It Ends In Ukraine: Chabad Hasidism as the Antidote to Sabbatian-Frankists

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menachem_Mendel_Schneerson#/media/File:Rabbi_Menachem_Mendel_Schneerson2_crop.jpg

Karma

Right Way

“Do not add to the word which I command you, nor diminish from it, to observe the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”

Deuteronomy 4:2

“If there will arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of a dream, and he gives you a sign or a wonder.”

Deuteronomy 13:2

“Moses has to warn the people that regardless of the potential seducer, even if he has authenticated himself with miracles, when his instructions contravene what is written in the Torah, you must ignore him and treat him as an imposter, as a false prophet.”

Tzeror Hamor, commentary on Deuteronomy 13:2, cited in https://www.chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/1598725/jewish/Miracles-Prove-Nothing.htm
Graphic by the author. https://www.instagram.com/p/CdoqAzovePv/

A Rebellion By Jews Against God And Torah

The 18th-century rebellion by Jacob Frank (1726-1791) and his followers against Judaism is barely known of today.

“The figure of Jacob Frank – an 18th-century Sabbatian heretic from Podolia who led a few thousand Jews to the biggest conversion to Catholicism in Polish history – has long been part of a closed chapter of history, drawing attention only from specialists in Jewish mysticism.”

Mikołaj Gliński, “Does Jacob Frank Hold the Key to Polish Culture?” (Culture.pl, Apr 16 2015), https://culture.pl/en/article/does-jacob-frank-hold-the-key-to-polish-culture (https://archive.ph/fuuXH

Timeline

  1. 1626 – Birth of Sabbatai Zevi
  2. 1648 – Sabbatai Tsevi declares himself Messiah
  3. 1666 – Conversion of Sabbatai Zevi to Islam
  4. 1698 – Birth of the Ba’al Shem Tov
  5. 1726 – Jacob Frank born
  6. 1727 – Frank’s family moves due to accusation of being Sabbatians
  7. 1755 – Frank goes to Poland “as a Sabbatian Messiah”
  8. 1757 – Frankists force the rabbis to defend against the charge that the Talmud disparages Christianity. Frankists declared “winner.” Talmud burned in public.
  9. 1759 – Frankists accuse Jews of using Christian blood in rituals leading to a second debate which the Rabbis win (“energetically repulsed their opponents.”) The Ba’al Shem Tov participated.
  10. 1759 – Frank both declares himself messiah and leads mass conversion to Catholicisim
  11. February 6, 1760 – Frank is found out and arrested for heresy
  12. May 21/22, 1760 (first day of Shavuot) – Death of the Ba’al Shem Tov
  13. 1772 – Frank released from jail
  14. 1772-1786 – Frank holds court in Brno (social influence)
  15. 1786 – Frank moves to Offenbach, Frankfurt
  16. 1791/2 – Death of Frank

Impact

  • Excommunication
  • Mass conversion
  • Mass failure of rabbinic leadership
  • Distortion and abuse of Kabbalah
  • Blood libel against the Jewish people
  • Public burning of the Talmud
  • A hidden strata of Jews who practiced perverted rituals while hiding under the mantle of Judaism, Islam or Catholicism
  • A continuing perversion of Jewish ideals masquerading as Judaism

Complete Heresy

  • The core element of Sabbatianism is its abuse of Jewish mysticism to justify defiance of God. This is complete heresy.
  • God, throughout the Torah, told us to follow the commandments – not to add to or subtract from them. We sanctify the world by doing that.
  • God explicitly tells us not to follow the person who shows signs and wonders but advocates sin.

Belief System

Below I am condensing a lot of convoluted gobbledygook as best I can. My primary source is Gershom Scholem. See reference list for more information.

  • Essentially Sabbatians believe that it is not only possible but desirable to desecrate God’s name.
  • They start with a Jewish doctrine which says that God will redeem the world when it is all good or all bad. They argue that people can never be all good.
  • They continue on by saying that we learn in Jewish mysticism of the power of man to affect the upper worlds. They argue that man should proactively be evil to force God to redeem the world.
  • At first they said that only the messiah himself should violate the Torah. Then they said that every Jew should, and that they should hide it.

“Moderates”

Sabbatai Tsevi era

  • Bought into the cult of personality that was Shabbetai Tsevi
  • Initially many rabbis bought into it
  • Embraced Tsevi’s trumpeting of his read on Kabbalah over rabbinic authority (the Talmud) – in particular the idea that man could bring the redemption through actions that affect the spiritual world, rather than waiting for God
  • Emphasized popularly accessible devotions such as prayer and repentance
  • Had their own Sabbatean scholarship and prayer books
  • Accepted Tsevi’s heretical pronouncement that he somehow needed to enter the realm of impurity and operate there in defiance of the Jewish commandments – he even invented a blessing called “blessed is He who permits the forbidden.”
  • Accepted that Tsevi engaged women in promiscuity.
  • Justified the conversion of Tsevi by saying it was one of his duties in the world.
  • Continued to follow him after his death

