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Shabatsai Tzvi. The Jewish Mystical Messiah L. E. Levine Faculty Forum April 2003. Principle 12 of Maimonides’ (Rambam’s) Thirteen Principles of Faith (1135-1204).

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shabatsai tzvi

Shabatsai Tzvi

The Jewish Mystical Messiah

L. E. Levine

Faculty Forum April 2003

principle 12 of maimonides rambam s thirteen principles of faith 1135 1204

Principle 12 of Maimonides’ (Rambam’s) Thirteen Principles of Faith (1135-1204)

I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.

primary source

Primary Source

Sabbatai Sevi

The Mystical Messiah

By Gershom Scholem

basic information
Basic Information
  • Born in Smyrna (Izmir), Turkey
  • August, 1, 1626 – 9th of Av, Sabbath
  • Significance of day – destruction of First and Second Temples
  • Tzvi – family name
  • Received traditional religious education
  • Ordained at about 18
more basic information
More Basic Information
  • Accomplished Talmudic Scholar
  • Began a life of solitude and piety
  • Goal: communion with G-d
  • Study of Kabbalah, mysticism
  • Mystery of the Godhead
strange behavior
Strange Behavior
  • At 22 married first wife, divorced in short time. Same for second wife
  • Manic-depressive
  • Illumination and rejoicing
  • Depression
  • Chmielnicki massacres 1648-1649
  • Ukraine 100,000 Jews killed
vision emotional upheaval
Vision (Emotional Upheaval)
  • In 1648 he claimed he was told he is the savior of Israel
  • Claimed he was anointed
  • Pronounced holy name of G-d in public
  • Nobody believed him because of his strange behavior
  • Denounced and rebuked
  • Sometime between 1651 and 1654 forced to leave Smyrna
  • Went to Salonika, Greece
  • Invited rabbis to a banquet
  • Married himself to a Torah scroll
  • Forced to leave Salonika
  • Constantinople – excommunicated
new law
New Law
  • Claimed that since he was the Messiah he could do things forbidden by Jewish Law
  • Still suffered from his moods
  • Left for Jerusalem in quest of a cure
  • In 1664 left for Egypt and married Sarah in March 1665
  • In her youth claimed she would marry the Messiah
nathan ashkenazi
Nathan Ashkenazi
  • Brilliant scholar in Jerusalem
  • Eloquent writer
  • At 20 began study of Kabbalah
  • In 1664 had cataclysmic, ecstatic vision
  • Lasted for 24 hours
  • Saw AMIRAH as Messiah
  • Prophet
quest for tikun for his soul
Quest for Tikun for his Soul
  • Shabatsai sought out Nathantocure him at end of winter or early spring of 1665
  • Surprise cure, you are the Messiah!
  • At first Shabatsai demurred
  • Spent weeks together, Nathan convincing Shabatsai of his Messianic mission
  • On night of ShavuousNathan has vision to declare Shabatsai the Messiah
  • Great messianic awakening begins
  • While together Shabatsai explains to Nathan his right to transgress the Law
  • Justify his strange actions
  • Mystery of Godhead
  • Proclaimed king and Messiah
  • Proclaimedhimself Messiah in May, 1665
  • Nathan his prophet
  • State of manic illumination
  • Charismatic personality, shining face
  • Beautiful voice, regal appearance
  • Nathan spreads news to world
belief in him as messiah
Belief in Him As Messiah
  • Nathan creates an entire literature about Shabatsai as the Messiah
  • Scholarly, based on all sorts of Kabalistic sources
  • Spreads quickly throughout Egypt, Turkey, Israel, and Europe
  • Repentance of the masses
  • People prophesizing
  • Jerusalem rabbis oppose him
  • Excommunication
  • Others were silent
  • Believers – Ma’aminim; Opposers – Koferim
  • Passionate beliefs on both sides
  • Can kill Koferim, if necessary
movement gains wide following
Movement Gains Wide Following
  • Ottoman Empire concerned
