodes, and the
role of such memory in the shaping of subsequent messianic activities.26
Did Jewish societies record their memories in markedly different ways,
depending on whether their milieu was Christian or Muslim? Historian
Mark Cohen has argued that Jewish chroniclers in Christian lands
tended to center on the memory of persecution so that it became the
defining characteristic of their exilic experience, whereas Jewish chron-
iclers within Islamic lands tended to bury accounts of persecution of
Jews, along with reports about the suffering of local Muslims and larger
political events. It was the persistence and centrality of the memory of
persecution, rather than the objective number and severity of the occur-

22 D. Lasker, ‘Judeo-Christian Polemics and their Origins in Muslim Countries’,

Pe5amim, 57 (1993), pp. 5-16 (in Hebrew).
23 Iosephi de Rosheim, Sefer ha-Miknah, ed. and intro., H. Fraenkel-Goldschmidt,
Jer usalem 1970, pp. 34-52. On this phenomenon see more generally M. Breuer,
‘ “Sephardic Influence” in Ashkenaz in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern
Period’, Pe5amim, 57 (1993), pp. 17-18.
24 H.H. Ben-Sasson, ‘Jewish-Christian Disputation in the Setting of Humanism and
Reformation in the German Empire’, Harvard Theological Review, 59 (1966), p. 371.
25 H.H. Ben-Sasson, ‘The Reformation in Contemporary Jewish Eyes’, Proceedings
of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 4 (1971), pp. 241-326.
26 See: M. Idel, Introduction to A.Z. Aescoly, Ha-Tenu5ot ha-Meshihiyot . be-Yisrael,
Jer usalem 1987, p. 23.

9] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

rences that appears to have generated the noted ‘lachrymose concep-

tion of Jewish history’ among Jews in medieval Christian lands.27 Em-
phasis on memories of suffering as the defining marker of existence
among the nations in exile may have conditioned Jews living among
Christians to see the messianic denouement as entirely transcending
the prevailing order. It would have to contain decisive vengeance
against these hideous oppressors.28 A recent study of the transforma-
tion of one sixteenth century historiographical text, the Shevet Yehudah,
as it passed from its original Sephardic milieu to Ashkenazic readers,
exemplifies brilliantly the process of cultural and literal translation that
reshaped its message.29 Theologically sensitive material was simply ed-
ited out and chapters depicting conversion to Christianity, a central ex-
perience of Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the early modern period,
were excised. While such an explicit and specific example of editorial
reinvention may be more difficult to locate for other cases, it provides
a vivid reminder of the constant process of revision and editing that
rendered collective memories suitable for their intended milieu.

A comparison of the way Ashkenazic Jews recorded and remembered
expressions of Jewish messianism within the Christian milieu, with
memories among Sephardic Jews of those same events, demonstrates
that there was a sharp division in the way each cultural cluster
transmitted memories of messianic activism. If we juxtapose the
historiographical treatment of two central messianic movements in the
sixteenth century, a time in which there was both a relatively rich
historiography, and considerable messianic activity, this discrepancy
becomes conspicuous.30 In the discussion which follows, I am not
primarily concerned with sifting the actual historical details of the

27 Cohen (above note 9), pp. 186-199.

28 Yuval (above note 9), pp. 34-55.
29 M. Stanislawski, ‘The Yiddish Shevet Yehudah: A Study in the “Ashkenization” of
a Spanish-Jewish Classic’, in E. Carlebach, J. Efron and D. Myers (eds.), Jewish
History and Jewish Memory, Hanover, NH 1998, pp. 134-149.
30 It seems to me that Cohen’s contention in ‘Messianism in Jewish History’ (above
note 8), that sixteenth-century messianism differed radically from its
predecessors is tendentious, if the criterion is open political activism. There was
no great difference between the realism of Abulafia, Reubeni and Sabbatai Zevi.
For a more accurate typology of medieval Jewish messianic-mystical activism,
see: Idel (above note 7).

Elisheva Carlebach [10

movements, and have uncovered no new sources. I am interested here

in the subsequent memory of the events as they were preserved by the
respective Jewish chroniclers.
The first Jewish messianic movement of the sixteenth century came
at the very beginning of that century, when a Jew of German descent,
Asher Lemlein of Reutlingen, appeared in Istria, near Venice. Reports
concerning the details of his messianic activities differ. Most agree that
at the very least, he announced tidings of the messiah.31 Renaissance
Italian Jew Abraham Farissol was an eyewitness to the movement of
Lemlein. He described Lemlein as an ‘Ashkenazi who had pretensions,
saying, “I will rule”. With his little wisdom and the few actions that he
undertook, and with the mediation of his disciples, he misled the entire
region, concerning the coming of the redeemer, and he let it be heard that
he [the redeemer] had already come’. Farissol also mentioned the in-
tense movement of penitence that Lemlein’s movement had inspired.32
Among Ashkenazim, the movement was recorded in the historical
chronicle of David Gans, Zemah
. . David, published in Prague in the late
sixteenth century:
Rabbi Lemmlen announced the advent of the messiah in the year
1500/1, and his words were credited throughout the dispersion
of Israel. Even among the Gentiles, the news spread and many of
them also believed his words. My grandfather Seligman Gans z"l
smashed the special oven in which he baked matzzot, being
firmly convinced that the next year, he would bake matzzot in the
Holy Land. And I, the writer, heard from my old teacher, R.
Eliezer Trivash, head of the Bet din in Frankfurt, that the matter
was not without basis, and that he had shown signs and proofs,
but that perhaps because of our sins he [the messiah] was

31 For Lemlein’s writings, see: E. Kupfer, ‘Hezyonotav

. shel R. Asher b. R. Meir
ha-Mekhuneh Lemlein Reutlingen’, Kobez. al Yad, vol. 8, no. 18 (1975), pp.
385-423; D. Tamar, ‘On R. Asher Lemlein’, Zion, . 52 (1987), pp. 399-401. For
further background, see: S. Krauss, ‘Le roi de France Charles VII et les esperances
messianiques’, Revue des etudes
´ juives, 51 (1906), pp. 87-96, esp. 94.
32 Aescoly, Ha-Tenu5ot ha-Meshihiyot, p. 329. Farissol dated Lemlein’s movement to
1502. See: D. Ruderman, The World of a Renaissance Jew: The Life and Thought of
Abraham ben Mordecai Farissol, Cincinnati 1981, pp. 138, 200 note 38.
33 David Gans, Zemah
. . David, ed. M. Breuer, Jer usalem 1983, pp. 137, #1530. Cf. the
translation in A. H. Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel: from the First
through the Seventeenth Centuries, Gloucester, Mass. 1978 [1927], p. 144.

11] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

Several points in Gans’ account are worth noting. First, that Gans
characterized Lemlein as a herald of the messiah, not as the messiah.
Second, that Gans described in personal and poignant terms the very
profound reaction to this messianic tiding within both popular circles –
his grandfather the matzah baker – as well as among the scholarly elite
– his rabbi. Clearly, this movement str uck very deep chords among
Ashkenazic Jews who heard the tidings.
An anonymous chronicle from Prague in the early seventeenth cen-
tury contains this entry for 1502: ‘News came of the messianic king,
causing massive repentance among the many communities of Israel’.34
In this report Lemlein was apparently remembered as a messianic fig-
ure. He stimulated a very widespread penitential reaction, although the
entry is so terse that the meaning of the phrase ‘news came’ is obscure.
If we turn to Sephardic chroniclers of this event, a more painful per-
spective emerges. In his Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah (Chain of Tradition), pub-
lished in Italy in the late sixteenth century, Gedaliah ibn Yahia
. reported:
‘When the man [Lemlein] died and the messiah had not come, it caused
many conversions, because when the fools saw that the messiah hadn’t
arrived, they apostatized immediately’.35
Significantly, this incident was not recorded by Ibn Yahia
. as an inher-
ently interesting and important event. Rather, it was related as a high-
light in the life of Daniel Bomberg, the Christian printer of early He-
brew books. Chronicler Yoseph Ha-Kohen similarly had no kind words
to spare for the ‘Ashkenazi, an evil prophet, a confused man of spirit’,
to whom the Jews streamed, saying, ‘God has sent him to r ule over his
people Israel, he will gather in the dispersed of Judah from the four
corners of the earth’.36

34 A. David (ed.), A Hebrew Chronicle from Prague c. 1615, tr. L.J. Weinberger with D.
Ordan, Tuscaloosa 1993, p. 24.
35 Ibn Yahia
. was born to a Portuguese refugee family that had settled in Italy. On
his historiography, see: A. David, ‘R. Gedalya ibn Yahya’s . Shalshelet Hakabbalah
[Chain of Tradition]: A Chapter in Medieval Jewish History’, Immanuel, 12
(1980), pp. 60-75; idem, ‘The Spanish Expulsion and the Portuguese Persecution
through the Eyes of the Historian R. Gedalya ibn Yahya’, . Sefarad, 56 (1996), pp.
45-59. 'exind cin `a `l giyny mi`ztd ze`xa ik zelecb zexnd lblbe giyn `a `le yi`d zenie'
cited in Silver (above note 33), note 144.
36 Joseph ha-Kohen, Sefer Emeq ha-Bakhah, ed. K. Almbladh, Uppsala 1981, pp.
67-68: lie` eny oilnil cg` ifpky` icedi yi` d`ivipie lv` xy` d`ixhqi`a mwie mdd minia idie'
zevetpe l`xyi enr lr cibpl edgly 'd ik `ed `iap j` exn`ie micedid eil` exdpe gexd yi` rbeyn `iapd
drxd ekxcn yi` eaeyie miwy exbgie zenev exfbie eixg` ehp minkgd mbe ux`d zetpk rax`n uawi dcedi
'dpyigi dzra 'de `al epzreyi daexw exn` ik `idd zra

Elisheva Carlebach [12

The seventeenth century chronicler, Yosef Sambari, characterized

Lemlein as an ‘Ashkenazi who proclaimed himself a prophet’.37
Sambari recorded:
Many of the elite, leaders and sages of Israel, tended to follow
him; he imposed upon them fast days and penances but they did
not obey him. Many of the sinners of Israel [apostates] repented
of their evil ways, but they were immersed in mighty waters and
came up empty handed, as a result of sins, as occurred in our own
day, as a result of sins.38
Sambari too mentioned the episode of Lemlein in the context of the
Sabbatian messianic movement of his own times, rather than an
inherently significant event. Lemlein is the only Ashkenazic messianic
figure to appear in Sambari.
Both ibn Yahia
. and Sambari linked the failure of messianic move-
ment to its polemical consequences within the Christian context, par-
ticularly the conversions to Christianity in its wake. Both Ashkenazic
chroniclers were careful to avoid mentioning this aspect. Sambari noted
the power of the movement to temporarily reverse the course of recent
converts from Judaism to Christianity. When the movement failed,
many more converted to Christianity. Sambari hinted to voices of re-
sistance to Lemlein’s message during the height of the movement.
Reactions to Lemlein reverberated beyond the Jewish community. Jo-
hannes Pfefferkorn, notorious convert to Christianity, recalled the strife
among the Jews of Halle in the wake of the Jewish Messiah ‘Lemmel’
and urged the Jews in his Speculum adhortationis iudaice ad Christum
(Mirror of exhortation of Jews to Christianity) to recognize the tr ue
messiahship of Christ. He noted that ‘we’ Jews were often swindled,
and played the incident to the greatest polemical advantage.39

37 Yosef Sambari, Sefer Divrei Yosef, ed. Shimon Shtober, Jer usalem 1994, pp.
266-267; Joseph ha-Kohen, Sefer Divrei ha-Yamim le-Malkhei Zarfat . u-Malkhei beit
Ottoman ha-Tugar, Sabionetta 1554, p. 123b; Gedaliah ibn Yahya, . Shalshelet
ha-Kabbalah, Venice 1587, 45a-b: '`iap envr dyry ifpky`'
38 l` exq `le zewqtde zenev mdilr xefbl eci dbiyde eixg` ehp l`xyi inkge ipivwe iliv`n miaxe'
mina ellv k"g`e mditka xy` qngd one drxd ekxcn yi` eay l`xyi ipa iryetn miax mpn` .ezrnyn
'zepeera dfd onfa rxi`y enk zepeera mcia qxg elrde mixic`. Sambari was referring to
conversions that occurred following the collapse of Sabbatai Zevi’s movement.
39 ‘Och wie iemerliche wir bedrogen sind’. H. M. Kirn, Das Bild vom Juden in
Deutschland des fruhen
¨ 16. Jahrhunderts dargestellt an den Schriften Johannes
Pfefferkorns, Tubingen 1989, p. 30, note 68.

13] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

Sebastian Munster, Christian Hebraist and disciple of Elijah Levita, had
the Christians say in ‘Ha-Vikuah’,
. his polemical dialogue:
And it happened in the year 1502 that the Jews did penance in all
their dwelling places and in all the lands of exile in order that the
messiah might come. Almost a whole year, young and old,
children and women did penance in those days, the like of which
had never been seen before. And in spite of it all there appeared
neither sign nor vestige, not to speak of the reality itself.
For how did that repentance of 1502 help you, when all Jews in
their habitations and places in exile […] young and old, infants
and women, repented as never before and nothing was revealed
to you[.] [The result was] You Jews [too] see and understand that
your rabbis are confused and wrong.40
Johannes a Lent, author of the seventeenth century ‘list’ that was to
become the canonical reference work on Jewish false messiahs, devoted
a very substantial section to Lemlein, exceeding all prior descriptions
of the movement in length.41 It consisted of several reports by Jewish
(Ganz and ibn Yahya),
. non Jewish (Genebrardus), and convert (Isaac
Levita) sources, along with Lent’s introduction and translations from
the Hebrew. In both Lent’s introduction to the section, as well as in the
excerpts from Genebrardus and Levita, Lemlein is described as a

40 ‘Potissimum autem id fecer unt anno mundi q-n quies millesimo ducentesimo
sexagesimosecundo, qui fuit annus Christi 1502. quando omnes Iudaei fecer unt
publicam poenitentiam per omnes habitationes suas, in omnibus terris & per
totam captivitatem, [...] fere, per integr um annum, tam pueri quam senes,
per uuli & mulieres, qualis poenitentia nunque retroactis seculis audita est: eam
autem fecer unt pro adventu Meschiae. Sed omnia fr ustra. Nihil enim est eis
revelatum, necque signum ullum aut ullus nutus, (45) ut taceam maius
quippiam. Et certe res istra est miraculum magnum, sibilus oris & complosio
manuum apud cunctos qui id audiunt, quod nihil illis suffragatur, non lex, non
poenitentia, non oratio neque ulla eleemosyna, quae omnia per singulos faciunt
dies’. Sebastian Munster, Messias Christianorum et Iudaeorum Hebraice et Latine
[Messiah of the Christians and Jews], Basel 1539, pp. 44-45. I thank Professor
Stephen Burnett for sending this excerpt, and for sharing with me his article, ‘A
Dialogue of the Deaf: Hebrew Pedagogy and Anti-Jewish Polemic, Sebastian
Munster’s Messiahs of the Christians and the Jews (1529/39)’, Archiv fur ¨
Reformationsgeschichte, 91 (2000), pp. 168-190. English translation see in Silver
(above note 33), p. 145, note 141.
41 Johannes a Lent, Schediasma Historico Philologicum de Judaeorum Pseudo-Messias,
Herborna 1697.

Elisheva Carlebach [14

messiah.42 The excerpt from the former Jew turned Christian is the most
polemical, chiding the blind Jews for continuing to await a messiah in
their sinful state.43
Until the publication of Lemlein’s own writings by Ephraim Kupfer,
scholars Tishby, Aescoly, and Cohen44 linked the movement of Lemlein
to the expulsion from Spain, although there was not a shred of evidence
for that assumption, and despite the fact that all the chroniclers empha-
sized that he was Ashkenazic. His own writings show him to have been
something of a champion of Ashkenazic culture and contemptuous of
the Sephardic, apparently in resentment of the newly arrived refugees
from Spain that entered Italy.45 The historiography of the movement
thus differed considerably depending on who was doing the reporting.
It would be even more instr uctive to compare the reports by Ashke-
nazim and Sephardim of a messianically charged event that occurred
within the fuller light of history. David Reubeni appeared in 1522 claim-
ing to represent the Lost Tribes of Israel, with a scheme to liberate the
Jews in the Diaspora.46 Armed with an offer to provide an army against

42 Lent, ibid., p. 70: ‘se pro Messia venditavit Rabbi Lemlem Judaeus Germanus’.
Genebrardus: ‘Quidam Iudaeus nomine Lemlem, imposuit quibusdam (credo in
Germania) se esse ver um Christum, quem exspectabant’.
43 Aescoly, in a brief translation (Ha-Tenu5ot ha-Meshihiyot,
. p. 331), did not convey
the full polemical sting of Levita’s words. Levita translated Maimonides’ epistle
on astrology into Latin, and introduced the epistle with the following paragraph
on Lemlein, probably because the epistle ended with the consideration of a
report of a messianic movement among the Jews of Yemen. The relevant text of
the epistle, see: Iggerot ha-Rambam, II, ed. Y. Shilat, Jer usalem 1988, p. 479:
‘Tandem Lemlem Pseudo-messias, aliis propheta, periit, nusquamque magis
appar uit, cum antea conquestus esset, impoenitentiam Judaeor um adventum
Messiae retardare. In de factum, ut omnes Judaei Anno Christi 1502 in universa
dispersione sua diligentissime poenitentiam agerent, per orationem, jejunium &
Eleemosynas, ut adventum Messiae tam propinqui promover unt, sed nihil
effecer unt. Non enim vider unt coeci homines, Messiam sic nunquam ventur um,
quia peccare nunquam cessabunt. Vah, quam magnifica spe vos fr ustra toties
implestis agnoscite vel tandem o miselli, cum ne ullo seculo non seducti estis,
quod haec expectatio nimis sera sit. Adveniat Messias fatemur & forte in
propinquo est, sed non ea ratione, qua vos persuasi estis. Sed de his plura in
44 Idel, Introduction to Aescoly, Ha-Tenu5ot ha-Meshihiyot,. p. 23. According to
Cohen (p. 206): ‘The call of Asher Lemmlein is an obscure and short-lived affair,
which show[s] traces of Sephardic influence on the mind of an Ashkenazic Jew’.
45 See: Idel, ibid.
46 Ironically, the first Jewish historians to analyze the story of Reubeni, Neubauer
and then Aescoly, thought he may have been of Ashkenazic descent. His origins

15] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

the Turks, he met with the Pope and with King John III of Portugal. In
Portugal he attracted the attention of Diego Pires, a Marrano who cir-
cumcised himself and took the name Shlomo Molkho. In 1532 they trav-
elled together to Regensburg to meet Emperor Charles V. Molkho was
ultimately burned at the stake in Mantua; Reubeni met his end in a
Spanish prison.47
In addition to their own writing, or that produced by their camps,
Reubeni and Molkho occupied center stage in several of the chronicles
written by Sephardic Jews in the sixteenth century, particularly Joseph
ha-Kohen and Gedaliah ibn Yahya. . Joseph ha-Kohen reported: ‘And a
shoot went forth from Portugal, his name was Shlomo Molkho’, a dis-
tinctly messianic introduction to Molkho within a lengthy account of
Reubeni and Molkho’s activities.48 The seventeenth century chronicler
Yosef Sambari of Egypt wove their accounts together and created one
unified chronicle.49 His account was far lengthier than any previous re-
port of a failed messianic figure.50 It begins with the story of Shlomo
Molkho ‘who proclaimed himself the messiah’, and David ‘Chief of
staff for the messiah’. Sambari stated unambiguously from the begin-
ning that Molkho was regarded as a messiah. Reubeni introduced holy
names, flags and the shield of ‘king David’ intended for use to fight the
wars of God. Since the Reubeni/Molkho adventure was widely known
and recounted, those contemporaries who passed over it in silence or
with very minimal notice must have chosen that path deliberately.
Molkho’s sojourn in Regensburg in 1532, to request permission to
draft Jews into his battle against the Turks, left a deep and lasting im-
pression on the German Jews. Josel of Rosheim, spokesman for German
Jewry in the first half of the sixteenth century, recorded in his chronicle:
‘There came [to Regensburg] that speaker of a foreign tongue [lo=ez],
the righteous convert called R. Shlomo Molka [sic], may he rest in
peace, with alien doctrines [de=ot hizoniyot]
. . to arouse the emperor by

are still unknown but that possibility seems unlikely. See the bibliography cited
in A. Shohat, ‘Le-Farshat David ha-Reuveni’, Zion,
. 35 (1970), p. 96, note 1.
47 For sources on the messianic careers of Reubeni and Molkho, see: A.Z. Aescoly,
Sippur David ha-Reuveni, Jer usalem 1993; idem, Ha-Tenu5ot ha-Meshihiyot, pp.
48 Emeq ha-Bakhah (above note 36), pp. 71-73.
49 Sefer Divrei Yosef (above note 37), pp. 293-302.
50 Sambari’s account of the Sabbatai Zevi period was excised from the manuscript
in all extant copies. A later copyist inserted the Sabbatian section from Tobias
Kohen’s Ma5aseh Tovia, editio princeps Venice 1707, chapter 1, part 6.

Elisheva Carlebach [16

saying that he had come to call all Jews to war against the Turks’.51 Josel
then wrote that he had sent a letter imploring Molkho to desist from his
plan; when that failed he left the city so as not to be associated by the
Emperor with the schemes of Molkho.52 He concluded his entry by de-
scribing Molkho as having died the death of a martyr, and having
caused many Jews to repent.53
Josel’s report is remarkable, both for what it contains as well as for
what it omits. The word as well as the concept of messiah are totally
absent from his account. He characterized Molkho as one who es-
poused alien doctrines; his activities consisted solely of his entreaty to
the Emperor for a joint offensive against the Turks. There was no men-
tion in Josel’s account that he was regarded by many Jews as a messiah.
The name David Reubeni, whom Josel surely heard of, even if he had
not met him, was suppressed. Molkho’s image in this source is that of
an heretical fantasist, whose primary virtue resided in his martyrdom.
If no other source had survived, we might never have known the mes-
sianic character of the movement.
Other aspects of Molkho’s legacy, particularly his martyrdom, were
preserved with great fidelity among Ashkenazim. R. Yom Tov Lipman
Heller recalled: ‘Here in the Pinkas synagogue in Prague, which I had
frequented prior to my appointment as head of the Rabbinical court,
there is a pair of zizit
. . [fringed four cornered garments] exactly the color
green as in an egg yolk. It was brought here from Regensburg, and it

51 H. Fraenkel-Goldschmidt (ed.), Ketavim Historiyim: R. Yosef Ish Rosheim,

Jer usalem 1996, p. 296.
52 On Molkho’s encounter in Regensburg, see: S. Eidelberg, ‘Ha->im Nitlaveh
David ha-Reuveni le-Shelomo Molkho be-Masa5o le-Regensburg?’ Tarbiz, . 42
(1972-73), pp. 148-153. That Josel’s fears were not baseless can be seen in an
anti-Jewish edict of 1543, in which the ‘deceitful calumnies and lies spread by
the Jews against the tr ue Messiah’ were cited as justification by John Frederick,
Elector of Saxony. S. Stern, Josel of Rosheim: Commander of Jewry in the Holy Roman
Empire of the German Nation, tr. G. Hirschler, Philadelphia 1965, p. 155.
53 Text from Fraenkel-Goldschmidt, Josel of Rosheim, p. 296: frel yi`d `a 'inid oze`ae'
z`vl 'iceid lk ueawl `ay exne`a xqwd xxerl zeipevig zrca r"p `wlen dnly iax 'peknd wcv xb
eplk`i ot xqwd al xxerl `ly exidfdl eiptl zxb` izazk egexa 'zlry dn irneyke xbzd cbp dnglnl
e`eaae zeipevg zerc ezk`lna ez` ici xqwd xn`i `ly ick bxety oibrx xird on izwlqe .dlecbd y`d
xiqd 'iaxe l`xyi zezc myd yecw lr sxyp dny `iipela xir cr ekilede zelfxa ilaka qtzp xqwd l`
'r"ba 'xexv eznyp oern. Most historians assume that ‘the multitudes he removed
from sin’, referred to Marranos, perhaps those of Antwerp. But there is no reason
to assume that Ashkenazic Jews were not also intended, given the messianic
significance of the encounter with the emperor.

17] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

belonged to the martyr Shlomo Molkho, may God avenge his blood.
Also two of his banners, and the caftan called kittel’.54 Once again, there
is no mention of messianic aspirations. David Gans recorded in ‘Zemah
. .
R. Shlomo Molkho, righteous convert of the conversos of
Portugal, was scribe of the king who converted in secret, and
adhered to David Reubeni of the land of the Ten Tribes […] This
R. Shlomo, although he was lacking in Torah from his youth,
became an expert in Torah. He preached in public in Italy and
Turkey and wrote a kabbalistic work. I, the writer, have seen a
copy of that work in the possession of the Gaon my kinsman, my
cousin R. Nathan Horodna. (His son later became Rosh Yeshiva
and Head of the Rabbinical Court in Worms [143] so the tradition
may have travelled there.) R. Shlomo and his companion Reubeni
had audiences with the King of France and Charles V, and they
tried to direct their hearts to the Jewish faith, for which R. Shlomo
was condemned to the flames in Mantua, 1532/3, and they put a
harness in his mouth so that he was unable to say anything.55
The word messiah or any overt references to a messianic mission are
absent. Molkho had preached a sermon before an audience of both Jews
and Christians in Mantua. References to Molkho’s anti-Christian
polemical words were reported as pro-Jewish proselytization.56
The anonymous Prague chronicler of 1615 referred only to the r u-
mors that were associated with the appearance of David Reubeni in the
entry for 1523: ‘News of saviors from beyond the Sambatyon River
spread among all the lands, in addition to other messianic expecta-
tions’.57 The chronicler did not mention Molkho’s name or messianic
activities either in the entry for 1523 or in any subsequent entries. The
contrast between the laconic descriptions of the Ashkenazic chroniclers
and the expansive versions of the Sephardim chroniclers is striking.
Christian Hebraist Johann Albert Widmanstadt, a contemporary,

54 Yom Tov Lipman Heller, Divrei Hamudot;

. commentary to Halakhot Ketanot
la-Ros"h, Hilkhot Zizit,
. . end of parag. 25. Additional references in parags. 48, 59.
Eidelberg (above note 52), p. 150. On the synagogue known as the Pinkasschul,
founded in 1535, see: H. Volavkova, The Pinkas Synagogue, Prague 1955.
55 Gans, Zemah
. . David (above note 33), p. 138, for the year 1533.
56 M. Idel, ‘An Unknown Sermon of Shlomo Molkho’s’, in: Exile and Diaspora
(above note 20), pp. 430-436 (in Hebrew).
57 David (above note 34), p. 27.

Elisheva Carlebach [18

wrote: ‘R. Solomon Molkho who prophesied that he himself was the
messiah of the Jews, and was burned in Mantua in 1532, at the com-
mand of Charles V […] wrote a book on Jewish kabbalah. I saw his ban-
ner in Ratisbon [Regensburg] in 1541, with the letters iakn’.58 In his cat-
alogue of Jewish false messiahs, Johannes a Lent described the move-
ment of Reubeni-Molkho as ‘qui se pro messia constanter venditavit’.59
Several patterns emerge from the examples of the two sixteenth cen-
tury messianic movements of Lemlein and Reubeni-Molkho. Ashke-
nazim tended to be laconic in their record and description of these
movements; they tended to minimize the messianic element within his-
torical events or omit it altogether. It is no coincidence that Abravanel,
a Sephardic Jew, recorded a messianic tradition among German Jews.
‘There is a tradition among the Jews of Ashkenaz, that because the seat
of the emperor is there, the messiah will come there [first]’.60 Sephardic
chroniclers of messianic movements tended to be less interested in Ash-
kenazic figures but they did not detract from the messianic character of
events that came to their attention. For their own polemical reasons,
Christians or converts to Christianity did preserve the messianic char-
acter of some of these same events. Fully aware of the polemical import
of these movements, Christian lenses maximized what Ashkenazic
memory minimized.61 Christian Hebraists included lists of Jewish false

58 ‘R. Salomonis Molchi, qui se Messiam Judaeor um esse praedicavit, atque

Mantuae propter seditionis Hebraicae metum, Carolo V. Rom. Imp. pro vidente,
concrematus fuit anno 1532, liber de Secreta Hebraeor um Theologia. Huius
vexilium vidi Ratisbonae anno 1541 cum litteris iakn’. Cited in M.H. Landauer,
Literaturblatt des Orients, 27 (1845), p. 419. Landauer noted that an earlier
bibliographer had mistakenly attributed a manuscript of Abraham Abulafia’s to
Molkho because the stories of their meetings with the Pope were similar, and the
bibliographer had never heard of Abulafia. Hebrew translations of the text, see:
Aescoly, Ha-Tenu5ot ha-Meshihiyot,
. p. 433; idem, Sippur David ha-Reuveni, pp.
59 Johannes a Lent (above note 41), p. 72, parag. XI. Lent based his erroneous
account, which dated the movement at 1534 and conflated the two figures, on
Juan Luis Vives’ De Veritate fidei Christianae, p. 491. Lent’s indiscriminate use of
inaccurate sources renders his book useless as history, but it is valuable as a
Christian reading of Jewish messianism.
60 Isaac Abravanel, Perush al Nevi6im Aharonim,
. Jer usalem 1955, Commentary to
Zechariah 1:16, 281 col. 4.
61 For examples of failed messianic movements linked with conversion of Jews,
see: D. Ruderman, ‘Hope against Hope: Jewish and Christian Messianic
Expectations in the Late Middle Ages’, in: idem (ed.), Essential Papers on Jewish
Culture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy, New York 1992, p. 299; E. Carlebach,

19] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

messiahs in their descriptions of Jews and Judaism.62 This explains why

it was that in Ashkenaz some Jewish messianic movements were pre-
served only in the memory of Christian chroniclers. From these obser-
vations it follows methodologically, then, that notices of messianic
movements within Ashkenaz should be read in a manner that is sensi-
tive to the context and aware of its likely distortions. Messianic move-
ments in Ashkenaz that were remembered in an obscure manner must
still be taken seriously.63 It is not that Ashkenazim did not produce
movements, but that they did not preserve their memory because of
their greatly negative theological valence.
Historian David Berger has noted the theological import of
messianism for Jews living among Christians. Medieval Jews living in
Christian lands lived in a state of perpetual rejection of a false messiah,
and may well have been more sensitive to claims of messianic pretend-
ers.64 The question of the messiah was not simply that of Israel’s history
having come to its teleological end sooner rather than later, through one
agent rather than another. It was a matter of reading the entire post-
Christian history of the Jews as a deliberate fraud. This one issue alone
contained within it the power to validate the entire Christian claim, to
undermine the entire rationale for existence of Jews and Judaism in the
Christian mind.65 It should come as no wonder that Jews and Christians
would distort accounts of messianic activism accordingly.

‘Sabbatianism and the Jewish-Christian Polemic’, Proceedings of the Tenth World

Congress of Jewish Studies, Division C, Vol. II: Jewish Thought and Literature,
Jer usalem 1990, pp. 1-7; Y.F. Baer (A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, II,
Philadelphia 1961, pp. 277-281) reports on messianic movement in Castile in
1295 which shook the Jewish community to its foundations. The only surviving
record is an apostate’s derisive and polemical account mocking Jews for their
false hopes.
62 The culmination of this listing was the monograph by Lent (above note 41).
63 Cohen ignored reports of movements in Ashkenaz which he regarded as obscure
yet included movements in the Sephardic world for which sources were equally
obscure, such as the Leon/Lyon movement of 1068. On that movement see: S.W.
Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (=ASRHJ), V, New York 1957, p.
64 D. Berger, ‘Three Typological Themes in Early Jewish Messianism: Messiah Son
of Joseph, Rabbinic Calculations, and the Figure of Armilus’, AJS Review, vol. 10,
no. 2 (1985), pp. 162-163, note 82. This comment was made with specific
reference to Gerson Cohen’s thesis.
65 J. M. Elukin, ‘Jacques Basnage and the History of the Jews: Anti-Catholic Polemic
and Historical Allegory in the Republic of Letters’, Journal of the History of Ideas,
53 (1992), pp. 603-630, esp. 621.