“Radicals”

Jacob Frank era

  • Still a cult of personality
  • By now the movement was discredited among the rabbis
  • Extended the original heresy and called for everyone to sin
  • Added that people should sin without revealing their true intent or allegiance – the goal was to affirmatively commit sins (“descent into the realm of the kelipot”) to force God to bring the Messiah (“necessary apostasy.”)
  • Built an ideology of God incarnated in multiple successive messiahs, first Tsevi, then Jacob Frank, then a future female (I am not clear if the idea of God-in-man started with Tsevi)
https://www.commentary.org/articles/gershom-scholem/the-holiness-of-sin/ (https://archive.ph/MoZyu)

While they believed in God Himself, they also argued that the Messiah is actually three successive Messiahs which are God in human form, and who should be followed as such. These were comprised in turn of Sabbatai Tsevi, then Jacob Frank, and then a female yet to be named. (Gershom Scholem)

Daat – Knowledge

Calling this out and leaving it as a fragment due to the similarity between “knowledge” and the belief system of the Illuminati.

“Further, Frank had also stated that conversion to Catholicism was merely part of their journey. It was meant to be a necessary stage in the eventual revelation of a future religion called daas (based on the Hebrew word for religion or knowledge, daat).”

https://www.jpost.com/judaism/on-this-day-230-years-since-jewish-messiah-claimant-jacob-franks-death-688402

How Did The Rabbis Fail To Stop This?

They tried:

  • Excommunication
  • Banning the books
  • Establishing an age requirement for the study of Kabbalah
  • Burning the records of who had been involved

“As long as Sabbatianism remained a vital force within the Jewish ghetto, threatening to undermine the very existence of rabbinic Judaism, its opponents labored ceaselessly to root it out and systematically destroyed whatever of its writings came into their possession, “including [even] the sacred names of God [azkarot] which they contain,” as the bans upon them read.”

https://www.commentary.org/articles/gershom-scholem/the-holiness-of-sin/

None of it worked.

They were presented with an array of challenges:

  1. Failed leaders: Many rabbis actually followed Sabbateanism because of the brilliance of Shabbatai Tsevi and the permitted elements of Kabbalistic theology incorporated into his message (e.g. partnering with God through prayer and penitence).
  2. Disunited leadership: The rabbinic Establishment was somewhat divided. One group didn’t take him seriously. Another was forced to go along with it (literally) by the Sabbatians. Others were persuaded by the endorsement of other rabbis. Finally, the most steadfast anti-Sabbatian rabbis were told to pipe down so as not to provoke undue attention to the Jews – they didn’t need more persecution.
  3. Incorporation of into Judaism: Elements of Sabbateanism were in the prayer books themselves.
  4. False signs and wonders: The people had seen what they thought was “prophecy.”
  5. Rationalizations: The people were told that the apostasy of Sabbatai Tsevi was not to be copied

It may sound like such ideas defy common sense, but during the mid-1600s, in the aftermath of the Khmelnitsky massacres and desperate for salvation, the people fell prey to apostasy. Scholem:

https://www.commentary.org/articles/gershom-scholem/the-holiness-of-sin/

5 Reasons This History Is Buried

As Scholem notes, there are a lot of reasons why Jewish people either don’t know or don’t talk about this heresy very much.

“Bear in mind in dealing with the history of Sabbatianism that powerful interests and emotions have often been at stake. Each for reasons of his own, all those who have written on the subject in the past shared one belief: the less importance attributed to the Sabbatian movement, the better.”

https://www.commentary.org/articles/gershom-scholem/the-holiness-of-sin/

One factor Scholem doesn’t talk about is insider threat: The episode proves that Jewish people were tempted by a charismatic heretic to almost renounce our faith, and that Christian missionary activity and/or religious persecution is a nearly immaterial factor compared with our own. (In fact, during the time when Jacob Frank operated in the 18th century, the Catholic community was not trying to persuade or force Jewish people to convert.

Pawel Maciejko in his book The Mixed Multitude does bring this up, noting that the Frankists called the faithful the “Erev Rav,” intentionally trying to reverse the dynamic of who was right and who was trying to overthrow the faith.

Second, as Scholem explains, the episode was deeply embarrassing to the religious, bringing their integrity into question:

“Authors and historians of the Orthodox camp, for their part, have been anxious to belittle and even distort the overall role of Sabbatianism in order to safeguard the reputations, as they have conceived of them, of certain honored religious figures of the past. Such apologetics have had their inevitable effect upon the writing of history, as has the fundamental outlook of their proponents, tending as it does to idealize religious life in the ghetto at the expense of completely ignoring the deep inner conflicts and divisions to which not even the rabbis were necessarily immune. To acknowledge the Sabbatianism of eminent rabbis in Jerusalem, Adrianople, Constantinople, or Izmir, Prague, Hamburg, or Berlin, has been in the eyes of such authors openly to impeach the integrity of an entire body of men who were never supposed to be other than learned and virtuous defenders of Jewish tradition.”

https://www.commentary.org/articles/gershom-scholem/the-holiness-of-sin/

Third, prominent Jewish families are Sabbatians or descended from Sabbatians and so associated with their ideas.