  • Business stops
  • Fights amongst those on both sides of concern to government officials
  • Unrest amongst Jews
  • Ascetic actions – mortifications, fasting, thorns, burial in snow
movement sweeps jewish world
Movement Sweeps Jewish World
  • Spreads from Ottoman Empire to Europe
  • People go into state of ecstasy and prophesize
  • Hacham Tzvi (b. 1658), father of Yaakov Emden
    • Women – slay demons, collect blood
    • Smell of Paradise, catch something in air
strange actions of shabatsai
Strange Actions of Shabatsai
  • Mystical ringswith Divine names
  • Abolished Fast of 17th of Tammuz in Gaza in 1665 – day of feasting and rejoicing, Great Hallel recited
  • He and others ate Chelev, forbidden fat
  • Blessing – mattir issurim instead of mattir asurim “Blessed ….., who permittest that which is forbidden”
  • Antinomian actions, new law
  • Arrives in Constantinople: population in a fervor for weeks before
  • Officials of Ottoman Empire concerned for stability
  • Arrested and imprisoned in Gallipoli
  • Not killed, treated well
  • Held court in prison
in great illumination
In Great Illumination
  • Shechinah has risen from her exile
  • Abolished Fasts of Seventeenth of Tammuz and Ninth of Av
  • Monday, 23rd of Tammuz (July 26, 1666) declared as a “festival of lights”
  • Moved Yom Kippur from Saturday to a Thursday
  • Has celebrated 3 festivals in one week in 1658
gallipoli prison
Gallipoli Prison
  • Bribed officials
  • Hundreds of visitors from afar
  • Appeared as a king, entourage
  • Visit by Polish emissaries
  • Reported “the glory which they had beheld, and the abundance of gold, silver, precious cloth and ornaments, royal apparel which he was wearing”
denounced to turkish authorities
Denounced to Turkish Authorities
  • R. Nehemiah Hakohen – martyr messiah of Joseph
  • Met with Shabatsai and refused to recognize him as the Messiah
  • Changes in Judaism
  • Charges of immorality
  • Fomenting rebellion against authorities
sultan s court
Sultan’s Court
  • Jews were convinced that Sultan would give his crown to Shabatsai
  • When questioned he denied any messianic pretensions
  • Offered choice of death or conversion to Islam
  • Apostatized!! (9/16/1666) Aziz Mehemed Effendi
after the apostasy
After the Apostasy
  • Colossal blow
  • Some cursed him, renounced him
  • End of movement - no
  • Entire Diaspora had been infused with a spirit that the redemption had already started
  • Many people felt that it was indeed here
  • Their view of the world did not correspond to reality
justifying the apostasy
“Justifying” the Apostasy
  • Danger to Jews from the Turks – he saved them
  • Holy sparks that are encompassed by evil
  • Messiah had to descend into the evil to redeem these holy sparks for the final redemption – Esther and Purim
  • Messiah comes when either all good or all bad
shabatsai after apostasy
Shabatsai After Apostasy
  • In general did not insist that followers also convert
  • A few did initially, some of these returned to Judaism
  • Shabatsai vacillated back and forth
  • Torah scroll in one hand Qur'an in other – requested prayer book
  • Turks hoped he would lead mass conversion of Jews – did not
faithful followers
Faithful Followers
  • Movement not over by any means
  • Nathan and others justify Shabatsai
  • In 1675 Shabatsai married daughter of Rabbi Joseph Filosoff
    • Nathan’s disciple in Sabbatian Kabbalah
    • Highly esteemed scholar in Salonika
    • Deposed from rabbinate
    • Shabatsai: Filosoff is an incarnation of Saul, called daughter Michal
end of shabatsai
End of Shabatsai
  • Further angered authorities by strange actions
  • Banished
  • In 1676 experienced last great illumination
  • After Passover wrote last letters and royal proclamations