Elisheva Carlebach [20

Cohen’s r ule of evidence disregarded all accounts of messianic

movements that did not come from Jewish sources. By his decision not
to ‘reckon reports about Jewish messianic movements that are not at-
tested by Jews, or obscure incidents’, Cohen tipped the scales in favor
of the religio-cultural sphere of Islamic influence.66 Sephardim who fol-
lowed a messianist, ‘whatever the extent of their adherents’, were to be
counted; Ashkenazic sources with equally weak reverberations were
dismissed for: weak reverberations. Yet the opposite methodological
approach might be more justified in this case. Christian sources high-
lighted aspects of messianic movements that were inimical to Jewish
polemical interests, but that does not mean the incidents they described
were imagined. The records of messianic movements in Ashkenaz were
so fragile and elusive, that the historian can not afford to ignore evi-
dence from sources that we have no reason to believe are fundamen-
tally tainted. As a result of r ules which eliminated entire categories of
sources, Cohen passed in virtual silence over periods of messianic fer-
ment within Ashkenazic Jewry:
Throughout this period, no segment of Ashkenazic Jewry is
known to have risen in messianic revolt. Indeed, we may go even
further and say that there is not a single case of a messianic
movement or of a pseudo-messiah known from Ashkenazic
Jewry until the beginning of the sixteenth century.
If enumerating incidents over half a millennium or more constitutes
sufficient evidence to draw a paradigmatic messianic posture, then it is
very likely that re-evaluation of the sources will produce a new
definition of the Ashkenazic posture. Without creating an exhaustive
catalogue, a re-reading of the sources indicates that a re-evaluation is
in order.
For the messianism of the Cr usade period, Cohen defined Jews of
Byzantium as essentially Sephardic because they were eastern, yet he
never removed the Sephardic designation from Jews of Christian Spain,
who were western.67 These Jews generated a great deal of active messi-
anic ferment during the first Cr usade period. In Salonika, the impend-

66 Cohen, p. 229, note 11.

67 In a messianic report from 1096, one figure was the dayyan of the Babylonian
Jewish community in Egypt, the other was Gaon of the Palestinian academy at
Jer usalem. A. Sharf, ‘An Unknown Messiah of 1096 and the Emperor Alexius’,
Journal of Jewish Studies, 7 (1956), p. 63; J. Mann, ‘Ha-Tenu=ot ha-Meshihiyot
bi-Yemei Mas=ei ha-Zlav
. ha-Rishonim’, Ha-Tekufa, 23 (1925), pp. 243-261.

21] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

ing Cr usades sparked a major messianic awakening: the rich gave their
property to the poor, all were immersed in waves of prayer and repent-
ance: ‘They sit in their prayer shawls, they stopped working and we do
not know what they are hoping for. And we are afraid that the thing
might be revealed to the Gentiles and they will kill us’.68 This ferment
was communicated to western European Jewry, and it affected them
deeply. The Cr usade chronicle of Solomon bar Samson opened with a
statement concerning the impending redemption in a year that had
turned into one of affliction.69 It is impossible to know how widespread
such thoughts were in Ashkenaz, and whether or not they influenced
the martyrdom of the Rhine communities.70 The influential compilation
Sefer Hasidim
. already bears traces of a suppression of messianic thought
and activism. The readers are warned to distance themselves from ‘any
person who prophesies concerning the messiah […] for if it will be re-
vealed to the world, in the end it will be an embarrassment and humil-
iation before the world’.71
The mid-thirteenth century was another locus of messianic activism
among Jews in the Christian world. The fifth Jewish millennium was
inaugurated in the Christian year 1240; combined with the news of the
Mongol invasions the atmosphere was ripe for messianism. A Bohe-
mian chronicler reported, ‘In 1235 they [the Jews] were expelled from
the city [Prague] and scattered over the countryside, because they had
prepared to establish an army and showed letters in which they were
notified that their messiah had come’.72 When Ezra of Moncontour
arose in France and prophesied that Elijah would appear in 1226, the
messiah in 1233 and the redemption itself would begin in 1240, the
news spread almost exclusively through Sephardic channels. The news

68 J. Prawer, The History of the Jews in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, Oxford 1988,
pp. 10-13. Cohen cited and dismissed without comment, ‘two messianic
incidents in Byzantium, c. 1096, and in Sicily’ (p. 206) and discounted these
movements because these places had ‘cultural affinities with the East and Spain,
69 Cited in A. M. Haberman (ed.), Gezerot Ashkenaz ve-Zarefat,
. Jer usalem 1946, p. 24:
awril e"px `iapd dinxi z`eapk dngple dreyil epieiw f` xy` e"px xefgnl dpy dxyr zg`a [...] idie'
' 'ebe miebd y`xa eldve dgny
70 Baron, ASRHJ, IV, p. 96.
71 Sefer Hasidim,
. ed. Y. Wistinetsky and Y. Freimann, Frankfurt a.M. 1924, pp. 76-77,
parag. 212. Cited in Eidelberg (above note 9), p. 39, note 5, although it tends to
undermine his thesis rather than support it.
72 Aescoly, Ha-Tenu5ot ha-Meshihiyot,
. p. 212. Aescoly notes that all the sources were
non Jewish or hostile.

Elisheva Carlebach [22

was spread by a letter from Marseilles, to North Africa, to Alexandria,

from whence it passed into the Cairo Geniza.73
A Bavarian Chronicle reported that a comet appeared during 1337.
‘During this time of great controversy between Emperor and Pope,
Jews thought that the end had begun for the Roman Empire and for the
Christian religion (for in their great hatred of it, they think it to be vain),
and they believed that the time for the arrival of their messiah had
come. Toward this end, they united throughout the German lands,
against the Christians, and dared to decide that they would kill them
with poison. They stole the holy wafer of the flesh and blood of Christ
[…] When the matter was revealed, all the German Jews were caught
and burned […] Nothing could save them – such was the wrath of
God’.74 This is very dim memory of what may possibly have been a
strong messianic movement from the time of the Armleder persecu-
tions, and immediately following persecutions that began with shep-
herds.75 In Ashkenaz the memory of this movement could be preserved
only in a Christian source.
Medieval Italian Jewry, arguably a cultural unit that was neither Ash-
kenazic nor Sephardic did not fit neatly into Cohen’s paradigm either.
As historian Yosef Yer ushalmi has characterized them, ‘Italian Jewry
was particularly susceptible to every messianic tiding and, perhaps be-
cause of its geographic location, often served as an eschatological news
agency for other parts of the Jewish world’.76 An early fourteenth cen-
tury text described a messianic movement in the Italian Jewish commu-
nity of Cesena in North Central Italy: ‘The Jews of Italy with their fam-
ilies and their entire goods started out to go Overseas [Ultra Mare, Latin
term traditionally used for Holy Land]; they said that the messiah,
whom they were expecting, was born in those parts’.77 This movement
was probably stimulated by news of the fall of the last Cr usader King-
dom in 1291; it appears to have left no traces in Jewish sources. A very

73 S. Assaf, ‘New Documents Concerning Proselytes and a Messianic Movement’,

. 5 (1940), pp. 112-124 (in Hebrew).
74 Aescoly (Ha-Tenu5ot ha-Meshihiyot,
. pp. 238-239) cited from the sixteenth century
Johannes Adventinus, Bayerische Chronik, ed. G. Leidinger, Jena 1926, p. 175.
75 Aescoly, ibid., p. 239.
76 Y. Yer ushalmi, ‘Messianic Impulses in Joseph Ha-Kohen’, Jewish Thought in the
Sixteenth Century, Cambridge, Mass. 1983, pp. 460-487.
77 S. Schein, ‘An Unknown Messianic Movement in Thirteenth Century Italy:
Cesena, 1297’, Italia, 5 (1985), p. 98. The text is from Annales Caesenates, composed
prior to 1334, and published in the eighteenth century.

23] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

similar expression – ‘They decided to leave their communities and em-

igrate Overseas [Ultra Mare], to the Holy Land without the Emperor or
lord’s permission and consent’ – was used by Rudolph I of Habsburg
when in 1286 he ordered confiscation of the property of Jews in Spires,
Worms, Mainz, Oppenheim, and Wetterau.78 The end of the Cr usader
kingdom in 1291, accompanied by the massacre of the flourishing Jew-
ish community in the Holy Land, spurred a period of intense
messianism throughout European Jewry.79
Can collective migrations to the Holy Land be counted as messianic
activities? Scholars have debated the eschatological motivation behind
various ‘aliyot’, beginning with that of the ‘three hundred rabbis’ in the
early thirteenth century. While not every migration to Zion was under-
taken for explicitly messianic reasons, an anonymous disciple of
. writing close to 1290, makes it clear that many such mi-
grations were impelled by an active messianism. ‘Let no man assume
that the king messiah will appear in an unclean land; let him not be
deluded into imagining that he will appear in the Land of Israel among
the Gentiles […] And now many are inspired and they volunteer to go
to the Land of Israel. And many think that we are near the coming of
the Redeemer seeing that in many places the Gentiles made their bur-
den heavier upon Israel and many other signs have already been re-
vealed to the Chosen’.80 R. Menahem,. known as Zion
. or Zioni,
. who

78 Baron, ASRHJ, IX, New York 1967, pp. 153-154, from Monumenta Germaniae
Historica, Constitutiones, III, 368-369: ‘sine nostra sive domini sui speciali licencia
et consensu se ultra mare transtulerint’.
79 Silver (above note 33), pp. 81-101. Abraham Abulafia calculated a date in the
1280s; Tosafot Sens, Isaac ben Judah Halevy, in his `fx gprt, calculated 1290; the
author of the Zohar, 1300. For an interpretion of the fall of the Cr usader kingdom
as a sign that the land would only absorb its own sons, see: B.Z. Dinur, Yisrael
ba-Golah, II, Tel-Aviv 1965, pp. 441-442. A similar interpretation of the loss of
Cr usader ships at sea, see: I. Perles, ‘Die in einer Munchner ¨ Handschrift
aufgefundene erste lateinische Uebersetzung des Maimonidischen Fuhrers’, ¨
Monatsschrift fur¨ Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthums, 24 (1875), pp. 21-22;
J. Prawer, ‘Jewish Resettlement in Cr usader Jer usalem’, Ariel, 19 (1967), pp.
80 Perles, ibid., p. 22. Yuval cited a nearly identical passage from a disciple of `"avix
(d. 1210) and dated a series of messianic =aliyot to this time. See: I.J. Yuval, ‘Likrat
1240: Tikvot Yehudiyot, Pehadim . Nozriyim’,
. Proceedings of the Eleventh World
Congress of Jewish Studies, Division B, I, Jer usalem 1994, pp. 114-115. Although
some of the links between Jewish apocalypticism and the blood libel in Yuval’s
thesis have been criticized as tendentious, the suggestions that he makes in this
article concerning Jewish apocalyptic motivation are sound. See also: Yuval

Elisheva Carlebach [24

visited Israel for a time and appended the name Zion . to his name and
all his writings, acts which bespeak more than a passive messianism.81
Cohen reduced the entire history of migration to the Holy Land to ‘At
best, the rabbis tolerated the yen of some Jews to settle in the Holy
Land, but the extremely restricted extent of such settlement betrays the
tr ue nature of the elitist-rabbinic messianic posture’.82 Surely the re-
strictions were more a function of the unbearable conditions imposed
by geography, economics, and hateful overlords than by rabbinic in-
For example, Cohen dismissed the migration of ‘several hundred
rabbis from France and Germany to the Holy Land in 1210 and 1211’ as
‘betraying little if any messianic activity’.83 He characterized the move-
ment as elitist, because ‘they made no move to carry the masses of Jews
along with them’. In thirteenth century Ashkenaz, hundreds of people
migrating to the Holy Land was a popular movement. Given the de-
mography of north European Jewish communities in the thirteenth cen-
tury, several hundred men are masses. In the very small communities
of western Europe there was not as pronounced a social distance be-
tween rabbis and lay people. Rabbinic scholars were merchants and
everyone was related. The social dynamics were so different from the
vast population and huge distances of class and geography that char-
acterized movements on the fringes of the Geonic world, that a com-
parison of the two on the basis of popular resentment against a rabbinic
elite seems to miss the mark entirely.
Cohen’s study was informed by the Jewish historiographical tradi-
tion to which he was heir and its biases which were deeply embedded.
In this tradition, medieval Ashkenaz became a metaphor for the ‘rab-
binic, elite’ which was identified with fundamentalism and intolerance:

(above note 9); D. Berger, ‘From Cr usades to Blood Libels to Expulsions: Some
new Approaches to Medieval Antisemitism’, Lecture of the Selmanowitz Chair
of Jewish History, Touro College, New York 1997. But cf. E. Kanarfogel, ‘The
‘aliyah of “Three Hundred Rabbis” in 1211: Tosafist Attitudes toward Settling in
the Land of Israel’, JQR, 76 (1986), pp. 191-215, who does not attribute messianic
goals to this ‘aliya.
81 On the messianic doctrines of Menahem Zion, see: I.J. Yuval, Hakhamim .
be-Doram, Jer usalem 1988, pp. 291-310.
82 Cohen, p. 203.
83 Cohen, p. 229, note 14: ‘Certainly the considerations of piety motivating
settlement in the Holy Land were messianically oriented, but they were
“pre-millenarist” in character,very similar to those motivating the move of Judah

25] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

‘Ashkenazic Jewry was always basically fundamentalist, unabashed by

anthropomorphism or outlandish legends […] Andalusian type […] had
in reality appropriated much of the Hellenic scientific spirit […] Ashke-
nazic fundamentalism had gained ground in many respectable areas in
Spain, and even some fine Sephardim had more or less absorbed the
Northern temper’.84 The real deficiency of Ashkenaz, then, resided not
in its messianic posture, but in its deficient alignment with the temper
of the historian.85
Active expressions of messianic hope were no less integral to the
profile of one Jewish community than to the other, if the evidence is
evaluated properly. In Islamic lands, Jewish messianism was perceived
as political insubordination; whereas Jewish expressions of messianism
in Christian lands were interpreted as blasphemy, an attack on the fun-
damentals of the Christian faith. The interplay between Jewish suste-
nance and Christian mockery of Jewish messianic hope is emblematic
of the tension which existed for Jews living in the Christian world. As
a result of this unremitting cultural pressure in a hostile environment,
the recorded memories of messianic movements among Ashkenazic
Jews were muted or distorted.86 These memories shaped future percep-
tions of similar movements in turn. These perceptions were internal-
ized by the chroniclers both Jewish and non Jewish who transmitted the
memory of events. This mechanism was in full operation when it came
to transmission of the memory of the messianic movement of Sabbatai

In a recent paper, Professor Shlomo Eidelberg restated some of the
popular conceptions concerning the messianic posture of Ashkenazic
Jews, with specific reference to the Sabbatian posture of German Jews.
‘It is well known that among the Jews of medieval Germany we find no
appearances of redeemers or messiahs’.87
Even with regard to the Sabbatian messianic movement, Eidelberg
dismissed Scholem’s argument concerning ‘the large scale suppression

84 Cohen, p. 212.
85 Ibid., p. 223.
86 It is significant that in one of the few passages in Sefer Hasidim,
. devoted to
messianic prophecizing, the reason cited for its sharp discouragement was that
‘in the end it will cause shame and humiliation before the entire world’.
87 Eidelberg (above note 9), p. 25.

Elisheva Carlebach [26

of records and documents relating to the movement’. Scholem’s source

for this assumption was the explicit description by Samuel Aboab of
reports that Jewish communities in the Holy Land, Turkey, Germany,
Holland, Poland, and Russia burned all the records that mentioned
Sabbatai’s name and admitted that the anti-Sabbatians were correct.
Aboab reported that he was an eye-witness to this process in Italy, and
connected the destr uction of the Sabbatian evidence to a book ‘recently
published’ in a non Jewish language which ‘to our shame’, listed false
Jewish messiahs, including ‘the most recent and worst’.88 The long his-
tory of self censorship in messianic matters and the polemical sensitiv-
ity of Jews living among Christians lend credence and context to
Aboab’s testimony and Scholem’s acceptance of it.
Within his descriptions of the widespread acceptance of Sabbatai,
Scholem noted a strong contrast among communities which received
news of the messiah. Some communities issued festive messianic proc-
lamations, others, ‘exhortations to secrecy lest the gentiles wreak
vengeance on Israel’.89 Scholem attributed the differences to ‘tempera-
ment’ rather than to history. A re-reading of the evidence marshalled
by Scholem in his closing arguments appears to sustain his picture of
the profound belief of German Jews in Sabbatai’s mission. We can take,
for example, Glikl’s paradoxical report in the ‘Zikhroynes’. On the one
hand, her account stressed that all the formal excitement took place
within the Sephardic synagogue; the Ashkenazim seemed to play a
more passive role. Glikl even framed the reports about Sabbatai within
the most personal portions of the ‘Zikhroynes’.90 Yet when we read the
account of the one person whose activity she described in detail, her
father in law, the picture that emerges is the reverse of the first superfi-
cial reading. The Sephardim r ushed into the synagogues and cele-
brated, but her Ashkenazi father in law already had his bags packed,
and waited for three years in this state of limbo.91 This apparent contra-

88 G. Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi,

. Princeton 1973, p. 763 and note 205.
89 Ibid., p. 469.
90 The Memoirs of Gluckel
¨ of Hameln (above note 3), pp. 46-47; in the Yiddish edition,
Zichroynos Moras Glikl Hamil, ed. David Kaufmann, Frankfurt 1896, pp. 80-81; Die
Memoiren der Gluckel
¨ von Hameln, trans. B. Pappenheim, Vienna 1910, pp. 74-75.
All the citations that follow are taken from the English translation.
91 ‘Our joy when the letters arrived [from Smyrna] is not to be told. Most of them
were addressed to the Sephardim who took them to their synagogue and read
them aloud; young and old, the Germans [iyhiih] too hastened to the Sephardic
synagogue. The Sephardic youth came dressed in their best finery and decked
in broad green silk ribbons, the gear of Sabbatai Zvi. “With timbrels and with

27] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

diction between the demonstrative show of messianic loyalty by the

Sephardim, and the deeper, more private expression of hope by the
German Jews is indicative of the fundamental complication that we
have encountered in assessing memories of medieval Jewish
messianism. This complication was operative in the sixteenth century
and certainly did not cease in the seventeenth.
There is plenty of evidence that Glikl’s father in law was not atypical
in his profound acceptance of the messianic news. German Jews tried
to sell their property and prepared to leave; they held to their messianic
beliefs long after Sabbatai’s apostasy. They incorporated this belief into
the records of their transactions with one another. In the well known
case of the accord of 12 May 1666 between the Altona and Hamburg
communities over the Ottensen cemetery, the unfolding messianic
events left their mark. After agreeing that the Hamburg community
would owe the Altona community 150 Reichsthaler over a period of
time for the right to use the cemetery, the contract stipulated: ‘Even if
the redemption were to occur […] before the stipulated time, viz.
Chanuka of 5427 [1667], the Hamburg community would still be obli-
gated to pay the 50 Reichsthaler installment to the Altona community;
they can use it toward the building of the Temple. However, if the re-
demption were to occur between Chanuka of 5427 [1667] and [the Jew-
ish] New Year 5428 [1668], then only 25 of the 50 outstanding Reichs-
thaler need be paid toward the building of the Temple.92
The few western Yiddish sources that refer to the movement also at-
test to a profound level of belief. Scholem described a series of Yiddish
letters from Hamburg, written by Shaindel Schonchenn bas R. Solomon
and Nathan ben Aaron Neumark, to Shaindel’s husband Jacob Segal of
Hamburg who was then languishing in an Oslo prison.93 Both used tid-

dances” they one and all trooped to the synagogue and they read the letters forth
with joy... Some [yiliih] sold their houses and lands and all their possessions, for
any day they hoped to be redeemed. My good father-in-law ,d"r, left his home
in Hameln, abandoned his house and lands and all his goodly furniture, and
moved to Hildesheim.... For the old man expected [dheytk] to sail any moment
from Hamburg to the Holy Land.... For three years the casks stood ready, and all
this while my father-in-law awaited the signal to depart. But the Most High
pleased otherwise’. I have inserted the relevant Yiddish phrases into the English
92 I. Lorenz and J. Berkemann, Streitfall judischer
¨ Friedhof Ottensen, II, Hamburg
1995, p. 36, parag. 13.
93 Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi,
. p. 590. But as Beshraybung (below note 95) shows, there is
room in the Judeo-German tradition for a more active involvement in

Elisheva Carlebach [28

ings of the imminent messianic denouement to buoy the spirits of the

prisoner. An active Yiddish literary tradition of messianic-polemical lit-
erature existed in Glikl’s time. Two Yiddish chronicles, ‘Zemach David’
of Abraham Kap-Serlis,94 and the ‘Beshraybung’ of Leib b. Ozer, affirm
a picture of profound popular involvement by German Jews who held
to their messianic beliefs long after Sabbatai’s apostasy.95 Yiddish tales
of the Ten Lost Tribes and their battles with the mythical king Prester
John from the late sixteenth century, may have served as precursors to
the Yiddish literature of Sabbatai Zevi.96 Yiddish translations of Ger-
man folktales judaized the works by adding references to the coming
of the messiah.97 Yet in their public posture, particularly toward Chris-
tian neighbors and authorities, the record shows a much more re-
strained reaction. Glikl’s account sustains this dichotomy between
deep private belief and more disengaged public posture.
A significant strand in early modern German culture, popular as well
as scholarly-theological, was devoted to the theme of Jewish blindness
and perfidy embodied in the Jewish hopes for a future messiah. Early
modern German literature devoted many works in different genres to
the theme of vain Jewish messianic expectations.98 This was not simply
a theological datum of which Jews were vaguely aware; it was an ac-

messianism, and certainly part of a literary tradition. Zfatman-Biller (below note

96) mentions a Yiddish translation of the Prester John tales of late 16th century.
Although its origins were apparently within the Sephardic world, it shows how
the traditions were transmitted interculturally.
94 Abraham Kap-Serlis, ‘Zemah
. . David’, MS. JTS mic 3543, 3b. On this work, see:
Ch. Turniansky, ‘The First Yiddish Translations of Sefer Hayashar’, Tarbiz, . vol.
54, no. 4 (1985), pp. 567-620.
95 Leib ben Ozer of Amsterdam, Beshraybung fun Shabse Tsvi, ed. Z. Shazar,
Jer usalem 1978. The Beshraybung is only part of the manuscript; the first twelve
pages contain ‘Gezeros Yeshu ha-notzri’, a Yiddish version of the counter-
Christian Toledot Yeshu. For a critical review, see: L. Fuks, ‘Sabatianisme in
Amsterdam in het begin van de 18e Eeuw: Enkele Beschouwingen over Reb Leib
Oizers en zijn Werk’, Studia Rosenthaliana, 14 (1980), pp. 20-27.
96 S. Zfatman-Biller, ‘A Yiddish Epistle from the Late Sixteenth Century concerning
the Ten Tribes’, Kobez al Yad, 10 [20] (1982), pp. 217-252.
97 ¨
C. Daxelmuller, ‘Organizational Forms of Jewish Popular Culture since the
Middle Ages’, R. Po-Chia Hsia and H. Lehmann (eds.), In and Out of the Ghetto:
Jewish–Gentile Relations in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany, Washington,
D.C. 1995, p. 37.
98 See my forthcoming paper, ‘The Last Deception: Failed Messiahs and Jewish
Conversion in Early-Modern German Lands’, in a volume to be edited by M.
Goldish and R. Popkin.

29] The Sabbatian Posture of German Jewry

tive, oppressive, constant live wire, with which they were continually
tormented. By linking Jewish messianic hope to the most negative im-
ages of Jews in polemical as well as popular representation, early mod-
ern German-Christian culture inscribed its very inhibiting imprint
upon the Sabbatian posture of German Jews.

Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism:
The Case of Hakham
. Zevi
. Ashkenazi
Jacob J. Schacter

One of the most significant and lasting contributions of Gershom

Scholem to Jewish scholarship is his serious and objective treatment of
the Sabbatian movement in all of its phases and complexity. In his mag-
isterial two-volume history of Sabbatianism and in a number of impor-
tant articles, Scholem broke important new ground in the study of this
movement, presenting the history of its rise, heyday, and ongoing im-
pact in dramatic and comprehensive detail.1
Scholem’s wide-ranging studies elucidated many aspects of the
Sabbatian phenomenon: the state of mind of mid-seventeenth century
world Jewry which set the stage for the unprecedented spread of this
messianic movement against a background of Jewish messianic activ-
ism which, until that time, had been the province of only a select few;
the actual story of the movement itself until the death of Nathan of
Gaza in 1680; the backgrounds and personalities of the major protago-
nists in this extraordinary drama; the various complex and conflicting
kabbalistic teachings which gave meaning to the movement; the fea-
tures which differentiated its ‘radical’ from its more ‘moderate’ fac-
tions; the role of the movement in the history of Jewry in the eighteenth
century and in setting the stage for Haskalah, Hasidut
. and other devel-

1 See: G. Scholem, Shabbetai Zevi . ve-ha-Tenu5ah ha-Shabbeta6it bi-Yemei Hayyav,

Tel-Aviv 1957 (=Shabbetai Zevi).
. English version, see: idem, Sabbatai Sevi:
. The
Mystical Messiah, tr. R. J. Z. Werblowsky, Princeton 1973 (=Sabbatai Sevi).
. See also:
idem, Mehkarim
. u-Mekorot le-Toledot ha-Shabbeta6ut ve-Gilgulehah, Jer usalem 1982
[1974]. More than three dozen of Scholem’s articles relating to Sabbatianism
were collected, introduced and brought up to date by Y. Liebes in Mehkarei .
Shabbeta6ut, Tel-Aviv 1991. For analyses of Scholem’s treatment of Sabbatianism,
see: D. Biale, Gershom Scholem: Kabbalah and Counter-History, Cambridge and
London 1979, index, s.v. ‘Sabbatai Zevi’,
. ‘Sabbatianism’; J. Dan, Gershom Scholem
and the Mystical Dimension of Jewish History, New York and London 1987, pp.
286–312; and the reviews of Werblowsky and Kurzweil, cited below in note 5.

[Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, 16-17, 2001]

Jacob J. Schacter [2

opments in modern Jewish history; and, most significantly, the ideol-

ogy which motivated Jews to remain ‘believers’ in that most paradoxi-
cal of phenomena, an apostate messiah. In analyzing these and other
complex issues, Scholem single-handedly placed the study of the
Sabbatian messianic movement and its crypto-Sabbatian aftermath, in
all their intensity, scope and drama, on the agenda of serious Jewish
But while the spectacular spread and continued influence of
Sabbatianism was carefully chronicled and painstakingly presented by
Scholem, the substantial opposition to the movement, especially after
Shabbetai Zevi’s
. apostasy, also deserves equally thoughtful considera-
tion. On first glance, it would appear that the phenomenon of
anti-Sabbatianism offers much less of a challenge to the historian. After
all, once Shabbetai Zevi
. converted to Islam, it was only obvious and
logical to conclude that he could not be the messiah, however sad and
painful such a conclusion might have been to those who had been ab-
solutely convinced that they had been living in the long-awaited mes-
sianic era. Simply put, an apostate messiah could not be a messiah. Yet,
the matter is not as simple as that. Scholem, his students and their stu-
dents have clearly demonstrated that Sabbatian ‘believers’ did not
share one single unidimensional ideology but rather, on the contrary,
held very different and often contradictory positions. The fundamental
differences between the theologies of Shabbetai Zevi . himself, Nathan
of Gaza, Abraham Cardozo, Samuel Primo, and the members of the
radical Salonika school, to name just a few, were so significant that it is
impossible to speak simplistically of a monolithic Sabbatian ‘move-
ment’. And what is tr ue of the ‘believers’ is also tr ue of their opponents.
A multiplicity of motives and orientations characterizes the anti-
Sabbatian camp as well. There are factors other than the logical and
obvious one that need to be considered in a fuller and more nuanced
presentation of the anti-Sabbatian position.
For example, in attempting to explain the opposition of Isaac Car-
dozo (1603/1604-1683) to Sabbatianism, Yosef Hayim Yer ushalmi did
not simply assume the obvious – that after Shabbetai Zevi’s. conversion
to Islam, Isaac could simply no longer believe him to be the messiah –
and leave it at that. Scholem had already noted how various theories
advanced to justify Shabbetai Zevi’s
. conversion resonated particularly
among former Marranos who could especially identify with a disso-
nance between an external conversion to another faith and an inner
reality of a far different order. The justification advanced by Isaac’s own
3] Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism

brother Abraham, who took a position diametrically opposed to that of

Isaac and who emerged as one of the leading architects of post-
conversion Sabbatian theology, ‘For he [the messiah] was destined to
become a Marrano like me [ipenk qep`]’, had a special meaning for former
Marranos and accounts for a disproportionate number of them main-
taining their faith in Shabbetai Zevi
. even after his conversion to Islam.2
However, Yer ushalmi argued that the Marrano connection can work
two ways. For if there were factors in the life experience of former Mar-
ranos which militated in favor of their being continued believers in
Shabbetai Zevi
. even after his conversion, there were also equally com-
pelling factors which militated against such a belief. Yer ushalmi
showed how it was precisely his experiences as a former Marrano
which led Isaac to disavow any association with the apostate messiah,
for continued belief in Shabbetai Zevi
. after that point presupposed ac-
cepting certain assumptions which smacked of the Christianity Isaac
had rejected when he moved from Spanish court to Italian ghetto.3 In
explaining the phenomenon of anti-Sabbatianism, then, additional con-
siderations have been taken into account, other than the simple logic of
the basic position itself.
I want to extend this analysis into the next generation or two and ask
not what factors accounted for an anti-Sabbatian position per se, but
what factors accounted for a particularly vehement and extreme
anti-Sabbatianism. By the time Shabbetai Zevi . died in 1676, and cer-
tainly in the decades that followed, the rejection of Sabbatianism was
even more commonplace and obvious. Why someone could no longer
believe in a dead apostate messiah required less and less of an explana-
tion. What needs to be addressed, however, is the issue of the intensity
of the anti-Sabbatian position. Why did some rabbis and communal
leaders became extreme in their anti-Sabbatianism while others were

2 See: G. Scholem, ‘Mizvah ha-Ba>ah ba-=Averah’, Knesset, 2 (1937), pp. 347–392,

esp. 358–359; reprinted in: idem, Mehkarim
. u-Mekorot (ibid.), pp. 9–67, esp. 23–24;
tr. into English as ‘Redemption Through Sin’, in: idem, The Messianic Idea in
Judaism, New York 1971, pp. 78–141, esp. 94–95. See also: idem, Major Trends in
Jewish Mysticism, New York 1946, pp. 309–310. For the phrase ipenk qep`, see: A.
Freimann (ed.), 5Inyenei Shabbetai Zevi,
. Berlin 1913, p. 88; reprinted in: Jacob
Sasportas, Sefer Zizat
. . Novel Zevi,
. ed. I. Tishby, Jer usalem 1954, p. 291.
3 Y. H. Yer ushalmi, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto, New York 1971, pp.
302–349. For a similar example in the case of Isaac Orobio de Castro, see: Y.
Kaplan, Mi-Nazrut . le-Yahadut, Jer usalem 1982, pp. 183–203; idem, From
Christianity to Judaism, Oxford 1989, pp. 209–234.

Jacob J. Schacter [4

more moderate and subdued in their opposition to that movement?

Why, for example, did R. Jacob Sasportas (c. 1610-1698) and R. Moses
. (1671-1751) devote so much of their enormous talents and pro-
digious energies to combating Sabbatianism while the vast majority of
their contemporaries did not? Why did R. Jacob Emden (1697-1776) be-
come such an extreme and obsessive anti-Sabbatian while others in his
generation like R. Ezekiel Landau (1713-1793), the author of the Noda5
bi-Yehudah, for example, did not? After all, Sid Z. Leiman has shown that
Landau too, like Emden, was convinced that R. Jonathan Eybeschutz ¨
was a Sabbatian.4 Yet, unlike Emden, his position in the famous
Emden-Eybeschutz ¨ controversy was a far more mild and moderate one.
There is no doubt that in considering the question of extremism or
obsession in behavior, one’s personal psychological predisposition
plays a major role. Some people are just more contrary and extreme in
their behavior than are others. There are always those who see huge
conspiracies and dangerous threats where others see only petty distrac-
tions and minor nuisances. But these psychological considerations
alone are insufficient to account for this phenomenon and other factors
have been and need to be introduced to provide for a fuller and more
nuanced analysis.
In her study of R. Moses Hagiz,
. Elisheva Carlebach placed Sasportas’
anti-Sabbatianism within the context of his long time role as a social
critic, expressing his strong opposition to those phenomena he ob-
served in the Jewish community which, he believed, would undermine
the rabbinic tradition.5 As far as Hagiz
. himself is concerned, Carlebach

4 See: S. Z. Leiman, ‘When a Rabbi is Accused of Heresy: R. Ezekiel Landau’s

Attitude Toward R. Jonathan Eibeschutz ¨ in the Emden-Eibeschutz ¨ Controversy’,
in: J. Neusner, E. S. Frerichs and N. M. Sarna (eds.), From Ancient Israel to Modern
Judaism. Intellect in Quest of Understanding: Essays in Honor of Marvin Fox, III,
Atlanta 1989, pp. 179–194.
5 E. Carlebach, The Pursuit of Heresy: Rabbi Moses Hagiz . and the Sabbatian
Controversies, New York 1990 (=The Pursuit of Heresy), p. 5. The matter of
Sasportas’ anti-Sabbatianism is a complicated one and it still merits further
analysis. See the problematic assessment of his personality and character in
Tishby’s introduction to his edition of Sasportas’ Sefer Zizat
. . Novel Zevi,
. pp. 13–39,
repeated and amplified by Scholem in Shabbetai Zevi,. pp. 468–470; Sabbatai Sevi,
pp. 566–569. Scholem’s famous characterization of Sasportas’ portrait as
presenting ‘the face of a Jewish “Grand Inquisitor”’ (Shabbetai Zevi, . p. 468;
Sabbatai Sevi,
. pp. 566–567) clearly shows that he went too far in his desire to
present the Sabbatian movement fairly and objectively, and underscores the
need for a more balanced view of the entire phenomenon of anti-Sabbatianism.

5] Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism

noted a number of considerations: a ‘personal proclivity for zealotry’;

a desire to follow the example set by his father, R. Jacob Hagiz,
. and his
teacher, R. Abraham Yizhaki;
.. and a lifelong passion for revitalizing the
rabbinate and rabbinic authority.6 In the case of Emden, in particular,
there is no question that psychological considerations played a major
role. The complexities of his personality and his propensity for contro-
versy are well known and not open merely to speculation.7 Neverthe-
less, here too other considerations have been suggested. As in the case
of his senior colleague Hagiz,
. and even more so, Emden had an almost
obsessive desire to relive the life of his father, Hakham
. Zevi
. Ashkenazi,
who, as we will see, was a leading anti-Sabbatian.8 In addition, Yehudah
Liebes has argued that Emden’s messianic pretensions for himself as
well as for the members of his immediate family were a significant factor
(if not the significant factor) in accounting for the extremism of his

For critiques of their attitude towards Sasportas, see: R. I .Z. Werblowsky’s

review of Scholem’s book, ‘Hirhurim =al “Shabbetai .Zevi” le-G. Scholem’, Molad,
15 (1957), p. 545 (see Scholem’s reply to Werblowsky’s criticism in his =Od Davar,
Tel-Aviv 1989, pp. 98–104); B. Kurzweil, ‘He =arot le-“Shabbetai .Zevi” shel
Gershom Scholem’, Ba-Ma6avak =al =Erkhei ha-Yahadut, Tel-Aviv 1969, pp. 130–134;
A. Korman, Zeramim ve-Kitot ba-Yahadut, Tel-Aviv 1966, pp. 278–283; A. Gross,
‘Demuto shel R. Ya=akov Sasportas mi-Tokh Sefer ha-Shu"t “Ohel Ya=akov”’,
Sinai, 93 (1983), pp. 132–141; E. Moyal, Rabbi Ya5akov Sasportas, Jer usalem 1992,
pp. 55f. In order fully to understand Sasportas’ motivation, it is obviously
essential to determine whether his opposition toward the movement was clear
and unambiguous from the very beginning or whether there was even a brief
period of time when he entertained a positive attitude toward it. This issue is
dealt with by Tishby in Sefer Zizat
. . Novel Zevi,
. pp. 43–44, and in a later article by
him, ‘=Al Mishnato shel Gershom Scholem be-Heker . ha-Shabbeta>ut’, Tarbiz, . 28
(1958–1959), pp. 119–123; reprinted in: idem, Netivei Emunah u-Minut,
[Ramat-Gan 1964] Jer usalem 1982, 1994, pp. 258–262, and in two reviews of
Tishby’s book: R. Shatz-Uffenheimer, Behinot,
. 10 (1956), pp. 50–67; M. A. Anat
(Perlmutter), ‘Ha-Sefer “Zizat
. . Novel .Zevi” le-Rabbi Ya=akov Sasportas’, Tarbiz, .
vol. 26. no. 3 (1957), pp. 338–344. See too: Moyal, ibid., pp. 128–143.
6 Carlebach, The Pursuit of Heresy, pp. 6, 39–40, 43, 52–53, 123, 157–159. Carlebach
also briefly discusses the anti-Sabbatianism of R. Jacob Zemah . . (p. 34), the
Frances brothers (pp. 34, 137), and R. Joseph Ergas (pp. 137–143).
7 I am completing a critical edition of Megillat Sefer, Emden’s autobiography, to be
published by Mossad Bialik, where all this will be spelled out in great detail.
8 Emden consistently refers to himself as ‘a zealot, the son of a zealot [ i`pw oa i`pw]’.
For a list of sources, see: J. J. Schacter, ‘History and Memory of Self: The
Autobiography of Rabbi Jacob Emden’, in: E. Carlebach, J. Efron and D. Meyers
(eds.), Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi,
Hanover 1998, p. 448, n. 30.

Jacob J. Schacter [6

anti-Sabbatianism.9 Clearly more than psychological predisposition to

controversy needs to be considered.
I would like to suggest another consideration which, I believe,
should be taken into account when assessing the factors which led
some to adopt a particularly vociferous and vehement anti-Sabbatian
position. The family backgrounds of several leading anti-Sabbatians in
the eighteenth century reveal that they shared one thing in common –
close relatives who were known to have been confirmed followers of
Shabbetai Zevi
. in the previous generation or two, not only before but
even after his conversion. For example, R. Moses Galante´ (1620-1689)
was a leading Sabbatian.10 His grandson, R. Moses Hagiz,
. was a prom-
inent anti-Sabbatian.11 R. David Yizhaki
.. (c.1615-1694) had been a de-
voted follower of Shabbetai Zevi
. for many years.12 His son, R. Abraham
.. (1661-1729), was one of the principal opponents of Sabbatian-
ism at the beginning of the century.13 R. Moses Pinheiro (d. 1689) was a
childhood friend and early associate of Shabbetai Zevi
. and remained
an ardent spokesman for the movement as late as 1690.14 His grandson,
R. Joseph Ergas (1685-1730), was a prominent and active anti-
Sabbatian.15 Further research will undoubtedly yield additional exam-
ples of this phenomenon as well.
Given the enormous popularity of Shabbetai Zevi . in the heyday of

9 See: Y. Liebes, ‘Meshihiyuto

. shel R. Ya=akov Emden ve-Yahaso . la-Shabbeta>ut’,
. 49 (1980), pp. 122–165; reprinted in: idem, Sod ha-Emunah ha-Shabbeta6it,
Jer usalem 1995, pp. 198–211, 396–421.
10 See: G. Scholem, Shabbetai Zevi,
. ´ Moshe’; Sabbatai Sevi,
index, s.v. ‘Galante, . index,
s.v. Galante,´ R. Moses; Encyclopaedia Judaica, 7 (1971), pp. 259–260. There is some
question as to how long Galante´ remained a ‘believer ’. See: Carlebach, The
Pursuit of Heresy, pp. 35–36, 42. Carlebach considers Galante´ to have been ‘a
supporter’ as late as 1674 (p. 42).
11 See above note 5.
12 See: G. Scholem, ‘Parshiyot be-Heker . ha-Tenu=ah ha-Shabbeta>it’, Zion,
. 6 (1941),
pp. 87–89; idem., ‘Li-She >elat Yahasam
. shel Rabbanei Yisra>el >el ha-Shabbeta>ut’,
. 13–14 (1948–1949), pp. 59–62; reprinted in: idem, ‘R. David Y izhaki ..
. la-Shabbeta>ut’, Mehkarei
. Shabbeta>ut, pp. 194–201. For an updated
bibliography on Yizhaki
.. (prepared by Y. Liebes), see: ibid., pp. 201–202.
13 See: Carlebach, The Pursuit of Heresy, index, s.v. ‘Yizhaki,
. Abraham’. See too: M.
Friedman, ‘Iggerot be-Farashat Pulmus Nehemiah . Hiyya
. Hayyon’,
. Sefunot, 10
(1996), pp. 490–491; Encyclopaedia Judaica, 16 (1972), pp. 839–840; A. Almaliah,
Ha-Rishonim le-Ziyyon:
. Toledoteihem u-Pe5ulatam, Jer usalem 1970, pp. 76–80.
14 Encyclopaedia Judaica, 13 (1971), pp. 536–537.
15 Ibid., 6 (1971), pp. 839–841; Carlebach, The Pursuit of Heresy, index, s.v. ‘Ergas, R.

7] Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism

the movement, it is fair to assume that almost any Jew in the eighteenth
century had some relative who had once been a ‘believer ’ prior to
Shabbetai’s conversion. What is of special significance in the examples
cited here, however, is that Yizhaki,
.. Pinheiro and Galante´ continued to
maintain their belief in Shabbetai Zevi . even after his conversion, at a
time when he had been abandoned by the vast majority of his followers.
That each of these persistent Sabbatians had direct descendants who
were later in the forefront of the movement against Sabbatianism is
what I want to highlight here.
First, a methodological consideration. To be sure, Sabbatianism in
one’s family, in and of itself, is not enough to explain one’s extreme and
rabid opposition to the movement. There were undoubtedly many
moderate anti-Sabbatians (who were opponents of the movement but
in a less extreme and vir ulent fashion) and even non-Sabbatians (who
simply were neither opponents nor followers of the movement) who
also had close family members who were ‘believers’ even after
Shabbetai Zevi’s
. conversion. The presence of a Sabbatian forebear
surely did not insure a vir ulent and extreme anti-Sabbatian descendant.
Conversely, there probably were active anti-Sabbatians in the eight-
eenth century who did not have a Sabbatian skeleton in their family’s
closet and whose motivations stemmed from other considerations en-
tirely. Nevertheless, for some, with a certain type of psychological tem-
perament, having had a Sabbatian in their family might account, to some
extent, for their own unusually strong, active and vehement reaction to
that movement. This was not necessarily the only motivation, or even
the dominant one, but I suggest that it too needs to be taken into account.
There are a number of ways to explain this nexus. For example, one
possibility may be that these later anti-Sabbatians were reacting to the
extreme embarrassment and discomfort they felt over the presence of
this heresy within the confines of their own immediate families. Rather
than feel defensive, they took the initiative and positioned themselves
in the forefront of the str uggle against it, to actively search out and up-
root any vestige of that foulness which had contaminated their own
loved ones. In other words, the best defense was an offense.
Or maybe it was not simply a matter of discomfort or embarrass-
ment. Is it possible that this discomfort or embarrassment led these vir-
ulent anti-Sabbatians to feel a great deal of anger towards their heretical
Sabbatian forebears which, due to their close personal connection, they
found difficult to express? Is it conceivable that, as a result, they trans-
ferred this anger onto the Sabbatian movement as a whole?
Jacob J. Schacter [8

Perhaps, in a different vein, the knowledge that Sabbatianism had

penetrated their own families and affected their respected forbears
made these descendants more aware than were others of the potential
power and alluring attractiveness – and therefore danger – of the move-
ment. For if their beloved father or grandfather could have been misled,
so could anyone else. They knew, from their own intimate experience,
just how dangerous this heresy could be. This consideration, in and of
itself, can be operative on two different, even contradictory, ways. Per-
haps their ancestors, having seen the error of their ways, became so full
of hatred and venom for the movement that led them astray and trans-
mitted the intensity of their anti-Sabbatian feelings to their descen-
dants. Conversely, it may even be possible that these descendants
themselves were tempted – at some level – to follow in their forebear ’s
footsteps and so, perhaps, needed to be extra vigilant to defend against
an impulse which may have been real and threatening to them. Per-
haps, therefore, they needed to quiet their own inner doubts and fears
– and maybe even unconscious wishes – by taking the of fensive against
what for them loomed as a formidable personal threat. Unlike the first
set of possibilities that reflect unconscious (or maybe even conscious)
shame regarding personal identity, this consideration focuses on un-
conscious (or maybe even conscious) anxiety over potentially destr uc-
tive behavior. In either case, the result is the same – a concerted effort
to uproot and destroy the source of the evil perceived of as a threat.
Finally, perhaps the suggestion made regarding R. Abraham Yizhaki ..
could be applied to others as well: ‘The man who was cognizant of the
original deeds of his father and of his [father’s] regret and deep remorse
became a determined opponent of the movement that led his father
astray. In this way, he sought to achieve atonement and purification for
his father’s soul’.16 While all these psychological suggestions are pure
conjecture, they are plausible in helping explain a recurrent pattern
that, I believe, is worthy of consideration.
How relevant is this analysis to help account for the particularly strong
and extreme anti-Sabbatian behavior of Hakham
. Zevi
. Ashkenazi, one
of the leading opponents of the movement through the second decade

16 See: M. Benayahu, ‘Ma=amadah shel ha-Tenu=ah ha-Shabbeta>it bi-

Yer ushalayim’, in: S. Lieberman and A. Hyman (eds.), Sefer ha-Yovel li-Khevod
Shalom Baron, Jer usalem 1975, pp. 66–67.

9] Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism

of the eighteenth century?17 In 1666, as a young boy, Zevi . moved to

Ofen-Buda, later known as Budapest, together with the members of his
family.18 His arrival in that city directly coincided with the rise of the
Sabbatian movement which swept through almost the entire Jewish
world at that time. Ofen was no exception. Like many other Hungarian
communities, it too became a center of Sabbatian influence and activ-
ity.19 Many years later, Hakham
. Zevi
. related to his son, R. Jacob Emden,
some of his own eyewitness experiences with Sabbatians at that time:
My revered father, who was a child during the time of Shabbetai
. told us and testified that at that time there were women who
said: ‘Let us go and slay demons’. They dressed themselves in
white linen garments and moved their outstretched arms to and
fro in the air, one here and one there. They spread out the dress20
and collected much blood from the air with their clothes, as if
with their own hands they shed much blood. [. . .] One woman
said: ‘Who wants me to give him the aroma of Gan Eden?’ With

17 This major figure has not received the scholarly attention he deserves. The best
study to date is still J. Bleich, ‘Hakam
. Zebi as Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazic
Kehillah of Amsterdam (1710–1714)’, unpublished Masters’ thesis, Yeshiva
University, New York 1965.
18 See: Jacob Emden, Megillat Sefer, Warsaw 1896 (=Megillat Sefer), p. 7, where
Emden writes that his father arrived in Buda together with his father, R. Jacob
Zak, and maternal grandfather, R. Ephraim ha-Kohen. For 1666 as the date of
their arrival, see the introduction of R. Judah ha-Kohen to the responsa of his
father, R. Ephraim ha-Kohen, She6elot u-Teshuvot Sha5ar Ephraim, Lemberg 1886
(=Shu"t Sha5ar Ephraim), beginning. It is impossible to determine young Zevi’s .
precise age at that time because his date of birth is unknown, with suggestions
ranging from 1648 to 1661. See: A. H. Wagenaar, Sefer Toledot Yavez, . Lublin 1881,
p. 4; M. Gr unwald, Hamburgs deutsche Juden, Hamburg 1904, p. 66; M. Balaban,
‘Shalshelet ha-Yahas. shel Mishpahat . Orenstein-Broda’, Sefer ha-Yovel li-Khevod
Dr. Mordekhai Ze6ev Broda, Warsaw 1931, p. 21; D. Kahana, Toledot ha-Mekkubalim,
ha-Shabbeta6im ve-ha-Hasidim,
. I, Tel-Aviv 1921 (=Toledot ha-Mekkubalim), p. 130;
Z. Y. Lerer, ‘He=arot ha-Hakham
. Zevi
. ve-ha-Yavez. =al Sefer “ha-Bahur”
. ’, Zefunot,
14 (1992), p. 101. See Megillat Sefer, where Emden writes that his father was ‘still
a lad, young in years [mipya jx xrp]’ while living in Buda.
19 See: Sasportas, Sefer Zizat
. . Novel Zevi,
. pp. 129, 131, 209, 215; Scholem, Shabbetai
. index, s.v. ‘Budapest’; Sabbatai Sevi,
. index, s.v. ‘Budapest’ and ‘Ofen
(Buda)’. For other references, see: D. Kaufmann, Die Ersturmung
¨ Ofens und ihre
Vorgeschichte, Trier 1895, p. 19; reprinted in: idem, Gesammelte Schriften, II,
Frankfurt a. Main 1910, p. 301; idem, Die letzte Vertreibung der Juden aus Wien und
¨ Vienna 1889, p. 91; Y. Greenwald, ‘Le-Toledot ha-Mekubbalim
be-Ungaryah’, Sinai, 24 (1949), pp. 193–195.
20 Cf. Deuteronomy 22: 17.

Jacob J. Schacter [10

her hands outstretched towards the heavens she caught some air
and offered an exceedingly fragrant odor to whoever wanted.21
He also told a story about a young boy in Sarajevo during the days of
Shabbetai Zevi
. who, for a period of time, was suddenly endowed with
the prophetic power of being able to inform people about all the sins
they had ever committed.22
As a young man, Hakham
. Zevi
. traveled to the East to study Torah,23
and there came into contact with former followers of the movement
from whom he undoubtedly heard a great deal about its traditions and
beliefs. In Adrianople, he encountered R. Jacob Straimer who had been
a ‘believer ’ prior to Shabbetai’s conversion.24 On a visit to Belgrade in
1679, he also met R. Joseph Almosnino who had been a follower of
Shabbetai Zevi.
. Interestingly, Hakham
. Zevi’s
. first-hand knowledge of
Sabbatian lore is indicated by the fact that a later work quotes him as a
source for the Sabbatian tradition that the messiah died in Arnaut-
Belgrade, Albania.26

21 Jacob Emden, Zot Torat ha-Kena6ot, Altona 1752, p. 5a. Sabbatians claimed that a
fragrant odor exuded from Shabbetai Zevi’s . body which they identified as the
smell of Gan Eden. See: Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi, . p. 139.
22 Emden, ibid. See also: Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi, . pp. 636–637. Hakham
. Zevi
. served
as rabbi in Sarajevo for a few years beginning around 1686. See: Emden, Megillat
Sefer, p. 9; She6elot u-Teshuvot Hakham
. Zevi,
. Amsterdam 1712 (=Shu"t Hakham
. Zevi),
introduction; R. Judah ha-Kohen, introduction to Shu"t Sha5ar Ephraim. See also:
Jewish Encyclopedia, 2 (1903), p. 202; M. Levy, Die Sephardim in Bosnien, Sarajevo
1911, pp. 16–17; A. L. Fr umkin and E. Rivlin, Toledot Hakhmei . Yerushalayim, II,
Tel-Aviv 1969 [1928] (=Hakhmei
. Yerushalayim), p. 82 and n. 1; I. Solomons, ‘David
Nieto and Some of his Contemporaries’, Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society
of England, 12 (1931), p. 18; Encyclopaedia Judaica, 14 (1971), p. 871.
23 Emden, Megillat Sefer, p. 8; Emden, Zot Torat ha-Kena6ot, p. 27a; Kerem Shelomoh,
vol. 10, no. 7 (1987), p. 10.
24 See: Shu"t Hakham
. Zevi,
. #7,141. J.L. Puhvizer, Divrei Hakhamim,
. Hamburg 1692,
p. 28b, cited by A. Ya=ari, Ta5alumat Sefer, Jer usalem 1954, p. 21. For evidence of
Straimer’s Sabbatianism, see: Emden, ibid.
25 See: Shu"t Hakham
. Zevi,
. #41, 168. For Almosnino’s Sabbatianism, see: Kahana,
Toledot ha-Mekkubalim, p. 89, n. 3; Scholem, Shabbetai Zevi, . pp. 189, 535; Sabbatai
. pp. 232, 636; M. Benayahu, Ha-Tenu5ah ha-Shabbeta6it be-Yavan (Sefunot, 14)
(1971–1978), p. 249, n. 138.
26 See: Leib b. Oyzer, Bashraybung fun Shabsay Tsvi, ed. Z. Shazar, S. Zucker, and R.
Plesser, Jer usalem 1978, pp. 166–167. For this issue and Hakham . Zevi’s
. central
role in it, see: Y. Ben-Zvi, ‘Mekom Kevurato shel S"Z ve-ha-=Edah ha-Shabbeta>it
be-Albaniah’, Zion,. 17 (1952), pp. 75–78, 174; G. Scholem, ‘Heikhan Met
Shabbetai Zevi’,
. Zion,
. 17 (1952), pp. 79–83; idem, Shabbetai Zevi,
. p. 790; Sabbatai
. p. 921; Benayahu, ibid., pp. 247–251.

11] Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism

Also interesting is some anecdotal evidence which indicates that

. Zevi
. was considered to have been an opponent of
Sabbatianism even in his youth. It was told that when Shabbetai Zevi .
demonstrated that he was, indeed, the messiah by flying through the
air in Adrianople, Hakham
. Zevi
. ridiculed him by himself duplicating
that feat. In fact, close to two hundred years later, Adrianople’s Jewish
elders were still pointing to the two houses where this miracle had al-
legedly occurred.27
While serving as head of the klaus in Altona during the last decade of
the seventeenth century, Hakham. Zevi
. became further involved in
anti-Sabbatian activities in a variety of ways. His son later recorded
how his father opposed the itinerant Sabbatian teachers Hayyim .
Mal>akh and Zadok
. of Grodno.28 According to Emden, his father was
also instr umental in supporting Polish opposition to R. Judah Hasid .
and his Sabbatian followers. He had received a request for information
about them from R. Shaul, rabbi of Cracow, who ‘assiduously inquired
from my revered father who was reared in the East and about whom he
was certain that he knew the nature of this cursed sect’. It was appar-
ently clear that Hakham
. Zevi
. enjoyed a reputation as an expert on this
movement due to his early contact with some of its followers. He ad-
vised R. Shaul to harass them and, when his advice was followed, they
left Poland for Germany. Upon their arrival in Hakham . Zevi’s
. then
hometown of Altona, he continued his personal opposition to this
group.29 Finally, Hakham
. Zevi’s
. anti-Sabbatian career culminated, of
course, in his major bitter battle against Nehemiah . Hiyya
. Hayyon
while serving as Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam in 1713-1714.30
In trying at least partially to account for the intensity of Hakham
. anti-Sabbatianism, it might be useful to examine the attitudes of
some of the members of his immediate family towards that movement.
There is, in fact, good reason to believe that his own mother’s brother,
R. Judah ha-Kohen, and even his own father, R. Jacob Zak, were
Sabbatians, at least for some period of time. I do not enter here into the

27 See: A. Danon, ‘Kat Yehudit-Muslemit be->Erez. Togarmah’, Sefer ha-Shanah, I,

Warsaw 1900, p. 178; idem, ‘Documents et traditions sur Sabbatai Cevi et la
secte’, REJ, 37 (1898), p. 104. Danon also cites an anecdote regarding the anti-
Sabbatianism of Hakham
. Zevi’s
. wife.
28 Emden, Zot Torat ha-Kena6ot, pp. 26b-27a.
29 Emden, ibid.
30 This entire dramatic story has been most recently treated by Carlebach, The
Pursuit of Heresy, pp. 75–159.

Jacob J. Schacter [12

absolutely cr ucial and, I believe, ultimately most important question of

what, precisely, did it mean to be a ‘Sabbatian’ in the last third of the
seventeenth century. Scholem, his students and their students have al-
ready shown in great detail that under no circumstances did
post-conversion Sabbatian theology represent one single, unified, mon-
olithic ideology. On the contrary. The nuances not only of ‘who is a
Sabbatian’ but ‘what is Sabbatianism’ are still in the process of being
identified and refined. Nevertheless, as far as the argument of this study
is concerned, even a most minimal identification with the movement
will suffice and, perhaps, the evidence may suggest even more than that.
R. Judah was the son of R. Ephraim ha-Kohen, the renowned com-
munal rabbi and author of She6elot u-Teshuvot Sha5ar Ephraim.31 R.
Ephraim had four children; one was R. Judah and another was
. married to R. Jacob Zak and mother of Hakham
. Zevi.
The evidence for R. Judah’s Sabbatianism comes from the very close
relationship he enjoyed with R. Avraham Rovigo, the well known Ital-
ian Sabbatian activist and leader. Around 1686-1687, R. Judah visited
Rovigo at his home in Italy.33 The two remained in contact, and about a
decade later, in 1697, Rovigo informed his followers, including R. Judah,

31 For R. Judah, see his introduction to his father’s Shu"t Sha5ar Ephraim; S. J. Fuenn,
Kiryah Ne6emanah, Vilna 1915, pp. 90–91; Fr umkin and Rivlin, Hakhmei .
Yerushalayim, pp. 82–85; Y. Y. Greenwald, ‘Rabbanei Ungariyah she-=Alu le->Erez.
Yisra>el mi-Shnat 5445 =ad 5655’, Sinai, 26 (1949–1950), pp. 222–225; M. Benayahu,
. Iggerot bein ha-Kehillah ha-Ashkenazit bi-Yer ushalayim ve-R. David
Oppenheim’, Yerushalayim, 3 (1950), pp. 108, 115, 118–122; idem (above note 16),
pp. 62–63, 65; Y. Buksbaum, ‘Ha-Gaon Rabbi Aryeh Yehudah Leib Katz zz"l, .
ha-Rishon mi-Gedolei Hungariyah she-=Alah le->Erez ha-Kodesh’, Moriyah, vol.
14, no. 5–8 (1986), pp. 30–39; M. A. Z. Kinstlicher, ‘Bein Oyvin le-Erez.
ha-Kodesh’, Zefunot,
. vol. 1, no. 3 (1989), pp. 90–99.
32 For R. Jacob, see: Megillat Sefer, pp. 3–7 (the manuscript of Megillat Sefer [A.
Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford
1886, p. 590, parag. 1723:2], 117a contains an important passage missing in the
Kahana edition which will appear in my forthcoming edition of this work); Shu"t
. Zevi,
. introduction; Encyclopaedia Judaica, 9 (1971), p. 1216, and the
references cited there; Greenwald, ibid., pp. 225–226; Y. D. Feld, ‘Helkei
. Avanim’,
in She6elot u-Teshuvot Nish6al David, Jer usalem 1982, pp. 246–47; idem., ‘Halukei
Avanim’, in R. Pinhas. Katzenellenboigen, Sefer Yesh Manhilin,
. Jer usalem 1986,
pp. 416–417; Kinstlicher, ‘Bein Oyvin le-Erez. ha-Kodesh’, Zefunot,
. vol. 1, no. 2
(1989), p. 91 and n. 21; S. Englard, ‘Shibushim Nefozim . bi-Megillot Yohasin’,
. 13 (1991), p. 88.
33 I. Sonne, ‘=Ovrim ve-Shavim be-Veito shel Rabbi Avraham Rovigo’, Sefunot, 5
(1961), pp. 283–284, parag. 18.

13] Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism

about the appearance of a maggid in his school in Italy.34 R. Judah was

also the leader of a group of members of Rovigo’s circle who traveled
with their teacher from Livorno to Jer usalem in the winter of
1701-1702.35 Upon arriving there, Rovigo and his family stayed for a
while in R. Judah’s home.36 Finally, and most significantly, Rovigo
chose R. Judah as one of a select group of ten students to study in his
yeshiva there. There is strong reason to believe that Rovigo selected
only those who shared his Sabbatian views and, indeed, many of the
members of this group which constituted Rovigo’s innermost circle
have already been independently identified as having been followers
of that movement.37
It has already been claimed that mere membership in Rovigo’s Jer u-
salem yeshiva may be enough to establish one’s Sabbatian credentials,38
a conclusion which would seem to be certainly warranted in the case of
R. Judah whose closeness with Rovigo was of such intensity and long
duration. But the evidence here may be even stronger. A listing of
amounts of money that Rovigo sent to R. Judah in Jer usalem in 1694
and 1695 contains the following entry: ‘Afterwards I also sent him two
other pizi for [a copy of] Derush Taninim’. Isaiah Sonne, who published
this text, simply assumed that this is a reference to the well-known
Sabbatian tract by Nathan of Gaza, and concluded that it fully confirms
R. Judah’s Sabbatianism.39 Like Sonne, Scholem also asserted, albeit
tentatively, that R. Judah was a Sabbatian,40 but neither he nor Sonne

34 G. Scholem, Halomotav
. shel ha-Shabbeta6i R. Mordekhai Ashkenazi, Jer usalem 1938
. pp. 34–35.
35 An account of this journey was printed by Jacob Mann in Me6asef Zion, . 6 (1934),
pp. 71–84, and reprinted by A. Ya=ari, Iggerot Erez. Yisrael, Tel-Aviv 1943, pp.
226–242. For R. Judah, see: Mann, ibid., pp. 64, 71, 76, 79, 81; Ya=ari, pp. 226, 231,
236, 238.
36 See: Mann, ibid., pp. 64, 81; Ya=ari, ibid., p. 239.
37 See: Mann, ibid., pp. 64, 68, 84; Ya=ari, ibid., p. 241. For another link between R.
Judah and Rovigo, see: M. Benayahu, ‘Shemu=ot Shabbeta>iyot mi-Pinkeseihem
shel Rabbi Binyamin ha-Kohen ve-Rabbi Avraham Rovigo’, Michael, 1 (1973), p.
24; reprinted in: idem, Ha-Tenu5ah ha-Shabbeta6it be-Yavan (above note 25), p. 464.
38 See: M. Benayahu, ‘Rabbi Ya=akov Vilna u-Veno ve-Yahaseihem . la-Shabbeta>ut’,
Yerushalayim: Mehkarei
. Erez. Yisrael, vol. 1, n. 4 (1953), p. 205; A. Ya=ari, Sheluhei .
Erez. Yisrael, Jer usalem 1951, p. 337.
39 Sonne (above note 33), p. 284. For the text of this work, see: G. Scholem, Be-5Ikevot
Mashiah,. Jer usalem 1944, pp. 9–52. For the particular significance of Nathan of
Gaza’s works in the school of Rovigo, see: G. Scholem, Leket Margaliyot, Tel-Aviv
1941, p. 18.
40 Scholem, Halomotav,
. p. 35 ('i`zay did [... ] odk dcedi 'x mby xryl aexw'). See below, n. 42.

Jacob J. Schacter [14

made the obviously significant familial connection between him and

. Zevi.
One may also possibly adduce proof of R. Judah’s Sabbatianism from
a subtlety in a description of him by his grandnephew, R. Jacob Emden.
At the beginning of his autobiography, Megillat Sefer, Emden stated that
R. Judah moved to Jer usalem ‘[and died] with a good name [aeh mya]’.41
Such a characterization is rare in Emden’s writings and one gets the
impression that R. Judah did not enjoy ‘a good name’ for his entire life,
perhaps due to an involvement at some point with the Sabbatian move-
We know that, as a child, Hakham
. Zevi
. enjoyed a close relationship
with his uncle. R. Judah writes at the beginning of his introduction to his
father’s She6elot u-Teshuvot Sha5ar Ephraim that the two of them were the
same age and, as boyhood friends, had studied together with R.
Ephraim in the city of Ofen where the latter served as rabbi.43 In addi-
tion, R. Judah kept in contact with R. Jacob Zak, his brother-in-law and
. Zevi’s
. father.44 Although there is no evidence of further direct
contact between R. Judah and Hakham . Zevi,
. it is unlikely that
. Zevi
. was unaware of his uncle’s and close childhood friend’s
peregrinations, including his Sabbatian predispositions.45 And so, per-
haps the knowledge that his own uncle had been a Sabbatian was one
factor in motivating Hakham
. Zevi
. to take such a strong stand against
the movement.