  • Died on September 17, 1676 at 50, Yom Kippur
dealing with his death
Dealing With His Death
  • Demise kept secret and not widely known until summer of 1677
  • Nathan “the prophet” remained silent initially – despondent
  • Then formulated the Doctrine of Occultation – did not “really” die
  • “Whoever thinks that he died like all men and his spirit returned to G-d commits a grave sin.”
movement after death
Movement After Death
  • Two approaches
    • Most followers stay within the framework of Judaism
    • Appear outwardly to be “ordinary” observant Jews, do not convert to Islam
  • “Radical” Sabbatians
    • Whoever is as he appears to be cannot be a “true” believer
    • True faith must always be concealed
redemption through sin
Redemption Through Sin
  • Shechinah began to rise from dust
  • Messianic age has begun, even though many do not see it
  • Two Torahs – Torah of Creation and Torah of emanation
  • Torah is still valid even though some of its laws are now suspended
those who remain jewish
Those Who Remain Jewish
  • Appear and behave externally as Jews
  • Live by commandments
  • Maintain belief in Shabatsai Tzvi
  • Secret lives – Marranos
  • Rabbi Yaakov Emden
    • Learned person, life devoted to Talmudic study
    • Broke commandments
sabbatian movement
Sabbatian Movement
  • Still widespread
  • Turkey and other oriental countries
  • Salonika
  • Sabbatian Rabbis – Eibeschutz
  • Leaders of Jewish enlightenment
  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis
the d nmeh i
  • 1683 – 200 to 300 families converted en masse – Salonika
  • Led by Joseph Filosoff, last father-in-law of Shabatsai, Jacob Querido, brother-in-law
  • Kept close contact with other Jews in Salonika
  • Behaved outwardly as Muslims
the d nmeh ii
  • Secret lives as external Muslims and internal Sabbatians
  • Two Torahs, Torah of creation and Torah of emanation
  • Bittulah shel Torah zehu kiyyumah - The violation of the Torah is now its true fulfillment
  • New Marranos
  • Eighteen Commandments
  • Repeated 10 Commandments but with marked Sabbatian modifications
  • Intermarriage with Turks forbidden
  • No forcible conversion of “believers” who remain Jews to the “faith of the Turban”
  • Sexual restrictions of Torah abolished
came to attention of world
Came to Attention of World
  • Creation of Turkey and Greece after WWI
  • Give each people its homeland – 1922-24: 1 million Greeks moved to new Greece, 350,000 Turks to Turkey
  • Identity defined according to religion by Treaty of Lausanne
who is a jew
Who is a Jew?
  • Jews could stay put wherever they happened to live
  • Salonika – large Jewish population
  • Port closed on Jewish Sabbath
  • 10,000 to 15,000 Donmeh did not want to move
  • Not Turks but Jews – Jews who only practiced the Moslem religion
appeal denied
Appeal Denied
  • For last 240 years only pretended to be Moslems!
  • Treaty defined Turks by religion not by ethnic origin – claim rejected by authorities
  • A few Donmeh asked rabbis of Salonika to accept them back as Jews
request refused
Request Refused
  • Did not dispute the Donmeh’s contention
  • Donmeh are mamzerim – bastards
  • Annual orgies – Sheep Night
  • Special feast night – ate mutton
  • End of feast – wife swapping
  • Redemption through sin!
jacob frank 1726 91
Jacob Frank (1726-91)
  • Corrupt anddegenerate
  • Sabbatian who took “redemption through sin” to new heights (lows)
  • Totally immoral
  • Hated rabbinical Judaism and rabbis
  • Blood libel to Christian authorities
  • Spoke against Talmud – burnt
  • Followers converted to Christianity
vestiges still around
Vestiges Still Around
  • Donmeh West
  • Subscribed to email list
  • Questioned about violation of Shabbos
  • Thrown off list!