41 Emden, Megillat Sefer, p. 4.

42 Cf.: M. Benayahu, ‘Kehal Ashkenazim bi-Yer ushalayim bi-Shenot 1687–1747’,
Sefunot, 2 (1958), p. 145, who adduced this very quote as proof that R. Judah had
never been a Sabbatian. Benayahu’s other proof, that R. Judah was part of an
anti-Sabbatian delegation in 1704 which published a sharply worded proc-
lamation against followers of the movement, can be challenged by the example
of R. Jonathan Eybeschutz ¨ who was accused of being a ‘believer ’ in spite of the
fact that he publicly condemned and excommunicated Sabbatians. Never-
theless, it is interesting to note that in his handwritten notes in the margin of his
personal copy of his Halomotav
. shel ha-Shabbeta6i R. Mordekhai Ashkenazi (p. 35),
Scholem wrote: did c"qz zpya ik i`zay df u"k ail dix` 'x did `ly dnw 'a zepetq giked edipa'
'i`zay ihp` zegilya. See also: M. Benayahu, ‘ “Ha-Hevrah . Kedoshah” shel Rabbi
Yehudah Hasid. ve-=Aliyato le-Erez . Yisrael’, Sefunot, 3–4 (1959–1960), p. 157, n.
43 R Judah ha-Kohen, introduction to Shu"t Sha5ar Ephraim (beginning).
44 See: ‘Kuntres Aharon’,
. ibid., 99a-b.
45 Even though Hagiz,
. Hakham
. Zevi’s
. anti-Sabbatian colleague, was not aware of
Rovigo’s Sabbatianism (see Carlebach, The Pursuit of Heresy, pp. 76–77), it is likely
that Hakham
. Zevi
. knew the full tr uth about his uncle and his affiliations.

15] Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism

But what is even more striking is that there is evidence that Hakham
. own father, R. Jacob Zak, may have been, for at least a short pe-
riod of time, a believer in Shabbetai Zevi.
. Indeed this assertion has been
widely accepted as tr ue. Heinrich Graetz, David Kahana, Jecheskiel
Caro, Leopold Greenwald, Sandor Buchler,¨ Salomon Rosanes, Aharon
Fuerst and Gershom Scholem all asserted, with varying degrees of cer-
titude, that he was a Sabbatian.46 The sole evidence for this assertion
comes from an admittedly biased and potentially unreliable source and
needs to be weighed very, very carefully. In responding to the charge
leveled by Hakham
. Zevi
. in Amsterdam, 1713, that he was a Sabbatian,
. Hayyon
. wrote a number of pamphlets, including one enti-
tled Ha-Zad
. Zevi
. which was printed in that city the following year. In
the course of his remarks in the introduction to this work, Hayyon .
Mr. Zevi
. b. Jacob is the son of the firm believer in Shabbetai Zevi
who was in the city of Budin (called Ofen in German).47 It was he
who caused a Jew to die for refusing to make a mi she-berakh in the
synagogue for the life of Shabbetai Zevi.
. He r uled that this con-
stituted a rebellion against the kingdom of the house of David

46 See: H. Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, X, Leipzig 1868, pp. 238–239; H. Graetz–S. P.
Rabinovitz [SPR], Sefer Divrei Yemei Yisrael, VIII, Warsaw 1899, p. 256, n. 2; D.
Kahana, Even ha-To5im, Vienna 1873, p. 34, n. 4; reprinted in: Ha-Shahar,. 3 (1872),
p. 490, n. 4; idem, Toledot ha-Mekkubalim, p. 90, n. 4; J. Caro, Geschichte der Juden
in Lemberg, Crakow 1894, p. 128; L. Greenwald, ‘Le-Korot ha-Shabbeta>im be-
Ungaryah’, Ha-Zofeh
. me-Erez. Hagar, 2 (1912), p. 149; also printed as a separate
monograph, Weitzen 1912, p. 5; idem., ‘Le-Korot ha-Hasidut . be-Ungaryah’, Ha-
. le-Hokhmat
. Yisrael, 5 (1921), p. 267; Greenwald (above note 31, pp. 225–226;
S. Buchler, A Zsidok ´ Tortenete
¨ ´ Budapesten, Budapest 1901, pp. 154–155; S. Rosanes,
Korot ha-Yehudim be-Turkiyah ve-6Arzot . ha-Kedem, IV, Sofia 1934–1935, p. 14 0; A.
Fuerst, ‘Budapest’, 5Arim ve-6Immahot be-Yisrael, II, Jer usalem 1948, p. 127;
Scholem, Shabbetai Zevi,. p. 467; Sabbatai Sevi,
. p. 565. See too: J. Zsoldos,
Encyclopaedia Judaica, 4 (1971), p. 1449. Cf.: Y. Y., Greenwald, Korot ha-Torah
ve-ha-Emunah be-Hungaryah, Budapest 1921, p. 15; L. Greenwald, Toledot Hakhmei.
Yisrael, Kolel Toledot ha-Gaon R. Ephraim ha-Kohen mi-Vilna, Cluj 1924, p. 9; S. A.
Horodezky, Encyclopaedia Judaica, 11 (1971), p. 1216.
47 The city was known as Budin in Turkish, Ofen in German and Buda in
Hungarian. These names are often interchanged in Hebrew texts. See, for
example, Shu"t Hakham
. Zevi,
. introduction; Emden, Megillat Sefer, p. 4. See also
Freimann (above note 2), p. 65; Rosanes, ibid., p. 135; Y. Margalit, Seder ha-Get,
ed. Y. Satz, Jer usalem 1983, p. 311, n. 8, end; Y. Satz, ‘Seder Get be-Kehillot
Hungaryah’, Moriyah, 14 (1985), p. 9, n. 1.

Jacob J. Schacter [16

and permitted the blood of that Jew [to be shed]. There are wit-
nesses here who can corroborate this fact.48
Clearly, utilizing this text as the sole evidence of R. Jacob’s alleged
Sabbatianism requires an explanation. After all, how can one accept at
face value the testimony of a bitter adversary of Hakham . Zevi
. who
might have been prepared to publish anything in the heat of their con-
troversy in order to promote his position? Indeed, Aryeh Leib Fr umkin
rejects this evidence from Ha-Zad . Zevi
. primarily for this reason.49 Nev-
ertheless, it is reasonable to argue that this source is, indeed, a reliable
one and that, in fact, all the distinguished historians who accepted it as
legitimate may have been correct.
It may be argued that what was at issue for Hayyon
. here was not the
Sabbatianism of R. Jacob, per se. Had he so desired, Hayyon. could have
attempted to blunt the sharpness of Hakham
. Zevi’s
. attack against him,
at least to some extent, by turning around and pointing out to him that
his own father had himself been a Sabbatian. Hayyon . could have
plausibly and effectively responded to Hakham . Zevi
. by arguing that
he (Hakham
. Zevi)
. not be so quick in condemning others for maintain-
ing such a position if his own father had been similarly guilty. If, in fact,
asserting the Sabbatianism of R. Jacob was the essence of Hayyon’s. ar-
gument (your own father was a Sabbatian; what do you want from
me?), then one could plausibly argue that this information would be
suspect. However, this was not the essence of his claim. What he did
stress in R. Jacob’s behavior was not his Sabbatianism but, rather, his
callous disregard for the sanctity of human life which, in this one par-
ticular instance, happened to express itself in a Sabbatian related case.
R. Jacob’s crime, according to the Sabbatian Hayyon,
. was that, by being
prepared to kill an opponent, he was being too fervent in his Sabbatian
belief. It was this violation of the sanctity of human life that Hayyon .
charged was shared by father and son. In the case of the latter, this hap-

48 N. Hayyon,
. Ha-Zad
. Zevi,
. Amsterdam 1714, n.p., pp. 2b-3a.
49 Fr umkin and Rivlin, Hakhmei
. Yerushalayim, II, p. 152. Fr umkin also raises
another, less serious objection. He claims that only somebody with a great deal
of authority in the Ofen Jewish community could have the power to make such
a r uling. Since, according to Fr umkin, R. Jacob became the rabbi there only in
1678 after the death of his father-in-law, this event would have had to have
occurred at that time and it is unlikely that such a blessing on behalf of Shabbetai
. would still be recited publicly two years after his death and twelve years
after his apostasy. For my rejection of this argument, see the first chapter of my
forthcoming edition of Megillat Sefer.

17] Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism

pened to express itself in exactly opposite circumstances, for Hayyon .

accused Hakham
. Zevi
. for being prepared to kill him for his Sabbatian
beliefs. But, for Hayyon,
. the essence of his argument was that both fa-
ther and son shared a lack of concern for human life; the fact that the
father expressed such a tendency in a matter involving a Sabbatian
seems to be only incidental. If this is, indeed, the case, and if R. Jacob’s
Sabbatianism was not the central focus of Hayyon’s . argument, then
there may be some tr uth to his statement and the evidence contained
therein may be, maybe, considered reliable.
In addition, Hayyon
. made sure to add, ‘there are witnesses here who
can corroborate this fact’. He could easily have omitted this sentence
entirely or have eliminated even just the word ‘here’. The impression
he gives is that he is prepared to produce these witnesses if necessary,
a willingness which further militates in favor of the authenticity of his
report. This is especially telling because just a few pages later Hayyon .
showed a special sensitivity to matters whose tr uth can be easily ascer-
tained. In describing the criticism leveled at one of his works, he wrote:
‘He heaped calumny and [spread] various lies and fabrications upon
my book, even in a matter whose truth can easily be verified [ciarc `zlna elit`e
iielibl]’.50 Someone who could attack others for not being sensitive to ‘a
matter whose tr uth can easily be verified’ would surely be sensitive to
this charge himself. And, indeed, one should not lose sight of the fact
that Hayyon
. published this in 1714, during the lifetime of Hakham .
. and there is no evidence that Hakham
. Zevi,
. or anyone else, ever
disputed it.
It is obvious that the preceding analysis is predicated upon the as-
sumption that Hayyon
. was generally a writer not prone to wild, reck-
less or wholly unsubstantiated fabrications. Indeed, a reasoned objec-
tive reading of Hayyon’s
. works reveals an author who may have often
exaggerated, and even, on occasion, lied,51 but who, also, did not al-
ways disregard the tr uth in order to defend himself. Surely Hayyon . is
not to be automatically tr usted, especially when attacking his archen-
emy, but, at the same time, the veracity of his writings is not to be au-
tomatically rejected. Each statement must be carefully and objectively
assessed on its own merits.52

50 Hayyon,
. Ha-Zad
. Zevi
. (above note 48), p. 5a.
51 See, for example, Carlebach, The Pursuit of Heresy, p. 299, n. 33.
52 Indeed, Benayahu does give credence to an allegation made by Hayyon. in this
same text against R. Moses Hagiz,
. another of his major adversaries. See: M.

Jacob J. Schacter [18

Finally, the essence of Hayyon’s

. charges against R. Jacob and his son
are neither as inherently implausible nor as extreme as they may appear
to be. The merciless sentence attributed to R. Jacob could possibly have
had a precedent in the behavior of Shabbetai Zevi
. himself who permit-
ted shedding the blood of ‘non-believers’ and even commended those
who did.53 Furthermore, there are a number of examples of vigorous
physical str uggles in the synagogue between Sabbatians and their op-
ponents.54 The story could have happened and, perhaps, it really did.55
In conclusion, if, in fact, either R. Judah ha-Kohen or R. Jacob Zak
were Sabbatians, maybe their behavior can be considered one factor
among others that account for the vir ulence and aggressiveness of
. Zevi’s
. attitude towards that movement. As far as his son, R.
Jacob Emden, is concerned, this was much less of a consideration. Be-
sides being one further generation removed, there are enough other,

Benayahu, ‘Le-Toledot Batei ha-Midrash bi-Yer ushalayim ba-Me>ah ha-17’,

HUCA, 21 (1948), pp. 15–16 (Hebrew section).
53 In Venice a dispute broke out in the synagogue on the Sabbath and an opponent
of Sabbatianism was almost killed. One of the ‘believers’ who was present at the
time wrote Shabbetai Zevi . and asked whether it was sinful to kill a ‘non-
believer’ on the Sabbath. Shabbetai responded that, on the contrary, ‘there is no
greater sanctification of the Sabbath than this’, and promised great rewards for
such behavior. See: Freimann (above note 2), pp. 55–56; Sasportas, Sefer Zizat . .
Novel Zevi,
. pp. 129–130, 150. See also: Scholem, Shabbetai Zevi,
. pp. 415, 421–422;
Sabbatai Sevi,
. pp. 505, 511–512; M. Benayahu, ‘Yedi=ot me-Italyah u-me-Holand
al Reishitah shel ha-Shabbeta>ut’, Erez. Yisrael, 4 (1956), p. 195. See also: Emden,
Zot Torat ha-Kena6ot, p. 5b; R. Hayyim
. Benveniste, She6elot u-Teshuvot Ba6ei Hayyei,
3:228; Scholem, Shabbetai Zevi,
. pp. 423–24; Sabbatai Sevi,
. p. 514.
54 In addition to the sources cited above, see: Sasportas, Sefer Zizat
. . Novel Zevi,
. pp.
3, 192–193 (for an incident which took place in Hamburg); Benayahu, ibid., p. 199,
n. 48; Scholem, Shabbetai Zevi,
. p. 481; Sabbatai Sevi,
. pp. 579–580; B. D. Weinryb,
The Jews of Poland, Philadelphia 1973, p. 218; Anat (Perlmutter) (above note 5), p.
341. For examples of special prayers recited in the synagogue for Shabbetai Zevi, .
see: Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi,
. pp. 262, 424–425, 533–534, 579–580.
55 It must be noted that here, in the case of R. Jacob and unlike the case of R. Judah,
no evidence at all is forthcoming from the works of Emden. On the contrary,
Emden writes with only the highest regard about the grandfather for whom he
was named. See the references in Megillat Sefer cited above in note 32. Also
directly relevant to this discussion is the attitude of R. Ephraim ha-Kohen
himself to Sabbatianism. This issue is a complex one and revolves primarily on
a close analysis of two of his responsa, Shu"t Sha5ar Ephraim, #64–65, and R.
Joseph Almosnino, Sefer 5Edut be-Yehosef, 2:32. For a preliminary treatment of this
matter, see: L. Jacobs, ‘Rabbi Ephraim Ha-Kohen and a Heretical Sermon’, Three
Score and Ten: Essays in Honor of Rabbi Seymour J. Cohen on the Occasion of His
Seventieth Birthday, Hoboken 1991, pp. 133–141.

19] Motivations for Radical Anti-Sabbatianism

more direct, factors to account for the intensity of his anti-

Sabbatianism.56 In the case of Hakham
. Zevi,
. however, one generation
closer and in the absence, as yet, of any other compelling explanation,
perhaps this can be considered a militating factor. Perhaps, like R. Abra-
ham Yizhaki,
.. R. Joseph Ergas, and his colleague R. Moses Hagiz, .
. Zevi
. too was influenced by the Sabbatianism he encountered
within his own close personal immediate family.

56 See above notes 8, 9. This notion of one generation’s point of view strongly
affecting how future generations would deal with a particular issue has far
reaching implications in other areas as well. For example, Professor Ada
Rapoport-Albert suggested to me that it could account for the particular
vir ulence of some opponents of Hasidism whose close relatives were adherents
of that movement. See, for example, Y. Hisdai, ‘Reishito shel ha-Yishuv ha-
‘Mitnagdi’ ve-ha-‘Hasidi’
. be-Erez. Yisrael – =Aliyah shel Mizvah
. ve-=Aliyah shel
Shlihut’, Shalem, 4 (1984), pp. 231–269. Professor Moshe Idel suggested another
example of this phenomenon, but with opposite results. He hypothesized that
the reason Hakham
. Zevi
. and R. Jacob Emden were so adamant in denying any
halakhic validity to a golem was to provide a defense for their ancestor who killed
one, for if a golem could count to a minyan, R. Elijah Ba‘al Shem would have been
guilty of murder. In this case, their unusually strong position supported an
ancestor’s behavior. For their position on this matter, see: M. Idel, Golem: Jewish
Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid, Albany 1990, p. 207ff.

Sabbatianism in the Seventeenth-Century
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth:
A Review of the Sources
Michał Galas

Research on the beginnings of Sabbatianism in the Polish-Lithuanian

Commonwealth does not have a long tradition and important studies
of the origins of this movement are few. Among the scholars
researching Sabbatianism in Poland, Meir Balaban is the most
prominent. His article ‘Sabbatianism in Poland’,1 has long been
considered the most authoritative source of knowledge on
Sabbatianism in Poland. Balaban devoted half of the article to analysis
of anti-Jewish incidents in Poland prior to the inception of
Sabbatianism. The remainder of the article is devoted to sources of the
movement. Many subsequent scholars who studied Sabbatianism in
Poland based their work on this article and other similar Balaban
studies,2 in which he repeated much of the same information.
Unfortunately, as we will see, these other scholars did not verify the
sources presented by Balaban. Gershom Scholem, and Bernard D.
Weinryb the author of the well-known work, The Jews of Poland,3 both
relied on sources presented by Balaban but drew completely different

* I would like to thank the Central European University (RSS/HEST No.

358/1995) for their support of my research related to this topic.
1 M. Balaban, ‘Sabataizm w Polsce: ustep˛ z dziejow ´ mistyki zydowskiej
˙ w Polsce’,
in: Ksiega
˛ jubileuszowa ku czci prof. dr. Mojzesza
˙ Schorra, Pisma Instytutu Nauk
Judaistycznych w Warszawie, Warsaw 1935, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 45-90 [=‘Sabba-
teanism in Poland’].
2 ˙ ´ w Krakowie i na Kazimierzu, I-II, Cracow 1936
M. Balaban, Historia Zydow
[=History of the Jews in Cracow and Kazimierz], pp. 40-50, 487-495; idem, ‘Rok
˙ ´ krakowskich w latach 1666-1670)’
´ Zydow
zbawienia i lata niedoli (Do dziejow
[The Year of Salvation and Years of Distress], Nowy Dziennik, 190 (16.7.1928), pp.
16-17; idem, Le-Toledot ha-Tenu5a ha-Frankit, I, Tel-Aviv 1934, pp. 17-48. See also:
I.M. Biderman, Mayer Balaban: Historian of Polish Jewry, New York 1978, pp.
3 B.D. Weinryb, The Jews of Poland: A Social and Economic History of the Jewish
Community in Poland from 1100 to 1800, Philadelphia 1982.

[Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, 16-17, 2001]

Michał Galas [2

conclusions concerning the reception of Sabbatianism in Poland.

According to Scholem, Sabbatianism had a profound influence in
Poland, not only among Jews but also among Christians. In his works
on Sabbatianism – also in Poland – he paid close attention to non-
Jewish sources. He thought that the numerous letters and pamphlets
distributed throughout Europe and Poland at that time were an impor-
tant source of information on the scope of influence of Sabbatianism.
He also thought that this material could have penetrated into Jewish
circles.4 On the other hand, he mentioned that Christians, no less than
Jews, were thirsty for news about Shabbatai Zevi.5 It has to be stressed,
however, that Scholem derived information about Sabbatianism in Po-
land during the period of 1665-1666 mainly from Balaban’s work. Most
sources cited by Scholem came from the Balaban’s article, ‘Sabbate-
anism in Poland’.
Weinryb, on the contrary, concluded that Sabbatianism in Poland
had few followers.6 He strongly criticized Scholem’s thesis about the
vast spread and interest in Sabbatianism in Poland during Shabbatai
Zevi’s life. He thought that most sources cited by Scholem were false or
misinterpreted. Weinryb rejected not only all of Scholem’s Polish
sources, but also some of his Jewish sources, as anti-Jewish and there-
fore unreliable.7 He stated that since the names of not more than six of
Shabbatai Zevi’s followers in Poland were known, one could not speak
about the broad spread of the movement.8 Weinryb’s criticism, how-
ever, is unwarranted on a close analysis of all the sources. Perhaps
Scholem realized this, as he had never replied in writing to Weinryb’s
In recent studies, Scholem and Weinryb’s theses continue to clash
with each other. A few years ago Professor Michael Stanislawski
re-evaluated the positions held by both Scholem and Weinryb in an ef-
fort to determine who was correct. 9 Stanislawski analyzed the sources

4 See specially: G. Scholem, ‘Le mouvement sabbataiste ¨ en Pologne’, Revue de

l’histoire des religions, 143 (1953), pp. 30-90, 209-232 (also published in Hebrew);
idem, Sabbatai Sevi:. The Mystical Messiah: 1626-1676, Princeton, NJ 1973,
pp. 591-602.
5 Scholem, ‘Le mouvement sabbataiste ¨ en Pologne’, ibid., p. 46.
6 Weinryb (above note 3), ch. 10: ‘The Sabbatai Sevi . Upheaval and Its Impact’, pp.
7 Ibid., pp. 230-231 and note 61 p. 372.
8 Ibid., pp. 229-230.
9 M. Stanislawski, ‘The State of the Debate over Sabbatianism in Poland: A Review
of the Sources’, Proceedings of the Conference on Poles and Jews: Myth and Reality in

3] Sabbatianism in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

on Sabbatianism in Poland in 1665-1666 cited by Scholem with a special

emphasis on Jewish sources.10 This provoked my own analysis of all
non-Jewish sources available to Balaban and Scholem, which in my
opinion may be important evidence of the spread of Sabbatianism in
Poland at the beginnings of the movement. This article presents results
of my current research and documents previously unknown.11

Polish sources can be divided into two groups: sources dealing directly
with Poland and sources dealing with Sabbatianism in general.
The first group, consisting of original source materials dealing di-
rectly with Poland, includes an especially interesting book, The True
Messiah,12 written by Orthodox monk Joannicjusz Galatowski (died
1688). A paragraph from Galatowski’s work was cited by Balaban and
Scholem. Unfortunately, Balaban cited an excerpt, given out of context
without even providing a page number.13 In addition, Balaban made
some abridgements in the citation which were not marked. Scholem, in
subsequent translations, introduced additional changes which also
slightly distorted the character of that source.14
Galatowski’s book is one of the most important sources for the his-

the Historical Context, ed. J. Micgil, R. Scott and H.B. Segel, New York 1986, pp.
10 Among sources listed by Stanislawski only two were Polish. Stanislawski based
their analysis on Balaban’s and Scholem’s studies.
11 All sources quoted in this article and others will be published in full versions in
my forthcoming book: Sabataizm w Rzeczypospolitej w XVII wieku (Sabbatianism
in the 17th Century Polish-Lituanian Commonwealth). Here I present only
excerpts or summaries in English translation.
12 J. Galatowski, Messiasz prawdziwy, Iezus Chrystus, Syn Bozy, ˙ od poczatku
˛ ´swiata
przez wszystkie wieki ludziom od Boga obiecany i od ludziey oczekiwany, i w ostatnie
czasy; dla Zbawienia ludzkiego; na ´swiat Posłany, po przyjsciu
´ zas´ swym za Błogo-
´ Wysocy w Bogu, Przewielebnego Jego Mosci ´ Ojca Innocentego Giziela
Archimandryty ´swiatey
˛ Wielkiey Cudotworney Ławry Pieczerskiey, Stauropigji ´s.
Aecumenici Patriarchae Constantinipolitani. Od Grzesznika Joannicjusza Galatow-
skie[go], Archimandryty Czernichowskiego. Z Typographiey z Kijowo.- Pieczerskiey,
˙ niewiernemu rozmaitemi znakami, o Messiaszu napisanemi, y na Chrystusie
wypełnionemi, Roku 1672 pokazany (= The True Messiah).
13 Balaban, ‘Sabbatianism in Poland’, pp. 79-81.
14 See: M. Galas, ‘Sabbatianism in Polish Historiography’, Proceedings of the EAJS
Copenhagen Congress 1994, ed. U. Haxen, K. L. Salamon and H. Trauter-Kromann,
Copenhagen 1998, pp. 240-246.

Michał Galas [4

tory of Sabbatianism in Poland. It was published in both Polish and

Russian and a Latin version was also planned. The book is written in
the form of a discussion between an Orthodox Christian and a Jew
about the authenticity of the messianic mission of Jesus. The introduc-
tion, foreword (a small paragraph is quoted by Balaban and Scholem)
and chapter six (where other Polish sources on Sabbatianism are listed)
are relevant. Galatowski revealed important information which ex-
plains his motivation to write this work. Neither Balaban nor Scholem
mentioned that news about the messianic aspiration of Shabbatai Zevi,
and doubts felt by some Christians of Jesus as the tr ue messiah, were
the immediate causes for writing that book.15 I believe that those para-
graphs from the introduction not cited by Balaban and Scholem are
equally important. Galatowski writes:
[…] I wrote this book in Little Russian, Polish and Latin dialect
because Jews in Little Russia, Polish Kingdom and in Latin
countries, were rejoicing and abusing and laughing at Jesus the
tr ue Messiah and at all Christians, hearing that in eastern parts
of Smirna their false Messiah appeared called Shabbatai Zevi […]
For that Orthodox Christians living in Little Russia, Poles and all
Catholics who read that book; could show Christ, the tr ue
Messiah to unbelieving Jews.16
The Foreword begins:
To all Orthodox Christians, it contains the reasons why this Tr ue
Messiah has been written and shown to the world.[…] Not long
ago, in 1666, in Volhynia, Podolia, in all the provinces of Little
Russia, in the Great Duchy of Lithuania, in the Kingdom of
Poland and the neighboring countries, Jewish godlessness raised
on high its horn and its insolent obstinacy, it hoisted the flag of
wontonness and insolence blew the tr umpet of victory at the time
when an impostor called Shabbatai Zevi appeared in the city of
Smyrna and called himself the Messiah of Jews. […] At that time,

15 About J. Galatowski and his book, see: K. Bartoszewicz, Antysemityzm w

literaturze polskiej XV-XVII w. [Antisemitism in Polish Literature], Warsaw and
Cracow 1914, pp. 138-140; J. Janow, ´ ‘Galatowski Joannicjusz’, Polski Słownik
Biograficzny [Polish Biographical Dictionary], VII, Cracow 1948-1958, pp.
221-222; D. Waugh, ‘News of the False Messiah: Reports on the Shabbetai Zevi
in Ukraine and Muscovy’, Jewish Social Studies, 41 (1979), pp. 301-305.
16 Galatowski, The True Messiah, fol. 15.

5] Sabbatianism in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

some Christians with small hearts and character, hearing great

Jewish impudence[,] started to fear and doubt Christ, that he was
a tr ue Messiah and started to incline their thoughts towards a
false Messiah, fearing his atrocities. That is why I wrote the book,
so that faithful Christians do not fear the false Jewish Messiah and
without doubt believe and know that Jesus is the Tr ue Messiah.
[…] That false Jewish Messiah is a motivation for me to that work,
he motivated me to write this book called: The True Messiah Jesus
Christ, son of God.17
The quoted paragraphs may testify to a great interest in news about a
Messiah – Shabbatai Zevi – in Christian circles, because news about a
new messiah caused fear even among some priests. Galatowski
continues by describing the spread of Shabbatai Zevi’s followers in
Poland and their behavior during the peak of this messianic fervor.
According to Galatowski, Sabbatianism had followers throughout
the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but most were in Volhynia and
Podolia. On the one hand, Galatowski writes that Jews were happy
with the coming of a Messiah who would lead them on a cloud to Jer u-
salem.18 Believing that the moment was close at hand, they were selling
their belongings. On the other hand, he describes acts of penance and
asceticism. Additionally, he writes about Jewish-Christian relations
and says that Jews were threatening Christians that soon ‘we will be
your lords and you will be our servants’.
Balaban and Scholem treated the paragraph from Galatowski’s book
as a very important and tr ustworthy source for the history of
Sabbatianism in Poland.19 Weinryb questioned the credibility of this
source, but his critique has no basis, in the light of Waugh’s research,20
as well as my own work . But it seems obvious after an initial analysis
that neither Balaban and Scholem nor Weinryb and Stanislawski had
seen Galatowski’s book, otherwise they would have noted that
Galatowski listed other Polish sources in the introduction and foreword
and in the sixth chapter.

17 Ibid., fols. 20-21.

18 According to Scholem, the belief that the messiah would lead them by means of
a miraculous cloud, was present not only among Jews in Poland, but also in
Germany and Turkey (Sabbatai Sevi,
. pp. 594-595).
19 Credibility of Galatowski’s work was questioned by Weinryb, but it seems that
he also did not see the original source (above note 3, p. 372, note 61).
20 Waugh (above note 15), pp. 301-308.

Michał Galas [6

Balaban writes,21 and after him Scholem,22 that many anti-Jewish in-
cidents subsequently took place. Jews overcome with messianic fervor,
who marched through the streets with portraits of Shabbatai Zevi and
his prophet Nathan of Gaza, prompted a strong reaction from Chris-
tians. In response, King Jan Kazimierz issued a proclamation, dated
May 4, 1666, which forbade Jews to carry pictures of Shabbatai Zevi and
ordered the authorities to stop harassing the Jews. Scholem gives the
text of the proclamation citing Balaban.23 Although it was thought that
the proclamation was lost and only a copy made by Balaban existed,
during my research in the archives in Lvov I found this proclamation
which served as a base for Balaban’s copy. The proclamation is written
in Polish and Latin and is more extensive than the version provided by
Balaban.24 Balaban quoted only a paragraph from the Polish text, a
slightly distorted version was cited later by Scholem.25 In the proclama-
tion the King writes that he heard the news about the escalation in per-
secutions of the Jews due to accounts about ‘a messiah’, propagated to
simple people through printed letters and painted portraits. In re-
sponse, the King ordered to protect the Jews and to treat as false all
information about this so-called Messiah, destroy all prints about him
and his portraits. Again, Weinryb’s objections about the reliability of
the king’s decree are baseless. There is no doubt about misinterpreting
this part of the proclamation which speaks about Sabbatian propa-
ganda in Poland.
The intent of the proclamation is reinforced by a pastoral letter by
bishop Stanisław Sarnowski, 26 dated June 22, 1666, in which Jewish pro-
cessions and distributions of pictures and prints are strictly forbidden.27

21 Balaban, ‘Sabbatianism in Poland’, pp. 87-88.

22 See: Scholem, ‘Le mouvement sabbataiste ¨ en Pologne’ (above note 4), p. 48;
idem, Sabbatai Sevi,
. pp. 596-597.
23 See: Balaban, ‘Sabbatianism in Poland’, pp. 88-89; idem, History of the Jews in
Cracow and Kazimierz, II, p. 45. Balaban did not provide the full text of the
proclamation and in his various works he gave different sources.
24 The Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine in Lvov, f. 5, op. 1, no. 160, Castr.
Haliciensia, fols. 707-712.
25 See: Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi, . p. 597.
26 Balaban and Scholem erroneously wrote his name as Sarnicki. See: Balaban,
‘Sabbatianism in Poland’, p. 89; Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi, . p. 597.
27 The letter was added to the book: Samuel Rabi Marokanski, ´ Prawda Chrzescijan-
´ ´
ska od nieprzyjaciela swego zeznana: To iest Traktat Rabina Samuela, Pokazuiacy
˛ błe˛dy
˙ około zachowania Prawa Moyzeszowego,
˙ y przyscia
´ Mesyaszowego, ktorego
Zydzi czekaia˛ [...], tr. J. Radlinski, Lublin 1733, pp. 499-502. Compare: Balaban,

7] Sabbatianism in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

One can assume that this relates to the above mentioned demonstra-
tions despite the fact that there is no specific mention of Shabbatai Zevi
or his followers.
Maybe the King’s proclamation and the susbequent compliance with
it resulted in the situation that only very few documents, pamphlets
and other sources to which the proclamation alluded have survived
until the present. Scholem, however, assumed the existence of such ma-
terials.28 He also thought that the King’s proclamation and the pastoral
letter of bishop Stanislaw Sarnowski served as good examples of the
popular character of the movement in Poland and that processions and
pilgrimages of Shabbatai Zevi’s followers were characteristic only for
Another little known example of interest in Sabbatianism in Polish
historiography is documented in the Chronicle of Joachim Jerlicz from
1620-1673, which includes a paragraph on Sabbatianism.30 This work
is second only after Galatowski’s in terms of information written in Po-
lish about Sabbatianism in Poland. The Jerlicz source is not included in
the works of Balaban, Scholem and contemporary scholars of
Sabbatianism. In the Chronicle, under the date May 10, 1665, one can
This year [1665] news has spread among Jews in all cities, towns
and villages where Jews live in the Polish Kingdom and the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania under the r ule of Jan Kazimierz: that
a Messiah, a new prophet appeared. Born in Egypt, he was raised
by Jewish father and mother and at reaching his 30’s, began to
perform great miracles. […] Showing various abilities and powers
which become only to God, he raised from the dead, cured the
blind and ill, destroyed walls around the cities where they were
not allowing him in and opposed him […].
[…] Jews, men and women, old and young, tormented themselves
and their bodies, by making a hole in the ice of a pond or river
and jumping into the water. At that time they gave alms both to
their own people and to Christians. They sold their houses,
‘Sabbatianism in Poland’, p. 89; idem, History of the Jews in Cracow and Kazimierz,
p. 45; idem, The Year of Salvation and Years of Distress (above note 2), pp. 16-17;
Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi,
. p. 597.
28 Scholem, ‘Le mouvement sabbataiste ¨ en Pologne’ (above note 4), p. 48.
29 Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi,
. p. 598.
30 J. Jerlicz, Latopisiec albo kroniczka [A Chronicle], ed. K. Wł. Wojciecki, I, Warsaw
1853, pp. 99-102.

Michał Galas [8

live-stock, various things, as some of them wanted to go from the

Polish state to Jer usalem. […] They placed all their trust in him for
their salvation.31
The similarity and consistency of information in Jerlicz’s Chronicle and
Galatowski’s book seems to confirm the credibility of those sources.
Jerlicz devoted much space to Shabbatai Zevi although a lot of the
information about his life has quite a legendary nature.
Other less important Polish sources may also testify to a great interest
of Christians in Shabbatai Zevi and his movement. The epigram by Po-
lish poet Wacław Potocki (1621-1696), Nowy Mesjasz Zydowski (A New
Jewish Messiah), may serve as a good example of the type of sources.
A similar illustration of interest and knowledge about the messianic
movement among Jews in Poland is found in descriptions of events
during a Sejm (Diet) session in 1668. ‘Member of the Sejm Teodor
Łukomski was laughed at by other members when he gave his opinion
on relegating foreign residents: “leave me alone, do not confound me,
because I have spiritum propheticum” [...], everyone started to laugh
and pointing at him they called him a new prophet or recent Jewish

Other very important Polish sources, not related directly to Sabbat-
eanism in Poland mentioned by Balaban, are so-called ‘hand written
newspapers’ that are reports of correspondents kept by wealthy Polish
nobility in European capitals.34 Presently the reports are in the
collection of Czartoryski’s Museum Library in Cracow.35 Unfortunately
suspicions arise that Balaban had not seen those reports himself
because his quotation was full of revisions and errors. He suggests the

31 Ibid.
32 W. Potocki, Ogrod
´ fraszek [A garden of epigrams], I, Lvov 1907, p. 278. Compare:
Balaban, ‘Sabbatianism in Poland’, p. 81; Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi,
. p. 598.
˙ ´ w drugiej połowie XVII wieku
33 A. Kamierczyk, Sejmy i sejmiki szlacheckie wobec Zydow
[Seyms and Diets of nobility towards Jews in the second half of the 17th century],
Warsaw 1994, p. 154.
34 Balaban, ‘Sabbatianism in Poland’, pp. 81-87; Scholem thought that they came
from Amsterdam. Compare: Scholem, ‘Le mouvement sabbataiste ¨ en Pologne’
(above note 4), p. 46; idem, Sabbatai Sevi,
. p. 593.
35 Manuscript no. 1656, fols. 486-501.

9] Sabbatianism in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

same, writing: ‘I do not give here the origins of those letters as I do not
have adequate sources in Warsaw’.36
The manuscripts include letters and accounts written in Latin and
Polish about Shabbatai Zevi and an interest in his mission in various
countries of Europe and the Middle East. Their content does not con-
cern Poland directly. Some of them were published by Balaban and later
used by Scholem.37 The manuscripts contain the following titles in
Latin: De messia Judeorum falso et Extremo Judicio Pseudoprofeta, Relationes
ex Italia huc transmissae 1666, 20 Martii; Extractum ex Epistula Sabbea
Barbaria, 6 Aug. 1665; Copia Epistulae ab Augusto Jerosolima in Algier
transmissae; Extractum ex Literis ab Urbe Veneta et Livorno, continentibus
descriptionem neonati inter Hebraeos Prophetae, ipsius facinora et miracula;
Extractum ex Literis Roma Religiosi cuiusdam ad Amicum Contin.
Haebreorum aggregationem cum Novo Messia qui in preasenti? plurimos sibi
habet adherantes et magna perpetrat Miracula 26 Nov: 1665.38
The Polish titles include: Opisanie Nowego krola ˙
´ Zyd. Sabetha Sebi,
´ poczatek,
˛ starosc,
´´ osoba, uczynki i cuda, jako tez˙ Chrzescijanow,
´ ´
˙ ´ Turkow
Zydow, ´ i inszych zadanie, i cokolwiek z roznycha
´˙ ˛ pism o tym dotad˛
wiadomo jest opisano. Przy tym Proroka Natana Levi, i krola ´ Sabeta Sevi
własnej osoby contrafect,39 Do Obłakanego
˛ ˙
Zydostwa 40
Continuatio o
˙ 41
Messiaszu Zydowskim. Balaban published in his article large fragments
of manuscripts written in Polish but he made many mistakes and the
text contains many inaccuracies. Therefore, these fragments cannot
serve as a base for scholarly research.
In the above mentioned work by Galatowski, in chapter 6, ‘Sixth
Prophecy’, a Christian arguing with a Jew about the tr ue messianism of
Shabbatai Zevi refers to three pamphlets printed in Polish: Opisanie
nowego krola
´ zydowskiego,
˙ Obszerna Continuantia Dziwny poczatek ˛ a
´ koniec, tak zwanego zydowskiego
˙ Krola:
´ Sabetha Sebi, roku 1666
wydany. A comparison between the titles of Polish fragments of manu-
scripts from the Czartoryski’s Library and the titles of printed pam-
phlets quoted by J. Galatowski42 provokes the search for parallels and
confirms similarities.43

36 Balaban, ‘Sabbatianism in Poland’, p. 82.

37 See: Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi,
. p. 963 index (Balaban M.).
38 Manuscript no. 1656, fols. 486-490. 39 Ibid., fols. 490-492.
40 It is the name of a poem. 41 Manuscript no. 1656, fols. 498-501.
42 Galatowski, The True Messiah, fols. [44-54].
43 The following evidence suggests that Balaban, as well as Scholem, did not know
Galatowski’s work in its entirety.

Michał Galas [10

During my research I was able to find the three old prints quoted by
Galatowski.44 They are anonymous, anti-Sabbatian pamphlets. Many
scholars doubted their existence, as they were not mentioned by
Balaban nor by Scholem. Zalman Rubashov (Shazar),45 Daniel C.
Waugh46 and Kazimierz Bartoszewicz47 wrote about their probable ex-
istence and origin but they did not have access to them, and Hanna
´Swiderska, who first wrote about their existence, was not able to classify
them correctly.48
The first of the pamphlets, Opisanie nowego krola ˙
´ Zydowskiego… (De-
scription of a New Jewish King), was published in 1666. It is probably
a translation from a German pamphlet: Beschreibung des neuen judischen
¨ Sabetha Sebi… or its Dutch edition. In the Polish version, however,
pictures of Shabbatai Zevi and Nathan of Gaza were not included.50
The second pamphlet, Obszerna Continuatia… (Extended Continu-
atia),51 was also published in 1666. It consists of two parts, the first is
entitled: Copia listu przez nie jakiegos´ przyjaciela zyczliwego
˙ o powroceniu
˙ ´ do obiecanej Ziemi… (A copy of a letter by some well-wishing
friend about a return of Jews to the Promised Land…).52 The second is

44 The three above mentioned pamphlets are from the British Library collection;
about other copies see: Judaika polskie z XVI-XVIII wieku: Material do
˛´ ´ I: dr uki w jezykach
bibliografii, czesc ˛ ˙
nie-zydowskich, ed., K. Pilarczyk, Cracow
1995, p. 104.
45 Z. Rubashov, Kristori sabbationetva w Polski “Evriejskaia Starina”, 5 (1912), pp.
46 Waugh (above note 15), p. 304.
47 Bartoszewicz (above note 15), p. 140.
48 H. ´Swiderska, ‘Three Polish Pamphlets on Pseudo-Messiah Sabbatai Sevi’, The
British Library Journal, 15 (1989), pp. 212-216.
49 The title in Polish is: Opisanie nowego krola ´ zydowskiego
˙ Sabetha Sebi, ktorego
˛ starosc,
´´ osoba, uczynki […] innych zdanie y cokolwiek z roznych
´˙ pism o nim
˛ wiadomo jest opisane. Przy czym y prorok tegoz˙ wtasney osobey prawdziwy
contrefect. W roku 1666 dr ukowany.
50 Waugh considers this pamphlet to be a translation of: Beschreibirung Des Newen
Juedischen Koenigs Sabetha Sebi ... (above note 15, p. 304 and note 17).
51 The full title in Polish is: Obszerna continuanta, w ktorej
´ sie˛ znajduje dalszy progress,
tego co sie˛ w orientalnych krajach, mianowicie w Jeruzalem, Szmyrnie, i Alkairu: takze ˙
w inszych roznych
´˙ miejscach w nadzieie zydowskiego
˙ do swoiey Ojczyzny powrocenia,
jako y przytomne onychze ˙ do wiary nawrocenia.
´ Z occasie ich pomazania krola
´ i proroka
stato; i co za cuda a dziwny u nich sie˛ dzieja˛ z okolicznoscia
´ ˛ mi opisano iest; jako tez˙ i
proroka Nathana Levi prawdziwy contrafect, dziwny ksztat y odzienie w miedzy ˛
˙ przytomne sa. ˛ Dr ukowano w roku 1666.
52 Waugh considers it to be a translation of: Umbstaendliche Continuation ... (above
note 15, p. 304 and note 17).

11] Sabbatianism in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Zebranie z roznych
´˙ pisaniow
´ (A collection of various writings), containing
two letters: one letter from Jer usalem and Smyrna to Amsterdam, dated
March 10, and another, dated December 26, year 5426. It seems that it
is a translation of a German pamphlet, Umbstandliche Continuation...,
published in 1666. In the German version there is a poem at the begin-
ning, ‘An die verirrcte Judenschafft’, which is not published in the Po-
lish printed version but which is placed in Polish manuscript from the
Czartoryski’s Library in Cracow.53
The third pamphlet was published in 1666. Its origin is the easiest to
establish because its title and content are in Polish and German. The
Polish title reads: Dziwny poczatek
˛ a straszny koniec…(Strange beginning
and dreadful end) and German title is: Wunderlicher Anfang und
Schmahlicher Aussgang…54 However, the text is longer than the one in-
cluded by Scholem under the same title.55 It also does not contain illus-
trations, although twelve illustration titles are listed at the end. Accord-
ing to Waugh, the Polish version of this pamphlet was later translated
into Russian.56
The first two pamphlets described above are not identical to the man-
uscripts of the same titles, as ´Swiderska suggested.57 The manuscripts
are an independent translation from the German printed version of
pamphlets by a correspondent. Existence of those pamphlets published
in Polish confirms the reliability of Galatowski’s book and direct inter-
est in Sabbatianism in Poland among non-Jews.
News about Shabbatai Zevi sent from Poland to Western Europe, es-
pecially to Germany, can be treated as a supplement to Polish sources.
In 1666, three such incidents were published in German newspapers.58

53 Manuscript no. 1656, fols. 497-498.

54 The full title, in German and in Polish, is: Wunderlicher Anfang und schmachlicher
Aussgang des judischen
¨ Koniges
¨ Sabetha Sebi. Welcher Gestalt derselbige auff Befehl des
¨ Kaysers
¨ gerichtet worden. Hat der Leser auss folgender Relation und dem
¨ Kupfer mit mehrem zu vernehmen. Anno 1666; Dziwny poczatek ˛ a strasny
koniec tak zwanego zydowskiego
˙ Krola,
´ Sabetha Sebi, Jakim sposobem tenze ˙ na
Rozkazanie Tureckiego Cesarza z ´swiata znoszony y stracony. łaskawy czytelnik z
˛ Opisania y przytomnego Obrazu szerzy obaczy. Anno 1666.
55 Scholem, Sabbatai Sevi,
. picture VI.
56 Waugh (above note 15), p. 304 and note 14. According to Waugh, this pamphlet
served as a basis for a Russian translation .
57 ´Swiderska (above note 48), p. 216.
58 Ch. Ahrens, Sabbatai Zwi (1626-1676). Untersuchungen zu einer messianischen
Bewegung und ihrer Rezeption in deutscheprachigen, zeitgenoessischen Quellen,
Schriftliche Hausarbeit zur wissenschaftlichen, Pr uefung fuer das Lehramt am

Michał Galas [12

Nordischer Mercurius published news from Łwow from March 26 with

information about the imprisonment of the Jewish Messiah by the Em-
peror of Turkey.59 In Wochentliche Donnerstags other similar accounts
from Warsaw appeared, dated April 4,60 and Nordischer Mercurius also
published news from Kamieniec Podolski from April 12,61about the tor-
ture of Shabbatai Zevi in prison.
The number of sources related to the origins of Sabbatianism in the
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and its dissemination throughout
this territory is rather small. Because of this, our knowledge about the
movement and its reception among Jews and Christians at that time is
incomplete . For many years scholars relied on Balaban’s studies and
tr usted their reliability without doing new research or searching for ad-
ditional sources. But from sources and information which survive to
our times, one can draw some general conclusions. The Polish sources
which were found recently, and were unknown to Scholem, can prove
his thesis about the wide spread news about Sabbatai Sevi and his mis-
sion in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth among Jews and Christians
Paramount among the sources is the existence of at least one Polish
pamphlet which served as a base for its Russian version and that
through this pamphlet, information about Sabbatai Sevi was sent from
Poland to Western Europe.
Analyzing all sources – Jewish and Polish – it seems that we have
enough evidence to substantiate great interest in Sabbatianism in Po-
land, at least similar to other countries in Western Europe. The sudden
appearance of Sabbatai Sevi as the Messiah and his surprising apostasy,
and spontaneity of the movement, could be the reason for the lack of
information about names of his followers in the extant sources. In ad-
dition to that, documents on Sabbatai Sevi and his followers were or-
dered destroyed not only by the King and bishops – an unusual case in
other countries – but also by rabbis and the Council of the Four Lands.
Presented in this article, the anti-Sabbatian pamphlets and other previ-
ously unknown sources in Polish confirm the reliability of the sources
which were questioned by some scholars. Naturally, a rehabilitation of
Polish sources should cause greater interest in them, attract the atten-

Gymnasium, 1979, pp. 137-138, 150. I used a copy from the Gershom Scholem
59 Nordischer Mercurius, 1666, pp. 223-224.
60 Wochentliche Donnerstags, 15 (1666), p. 3.
61 Nordischer Mercurius, 1666, p. 268.

13] Sabbatianism in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

tion of historians of the movement and lead to a new, detailed research

on the comprehensive history of Sabbatianism in 17th-century Poland.
New study and increased understanding of the origins of Sabbatianism
in Poland can be very helpful in the study of the Sabbatianism and
Frankism in Poland in later periods, as well as in studies on Polish-
Jewish and Jewish-Christian relations during that period.

‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’:
Politics and Spirituality in Early Modern
Jewish Messianism
Hillel Levine

Should Napoleon be victorious, wealth among the

Jews will be abundant and the glory of the children of
Israel will be exalted. But the hearts of Israel will be
separated and distanced from their father in heaven.
But if our master Alexander will triumph, though
poverty will be abundant and the glory of Israel will
be humbled, the heart of Israel will be bound and
joined with its father in heaven.
Shneur Zalman of Lyadi, 1812

Can we establish how political and spiritual orientations and agendas

of Jewish messianism relate in the early modern period? For this
period, the internal discourse on the messianism of post-conversion
Sabbateanism in Frankism and Hasidism have been well analyzed. Are
there developments, external to the Jewish community, that in this
period particularly encroach on Jewish life, and which influence the
political and spiritual dimensions of messianism?
Michel Foucault tells us: ‘If it moves it is political; and it is emancipa-
tory, at that’. But both Foucault’s radical reductionism and his opti-
mism – in relation to history and any method with which we might
interpret that history – are more than problematic; and they are certainly
suspect when it comes to understanding experiences and aspirations of
Jews and their messianism on the eve of modernity. Can the boundaries
between the political and spiritual be readily fixed? Can they be alto-
gether blurred?
Granted, in this period, the political realm, at least as defined by the
power of the state, begins to infringe considerably more upon Jews in
positive and negative ways making political questions more timely,
even urgent. That state now challenges such intermediary str uctures as
the guild and the church that stood between the state’s macropolitical
[Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, 16-17, 2001]
Hillel Levine [2

domain and the individual’s microspiritual domain. That state now

possesses new administrative tools and technical apparatuses for the
control of individual citizens as well as the political resolve, concen-
trated and ready, to implement that control. Is it any wonder, therefore,
that seemingly impertinent questions of the nature and implications of
Jewish messianism were raised in some of those early political dis-
courses about Jewish rights and emancipation? For the Jews them-
selves, some times participating in this discourse about the status of
Jews and Judaism in the changing polities and societies, in other situa-
tions, avidly watching over their shoulders and speculating upon the
consequences of these developments, concerns about their political fu-
ture in this fluid situation may have taken on a new measure of salience
influencing their messianism as well. But there was a more subtle issue
in regard to these changing political str uctures. The questions for Jews
of messianism in the early modern period, as in other periods, contin-
ued to have to do with how – the political and spiritual means by which
that messianism transforms – but now, also, more with where – the social
location in which eschatological beliefs would be protected from the
new demands of the centralized absolutist state and could continue to
be compellingly plausible.
A well known Hasidic text, the above cited letter, written by Shneur
Zalman of Lyadi, reveals to us – at first glance, seemingly, in such an
explicit manner – how and why he analyzed and made decisions about
choosing sides at an apocalyptic moment. This epistle, pulsating with
realistic assessments of the machinations of readily identifiable,
thisworldly r ulers, so well illustrates how not all that prompts move-
ments primarily expresses political motivations – political at least in the
sense of maximizing security and worldly benefits in relation to politi-
cal r ulers. It illustrates in programmatic terms the interdependence of
the spiritual and political aspirations for the future – if not the actual
messianism, then the responses made to a messianically charged mo-
ment by a principle and influential Hasidic thinker. It illustrates the
equivocal terms of emancipation. It illustrates complexities of reading
Hasidic texts. In regard to early modern messianism, ‘political’ and
‘emancipatory’ simply do not describe the fullest range of possibilities.1

1 J. Katz, ‘The term “Jewish Emancipation”: Its Origin and Historical Impact’, in:
A. Altman (ed.), Studies in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Intellectual History,
Cambridge, MA 1964, pp. 1–25; P. Birnbaum and I. Katznelson (eds.), Paths of
Emancipation: Jews, States, and Citizenship, Princeton 1995, pp. 3–36.

3] ‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’

A contemporary of Shneur Zalman, a man from a similar back-

ground, whose path may have crossed that of Shneur Zalman’s in one
Hasidic court or another is Solomon Maimon (1749-1800). He became
one of our great informants about early modern East European Jewish
life, including its messianism. As the promulgator and popularizer of
the image of the blurry eyed and otherworldly Ostjude – ‘if it moves, it
is spiritual’, he might have said – Maimon’s descriptions of their milieu
well illustrate the interpretive problems at the opposite extreme posited
by Foucault. Solomon Maimon often neglected to pay sufficient atten-
tion to the political motives and movements of the Jews he described.
Born in Lithuania, he ‘emancipated’ himself sufficiently from the shtetl,
including those Hasidic courts which he frequented in his youth, to
move to Berlin, to write Versuch uber
¨ die Transzendentalphilosophie in re-
sponse to the Critique of Pure Reason, and to win Kant’s attention as his
leading disciple. Maimon also wrote a vastly popular autobiography,
in the tradition of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions. Published seri-
ally, in 1792 and 1793, in what was a coffee table publication, it became
favored reading in German salon circles. Sundry parvenus found in
Maimon’s memoirs both slapstick amusement and credible confirma-
tion for their prejudices against those who came to be known as
His elliptic and ungenerous reading of worldly and otherworldly ori-
entations can be found in the portraits that he presents of his own fam-
ily. His grandfather, for example, was an arendar, a lease holder for an
estate of Prince Radziwill, who came of a family known for its Calvinist
attachments. The estate, in a small village on the Neman River, in-
cluded houses, fields, and a tavern as well as a toll bridge. Maimon
describes the dire neglect of these estates reflecting the thwarted
entrepreneurialism of autarkic Poland. But Maimon ultimately attri-
butes the neglect to his grandfather who ‘could not tolerate any inno-
vations; all matters had to be conducted in the old manner’.
Maimon tells of the comic and pathetic situation of a bridge that had
fallen into disrepair longer than anyone could remember. Gentry car-
riages traversing the broken bridge would be damaged. The lords
would quickly vent their spleen on the Jewish manager and his family.
Maimon’s grandfather, however, trained the family to take evasive
measures. Each time a magnate’s carriage would approach, the family
would escape into the forest. After slaking their thirst and spilling out
what would remain of the grandfather’s liquor supply, the lords could
avenge themselves by ransacking the house. But members of the family
Hillel Levine [4

would not be harassed nor wounded. Solomon Maimon asks the obvi-
ous question: Why didn’t his grandfather repair the bridge? Maimon
presents this as evidence for the otherworldliness and backwardness of
his grandfather, his incapacity to plan, his lack of assertiveness and re-
sponsiveness to quotidian reality while waiting for the messiah. Tradi-
tional society, Maimon would lead us to believe, was as precarious as
his grandfather’s bridge.
The bridge was never repaired. What Maimon does not tell us is that
in accordance with the standard form of the late feudal gentry-Jewish
contract, capital improvements and repairs were to be at the expense of
the owners who often tried to pass the responsibility on to their Jewish
agents. What he may not have known is now evidenced by abundant
archival documents. Otherworldly Jews, like his grandfather, often
were busy battling it out in the courts with the Polish gentry, even those,
like the Radziwills, imbued with the spirit of capitalism.2
In fact, if you calculate the interest rates and the rates of return on
investment, you quickly realize: within the autarkic economic and po-
litical system of serfdom, Solomon Maimon’s grandfather was demon-
strating what might be considered higher rational economic thinking
and decision making capacity. His Kantian grandson did not suffi-
ciently appreciate the singularly significant fact: in strictly economic
terms, it did not pay to repair the broken bridge. Foucault, narrative histo-
rians, and post-modernists of various sorts would overlook other types
of movement that bolstered broken bridges. Indeed, there is evidence
that what was really moving was capital; that through the unrivaled,
expanded, international circles of tr ust and accountability that a mem-
ber of Jewish civic society enjoyed, Solomon Maimon’s grandfather
could invest in entrepreneurialism and state building, elsewhere. The
Court Jews of Germany and Central Europe, funding princes in the con-
str uction of consolidated and absolutist states, were at the same time
venture capitalist investing on behalf of Jews in Eastern Europe.3
Maimon directs us to the questions that we must ask when trying to
interpret Shneur Zalman’s choice of the Tsar over Napoleon and his
motivations. What other broken bridges did Jews in the early modern
period confront in relationship to the disintegrating autarky with

2 S. Maimon, Sefer Hayyei

. Shelomo Maimon, tr. Y.L. Bar ukh, Tel-Aviv 1953, pp.
3 H. Levine, Economic Origins of Antisemitism: Poland and Its Jews in the Early Modern
Period, New Haven 1991; J. Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism,
1550–1750, Oxford 1985.

5] ‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’

which they were most familiar and the new forms of autocracy and
totalitarian democracy4 that partitions and wars were bringing to
their doorstep? How did they understand and by what criteria did they
choose among the respective modes of state building and the allowance
of social space for a civic society within which Jews could locate them-
selves and live the collective, associational lives that they desired? How
did the macrostr uctures of modernizing, often somewhat elusive, pre-
sent the background for important shifts in Jewish cognition and
strategizing for their own safety and future?5 How were they moti-
vated by messianism? And, perhaps most important, in the shifting de-
mands of the state and their own desire for security, even for a modi-
cum of participation, how did Jews seek to carve out the social space in
which they could sustain the plausibility of their eschatological beliefs?
In all fairness to Foucault, it must be pointed out that his bon mot is
not too distant from interpretative models of the late Gershom Scholem
and his generalizations about Jewish messianism.6 If it moves, par-
ticularly, if it mobilizes a messianic movement, it is political and some-
what emancipatory. We hear echoes of this in his critique of Martin
Buber who, Scholem claims, presents ‘Hasidism as a spiritual phenom-
enon and not a historical one’.7
Scholem’s own position is now coming under the respectful but
sharp critique of a younger generation of scholars, precipitating vigor-
ous debates in Jer usalem. Yehuda Liebes takes Scholem to task for his
over emphasis of the political side of messianism. Scholem’s magiste-
rial study of the early modern messiah-claimant, Sabbatai Sevi, for ex-
ample, makes Sabbatai Sevi’s plan sound too ‘similar to Herzl’s char-
ter’. Liebes claims that in reviewing thousands of pages of Sabbatean

4 J. Talmon, The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy, Boston 1952.

5 In Moses Mendelssohn, the icon of Aufklarung
¨ for Jews and Germans of his time,
we find similar misreadings of the political macrostr ucture. He overstated the
good intention of autocratic r ulers. In the 1770s, fashionably scientific concepts
of the indicators of mortal death were used to criticize and intervene in the
communal life of Jews. Mendelssohn tried to defend specific Jewish interests in
practice. But he sided with the autocratic r ulers in regard to the quality of their
science as well as the legitimacy of their intervention into the internal domain of
Jewish life, what might be considered civic society. See: A. Altmann, Moses
Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study, Alabama 1973, pp. 288–295.
6 G. Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality,
New York 1971.
7 G. Scholem, ‘Martin Buber ’s Interpretation of Hasidism’, Commentary, XXII
(1961), pp. 305–316; idem, op. cit., p. 230.

Hillel Levine [6

texts, he found ‘virtually no trace to the idea of political and national

redemption’.8 He acknowledges traces of this in the early period
among the hoi polloi. ‘The messianism of the conceptual leaders of the
Sabbatean movement has nothing to do with political redemption but
rather with another sphere: metaphysics and faith’.9 Moshe Idel, in
contrast to Scholem’s ‘messianic idea’, emphasizes that there are ‘mes-
sianic ideas’. But, he boldly states, ‘the main point of the messianic phe-
nomenon moves from the outside to the inside, from history to the soul,
from the many to the individual’.10 And Scholem’s grand interpreta-
tive scheme, an elegant, parsimonious, counter-intuitive theory of Jew-
ish modernity first adumbrated in 1937 (‘Redemption through Sin’) his
efforts to locate the roots of Jewish Enlightenment and worldly political
action in antinomian mysticism and messianism falters on the fate of his
single case study and questions posed by evidence from new archival
The sociological analysis of messianism that Liebes implies and Idel
directly calls for would likely, for starters, describe a continuum be-
tween Jewish messianism as territorial politics versus messianism as
unencumbered spirituality; it would not impose a priori definitions of
one extreme position or another. Moreover, in attempting a more sys-
tematic theory for analyzing theological ideas in relation to social be-
havior, it would be worthwhile to reappropriate Max Weber’s notion of
order, further developed by Kenneth Burke,12 Northrop Frye,13 Da-
vid Little14 and others. These concepts of order bring together ques-
tions of meaning and purpose, organization and coordination.
Messianism must be seen in terms of order: its reciprocal relationship
with the social forms that it takes on as well as its reciprocal relationship

8 Y. Liebes, On Sabbateanism and Its Kabbalah: Collected Essays, Jer usalem 1995, pp.
10–18 (Hebrew).
9 For an excellent summary of the debate, see: M. Idel, Messianic Mystics, New
Haven and London 1998, pp. 1–37.
10 M. Idel, Introduction to A.Z. Aeshkoly, Jewish Messianic Movements, I: From the
Bar-Kokhba Revolt until the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain2, Jer usalem 1987, pp.
11–14 (Hebrew).
11 Ha-Khronika – Te‘uda le-Toledot Ya‘akov Frank u-Tenu‘ato, Jer usalem 1984 [=The
Kronika – On Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement ], ed. and tr. H. Levine,
Jer usalem 1984.
12 K. Burke, The Rhetoric of Religion, Boston 1961.
13 N. Frye, Academy of Criticism, Princeton 1957.
14 D. Little, Religion, Order, and Law: A Study in Prerevolutionary England, New York

7] ‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’

with the authority, commands, and legitimations which it expresses. As

such, messianism is not only the yearning for an improved worldly ex-
istence nor the yearning for otherworldly experiences but different
combinations of both.
A sociology of knowledge analysis of this raging intergenerational
conflict may in and of itself be a messianic act in the biblical terms of
‘turning the hearts of fathers unto their sons and the hearts of sons unto
their fathers’. But it borders on the banal to point out that Scholem, born
to an assimilated family in late 19th century Germany who became an
ardent Zionist, might have different perspectives from his disciples
who came of scholarly age decades after the establishment of the State
of Israel, are Zionists of absolutely no less ardor than Scholem, have
fought Israel’s wars, and have made personal, existential, and profes-
sional choices to live in that country but for whom political emancipa-
tion is not a paramount concern.15
There are current developments, outside of the scholarly domain,
that may influence the concerns, the reactions, and the interpretations
of scholars of messianism. In our generation, not part of Scholem’s ex-
perience, we have observed the development of still two more full
blown messianic movements within Judaism, to be added to the prior
list of Christianity and Sabbatianism: dangerous millennial statements
are being made publicly and, more likely, harbored as esoteric teach-
ings among some of the religious nationalists on the West Bank.16
Moreover, against Scholem’s characterization of the messianism in
Hasidism, what has developed in recent years within the largest, most
powerful, and public Hasidic group, the Lubavitcher, during the illness
and after the demise of its leader, Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson,
surely qualifies as a messianic movement, political and emancipatory,
in Foucault’s terms. That messianism percolated precisely among those
Hasidim who showed little enthusiasm for anything other than sys-
temic, rational thinking, systematic political action, community build-
ing, and, an outside observer might have assumed, enough worldly
activity with which to keep themselves altogether busy until the Mes-
siah does come.
It is in this regard that our enigmatic text, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe’s

15 D. Biale, Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah and Counter-History, Cambridge, Mass. 1979,

pp. 52–78.
16 For a delightful fictional treatment of messianism among the West Bank settlers
that is becoming frighteningly plausible, see: T. Reich, The Jewish War, New York

Hillel Levine [8

response to Napoleon, is all the more intriguing. Why did Shneur Zal-
man choose the Tsar over Napoleon? Do we have a glimpse at any trace,
in the founder of the movement and in the unique manner in which he
reacts to a serious cataclysm that is spurring apocalyptic messianic re-
sponses, of what is so messily exoteric and overt seven generations
later? Notwithstanding the temptations and dangers of the most com-
mon of historical fallacies, the ‘genetic fallacy’, can we discover any
roots to the contemporary and most perplexing Lubavitcher messianic
movement, so powerfully abrogating centuries of Jewish reticence, in
Shneur Zalman’s politics and his impressive cost/benefit analysis?17
Post Modern historians have no monopoly on contextualizing: we
must try to interpret Shneur Zalman’s response to Napoleon within the
range of Hasidic responses to Napoleon; we must relate the Hasidic
leader’s response to his personal experiences, particularly his experi-
ences with tsardom.
The Napoleonic incursions into the large population centers and Ha-
sidic communities of East European Jewry – in 1807 into the Polish ter-
ritories that had been annexed by Pr ussia, in 1809 into Western and a
sliver of Eastern Galicia, and in 1812, into the very heartland of Eastern
Europe – should provide a very special Rorschach Test, a proto ‘clash of
civilizations’, an early 19th century ‘remaking of the world order’.18
Napoleon, for Jews in remote corners, was their first unmediated expe-
rience of the French Revolution. More than two decades after the fall of
the Bastille and after a variety of messianic French Revolution radicals
had turned the message of that revolution inside out and outside in,
slogans about liberty, equality, fraternity were trouncing upon the ves-
tiges of feudal autarky and threatening Russian autocracy.
Napoleon himself seems to have had messianic fantasies. There are
reports, even documents, not wholly authenticated, that Napoleon was
trying hard to arouse messianic responses as well as political sup-
port.19 Rumors were spread about his conquests in Palestine and his
recr uitment of Jewish soldiers from exotic communities of the East. Na-

17 D.H. Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought, New York
1970, p. 155. The genetic fallacy ‘mistakes the becoming of a thing for the thing
which it has become’. Historicism, ‘the most hateful forms of the genetic fallacy,
converts a temporal sequence into an ethical system, history into morality’.
18 B. Mevorakh, Ha-Yehudim Tahat . Shilton Napoleon, Jer usalem 1970; idem (ed.),
Napoleon u-Tekufato: Reshumot ve-5Eduyot Ivriyot Shel Benei ha-Dor, Jer usalem 1968,
pp. 171-189.
19 F. Kobler, Napoleon and the Jews, New York 1976.

9] ‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’

poleon, in his first round, so demonstrably opened the ghetto gates. The
same Napoleon in 1806 convened nothing less than a Sanhedrin, remi-
niscent of the Great Assembly of Rabbis, a legislative body not con-
vened since the Talmudic period. Did Napoleon know that according
to some rabbinic opinions, the reconvening of the Sanhedrin was one of
the precursors to the coming of the Jewish messiah? Yet the early mod-
ern emancipator used this Sanhedrin to pry into the inner life of Jews
with forcefulness from which ancient, classical, and medieval enemies
of the Jews, politically and spiritually motivated, would have had
much to learn from Napoleon. Dangling the promise of full citizenship,
he tested Jewish loyalties. In inquisitorial tones, he elicited the position
of rabbis in Paris and elsewhere under his control, pressuring them to
make politically correct statements by the standards of his Enlighten-
ment, tragic choices for them as rabbinic leaders.
The Napoleon who opened the ghetto gates is the same Napoleon
who tried to control Jewish communal life. The messianic fervor was
confused and confusing as he made his incursion into Eastern Europe.
What of his equivocal reputation was salient and where, what reality
factors, what range of concerns might have been encoded in mythic
language and how might these illuminate the junction of large scale
social processes, motives, and the personal decisions of historical ac-
tors; what insights into early modern messianism can we derive from
the diverse responses to Napoleon from Jews in different regions – all
of these questions require much research, particularly, if we are to as-
sess relationships between the political and spiritual and make any
evaluations of what is emancipatory.
Martin Buber’s novel, For the Sake of Heaven, presents a fictionalized
version of responses, across the Hasidic world, to Napoleon and the
messianic interpretations engendered by the French liberator, far away
from home.20 In other sources we find, for example:
During the first Napoleonic War, Rabbi Menahem Mendel of
Rymanov wanted to make of him Gog and Magog. He
supplicated through his prayer that he should win in order that
there should be redemption and he said that in his opinion it
would be beneficial for Jewish blood to be spilled, from Frystak
to Rymanov. They should go up to their knees in Jewish blood in
order that there should be an end to our exile. But the masters of

20 M. Buber, For the Sake of Heaven, tr. from the German by L. Lewinson,
Philadelphia 1945.

Hillel Levine [10

Koznitz and Lublin did not agree with this and they prayed that
he should fall in the war because they saw through their vision
that the end had not yet arrived […] And the Holy Rabbi Naftali
of Ropczyce, then young of years, lived in the town of Dokle. He
sided with the rabbis of Koznitz and Lublin and visited the Rabbi
of Rymanov to try to dissuade him. He arrived on the eve of
Passover, a day of particularly fierce fighting. Rabbi Mendele was
standing there, placing Matzahs into the oven. Each time he
would say: ‘Another five hundred Russians have fallen’. And so
it was in the war.21
Another tale about Hasidic responses to ‘the fall of the King Napoleon’,
describing reactions to his downfall, provides the dramatic background
for Buber’s treatment:
After 1813, when the mightiness of God was apparent in the fall
of the King Napoleon who was taken into exile, many prophesied
that God’s name would become exalted. And the Rabbi of Lublin
always anticipated God’s redemption that the redemption would
be made by the King the Messiah soon in our days, Amen. And
this is what Levi Isaac of Berditchev said before he died that he
would not give any rest to the masters because the Son of Jesse
has not arrived.22
What do these point to in regard to ways in which Napoleon might
have been perceived? To be sure, these Hasidic masters were not
systematic thinkers. Nevertheless, can we try to identify patterns in
their cosmological thinking that correspond with phenomenological
categories in the history of religion such as pantheism, theism, theurgic
magic and explore their sociological correspondances with social
boundaries and internal organization?
Buber tries to present the responses as an intra-Hasidic debate on
magic versus non-theurgic religious action, more spiritual in its orien-
tation. The legends that he uses, we note, were transmitted and pre-
served as oral traditions; they were transcribed during and after the
first decade of the 20th century. For Buber, Shneur Zalman’s response
to Napoleon and the elaborate explanations that Shneur Zalman and

21 Mevorakh, Napoleon u-Tekufato (above n. 18), pp, 186–187. See Mevorakh’s

discussion of the oral sources of these legends and their first appearance in
writing, ibid., pp. 183–184.
22 Ibid., p. 188.

11] ‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’

others provide for this response were of scant interest even though
Shneur Zalman’s 1812 letter provides what is most likely the earliest
written record.
Most of the responses seem to have been prompted by a very practi-
cal consideration: ‘Why waste a good war! Let’s make something of it
in terms of the churning of the messianic gears’. The Hasidic Masters
and presumably their growing number of disciples interiorized Napo-
leon’s sojourn across the lands of East European Jewry and gave it
meaning within their Jewish framework of life and the Jewish spiritual
world. Bracketing Buber’s glosses and insofar as the anthologies of Ha-
sidic tales transcribed a century later preserve any reliable reportage,
Napoleon was experienced largely as an external event, not someone
introducing radical differences into the governance of their lives. Even
those Jews who had lived since 1772 under Russian autocracy pre-
served the political thinking of Jewish experiences under Polish au-
tarky. The political and economic orders were considered to be based
on decrees and capriciousness which Jews could negotiate, not on prin-
The hand of a later generation of transcribers of Hasidic tales is rec-
ognizable in a pious spin given to these reports: Perhaps because of
their inappropriate zeal in hastening the end and for their applied
messianism, the major Rebbes involved in this experiment died within
the same year. But those native ethnographers and pious oral historians
were not oblivious to those internal Hasidic politics. The Napoleonic
incursion was used to demonstrate the power of the Hasidic master or
the competition between the different courts.23
All this makes Shneur Zalman’s response, within the context of his
own life, all the more interesting. Another monopoly not possessed by
narrative historians involves the joys of unpacking an exemplary
tale.24 The Alte Rebbe, as he is lovingly called by his disciples, to this
day, lived in the northwest sector of the Hasidic world, in that area of
the Polish Commonwealth that had been annexed by Catherine the
Great and that is now in Belar us and Lithuania. He wrote profound
theological tracts that point to a deep spiritual life. At the same time,
his communal ordinances would be a proud piece of work for a
McKinsey consultant. And anyone who has observed Congressional

23 Ibid., pp. 173–175.

24 The recent work of John Demos, Natalie Zemon Davis, and David Hackett
Fischer well illustrate this point.

Hillel Levine [12

advocacy, Lubavitcher style, will have no doubts about political pro-

pensities that Shneur Zalman of Lyadi was able to pass on.
Let us examine his epistle in its entirety:
On the first day of Rosh Hashana, prior to the Musaf prayer, they
showed me: Should Napoleon be victorious, wealth among the
Jews will be abundant and the glory of the children of Israel will
be exalted. But the hearts of Israel will be separated and distanced
from their father in heaven. But if our Master Alexander will
triumph, though poverty will be abundant and the glory of Israel
will be humbled, the heart of Israel will be bound and joined with
its father in heaven. And here is a sign: In the coming days the
delight of your eyes will be taken from you and they will begin
to recr uit soldiers from among the brethren of Israel. And do
remember how when we last parted recalling, ‘Princes have
persecuted me without a cause; But my heart stands in awe of
your words.’ And for God’s sake: Burn this letter.25
A line of commentators interpret Shneur Zalman’s motives, expressed
in cost/benefit analysis terms, so disarmingly stark and pithy, as a call
for asceticism.26 ‘When you are oppressed then you will discover the
Lord your God’. Napoleon the liberator, Napoleon who would
establish a rational economy in which Jews would be allowed to
participate in productive enterprises, Napoleon the false Messiah
would lead the Jews to political and economic security – and to
religious indolence. Shneur Zalman, according to this reading of the
epistle, picked up a whiff of what Jewish emancipation and modern-
ization is all about. He sensed that if it will be good for the Jews it will
be bad for Judaism. Perhaps he envisioned Jewish opulence in an open
society with an intermarriage rate of over 50% and, conservative ascetic
that he was, had the courage to reject this.
Yet, this interpretation – of what might be called the ‘Jews love tsuris
school’ – is out of character with Shneur Zalman of Lyadi and his think-
ing. Was the author of the most detailed set of communal ordinances
and an architect of governance and leadership which has endured to
this very day, fearful of mortally-imposed security? Would a leader

25 Mevorach, Napoleon u-Tekufato (above n. 18), pp. 182–183.

26 S. Dubnow, Toledot ha-Hasidut, Tel-Aviv 1975, pp. 325–344. Alan M. Dershowitz
begins his recent book, The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for
the Next Century, Boston, MA 1997, with this tale of Shneur Zalman of Lyadi
calling this the Jewish delight in tsuris.

13] ‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’

who was concerned with the economic pursuits of his followers, whose
administrative ordinances included detailed considerations of matters
of livelihood and finance, would this type of leader welcome persecu-
tion and summarily dismiss opportunities for stability?
His son and successor made proposals to the government for voca-
tional schools and agricultural colonies saying, ‘No Jew need be
ashamed of engaging in farm work, for our ancestors in Palestine were
farmers. If we will purchase or rent the land for long periods, we shall
obtain a livelihood…’.27 That son, better than the Maskilim, the Jewish
modernist savants who accepted French physiocratic notions of what
in later years would be called pruduktivizatsya, productive contribu-
tions to the wealth of the state – that son of Shneur Zalman, and likely
Shneur Zalman himself, understood that Enlightenment inspired ‘re-
form’ in Eastern Europe was little more than a fraud and that agricul-
ture was a code word for ‘serfdom’.
There is little else in Shneur Zalman’s Hasidism that suggests that he
accorded such religious significance to tsuris. He was not particularly
on the ascetic side of Hasidism. Furthermore, his rejection of Napoleon
was so vehement as to suggest some other motives.
The opening of the archives in the former Soviet Union, for now, at
least, holds limited promise for a solution to these problems. A new
cottage industry among underpaid academics and librarians has gen-
erated custom made forgeries. Moreover, the demonstrated alacrity
and competence of contemporary Lubavitcher Hasidim in moving doc-
uments from Moscow and St. Petersburg to Crown Heights makes ac-
cess even a greater problem than in the days of the former Soviet Union.
An examination of the original epistle seems to be impossible for the
We do have a cache of documents that round out the reports of
Shneur Zalman of Lyadi’s imprisonment in St. Petersburg, fourteen and
twelve years before Napoleon’s arrival on Hasidic turf. Indeed, Shneur
Zalman was incarcerated by Tsar Paul and Tsar Alexander I which
should make him no great fan of tsardom. Could his enthusiasm be
little more than an early and undiagnosed symptom of the Stockholm

27 M. Teitelbaum, Ha-Rav Mi-Lyadi u-Mifleget Habad, Warsaw 1910, pp. 238–246. On

Shneur Zalman teachings and on his son, see: R. Elior, The Paradoxical Ascent to
God, New York 1992; idem, Torat ha-Elohuth ba-Dor ha-Sheni shel Hasidut Habad,
Jer usalem 1982; N. Loewenthal (ed.), Communicating the Infinite, Chicago 1990.

Hillel Levine [14

He was also released by those tsars, it might be pointed out. This

should provide some explanation for his gratitude. Indeed, we now
better understand those circumstances under which he was released.
And it may be those circumstances that shed new light on Shneur Zal-
man’s loyalty to the Tsar. The new documents provide some insight into
what the Russian prosecutors were fishing for, how Shneur Zalman
handled them, and ultimately, why, unlike so many Old Believers and
religious leaders of various sorts that were subject to these types of in-
vestigations and ultimately sent to Siberia, why Shneur Zalman was
freed – not once but twice.
Let us allow for the possibility of a rather pedestrian explanation. As
to the unexpectedly happy ending to Shneur Zalman’s political prob-
lems, let us once more evoke the image of politically active Lubavitcher
Hasidim; lobbying in the Tsar’s court; this surely involved one primary
means – bribes. It could be that what Shneur Zalman liked about the
Tsar and his administration is their inefficiency and corr uptibility. From
the first annexations of Polish territory by Catherine the Great and the
first encounters with Jews, all sorts of reforms were promulgated, some
fair and favorable to the interests of many Jews now residing in Russian
territory, most absolutely not. The common denominator: virtually
none was implemented.
New documents indicate that Shneur Zalman’s first arrest, at least,
was not primarily the consequence of the Jewishly prompted
anti-Hasidic agitation and internecine warfare, as we thought; neither
was it planned by the tsarist officials to provide the opportunity for
extortion.28 We now have the text of the first accusation against
Shneur Zalman, made on May 8th, 1798 by a certain ‘Hirsch the son of
David’ of Vilna. He accuses the rabbi and his associates of fomenting
rebellion among the youth, a fairly standard accusation; the Hasidim
live unbridled lives with no framework of law, again, not an unusual
mode of defaming. An accusation that he makes that is not standard is
that Shneur Zalman is sending money to assist the French Revolution.
‘Rabbi Zalman the son of Bar ukh […] tries to assist the French Revolu-
tion’ is written on the cover page of the investigation. Shneur Zalman
was accused of sending money to the Sultan as well as to Napoleon in

28 These documents from the Prosecutor General’s archives in Petersburg are

reviewed in Kerem Habad, Kefar Habad 1992, pp. 17–21, 29–31. Kerem Habad, a
journal of the movement, is not always up to scholarly standards. But a
reproduction of the original accusation is presented.

15] ‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’

Palestine. The irony should not be lost; Shneur Zalman’s efforts to es-
tablish a well r un Hasidic court, to protect his followers from Russian
autocracy and its administrators involved political maneuvering about
which those officials said little. The accusation against him for political
activity is based on Shneur Zalman’s most messianic act – organizing
financial support for pious Jews residing in the Holy Land who were
praying for the redemption. This was seen as a political act of support-
ing the French Revolution.
There is good reason to believe that the accuser, Hirsch the son of
David of Vilna, did not exist and that a clumsy effort was being made
to attribute this particular attack to Jews. The accuser recommends to
the Tsar that the Hasidim be sent into exile ‘and there they will have
their promised land for which they have been hoping and also the mes-
sianic wild ox and leviathan’. Though Jewish attacks on Hasidim in no
way lacked vir ulence, this frighteningly cynical taunt does not sound
like it comes from a Jewish voice. The Prosecutor General Lopukhin
reports these accusations in a letter to the Tsar. Paul who was having
enough problems consolidating power during his short-lived reign
seems to have had the time and concern to review this case himself. On
August 14th, 1798 he writes, ‘…should it turn out that they indeed did
participate in any type of rebellion, of these do send them to me imme-
We are still left with the question as to who organized this initiative.
Whatever the case may be, it is evident that Russian autocratic leaders
could hardly be characterized as interested only in the surfaces of Jew-
ish life. Napoleon, however, was certainly more the interventionist and
generally a lot more efficient. In view of the serious charges leveled
against him by the tsarist administration and – what he likely did not
know – Paul himself, Shneur Zalman had reason to be grateful, perhaps,
even loyal.
If archival material up to this point has been suggestive but not con-
clusive as to Shneur Zalman’s tr uest motives for his enthusiastic sup-
port of the Russian autocrats, perhaps we should take a more careful
look at the epistle itself. In comparing some of the printed versions of
this letter, it is clear that there have been deletions. Some of the histori-
ans who wanted to like Shneur Zalman as one of the more reasonable
of Hasidic masters, did not pay attention, even took liberties with some
phrases that they did not understand or that did not lend support to
their image of this Rebbe. The recipient, we should note, is Moses
Meizeles, who was also a friend of Shneur Zalman’s most important
Hillel Levine [16

and vitriolic enemy, the Gaon of Vilna. Meizeles was himself, like his
Vilna friend, a man who combined traditional study, even mysticism,
with scientific er udition. Meizeles seemed to be under some suspicion
of organizing a spy ring on behalf of Napoleon. He escaped to Palestine
and years later made a most positive impression on the secretary of the
visiting magnate and philanthropist, Moses Montefiore. From our per-
spective, his singularly great contribution to Jewish history is that he
did not follow Shneur Zalman’s instr uctions to burn the letter. Shneur
Zalman makes two predictions that will serve as a validation for his
position. ‘The delight of your eyes will be taken from you’,29 he tells
Meizeles, sharing an intuition about his own numbered days, and also
that some other precious ones will be taken away, perhaps with less
permanence. Shneur Zalman alludes to the conscription of young Jew-
ish men, even children, which had been instituted in another part of the
lands of former Poland. This reminds us that Napoleonic influences
were closer to the heartland of East European Jewry a few years before
the War of 1812. The Duchy of Warsaw, which Napoleon had much to
do with the assemblage of its parcels, was also governed by the Napo-
leonic Code. There, as well as in the lands of Joseph II, going back to the
early 1780s – conscription was imposed upon the Jewish community.
Shneur Zalman was reminding his friend that Napoleon’s political and
emancipatory program may not only weaken Jews’ ties to their celestial
father but also to their terrestrial children.
But there seems to have been a heading to the letter – in fact, an en-
coded secret heading – ignored by most historians. ‘It is the way of the
world to leave behind the hides and empty jugs’. In and of itself, this
statement is seemingly meaningless. But it refers to a discussion in the
Babylonian Talmud, Yoma, 12a. How should the pilgrims to Jer usalem
during the three major festivals handle their fiscal affairs, the Talmud
asks. Insofar as the holy city belongs to the entire Jewish people, it
would violate that principle for pilgrims to pay their hotel bills. On the
other hand, as much as the rabbis, like medieval scholastics, were con-
cerned to ‘save the appearance’ not allowing reality to interfere with
theory and principle, their economic savvy encouraged them to predict
a desolate future for Jer usalem’s tourist industry if pilgrims did not pay
for their accommodations and hotel keepers had no economic incen-
tives to provide public services. The solution to the dilemma? ‘It is the
way of the world to leave behind the hides and empty wine jugs’.

29 Mevorakh, Napoleon u-Tekufato (above n. 18), pp. 182–183.

17] ‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’

How does this respond to Jer usalem’s problems or to Shneur

Zalman’s problems and what was his association to that Talmudic for-
mulation at the moment that he was making his inspired cost/benefit
analysis of Jewish choices in the modern world? The hides were the one
part of the animals for which pilgrims, bringing their sacrifice to the
Temple, had no use. They could not be a part of any special sacrifice or
priestly gift. On the other hand, they were not without intrinsic value.
Similarly, the wine jugs that had been used to transport the fr uits of
local vineyards, dedicated to spiritual elevation during the festivals,
were now merely empty vessels that would be a burden to transport
back home. They, too, were far from worthless. ‘It is the way of the
world…’. That is how you pay the hotel bill while preserving the prin-
ciple that Jer usalem belongs to all of the people. But what does this have
to do with Napoleon?
Here we have a real opening into Shneur Zalman’s political thinking
and spiritual proclivities. In the lands of the Tsar, he thought, ‘It is the
way of the world to leave behind the hides and the empty jugs’. One
can pay tutelage with objects that have value, to be sure, that are exter-
nal, functional, and ultimately empty in relation to the core of Jewish
living. The Tsar demanded, even deserved, loyalty. But Napoleon
would be satisfied with nothing less than patriotism, the fullest, the
most enthusiastic, and most exclusive commitment.
Shneur Zalman of Lyadi was no less inclined than his colleagues to
find deeper eschatological meaning in the War of 1812. But seeing the
events outside of his window as the representation of predestined
apocalyptic battles did not exonerate him, he believed, from worldly
choices and activities. He could envision cosmic circles while at one and
the same time organizing spy rings. Indeed, while praying for Tsar Al-
exander, he organized espionage against Napoleon; he ingratiated him-
self and his followers, by services rendered, to the Russian generals.
In this cryptic letter we hear what he is telling the sixty wagons of his
disciples who are escaping with him, eastward, through the fall and
winter of 1812, hardly staying ahead of Napoleon’s troops. His son re-
ports about his father’s last days in a letter sent to the same Moses
Meizeles. The peril and the impurity that Shneur Zalman associates
with Napoleon seem to meld as he urges his followers to move, quicker
and quicker, in their escape. Napoleon is the quintessence of evil, vio-
lence, and – what he seems to condemn the most – hubris and arrogant
secularity. The ‘Kings of the North’ are the source of compassion. In an
extraordinarily ecumenical observation, Shneur Zalman, as reported
Hillel Levine [18

by his son, notes with appreciation the manner in which the Tsar in-
cludes in his soldiers’ preparedness for battle the blessings and sprin-
kling of holy water administered by Russian Orthodox priests. Each
Napoleonic victory is accorded hidden blessing in the transvaluated
world of messianism. He succumbed to the difficulties of the journey
and the anguish of choosing between ‘paths of emancipation’, before
witnessing the fulfillment of one of his predictions – ‘ nafol tipol Napo-
leon’, verily will Napoleon fall.
With all of his messianism, Shneur Zalman was not opposed to
long-range strategic planning. With his characteristic deliberation, he
examined the redefinition of the relationship of Jews to the state,
change that was taking place across Europe and in America. He real-
ized that the future welfare of Jews as individuals, the viability of their
collective lives, and the plausibility of their faith could not depend on
charters here or concessions there as had been the case in feudal societ-
ies and in societies organized by estates and with corporate str uctures.
He confronted a tragic choice envisioning greater opportunities for
civic society and associational life in the interstices of tsarist autocracy
than in Napoleonic totalitarian mass society. He was prescient about
Napoleon and his heirs; less so in regard to the Tsar and tsardom in its
The Hasidic movement that Shneur Zalman of Lyadi founded and
inspired endured under the unique duress of the autocratic repressive-
ness of the Tsar and the totalitarian democracy of Napoleon, as their
commissar disciples institutionalized both legacies in the Soviet Union.
The stories of the survival of Lubavitcher Hasidism under the most re-
pressive conditions of Communism and the reconstr uction of East Eu-
ropean Jewish life in the corners of liberal democracies on our planet,
such as Brooklyn and Bnai Brak, following Nazi mass murder of Jews
and massive delegitimation of Jewish faith are stories yet to be told.
That social space, the intermediary str uctures of civic society, were of-
fered neither by Napoleon nor by the Tsar. How did the delayed reac-
tion to the Holocaust as it was expressed in that cognitively and socially
well protected civic society of liberal democracies catalyze shifts in the
delicate balances of the spiritual and political dimensions of Shneur
Zalman’s messianism and worldly preoccupations that contribute to a
messiansim that was by no means ‘sublimated’, that addressed the po-
litical as well as the spiritual domain, and that was as thisworldly in its
orientation as the messianism of early Christians and Sabbateans?
Whatever may be learned from Shneur Zalman of Lyadi’s deliberations
19] ‘Should Napoleon Be Victorious…’

that might reflect on the means or how questions – the political and spir-
itual dimensions of Sabbateanism and other earlier forms of
messianism – the where questions, of the social location of messianism
and how to retain their plausibility, which confronted Shneur Zalman
were quite different than those facing Sabbateanism and other earlier
messianic movements.
So much for reductionism, post-modernist or otherwise. There was a
lot that moved that was demographic and economic, spiritual, cer-
tainly, but even political in a fashion that Foucault would not quite rec-
ognize. Whether or not modernity for Jews and for others ultimately
will be emancipatory, for those of us who possess neither Shneur Zal-
man of Lyadi’s messianic optimism nor planning skills, we might ever
so cautiously state – not all of the data is in.

Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

David Biale

In one of his earliest diary entries, dated just before the outbreak of
World War I, Gershom Scholem describes a trip to the Swiss Alps.1
There he engaged in a series of romantic meditations which include a
reference to Shabbtai Zvi who, he says, astonished the people by going
into the marketplace in Izmir and pronouncing the four-letter name of
God. Despite the popular belief that he should have been str uck by
lightning, nothing happened. Scholem uses this historical anecdote as
a rather surprising way of demonstrating the deluded nature of the
Jewish people, who cannot recognize the metaphysical meaning of the
grandeur and beauty of the high mountains. Whatever this obscure text
may have actually meant to him, one has the distinct feeling that
Scholem is comparing himself to Shabbtai Zvi, a comparison that gains
some support from his later claim in the diary to be the Messiah.2
How and what did Scholem know about Shabbtai Zvi in 1914? He
certainly might have encountered him in Graetz’s History, which, as he
tells us in his memoirs, he already read in 1911.3 What I wish to argue
in this paper, however, is that Shabbtai Zvi was in the air in many dif-
ferent forms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the
first sentence of his great essay, ‘Redemption Through Sin’, Scholem
says that ‘no chapter in the history of the Jewish people during the last
several hundred years has been as shrouded in mystery as that of the
Sabbatian movement’.4 Despite the common belief today, cultivated in

[Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, 16-17, 2001]

David Biale [2

part by Scholem himself, that he rescued the Sabbatian movement from

obscurity and turned it into the major watershed between the Jewish
Middle Ages and modernity, there was a rich historical and imaginative
literature about Sabbatianism available in German, Yiddish, Hebrew,
English and Russian when Scholem was a young man. In his biography
of Shabbtai Zvi, Scholem refers occasionally in passing to this literature
and generally dismisses it as historically worthless, an accusation that
is largely accurate, if exaggerated. But regardless of their historical va-
lidity, these novels, biographies and essays created a climate of interest
in Sabbatianism that must have caught the young Scholem’s attention
and suggested certain themes for his later investigations.
Some of this literature about Sabbatianism was surveyed by Shmuel
Werses in a his book on Sabbatianism and the Haskalah.5 But Werses
ends where I propose to begin: with the late nineteenth and early twen-
tieth centuries, which witnessed perhaps an even greater profusion of
writing about Sabbatianism than had been the case earlier in the nine-
teenth century. Werses concludes with a short chapter on the way Jew-
ish nationalist writers transformed attitudes towards Sabbatianism
from the negative stance of much of the Haskalah to a new appreciation.
Although some of the material that I will cover overlaps with this chap-
ter – and some with material that he covers in other chapters – I want
to look not only at literature written by Jewish nationalists, but also by
some who are often labeled as assimilationists.
Beyond staking out a somewhat different literary territory from that
of Werses, I am interested in some very different issues. Sabbatianism
functioned as a kind of cultural code for authors working on the bor-
ders between Judaism and modernity, as a projection back onto the sev-
enteenth century of modern problems of Jewish identity and assimila-
tion. The most interesting literature of the fin de siecle
` period was neither
pro- nor anti-Sabbatian in the sometimes dichotomous sense we find in
Werses. Instead, these works often involve ambiguities that point in
suggestive ways to the ambivalence of their authors towards a whole
host of contemporary issues: rabbinical authority, heresy, conversion
and messianism, among others.

3] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

Jewish Orientalism
One issue that I want to address in particular is Sabbatianism as a
vehicle for constr ucting a kind of Jewish Orientalism at a time when the
Orient was exerting a particularly complex fascination on Jews. As I
shall try to show, ambivalence about the Jewish Orient captured many
of the other ambivalences of these writers about contemporary Jewish
culture. It is in the context of this Jewish Orientalism that I also want to
situate the young Scholem’s fascination with Sabbatianism, a context
quite different from where he is usually located.
In his now classic work, Orientalism, Edward Said suggests that the
range of European associations with the Orient, such as ‘the Oriental
character, Oriental despotism, Oriental sensuality and the like’, are re-
ally projections or constr uctions by Westerners, primarily during the
age of Imperialism.6 The power to constr uct the Orient as a field of
knowledge in certain stereotyped ways was part and parcel of the pro-
jection of Western power into the area of the Near East. Yet, because
Orientalism had little to do with the actual Orient, it tells us much more
about those doing the constr ucting than those being constr ucted:
‘Orientalism is – and does not simply represent – a considerable dimen-
sion of modern political-intellectual culture, and, as such, has less to do
with the Orient than it does with “our” world’.7
The history of Jewish Orientalism remains to be written,8 and I can

David Biale [4

only offer the barest outlines here, insofar as they connect to the theme
of this paper. Paul Mendes-Flohr has suggested that Jewish views of the
Orient shifted with Jewish attitudes towards assimilation. In the mid-
dle of the nineteenth-century, Jews sought to distance themselves from
their ostensibly ‘Oriental’ behaviors; with the rise of Zionism and other
forms of Jewish self-affirmation at the fin de siecle,
` many Jews, following
Martin Buber,9 enthusiastically embraced their Oriental heritage in re-
bellion against the bourgeois West.10
Without disputing this overall picture, I believe that even those Jews
who affirmed the Oriental in themselves did so in ways that were often
quite ambivalent, an ambivalence typical of the way the Western imag-
ination generally depicted the Orient. Although Jewish attitudes often
resembled those of other Europeans, Jewish treatments of the Orient
were complicated by several factors. Jewish Orientalism, as opposed to
non-Jewish, involved constr ucting an object which was also in some
sense ostensibly one’s self, the subject which was doing the constr uct-
ing: those who imagined a Jewish Orient were always conscious of the
fact that they themselves were being imagined by non-Jews as Orien-
tals. If the Orient became the classic site of the Other, Jewish Oriental-
ism involved a complex dialectic of projection and displacement of one-
self onto an object that was never really other. The fact that the Jewish
people originated in the Orient as well as the presence of real Jews in
the contemporary Orient aroused contradictory feelings among Euro-
pean Jews of identification and alienation.11 These Oriental Jews might
represent the vestiges of biblical Jews or, alternatively, primitive Jews
still mired in medieval obscurantism and irrationality. If one imagined
Jewish identity to be primarily European, the Oriental Jews were an
inconvenient embarrassment; on the other hand, if one wished to see in
Judaism the ‘spirit of the Orient’, one might represent both the Orient
and the Orientals in far more positive terms. What has not been suffi-
ciently noticed is the way these contradictory attitudes might exist si-
multaneously even in those eager to affirm their Oriental ‘otherness’.
When Zionism emerged as both a political and settlement move-

5] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

ment, the question of the Orient took on great urgency.12 Zionist Orien-
talism, undoubtedly indebted to both European and Jewish Oriental-
ism of the nineteenth-century, developed its own peculiar dynamic, es-
pecially once European Zionists confronted real Oriental Jews, such as
the Yemenites, who came to settle in the Land of Israel. Since the Zion-
ists proposed to take the Jews out of Europe and back to the Middle
East, ambivalence about becoming once again ‘Levantine’ turned into
a touchstone for the tension in early Zionism between Eurocentric mod-
ernism and anti-European anti-modernism. Was Zionism to be part of
the Orient or was it to be a movement of European modernity projected
into the Middle East?
European Orientalism itself can be divided between those who had
actual contact with the Orient and those whose images were con-
str ucted much more out of sheer imagination. The French and the Eng-
lish fit loosely into the first category and the Germans into the second.
Similarly, Jewish Orientalism divides between those who had direct
contact with the Jews of the Middle East and those who did not. Be-
cause of the French involvement in the region, French Jews were among
the first to develop complex direct relationships with Jews in North
Africa, Turkey and other areas of the Ottoman Empire. This new inter-
est in the Orient was awakened by the Damascus Blood Libel in 1840
and, as Aron Rodrigue has shown in recent work, was expressed in the
educational network of the Alliance Israelite ´ Universelle.13 The Alli-
ance’s project of bringing French Enlightenment to the backward Jews
of the Ottoman Empire was the product of Orientalist images of these
Jews, but it also contributed towards the production and dissemination
of these images.
German and East European Jews had less direct contact with Jews of
the East, but the images were often similar. Much, although not all, of
the late nineteenth and early twentieth century literature on
Sabbatianism was produced in German. As we will see, these German
Jewish authors often conflated images of the Orient with images of the
Ostjuden, who, as Steven Aschheim has shown, functioned for German

David Biale [6

Jews in a similar cultural fashion as Oriental Jews.14 An additional as-

pect to the German Jewish literature about the Orient is the curious role
of the Sephardic Jew. As Ismar Schorsch has argued, Sephardic Jews
often served for enlightened German Jews as models of acculturation
without assimilation; the Sephardic Jew represented a kind of Jewish
nobility, as opposed to the obscurantist and vulgar Ostjuden.15 With the
discovery of the ‘degraded’ Oriental Jews as an ostensible offshoot of
the Sephardim, the image of the Sephardim shifted to a contradictory
mixture of nobility and degeneration, a mixture which is particularly
evident in the representations of Sabbatianism.

Sabbatianism and the Orient

One example of this ambivalent representation can be found in a
travelogue written by the German-Jewish newspaper publisher, Esriel
Carlebach, under the title Exotische Juden.16 For Carlebach and, one
presumes, his readers, the ‘exotic’ was the Orient, defined primarily as
the Mediterranean. The first chapter treats the ‘proud Spaniards’ (Stolze
Spanier), the Sephardic Jews of Salonica. Following the long tradition
described by Schorsch, Carlebach contrasts the nobility and pride of
these Jews with the ‘hunchback’ (gebeugten-Ruckens) Jews of the North.
The Spanish Jews of Salonica set the stage for Carlebach’s journeys to
other exotic communities of the Orient, including Morocco, Tunis,
Tripoli, Yemen and Smyrna. There he found a variety of ‘exotic’ Jews,
not only exotic because of their geographical location, but also because
of their heterodox beliefs: Karaites, Marranos and Sabbatians.
Carlebach’s Sabbatians are the remains of the Donmeh sect in Izmir.
He describes the ‘half-darkened’ synagogue, mysterious and virtually
r uined where he encounters old men and women, the vestiges of the
community. In contrast with this contemporary scene of decay,
Carlebach describes the birth of Sabbatianism in almost revolutionary
terms. Shabbtai Zvi was a ‘sensitive, ecstatic young man’ who dared to
duel with God in protest against the slaughter of the Polish Jews by
Chmielnitski. Anticipating Scholem and in line with most of the other

7] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

descriptions of the impact of Sabbatianism, Carlebach claims that the

movement swept the whole Jewish world. Yet, Carlebach blames the
failure of Sabbatianism on Shabbtai Zvi who, he says, thought more
about himself than about redemption; he was a Messiah not fully com-
mitted to messianism.
Carlebach sees the continuing faith of latter-day Sabbatians like Jon-
athan Eibeschutz ¨ and the Donmeh
¨ sect not as a belief in Shabbtai Zvi
himself, but as a belief in the spiritual phenomenon represented by
Sabbatianism; it is therefore curiously positive and even prescriptive
for modern European Jews: the Donmeh ¨ Sabbatians read Maupassant
and Voltaire, but when they pray, they put away Western literature, just
as they do the Koran, speak only Hebrew and refer only to sacred Jew-
ish texts. Like European Jews, many of the sect ‘became Greek and mar-
ried foreigners’. Those who remained faithful had learned the art of
dissembling, of seeming to be Muslims while actually remaining Jews.
To be able to believe in Shabbtai Zvi nearly three hundred years after
his apostasy is a ‘trick of the soul’ not that different from that required
to be a Jew in modern times.
Thus, the movement that began in ecstasy, but failed due to the weak-
ness of its leader, still held a message for Jews facing the challenge of
assimilation. In this conclusion, the Sabbatian community of Smyrna
represented for Carlebach a peculiar mixture of antiquated decay and
stubborn national pride, a combination typical of others of Carlebach’s
exotic Jews of the Orient.
The role of the Orient as the birthplace of Sabbatianism is evident as
well in Josef Kastein’s vivid biography, Shabbtai Zewi: Der Messias von
Ismir, published in Germany in 1930. Kastein’s book resembles much of
the nineteenth-century literature discussed by Werses in combining
historical sources with fictional embellishment. Although Scholem dis-
missed Kastein’s work as little more than a novel, his bibliography in-
cludes many of the sources in Hebrew and European languages from
the time of the events. Even if Kastein did allow himself poetic license,
he did so after some fairly extensive historical research. Seeking to ex-
plain the widespread impact of the movement, Kastein argues that,
he succeeded, for the people he was addressing were not only
credulous Jews, but also Orientals. In this connection, one should
not forget that there were two factors which did much towards
increasing credence for the reports that were circulated – in the
Orient, the fickle receptivity towards fantasy [die leichte, phantasie-

David Biale [8

begabte Empfanglichkeit],
¨ and in the West the allure of the alien [der
Reiz der Entfernung] and respect for the written word.17
If the movement’s attraction in the East had to do with Oriental
irrationalism, the Western Jews were drawn in by two contradictory
impulses: a kind of rationalism connected with respect for written
reports, and the enchantment of the exotic. Kastein is describing a kind
of seventeenth-century Jewish Orientalism as the source for Western
Sabbatianism. But he also captures the reasons for contemporary
fascination with Sabbatianism. In the twentieth century, the Orient still
represented the exotic, as it did in the seventeenth, but knowledge of
the Orient, mediated through the written word (that is, Kastein’s own
book), gives this exoticism a veneer of scientific respectability. This is
exactly the combination that Said describes in his analysis of
nineteenth-century European accounts of the Orient.
Despite the impression a passage like this might leave, Kastein was
not at all hostile to Sabbatianism. In fact, his attitude was generally
quite sympathetic since he saw Sabbatianism as a legitimate response
to Jewish homelessness, a theme that he repeats almost like a litany in
his introductory chapter. As a Central European Jew, Kastein needed to
account for how the more ‘rational’ and ‘skeptical’ Jews who were his
ancestors were attracted to the movement in a way different from the
alien Oriental Jews. For example, in Venice, the news was received with
skepticism: ‘here is intelligent soil, where much is investigated and
much is doubted. Here is no more of the fantastic Oriental imagina-
tion’.18 Similarly, in Hamburg and Amsterdam, the descendants of the
Marranos were more fully equipped with spiritual or intellectual
(Geistigen) qualities than the Polish Jews, because their suffering was
‘sublimated’. These Jews, who are clearly Kastein’s heroes,
regarded [Sabbatianism] from a more worldly, concrete and
political point of view than the Oriental and Polish Jews. To the
other Jews it was a fresh beginning; to them it was a continuation
on a higher and clearer plane. And in their response they showed
passionate joy and unfettered exuberance rather than dark and
painful penitential practices.19

9] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

The East – whether Eastern Europe or the Middle East – is dark and
ascetical, while the West is joyful and worldly, a theme to which I will
Among the political responses to Sabbatianism, Kastein includes
Spinoza’s famous ‘Zionist’ passage in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus:
Jewish sovereignty might in fact be restored under the proper political
constellation.20 In connecting Spinoza with Sabbatianism in this posi-
tive sense, Kastein turned Graetz’s association of the two on its head:
where Graetz had seen Spinoza as the mirror image of Shabbtai Zvi –
rationalism versus irrationalism – Kastein brought them together un-
der the category of politics.21 Spinoza understood the import of
Sabbatianism politically. While it is unlikely that Spinoza was in fact
commenting on Sabbatianism in this passage, Kastein may well have
been on to something interesting. Following Scholem, much of the
work on Sabbatianism has focused primarily on mystical ideas and less
on the overtly political side of the movement, such as the persistent use
of royal titles for Shabbtai Zvi and the way the movement unfolded
within the political relations between the Ottoman Jewish communities
and the Turkish state. Interestingly, this fr uitful direction for research
was anticipated by some of the literature that Scholem dismissed, such
as Kastein’s work, which typically focuses much more on the political
than on the mystical.22
Despite his identification with the ostensibly reasoned position of the
Amsterdam and Hamburg Jews, Kastein was by no means a dogmatic
rationalist. In language reminiscent of Martin Buber, he notes that ‘an
Age is ripe for a great experience [Erlebnis], when it has the courage
momentarily to abandon the lamentable control of the brain and sur-
renders oneself to necessities of the heart’.23 This distinction between
brain and heart corresponds to Kastein’s dichotomy in his introductory
chapter between the Bible, which stirs the emotions, and the rational-
ism of the Talmud. He saw the Talmud as a legal system of ‘endless
interpretations, reflections, speculations and theories’ that weaned the
Jews from the emotional sustenance of the Bible. He even claims that

David Biale [10

the rabbis forbade Jews from reading the Bible before age twenty!24 The
Kabbalah attempted a synthesis between the Bible and the Talmud, and
Shabbtai Zvi represented the great experience in which the dictates of
reason were suspended in favor of a higher law. For a secular Jew like
Kastein (and Scholem), Sabbatianism was a precursor of the modern
revolt against rabbinic legalism.
As for Carlebach, the failure of Sabbatianism was a failure of its
leader, who was not himself transformed by this great experience. Here
Kastein becomes rather obscure: Shabbtai Zvi ‘emulated an historical
form of leadership without any adequate spiritual equipment’. He
never tr uly transcended the religion against which he rebelled. In a
sense, Kastein holds that Sabbatianism was not radical enough: it did
not address the universal desire for redemption, ‘the fundamental fact
that a whole world wished to be reconciled with its God and its own
existence’. This desire for redemption continued to echo weakly in
movements like Hasidism and Zionism, but it succeeded in neither;
writing in 1930, Kastein, who was himself sympathetic to Zionism and
ended up emigrating to Palestine, declared that ‘in Zionism, which was
an attempt at a partial solution on the plane of reality, it [redemption]
met with defeat’.25
Interestingly enough, it was only in the philosophy of Martin Buber
that Kastein found the tr ue realization of the idea of redemption and,
as we have just seen, there are several places in his book where such
Buberian terms as Erlebnis and Zwiesprache appear. Arguing that ‘noth-
ing can so disfigure God’s countenance as religion’,26 he seems to have
believed that Shabbtai Zvi was not able to translate his antinomianism
into a tr ue spirituality of dialogue. Might it be that, for Kastein,
Shabbtai Zvi’s Oriental origins precluded the possibility of such philo-
sophical messianism? Only the spiritual equipment of the Central Eu-
ropean Jews, and not the fantastic imaginations of the Oriental or East
European Jews, could provide the necessary synthesis between emo-
tion and reason.
If Kastein saw in Shabbtai Zvi’s Orientalism the fatal flaw of the
movement, the same perhaps was tr ue for Theodor Herzl. A number of
early Zionist writers, such as Shai Ish-Hurwitz, drew explicit compari-

11] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

sons between Zionism and Sabbatianism and between Herzl and

Shabbtai Zvi.27 Herzl himself was evidently uncomfortable with such
associations, although he devoted relatively little attention to his osten-
sible seventeenth-century forer unner. At one point in his diaries Herzl
says: ‘the difference between Shabbtai Zvi and myself is that he made
himself great to be like the great ones of the world, whereas I find the
great just as small as I am’.28 This is a rather enigmatic entry, given Her-
zl’s megalomania attested in other places in the diaries.
A more decisive statement of Herzl’s position on Sabbatianism, and
one more relevant for our purposes, can be found in his utopian novel,
Altneuland. When his two protagonists return to Palestine after twenty
years on a desert island, they tour the now-thriving Jewish utopia. At
one point, their hosts propose attending one of the cultural offerings of
the colony. The choices are a play about Moses at the ‘National Theater ’,
which they reject as too pietistically uplifting, several popular Yiddish
farces, which they dismiss as beneath them, and an opera about
Shabbtai Zvi, advertised as ‘the most beautiful of all modern Jewish
operas’. Curious about this figure of whom they claim ignorance, they
are told: ‘Shabbtai Zvi was a false Messiah who appeared in Turkey at
the beginning of the seventeenth century [sic]. He succeeded in gather-
ing a great following among Oriental Jews, but later he became a Mos-
lem and met a sorry end’. The visitors declare: ‘The perfect villain for
an opera’,29 and off the party goes to see the performance.
This brief passage deserves some careful attention. The opera about
Shabbtai Zvi stands culturally somewhere between pious ‘high’ reli-
gion, represented by the theatrical treatment of Moses, and the low cul-
ture of the Ostjuden, represented by the Yiddish farces. In light of Her-
zl’s dismissal of religion and patronizing attitude towards the
Ostjuden, only the theme of a messianic movement can be said to have
‘national’ significance. The opera treats a theme out of Jewish history

David Biale [12

whose value, Herzl suggests, is as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls

that Zionism must avoid: although initially sincere, Shabbtai Zvi be-
came a ‘villain’ as the mob began to follow him. Here is an example of
Herzl’s own ambivalence about leading a popular movement; his own
theory of Zionism as a vanguard suggests rather a certain elitism.
Unlike other contemporary treatments of Sabbatianism, Herzl sees
the movement as primarily an Oriental affair, thus implicitly contrast-
ing it with his own movement. In one place in his diaries, Herzl insists
that while Sabbatianism was based on utopian fantasy, his movement
will succeed since ‘we have machines’,30 that is, Western technology.
For the Jews of the Middle Ages, only fantasies based on charismatic
figures might inspire action, while in modern times when the people
are able ‘to gauge its own strength’, miracles and charismatic leaders
would no longer be needed. Here, once again, we encounter a certain
ambivalence on Herzl’s part about his own status as a charismatic
Despite Herzl’s explicit distancing from Sabbatianism, expressed in
his narrative description of the movement, the capsule libretto of his
fictional opera tells a somewhat different story. Shabbtai is persecuted
by a ‘choir of angry rabbis’, but his ‘strong personality charmed even
his opponents and they fell back before him’. Here, Herzl may have in
mind his own controversies with orthodox authorities who opposed
his movement and, in fact, he suggests that ‘sensible pious Jews’ have
rejected the ‘partisan rabbis’ and joined the Zionist movement.
The opera about Shabbtai Zvi is the only place in Altneuland – with
one exception31 – in which Herzl refers to Oriental Jews. The
Eurocentric character of Herzl’s Zionism is, of course, no great surprise
and he was not the only one to suffer from a blind spot about the Ori-
entals, whether Jews or Arabs. But his treatment of Sabbatianism was
designed to contrast those backward Jews, whether of the Orient or
elsewhere, who believed in miracles and were therefore swept up by
false messianism, with an enlightened, modern movement based on
technology. The Orient represented for Herzl the religious obscurant-
ism and utopian thinking that Zionism had to oppose. The lack of any
identifiable Oriental Jews in the Altneuland (as opposed to the presence

13] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

of enlightened, pro-Zionist Arabs) suggests that Herzl proposed to ig-

nore rather than modernize the real Jews of the Middle East.

Erotic Messianism and the Orient

In Altneuland, Shabbtai Zvi’s finest moment comes when a young girl,
who is his disciple, tries to defend him ‘in a grand aria’ and is attacked
by rabbis ‘in a great rage’. The prophet then returns to save her and she
follows him after the rabbis ban him from Smyrna. At this point,
Friedrich, the character who might be called Herzl’s alter ego, stops
following the opera when he spies the now decrepit woman he had
been in love with twenty years earlier and as a result of whose betrayal
he had left Europe. The contrast between the manly, charismatic
Shabbtai Zvi and the jilted Friedrich is clear: the European Jew cannot
find his erotic fulfillment in Europe, for the woman of his initial dreams
will turn into a middle-aged hag. Only by the end of the novel does
Friedrich find tr ue romantic fulfillment in Miriam, the daughter of the
Jewish colony in the Orient.32
In his fictional opera about Shabbtai Zvi, Herzl never exploits the
erotic possibilities of Sabbatianism. The young female disciple is de-
scribed only as following Shabbtai and not as his romantic partner. In
this chaste presentation, Herzl may, in fact, be suggesting his own re-
pressed ambivalence about the erotic energies inherent in leading a
great political movement. Yet, Herzl’s avoidance of explicit eroticism
left him very much in the minority, for most of the writers about
Shabbtai Zvi from our period focused disproportionate attention on the
erotic and, not surprisingly, on Eros linked to the Orient.
One aspect of the Orient as imagined by Orientalists has almost in-
variably been its effeminate sensuality, personified, as Said demon-
strates, in Flaubert’s courtesan, Kuchuk Hanem.33 For Jewish Oriental-
ists, the Sabbatian movement provided a rich opportunity for imagin-
ing an Oriental eroticism within the traditional Jewish world. This op-
portunity was a result of the stories that circulated already in the seven-

David Biale [14

teenth century about Shabbtai Zvi’s marriages, the first two unconsum-
mated and the third to the mysterious Sarah, who some accounts claim
was a Polish orphan of the Chmielnitski pogroms and who had pur-
sued an adventurous and promiscuous life before marrying Shabbtai
Zvi in Egypt. The figure of Sarah allowed authors to conflate East Eu-
rope with the Near East. Thus, for example, Kastein calls this ‘eccentric,
erotic and uncommonly vital creature’ a ‘child of the East’.34 Kastein
claims that the rabbinical response to Sarah’s eroticism was similar to
that of the Christian witch trials, but it never reached quite the same
extreme: the Christians ‘hated Eros and stifled the weird sensations
provoked by witches by putting them to death. The Jewish rabbis and
scholars were also afraid of Eros, but they tried to circumvent it by sub-
limating its influence’.35 In any event, Shabbtai himself was never
tempted by Sarah’s seductions and Kastein argues, quite implausibly,
that he no more consummated this third marriage than he had the pre-
vious two. We recall that for Kastein the spirit of the Orient was ascetic,
and in his account Shabbtai Zvi never gives in personally to the erotic.
However, Sarah instigates orgies and has relations with Shabbtai’s
young followers. She also agitates for equality of women at Shabbtai’s
table and in the reading of the Torah. At her instigation and as a tactic
for gaining power, Shabbtai adopted a proto-feminist position, freeing
women from the curse of Eve. As a result, says Kastein, women took an
active part in the movement, ‘as sometimes happens in the case of rev-
olutions when feminine instinct, added to the deliberations and mo-
tives of men, acts as a liberating and inciting factor’.36 Whether or not
one wants to accept Kastein’s dubious claim for the liberatory nature of
‘feminine instinct’, his observation of the importance of women in the
movement deserves further investigation.37
Other authors exploited the erotic possibilities of Shabbtai’s mar-
riages to the hilt. Israel Zangwill’s 1898 anthology, Dreamers of the
Ghetto, contains a chapter on ‘The Turkish Messiah’ among other fic-
tional and factual tales of marginal Jews. Zangwill revels in Orientalist
imagery throughout his tale:

15] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

Obediently marrying […] the maiden provided by his father, the

young ascetic passionately denied himself to the passion ripened
precociously by the Eastern sun and the marvelling Beth-Din
released the virgin from her nominal husband. Prayer and
self-mortification were the pleasures of his youth. The enchanting
Jewesses of Smyrna, picturesque in baggy trousers and
open-necked vests, had no seduction for him, though no muslin
veil hid their piquant countenances as with the Turkish women,
though no prescription silenced their sweet voices in the
psalmody of the table, as among the sin-fearing congregations of
the West.38
The Orient is the sun-drenched land of sensuality and liberation, the
Jewish women seductive and available, unlike either the Muslims or
the women of the Western Jewish communities. Shabbtai denies
himself these pleasures, but his asceticism is itself a ‘passionate’ denial
of the passions. Sarah comes to free him from his self-abnegation:
She was clad in shimmering white Italian silk, which draped
tightly about her bosom, showed her as some gleaming statue
[…] Her eyes had strange depths of passion, perfumes breathed
from her skin. […] Not thus came the maidens of Israel to
wedlock, demure, spotless, spiritless, with shorn hair, priestesses
of the ritual of the home.39
There can be little doubt that Zangwill prefers this ‘Oriental’ Jewess to
the more conventional domestic ‘priestesses’ of Western Jewry. Sarah
declares to Shabbtai: ‘Thou hast kept thyself pure for me even as I have
kept myself passionate for thee. Come, thou shalt make me pure and I
will make thee passionate’.40
Zangwill plays out Shabbtai’s conversion to Islam as a str uggle be-
tween the yin of his divinity and the yang of her worldliness. Shabbtai
at first blames Sarah for his failure to embrace martyrdom:
‘Tis through thee that I have forfeited the divine grace […] Thou
hast made me unfaithful to my bride the Law […] Woman, thou
has polluted me! I have lost the divine spirit. It hath gone out from

David Biale [16

me; it will incarnate itself in another, in a nobler. Once I was

Messiah, now I am man.41
Then he reverses himself and embraces love as ‘the Kingdom’ and his
humanity as his tr ue destiny. He is now prepared to become a Muslim,
if only to live with Sarah: ‘I am a man, and thou a woman’. But Sarah
for her part declares that if Shabbtai is only a man, then her love for him
is dead: ‘Nay, as a man, I love thee not. Thou art divine or naught’.42
Then, when he is taken to the Sultan, she realizes that she has come to
love him as a man and not only as Messiah. Zangwill produces this
str uggle between Shabbtai and Sarah with a great deal of ambiguity,
neither allowing his characters to take a definitive position on the
apostasy, nor, it would seem, taking one himself either.
Dreamers of the Ghetto was Zangwill’s attempt to work out a Jewish
identity on the margins by identifying with other heterodox Jews. It is
also a surreptitious str uggle with Christianity, as the poem on the fron-
tispiece, entitled ‘Moses and Jesus’, attests. Moses and Jesus, the two
Jews who ‘met by chance’:
Then for the first time met their eyes, swift-linked
In one strange, silent, piteous gaze, and dim
With bitter tears of agonized despair.
The encounter between Judaism and Christianity has no positive,
definitive outcome as it would in Zangwill’s later, assimilationist play,
The Melting Pot,43 but, instead, like Shabbtai Zvi’s conversion to Islam,
it is fraught with ambiguity and ‘agonized despair ’.
The very ambiguity of the ending of his Sabbatian chapter signals
Zangwill’s own ambivalence about whether a Jewish identity was even
possible in the modern world. Within a few years, he was to become
engaged to and marry a non-Jewish woman, an act which earned him
the opprobrium of a number of his friends in Jewish and Zionist cir-
cles.44 Perhaps Shabbtai Zvi’s str uggle between ascetic purity and Juda-

17] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

ism on the one hand, and erotic worldliness and apostasy on the other
was a projection of Zangwill’s own inner str uggles. In this light, it is no
surprise that he invested his account of Shabbtai Zvi with such melo-
dramatic sensuality and romance, a tale of the passionate Orient far
removed from the straitlaced Jews of late nineteenth century England.
The intersection of eroticism, interfaith relations and the Orient ap-
pears as well in Sholem Ash’s 1908 Yiddish play Shabbtai Zvi. Ash’s
admittedly mediocre melodrama cannot be divorced from its author’s
preoccupation with Christianity, which, several decades later, would
result in such controversial works as Der Man fun Natseres. Ash’s
Shabbtai Zvi is announced in phrases reminiscent of the Christian ap-
propriation of the prophecy of Isaiah (7:14): ‘The voice of God came to
me thus: “A son is born to Mordecai in the city of Izmir in the East, near
the sea. And I have called him Shabbtai Zevi”’.45 The several references
to Izmir as ‘the East’ in Act 1 are revealing because the setting is sup-
posed to be Jer usalem, relative to which Izmir would be in the West. It
is, of course, the author and his audience who are in the West and for
whom Izmir, Jer usalem and, indeed, the whole drama of Sabbatianism,
all lie in the Orient.
But, of course, the Orient is also important for Ash as the site of Jesus’
origins. His comparison of Shabbtai to Jesus in the opening Act is rein-
forced later in the play by Shabbtai’s claim that ‘I have torn the human
from my heart and have become God’, and Sarah’s statement that
Shabbtai is a ‘Man-God’, formulations that have no basis in Sabbatian
theology, although they do appear in other ninteenth-century imagina-
tive literature about Shabbtai Zvi.46 For Ash, it seems, Sabbatianism
was a seventeenth-century version of Jewish Christianity, an episode in
Jewish history that might perhaps make Jews more understanding of
the Christian heresy. For if, as he suggests in his monumental novel of
the life of Jesus, Judaism and Christianity differ only in whether one
believes that the Messiah has already come, then the Sabbatian experi-
ence means that many Jews also once believed in an historical Messiah.

David Biale [18

Ash’s account of Shabbtai’s failure is, however, theologically confus-

ing. At one point, Shabbtai blames God for having sent him, but then
having taken fright at how people considered him like a god, retracted
Shabbtai’s divine powers. Much of the dialogue in the latter part of the
play focuses the blame on Sarah, the erotic seductress who, as in
Zangwill’s story, represents sensual worldliness in opposition to
Shabbtai’s spirituality.
Shabbtai’s first two, rejected wives, significantly named Leah and
Rachel, refer to Sarah as ‘the black queen’ and Ash attributes to her the
urge towards antinomianism. In one speech, she castigates the Torah as
a set of prohibitions given by ‘foreign gods’ and pleads with Shabbtai
to choose her as a bride rather than the Torah, since she represents a
Nietzschean mixture of ‘sin, death […] repentance, resurrection, anger
and reconciliation, loneliness and companionship, desire and nega-
tion’.47 It is Sarah who attracts followers to the movement by her eyes,
her hair and her passion, and she does so precisely because she is hu-
man, a ‘daughter of the Earth’, but also the emissary of Satan. Despite
her Eastern European origins, Sarah is depicted as Oriental, promising
Shabbtai a paradise made of Middle Eastern imagery, drawn in part
from the language of the Song of Songs.48 In the end, Shabbtai has been
irrevocably contaminated by Sarah’s sensuality and he surrenders to
his humanity by converting to Islam. The scene of his apostasy ends
with the Sultan promising him his most beautiful slave girls as wives.
The Orient triumphs.
Like Zangwill, Ash ends his play in ambiguity. Where does he really
stand on the choice between the Torah and Sarah as the Messiah’s
bride? Can Jewish messianism sustain the idea of a ‘man-God’ without
collapsing either into antinomian sensuality or ascetic spirituality? The
play gives no definitive answers, but it certainly suggests how perilous
the course is for those Jews who reject the strictures of the law for a
more worldly (modern?) existence, represented, here as elsewhere, by
the sensuous Orient. If, indeed, sensuality is a sign of modernity, then
the Orient here is pressed into an unexpected role as the site of modern
The erotic implications of Shabbtai Zvi’s biography were not discov-
ered first by writers of the fin de siecle
` and, in fact, these writers probably
borrowed from earlier nineteenth-century models. S. Meschelssohn’s

19] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

Sabbathey Zwy, for example, published in 1856, demonstrates as

much fascination with Shabbtai’s asceticism in his first two marriages
as with his later consummated marriage to the mysterious Sarah.
Meschelssohn exaggerates Shabbtai’s rejection of a first wife named
Rachel by describing in exquisite detail Rachel’s beauty and her at-
tempts to seduce the celibate Messiah. One has the sense in this novel,
as in others as well, that Shabbtai’s initial celibacy and later presumed
libertinism, as alien as both were to conventional Jewish marriage, ex-
erted equal erotic attraction.
Perhaps the most bizarre instance of erotic exploitation of Shabbtai
Zvi’s biography is a novella written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch,49
best known as the author of the sadomasochistic work of pornography,
Venus in Furs (the sexologist Richard Krafft-Ebbing invented the term
‘masochism’ from Sacher-Masoch’s name, just as he invented ‘sadism’
from the Marquis de Sade). Sacher-Masoch was both a pornographer
(at least in twentieth-century terms) and a writer of Ghettogeschichten
(romanticized stories of the ghetto).50 Sacher-Masoch’s Shabbtai Zewy is
a fascinating reworking of the Shabbtai Zvi story for modern purposes.
Drawing on earlier literature, Sacher-Masoch suggests that Shabbtai
Zvi deliberately chose beautiful wives to put his asceticism to the test
and, like Meschelssohn, he embellishes on the erotic attempts of his two
first wives, named here Sarah and Hannah, to seduce the young
It is with the third wife, named mistakenly (but perhaps, as we shall
see, intentionally) Miriam, that Sacher-Masoch interjects his own sex-
ual inclinations. Unlike the previous wives, Miriam’s tactic is to forbid
her husband to touch her rather than to seduce him. As might be the
case for any good masochist, this only inflames him. Miriam sees her
task as converting Shabbtai from a ‘saint into a man’, since she no
longer believes that he is the Messiah. To convince him of this, she must
force him into sin. Claiming to be overcome by the spirit of God, she

David Biale [20

leads Shabbtai to the river and forces him to bathe her in a remarkably
erotic scene. She then takes him into a garden where she binds a crown
of thorns around his head until he bleeds and proceeds to flagellate him
with a thorn branch. After this sadomasochistic scene, Miriam tells him:
‘I have made you a man, you saint. […] Shabbtai Zewy, you are not the
savior of Israel, you are not the Messiah’. Shabbtai then converts to Is-
lam and lives out his days as a Moslem practicing the Jewish religion
in secret.
Sacher-Masoch mixes his own sexual proclivities here with religious
allegory. He regards Shabbtai Zvi as deluded because of his sexual as-
ceticism. He must be transformed from an ascetic saint into a man and
this can only be accomplished by a domineering woman. The release of
Shabbtai’s sexuality, which symbolizes his return to humanity, is con-
nected with sin: conversion to Islam. Yet, as in Ash’s drama, Shabbtai’s
treatment also conjures up associations of Christianity, particularly in
the crown of thorns and, perhaps, with the name Miriam, not as mother
of the Messiah, but as his wife. For Sacher-Masoch, Christ seems to have
represented the incarnation of God in an inverted sense: the turning of
religion into worldliness. From other writings, it appears that Sacher-
Masoch tried to constr uct a kind of secularized Christianity in which
redemption consists in accepting and even rejoicing in the cr uelties of
this world. It is possible that Sacher-Masoch intended the Shabbtai Zvi
story as an allegory of the modern Jewish problem: Jews must give up
their ostensibly ascetic separatism in favor of his vision of worldliness,
represented by women. In fact, in many of Sacher-Masoch’s Ghetto-
geschichten, it is powerful Jewish women who are the forces of modern-
ization and enlightenment.
The figure of Sarah, as a Jewish woman who, according to some ac-
counts, was converted temporarily to Christianity, allowed writers to
explore the relationship between Judaism and its Christian offspring.
Some writers, such as Kastein, went so far as to claim that Christian
millenarianism actually inspired the Sabbatian movement. For all the
writers I have discussed, the Sabbatian episode could be exploited as a
site for working out problems of Jewish identity in the modern world,
and particularly the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity.
And, women repeatedly played a critical role in their works as the cat-
alysts for transgressing those boundaries.
A final example of this complex of ideas which I should like to treat
is Jacob Wassermann’s Die Juden von Zirndorf, first published in 1897.
Wassermann is often considered an assimilationist, a contention that
21] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

has recently been challenged.51 Although severely critical of both West-

ern and Eastern European Jews, Wassermann extolled by contrast the
Oriental Jew as ‘certain of himself, of the world, of humankind. […] He
is free, while they are slaves, he lives with his mother, he rests and cre-
ates, while they are the eternally wandering unchangeables’.52 As Mi-
chael Brenner has pointed out, Wassermann, although not a Zionist,
claimed hyperbolically that the lengthy prologue of his book, which is
a fictional account of the impact of Sabbatianism on the Jews of Fran-
conia, was ‘one of the most important causes of the emergence of the
entire Zionist movement’.53
Many of the themes that we have already encountered – eroticism,
Jewish-Christian relations and, more indirectly, the Orient – inform
Wassermann’s story. As in Isaac Bashevis Singer’s 1935 novel, Satan in
Goray, the Jews, believing that the Messiah had come, throw off all legal
restraints, abandon their religion and indulge in wild sexual orgies, in-
cluding lesbianism. Two women are at the center of the story: Zirle,
who is modeled on the historical Sarah, except that she never actually
marries Shabbtai Zevi, and Rachel, who conceives a child out of rela-
tions with a Christian seminarian. Zirle is said to be the Messiah’s bride,
but after Shabbtai Zvi’s apostasy, she vanishes forever. Her wild beauty
attracts the son of an anti-Semitic Pastor, named Wagenseil (after the
anti-Jewish Christian Hebraist), who converts to Judaism and brings
catastrophe upon the Jews.
Rachel, on the other hand, is the daughter of a materialistic usurer,
described by Wassermann in terms indistinguishable from those of con-
temporary anti-Semites. Wassermann says of Rachel: ‘she could not be
called beautiful but she had the opulent figure and superficial passion-
ateness of the Jewess and there was in her eyes some dull sensuous
gleam that drew the men to her’.54 Her Christian lover puts out a story
that she has conceived her child as a virgin and that the child is destined
to be the Messiah’s bride, a kind of parody of Christianity. Thus, a cer-

David Biale [22

tain dramatic tension is set up between Zirle and Rachel’s child. As the
Jews travel towards the East in response to Shabbtai’s call, Rachel gives
birth, but to a boy, which causes her opportunistic father to go insane.
Wassermann seems to be suggesting in this episode that the Jews are
incapable of realizing their deepest desires, whether it be for sexual re-
lations with Christians or for the coming of the Messiah: ‘The dark God
of the Jews was not to be jested with; he stretched out his cr uel hand till
it stood like a wall cutting them off from the sweet and seductive pros-
pects conjured up by an oriental imagination’.55 The messianic libera-
tion of the European Jews, originating out of the Orient, fell victim to
the cr uel dictates of (Western?) Judaism, which had irrevocably dis-
torted the character of the Jews.
Yet, anticipating Scholem, Wassermann suggests that Sabbatianism,
the abortive movement of liberation from the East, formed the great
watershed between the Middle Ages and modernity, serving, as in
Carlebach’s tale of the Donmeh sect, as a model for the modern Jew:
And what came was always greater, freer and more perfect than
what had gone before and the Jew, at first only a bondsman, fit to
suffer the kicks of his angry lord, opened his eyes, discovered the
weaknesses and guessed the secrets of his master. […] Shabbtai
became a Moslem, though some say but outwardly. The Jew
became a civilized man, and again some say but outwardly. […]
This is certain: an actor or a tr ue man, capable of beauty, yet ugly,
lustful and ascetic, a charlatan or a gambler, a fanatic or a
cowardly slave – the Jew is all these things. […] the nature of a
people is like the nature of an individual: its character is its fate.56
In his autobiography, Mein Leben als Deutscher und Jude, Wassermann,
torn between his Jewish and German identities, describes his need to
see the Jews as neither totally saintly nor totally materialistic, but rather
a human synthesis of all extremes. As the above passage suggests,
underneath the modern Jew’s ‘civilized’ exterior lurked all the
complexities of the Jew’s real identity. Sabbatianism itself was the first
movement of liberation that created this modern bifurcated identity.
For Wassermann, writing Die Juden von Zirndorf was also an act of
personal liberation,57 an attempt to reconcile his Jewish and German

23] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

identities. Story-telling, which he calls ‘an Oriental instinct in my

blood’,58 functioned for Wassermann as his personal form of Sabbatian
liberation, an attempt to reconnect with the Oriental Jews he so
Wassermann’s Die Juden von Zirndorf brings us back to Scholem. In
the July 28, 1915 entry to his diary,59 Scholem relates an intense discus-
sion he had of Wassermann’s novel with his friend, Meta Jahr. As a book
written not out of literary impulses, but rather the ‘necessity of the soul’
(Seelennot), Scholem describes Die Juden von Zirndorf as, together with
Herzl’s life, the two monuments, two myths of Jewish suffering from
the nineties of the nineteenth century. Wassermann had provided a
myth for the Western Jews; another would be needed for the Jews of the
Scholem does not clarify exactly what he found so ‘mythical’ in Was-
sermann’s novel and it would perhaps be hasty to conclude that the
long Sabbatian prologue was what particularly drew his interest. Yet,
his preoccupation with questions of Jewish national redemption, at-
tested repeatedly in the diary entries from these years, as well as the
early reference to Shabbtai Zvi mentioned above, suggest that
Sabbatianism could not have been far from his mind. At the same time,
Scholem was equally obsessed with longings for the Orient. Part of this
longing came from Martin Buber’s essay on ‘Judaism and the Orient’,
which exercised a powerful early influence on the young Scholem. But
it also stemmed from his disillusionment with Germany, fed in part by
his revulsion at German war fever, and with his belief that personal
salvation, like salvation for the Jews, lay in the East.60 As he wrote on
December 11, 1915,
It is clear that I would like to be away from here, but would I not
like just as much to go to Arabia, Persia, China, the Orient? I have
in me a great love for the Orient and believe that Eretz Israel can
only enjoy its resurrection [Auferstehung] in conjunction with the
rest of the Orient. But I also believe that while I wish to journey
to the Orient, I wish to live in Eretz Israel. And this is the

David Biale [24

If one can draw conclusions from this passage, Scholem’s early

relationship to the Orient was marked by ambivalence: the Orient
would be the site for Zionism to establish itself outside of Europe, but
Eretz Israel would nevertheless be different. How, we might ask, did
this difference play itself out in Scholem’s historiography, especially his
work on Sabbatianism? Can we identify an Orientalist dimension to his
reading of Shabbtai Zvi?
On the face of it, the more obvious hallmarks of Orientalism that we
have discovered in the fiction and popular histories about
Sabbatianism are absent from Scholem’s work. To take one example, he
devoted relatively little attention to the erotic side of the Shabbtai Zvi’s
biography, especially by contrast to the more popular writers.62 Simi-
larly, the role of women as early followers of Shabbtai Zvi, which we
have seen in a number of accounts, failed to attract his interest. The
Sabbatian movement remained for him largely a male affair. This
one-sided focus corresponds to his more general position on the role of
women in Jewish mysticism,63 which he stated at the beginning of Major
Trends in Jewish Mysticism:
The long history of Jewish mysticism shows no trace of feminine
influence. […] [Kabbalah], therefore, lacks the element of
feminine emotion which has played so large a part in the
development of non-Jewish mysticism, but it also remained
comparatively free from the dangers entailed by the tendency
toward hysterical extravagance which followed in the wake of
this influence.64
If the ostensibly effeminate qualities of ‘hysterical’ emotionalism and
‘extravagance’ are those commonly associated with the Orient,
Scholem was seemingly determined to portray Jewish mysticism as
‘non-Oriental’. Yet, as Gil Anidjar has persuasively argued, such
overtly ‘anti-Orientalist’ statements may well conceal a more subtle,
quite possibly unconscious Orientalist agenda in the field of Kabbalistic

25] Shabbtai Zvi and the Seductions of Jewish Orientalism

historiography.65 Like others who wrote on Sabbatianism, Scholem

focused on the curious bouts of passivity which Shabbtai Zvi exhibited,
explaining them with a diagnosis of manic-depression. Yet, how far is
such modern clinical language from the less clinical ‘hysterical
extravagance’? Isn’t this passivity exactly the kind of ‘effeminacy’
typically associated with the Orient? Similarly, Scholem associates the
degeneracy of the later Frankist movement with its explicitly ‘feminine’
theology, which may explain his surprising expressions of revulsion at
this eighteenth-century by-product of Sabbatianism: one of the ‘most
frightening phenomenon in the whole of Jewish history: a religious
leader who […] was in all his actions a truly corr upt and degenerate
One might extend this analysis further. Scholem’s interpretation of
Sabbatianism as first and foremost a mystical movement has been ac-
cepted as virtually canonical. Yet, as we have seen, it is possible to offer
a political interpretation in which the Kabbalistic theology of the move-
ment is no longer primary. According to the typical Orientalist view, the
West is the realm of politics and reason, the East of impotent mysticism
and emotionalism. By attributing such weight to the mystical and vir-
tually ignoring the political, Scholem perhaps unwittingly painted a
portrait of Sabbatianism that was almost quintessentially Orientalist.
The obvious response to this suggestion is that, for Scholem, mysti-
cism was anything but pejorative and Sabbatianism itself was to be
given pride of place in the dialectic of Jewish history. Yet, my hypothe-
sis that Scholem’s reading of Sabbatianism may have involved Orien-
talist ambivalence can help solve one of the central tensions in his
thought. As is well known, Scholem was politically active in the Brit
Shalom group in the 1920s. In his polemics against the Revisionists, he
repeatedly labeled these extreme nationalists ‘latter-day Sabbatians’.
He used almost identical language at the end of his life to describe the
religious Zionists of the Gush Emunim.67 How can one reconcile his
positive historiographical estimation of Sabbatianism with this use of
the term as a politically pejorative remark?

David Biale [26

The answer, it seems to me, lies in the ambivalence of the European

Orientalist who is at once fascinated and repelled by the mysterious
East. Scholem famously called Zionism a ‘retreat back into history’ and
denied that it should have anything to do with apocalyptic
messianism.68 Zionism meant a turn to politics and not to mysticism. In
this respect, for Scholem, Zionism was quintessentially a Western
movement of political rationality and pragmatism, a ‘male’ movement,
if one wishes, as opposed to the ‘female’ extravagance of the East. De-
spite his efforts to purge Jewish mysticism of the ‘feminine’ element
and Sabbatianism of its female side, his unease about their possible re-
currence in Zionism demonstrates the anxiety of the European con-
fronting the ambiguities of the Orient.
In this respect, despite the sophistication and er udition of his re-
search on Sabbatianism, Scholem remained in the same Orientalist uni-
verse of discourse as the many popular works on Shabbtai Zvi that pro-
liferated early in the century: the messianic movement out of the East
became the site for projection of the str uggles and anxieties of a gener-
ation living between tradition and modernity.



Yehuda Liebes

This article explores the compatibility of the figure of the Sabbatian

Messiah with the tradition of established religion. The point of depar-
ture is a thirteenth-century kabbalistic text by R. Joseph Ashkenazi, re-
cently researched by Haviva
. Pedaya, who analyzed the messianic fig-
ure described in it, and by Moshe Idel, who proved that it played a
cr ucial role in fashioning the figure of Sabbatai Sevi.
. Their findings on
the cr ucial role of this text and its implications for the messianic claims
of Sabbatai Sevi
. are discussed herein. The Messiah of R. Joseph is the
introverted, passive and destr uctive figure responsible for the low sta-
tus of Jews in this world. By comparing R. Joseph’s Messiah figure with
the Messiah of Maimonides, it is possible to delineate two types of Jew-
ish Messiah: the one, mythical, mystical and destr uctive, the other,
functional and constr uctive. It is my contention, however, that a messi-
anic candidate needs elements of both types in order to be acceptable.
The Messiah of R. Joseph was intended as a symbolic myth, not a de-
scription of an actual, living person. The Messiah’s embodiment or ‘in-
carnation’ in the figure of Sabbatai Sevi
. posed a serious problem for his
followers, for the messianic figure that emerged was nihilistic and un-
balanced. For Shabbetai Sevi . himself and for his closest followers this
meant the destr uction and abandonment of Judaism. It was Nathan of
Gaza, the prophet and most profound thinker of Sabbatianism, who
developed a cabbalistic theory about two opposing cosmic elements
that together bring salvation, the one destr uctive (Thought-less Light),
the other constr uctive (Thought-full Light). By identifying Sabbatai
. with the former, and himself with the latter, Nathan was able to
believe in Sabbatai Sevi
. and at the same time avoid following his de-
str uctive path. He could thus use Sabbatai Sevi. to revive Judaism with-
out destroying it.

[Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, 16-17, 2001]

English Abstracts of the Hebrew Articles


Joseph Dan

The endeavor to integrate the major Jewish messianic movement

launched by Sabbatai Sevi . and Nathan of Gaza in 1666 with a wider
range of religious phenomena was initiated by Gershom Scholem, who
dedicated only a few pages of a detailed monograph to the subject. This
article presents an analogy to Sabbatianism in the series of events that
surrounded the attempt to crown Frederick V, Elector of the Palatinate,
as King of Bohemia, in order to establish a Protestant Emperor of the
Holy Roman Empire. The group of spiritualists and politicians who
took part in this attempt were involved with the emergence of the Ro-
sicr ucian movement, and their world view was saturated with ideas
derived from the Christian Kabbalah which had spread through Eu-
rope in the sixteenth century. The marriage of Frederick and Elizabeth,
daughter of James I, King of England, in 1613, gave additional impetus
to apocalyptic expectations, but the attempt was cr ushed in the defeat
of Frederick and his Bohemian allies in the White Mountains battle in
1620, at the start of the Thirty Years War. The shameful failure of the
‘W inter King’, as Frederick was called, led to underground activity
among various European sects in many ways reminiscent of the
Sabbatians after the conversion of the Jewish Messiah to Islam in 1666.
The two movements are analogous in their reaction to a catastrophic
failure: both split into numerous sects, adopted esoteric doctrines,
failed in establishing a central leadership, and shrouded their activities
in a cloak of secrecy. It is possible to identify some similarities in their
attitudes to language and texts as well.
An additional note of some interest is that Johannes Vermeer, who
lived in Delft, near Elizabeth of Bohemia’s palace in the Hague, painted
his Girl with a Pearl Earring probably in 1666, the same year that Sabbatai
. appeared wearing the Turkish hat that signified his conversion to

English Abstracts of the Hebrew Articles


Boaz Huss

The Zohar gained an authoritative and sacred status amongst

Kabbalists soon after its appearance in the late thirteenth century and
has been highly venerated amongst the intellectual elite ´ of most Jewish
congregations since the late 15th century. Yet the dissemination of the
Zohar amongst wider strata of the Jewish community occurred only
during the eighteenth century when many editions of the Zohar began
to appear, together with texts containing Zoharic passages, meant for
ritualistic recitations, as well as a translation of the Zohar into Yiddish.
The wider dissemination of the Zohar and the growth of its ritualistic
application occurred soon after the emergence of Sabbatianism. The
Zohar played a central role amongst the various Sabbatian movements
and was regarded by them as the most authoritative text, at least in
eschatological matters. The central place of the Zohar in the Sabbatian
movements raises the possibility of a linkage between Sabbatianism
and the dissemination of the Zohar. Indeed, as this article shows, there
are many indications that Sabbatian scholars were involved in the
printing of Zoharic literature and in the dissemination of its ritualistic
use. The involvement of Sabbatians in the dissemination of the Zohar
did not escape the notice of their opponents. As a result several scholars
called for the restriction of the study of the Zohar. The reliance of
Sabbatians on the Zohar provoked some scholars to criticize the Zohar’s
authority and sanctity. Thus, dialectically, Sabbatianism contributed to
the wider dissemination of the Zohar as well as to the attempts to re-
strict its study and undermine its authority.


Michal Oron

This article deals with a manuscript (autograph) from the eighteenth

century. The manuscript, Sefer Gehalei
. Esh, at the Bodleian Library, Ox-
ford, is a compilation of documents, letters and testimonies on the
Sabbatian movement, and centers on the controversy between R.
Yonathan Eibshitz and R. Yaacov Emden.
The importance of the present manuscript to the study of the
English Abstracts of the Hebrew Articles

Sabbatian movement is immense. The compilator, R. Yoseph Prager,

added his own interpretations to the various documents he had col-
lected and copied. His words are the living testimony of one who had
played an active role in those events and devoted two years of his life
to the copying and compiling of this work.
This article reviews the contents of the manuscript and draws the
biography of the compilator, who, according to various testimonies was
the driving spirit in the sharp controversy between the two giants of
those days, R. Yonathan Eibshitz and R. Yaacov Emden.



Joseph Sadan

In December 1666, a Jewish Sabbatian movement er upted in the Yemen

and was firmly suppressed by the Muslim authorities. Considered reb-
els by the Muslims, the Yemenite Jews, especially those residing in Sa-
naa, were harshly punished. These episodes and their aftermath are
described in a rather incomplete and equivocal manner in Jewish
sources (such as Megillat Teman, minutely studied by Yoseph Tobi),
whereas Muslim sources offer more details and shed light on aspects
neglected by Jewish sources. Ahmad. ˆ © al-Zaydı’s
ibn Nasir ˆ account of
events (edited and translated by Van Koningsveld, Sadan and
Al-Sammarai in a special book [Leiden 1990] and in Hebrew by Sadan
[in Pe5amim, 43]) is undoubtedly the most thorough, and may even rep-
resent the author’s own ‘eye-witness’ testimony, since he lived at this
time and had access to the state chancellery documents.
The source examined in the present contribution is Yahya . ¯ ibn
. ¯
ibn al-Qasim’s Bahjat al-zaman (the author being a contem-
porary of al-Zaydı), ˆ recently published under the title Yawmiyyat ¯
San5a.¯ This book describes the events in a more partial and less ob-
jective manner since the author lived far from Sanaa, the main scene of
most of these episodes. The paragraphs on Yemenite Jewry provide the
opportunity to re-examine and compare accounts of various historiog-
raphers, and the assumptions of the above-mentioned studies, that the
‘revolt’ broke out in three stages, that the symbolism of the movement
is related to the messianic events and the expulsion of the Sanaa Jews
to Mawza= which took place a few years later, and to the series of pun-
English Abstracts of the Hebrew Articles

ishments and limiting decrees imposed upon them. An anecdotal nar-

rative that bears re-examining concerns an ‘error ’ apparently commit-
ted by the Jews, a few years after the messianic events, in adjusting their
calendar to the solar year (by means of the 5ibbur):
¯ did the Muslim his-
toriographers understand what they saw and did they report it cor-
rectly? This is rather unlikely, but not altogether inconceivable.
Several years ago another Arabic chronicle of a relatively later period
became known to scholarly researchers (Serjeant, followed by Tobi; a
complete text of the paragraphs concerning the Yemenite Jewry is in-
cluded in Koningsvelt, Sadan, Al-Sanarrai), Ibn al-Wazır’s ˆ Tabaq
. ¯ This later source contains a rather biased and fragmentary de-
scription of the events of Yemenite Jewish history. It can easily be
proved that this biased historiographer copied most extensively from
. ¯ ibn al-Husayn
Yahya . ¯
ibn al-Qasim’s chronicle studied in the present
contribution. Within the scope of Muslim chronicles, it is always inter-
esting to analyze the root of the seemingly biased atmosphere charac-
terizing the attitude of certain sources and to compare it with the rela-
tively more objective historiographical style adopted by others.



Yosef Tobi

The Episode began with the emissaries and letters of the followers of
Sabbatai Sevi,
. which arrived at various localities in the Yemen from
Egypt and the Land of Israel. This probably happened in 1665, the year
before Sabbatai Sevi
. was supposed to reveal himself as Messiah. Yet,
already during the years preceding the Sabbatian activity in Yemen, a
strong messianic tension had developed among the Jews there. These
Sabbatian stirrings occurred as a result of the enhancing of nationalistic
emotions among the local Muslims and the expulsion of the Ottoman
Turks who had controlled the country for a hundred years. The messi-
anic activity reached its climax on Passover 1667, when R. Shelomo
Jamal, one of the Jewish scholars of Sanaa, addressed the governor of
that city ordering him to relinquish his throne as it was the time of the
deliverance of the Jewish nation.
The present article aims to prove that the events of 1667 which had
spread through most of the Jewish centers, though undoubtedly af-
English Abstracts of the Hebrew Articles

fected by the great Sabbatian movement, were not actually a part of it.
They were rather a local variant, the result of mounting messianic ten-
sions that culminated at certain times with the appearance of would-be
Messiahs. Moreover, even after the failure of the expected redemption
of Passover 1667 and its grave aftermath, the Jews of the Yemen re-
tained their messianic beliefs.



Jaacov Barnai

Further research into the social history of Sabbatianism is sorely needed

for a number of reasons: to deepen our understanding of the largest and
most important messianic movement in the history of the Jewish peo-
ple, and to broaden our grasp of the formative processes in Jewish his-
tory from the end of the Middle Ages to the modern period. We must
try to place Sabbatianism in its historical context, beginning with the
Jewish perspective, since the movement affected almost all of the Jew-
ish communities of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But we
must also try to place Sabbatianism within the larger framework of the
surrounding non-Jewish societies and their religions. The larger frame-
work increases our perspective both on Sabbatianism and the European
and Islamic movements and social trends prevailing at the same period.
A few guiding principles emerge: Sabbatianism is a highly complex
phenomenon, and thus a mono-causal view of Sabbatianism as a Jewish
religious movement steeped in messianism and mysticism outside the
context of history cannot provide an adequate explanation. It is neces-
sary to look at the multiple facets of Sabbatianism, especially from the
social-historical point of view. In this article I have attempted to outline
the significant differences between the polemics of the Sabbatians and
their opponents during the messianic period of Sabbatai Sevi . and its
immediate aftermath on the one hand, and eighteenth-century polem-
ics on the other. In the process of this analysis, significant differences
are brought to light about the direction of Jewish history in the course
of these two centuries. During the seventeenth century there is a certain
uniformity in evidence between the European and the Islamic commu-
nities, while in the eighteenth century a rift begins to appear. The con-
troversies themselves, as I see them, do not merely reflect the religious
English Abstracts of the Hebrew Articles

str uggle between Sabbatians and their opponents, but show deeper
roots in Jewish society as a whole, coping as it had to with changes in
the surrounding world during the period under discussion.


Ada Rapoport-Albert

Women played an unusually prominent role in all the stages and di-
verse manifestations of the Sabbatian movement. Many women – some
of them young girls, ‘maidens’, ‘virgins’ or ‘spinsters’ – were among the
earliest prophets of the movement who, by the very extraordinary na-
ture of their prophetic revelations, served as highly effective propagan-
dists of the Sabbatian message. Other women, including some married
prophetesses, played leading roles in the rituals of transgression insti-
tuted by the movement as redemptive cosmic ‘restorations’. It would
appear that virginity and celibacy co-existed with sexual licentiousness
within marriage, both functioning as modes of female empowerment
among the Sabbatians. This empowerment may have been facilitated
by the substitution – fundamental to Sabbatianism from the outset – of
the traditional doctrine of salvation by merit, which depended on com-
pliance with the halakhic framework of Judaism, with a new doctrine
of faith in the person of the Messiah, which alone secured salvation for
the ‘believers’. Gender differentiation – a built-in feature of the halakhic
framework – had traditionally resulted in the relegation of women to a
marginal position in cultic life. By contrast, the Sabbatian women were
able to occupy center stage, since their messianic faith, which tran-
scended the domain of Halakhah, and which now came to define their
religious experience, was free from regulation by any halakhic mech-
anism of gender differentiation. Moreover, the Sabbatian principle of
‘redemption through sin’ – particularly by means of sexual transgres-
sion – allowed much scope for women, traditionally perceived to be
marked by their sexuality and physical nature.
The paper assembles the admittedly fragmentary but incontroverti-
ble evidence for the activities of the Sabbatian prophetesses. It places
them in the context of such precedents as exist for this phenomenon in
the Jewish sources, while at the same time drawing attention to parallel
phenomena in both the Christian and Islamic spheres of Sabbatianism,
both of which may have contributed to the surprising readiness of the
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Sabbatians to grant women parity with men. The origins of their ‘egal-
itarian’ eschatology are traced back to Sabbatai Sevi’s. own vision of
redemption for women, which may have been inspired by classical
kabbalistic sources. This vision found expression in such extraordinary
practices as the inclusion of women, in either exclusively female or
mixed company, in the ceremonial and ritual obligations of men, in the
instr uction of women in Zohar and Kabbalah, as well as in the initiation
of women in their own right as equal members of the sectarian
Sabbatian fraternities. These tendencies culminated in the perfect sym-
metry between ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in Jacob Frank’s court, main-
tained alternately by the strict segregation of the sexes or by the eradi-
cation of all traditional boundaries between them.
Finally, Jacob Frank’s revolutionary doctrine of the redeeming
‘Maiden’ is shown to have been inspired by the Catholic cult of the
‘Black Madonna’ at Chestochova, where Frank had been imprisoned by
the Polish authorities for some thirteen years. The Mother of Christ was
constr ued in his mind as the outer ‘shell’ concealing the ‘fr uit’ – the
female Messiah who was the physical manifestation of the kabbalistic
sefirah, Malkhut. This sefirah, as he came to realize, was embodied in his
own daughter, Eva, who became, alongside him, and ultimately on her
own, the center of the messianic cult at his court until her death in 1816.
It is suggested that this radical development of Sabbatian ‘feminism’,
which envisaged the inauguration of redemption by a messianic cou-
ple – J acob Frank and his daughter Eva – was anchored in some authen-
tic kabbalistic traditions. Yet its most immediate and powerful inspira-
tion derived from Frank’s well-attested contacts with the Russian schis-
matic sectarians, some peculiar elements of whose eschatology and so-
cial organization closely resemble his own.


Paul B. Fenton

Though mystical hymns were an important part of Sabbatian prayer,

because of the esoteric nature of their worship few collections of such
hymns have survived. The author describes in the present article four
manuscript hymn-books preserved in the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jer usa-
lem, only one of which has been fully published. Attention is also
drawn to an important, hitherto unnoticed, Sabbatian hymnal, pre-
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served in the Harvard College Library, Ms. Heb. 80. Containing nearly
700 items, this is by far the largest known dıwan
ˆ ˆ of Sabbatian songs.
Their profoundly mystical mood provides a further source for knowl-
edge of the forms of Sabbatian worship and their doctrinal content, es-
pecially the section containing songs for festive occasions. While most
of the hymns are in Judaeo-Spanish, a small number are in Hebrew or
Turkish, one particular song combining all three. The small number of
Turkish songs must not minimize the influence of Ottoman culture. In-
deed, the dıwan
ˆ ˆ is laid out according to the Turkish maqamat
ˆ ˆ and many
of the hymns bear Turkish titles indicating the tunes to which they are
to be sung. These constitute a wealth of information for the musicolo-
gist, pointing, as they do, to the musical sources upon which the sectar-
ians drew. Some of these obviously derive from Derwish and Bektashi
religious melodies. Furthermore, many of the items are memorial
hymns bearing the invariably Muslim names of the deceased. These too
are a precious source for knowledge of Sabbatian nomenclature.



Zeev Gries

The Sabbatian hagiographic literature is scattered within different lit-

erary genres: memoirs, letters, visions, poetry and homiletical dis-
courses. Yet there has been no attempt made to collect it and review its
place and function in the rise and fall of this fascinating messianic
Followers of the movement, as well as opponents or enthusiastic con-
temporaries at its peak, contributed their versions of the life, fortunes
and misfortunes of the Messiah Sabbatai Sevi
. and his prophet Nathan.
Collections of stories and reports of Christian diplomats and others
should be compared to their Jewish counterparts. Heading the above-
mentioned list of sources is the novel phenomenon bearing the title
Me6ora5ot Shabbetai Zevi – Sipurei Halomot
. (Sabbatai Sevi
. – Dream Sto-
ries), an anonymous popular book, sixteen Hebrew editions of which
were published in the course of the nineteenth century.
The foundation of Sabbatian hagiographic literature within Jewish
hagiography in general and kabbalistic hagiography in particular is
discussed here alongside the book’s picaresque plot.

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Moshe Fogel

. Yamim is an anonymous work r unning to hundreds of pages,
and essentially constituting a discussion of the purpose of the com-
mandments from the perspective of the Lurianic Kabbalah. The book
was widely disseminated, with six editions published over the period
1731–1763 in Turkey, Galicia and Italy. Several years after the first
printed edition appeared, Hemdat. Yamim came under suspicion of
Sabbatianism and its circulation in Eastern Europe was restricted, al-
though customs and liturgies originating in the work became wide-
spread even in these communities. In the Eastern countries, the book
has been widely accepted since its first publication and up to modern
Several reasons lay behind the claim by halakhic authorities that
. Yamim is a Sabbatian book: The initial letters of the verses of the
piyyutim included in Hemdat
. Yamim form an acrostic of the name ‘Na-
than of Gaza’; the Gematria relates to the name and character of Sabbatai
. and the fact that the book ignores the customs of mourning for the
destr uction of the Temple, as did the Sabbatians. However, other hala-
khic authorities did not share this position, particularly since the name
Sabbatai Sevi
. does not appear in the book. Modern research has re-
vealed additional indications of the Sabbatian character of Hemdat .
The article suggests several angles from which one may examine the
question of the Sabbatian character of Hemdat
. Yamim according to the
criteria established by scholars: (a) belief that Sabbatai Sevi
. was the
Messiah; (b) use of Sabbatian liturgies and customs as an indication of
the belief that Sabbatai Sevi
. was the Messiah; (c) belief in a double-
edged world in which the messianic age has already begun – a hidden
world already in the process of redemption, as opposed to the overt
world still in exile. The attitude of the book toward individuals known
to have been either Sabbatian or anti-Sabbatian is also examined, as is
the question of whether or not the book does indeed ignore the customs
of mourning for the destr uction of the Temple. The question is posed
whether the author’s view of redemption may be characterized by the
expectation of a personal Messiah who will redeem Klal Israel in the
immediate term.
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The article reaches the conclusion that the connection between

. Yamim and the world of Sabbatianism is tenuous. The inclusion
of liturgical sections, forms of repentance and customs of Sabbatian or-
igin does not necessarily imply that the author believed Sabbatai Sevi.
to be the Messiah, nor does it imply his perception of the world in the
midst of the messianic process. Liturgies and customs common among
the Sabbatians were adopted by broad circles in the mainstream of Juda-
ism. Accordingly, it is suggested that like most Jewish thinkers of the
time, the author of Hemdat. Yamim may have been influenced by
Sabbatianism, but he did not accept all the principles of Sabbatian belief.



Shifra Asulin

This paper examines the biography and writings of Johan Kempper, a

convert Hebraist at Uppsala University. Kempper, a former Sabbatian,
converted in 1696 after his disappointment with R. Zaddok, an east Eu-
ropean Sabbatian prophet. His writings include some translations of
the New Testament, and more specifically, Christological commentary
of the Zohar. An analysis of Johan Kempper’s writings reveals an inter-
esting application of the Sabbatian code language and commentary on
the Zohar and on the Torah. Considering the resemblance between rad-
ical Sabbatian ideas and Christian beliefs, we try to examine Johan
Kempper’s tr ue identity. What was his religious faith? Who did he
write his books for? What was the cause of his conversion? The present
study attempts to answer these questions, reading between the lines of
‘Mate Moshe’, Johan Kempper’s Christological commentary on the

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Rachel Elior

The subject of the present study is Jacob Frank and his book, The Sayings
of the Lord. This book, written in the second half of the eighteenth cen-
tury beyond the confines of the Jewish community, reflects the liminal
position of the founder of the Frankist movement and his followers.
The text, published recently in Polish and translated into Hebrew by
Fania Scholem some forty years ago (and due to be published in the
near future), is the exceptional autobiography of a person who felt nei-
ther shame nor fear nor any cultural or religious restriction. Frank’s
sayings reveal the acute transformation of the mystical-mythical tradi-
tion of the Zohar and the extreme opposition to traditional Judaism that
was evident in Sabbatian circles. Messianic and mystical ideas inspired
by the circles of the Donmeh were amalgamated with his own idiosyn-
cratic world-view.
The discussion focuses on the passage from the written kabbalistic
myth of the heavenly world and its abstract symbols to the concrete
ritual-mystical experience of the anarchic Frankist community that ex-
pressed the new messianic era. Frank demanded that his followers par-
ticipate in a mythological reality that operated within a carnivalesque
framework transcending all norms and boundaries. Under Frank’s
messianic leadership and charismatic inspiration, the new mythologi-
cal reality was associated with omnipotence and eternal life, liberty and
redemption, new messianic figures and other expressions of the new
world as revealed to Jacob Frank.