“Secularist historians, on the other hand, have been at pains to deemphasize the role of Sabbatianism for a different reason. Not only did most of the families once associated with the Sabbatian movement in Western and Central Europe continue to remain afterward within the Jewish fold, but many of their descendants, particularly in Austria, rose to positions of importance during the 19th century as prominent intellectuals, great financiers, and men of high political connections. Such persons, needless to say, could scarcely have been expected to approve of attempts to “expose” their “tainted” lineage, and in view of their stature in the Jewish community it is not surprising that their wishes should have carried weight.”

https://www.commentary.org/articles/gershom-scholem/the-holiness-of-sin/

Rivka Levy has even argued that Britain’s “royal family” is descended from one of these families, the Shorrs.

Fourth, we are simply missing a lot of information.

“Furthermore, in an age when Jewish scholarship itself was considered to be in part an extension of the struggle for political emancipation, the climate for research in so sensitive an area was by no means generally favorable. In consequence, those Jewish scholars who had access to the wealth of Sabbatian documents and eyewitness reports that were still to be found early in the century failed to take advantage of the opportunity, while by the time a later generation arrived on the scene the sources had been destroyed and were no longer available even to anyone who might have desired to make use of them.”

https://www.commentary.org/articles/gershom-scholem/the-holiness-of-sin/

Fifth, the Sabbatians/Frankists are hiding who they are.

“The survivors of the Frankists in Poland and of Dönmeh or “apostates” in Salonika formed yet a third group having a direct interest in disguising the historical facts. These two Sabbatian sects, both of which formally renounced the Jewish religion (the Dönmeh converting to Islam in 1683, the Frankists to Catholicism in 1759), continued to adhere to their secret identities long after their defection from their mother faith; the Dönmeh, in fact, did not disappear until the present generation, while in the case of the Frankists, whose history in the course of the 19th century is obscure, it is impossible to determine at exactly what point in time they were finally swallowed up by the rest of Polish society. There is reason to suspect that until the eve of World War I many original manuscripts and documents were preserved by both these groups, particularly by a number of Frankist families in Warsaw; but how much of this material may yet be uncovered, and how much has been purposely destroyed by its owners in order to conceal forever the secret of their descent, is in no way ascertainable.”

https://www.commentary.org/articles/gershom-scholem/the-holiness-of-sin/

(Some of the Dönmeh eventually joined the Young Turks. The “Committee of Union and Progress,” “a secret revolutionary organization and political party,” part of the YT, carried out the Armenian genocide of World War I.)

A variety of approaches can be seen in contemporary Judaism in dealing with the Sabbatian past.

  1. We don’t normally teach it or talk about it – collective amnesia – rather we focus on external threats. We don’t want people to be tempted again.
  2. We don’t acknowledge which rabbis and/or families were involved several centuries ago so as not to encourage controversy or undue attention – we also don’t want to unfairly smear people who are not involved in such practices anymore.
  3. We discourage a resurgence of Sabbatianism by overemphasizing the study of Talmud and underemphasizing the meaning behind the observances – for fear of raising the specter of Sabbateanism again.
  4. We try to force women into very narrow roles to prevent them from playing a part in a resurgent Sabbateanism – thus the feminism/antifeminism debate.
  5. For the Jewish majority, which is not religious, the idea of self-help is incorporated into the culture (e.g. Zionism, focusing on persecution) while setting aside the religious elements.

A Populist Perverted Sect

The sect infiltrated all three monotheistic religions, and within Judaism aimed especially to overthrow the rule of Jewish law.

“On arriving in Poland in 1755 as a Sabbatian Messiah, Frank probably didn’t know Polish nor Yiddish, which was the language of the great majority of Polish Jews. Still, within a couple of years, he became the most influential figure of the rebellion against traditional Rabbinic Judaism in Poland.

https://culture.pl/en/article/does-jacob-frank-hold-the-key-to-polish-culture (https://archive.ph/fuuXH)

On the forced conversion of Sabbatai Tsevi in 1666, his followers then became false Muslims (Dönmeh).

When Jacob Frank got into trouble, he led his followers in converting to Catholicism (Christianity) under false pretenses.

Most Rabbis Were Glad To See Them Go

Out of character for Jewish leaders, who typically mourn a conversion out of the faith, the predominant rabbinic Jewish response to losing these troublemakers was essentially relief.

“Many Jews saw the conversion of Frank and his group as a God-given miracle and a great victory for Judaism. Entire communities celebrated.”

Pawel Maciejko, The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement, 1755-1816

The Ba’al Shem Tov Lost His Life

However, the Ba’al Shem Tov (“Master of the Good Name,” or “Besht”), who had fought this group for its incorrect practices, may have died from it.

“Among early Jewish accounts of the 1759 conversion, only one departed from the prevailing triumphant mood and expressed radically different sentiments. Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, known as the BeSh”T (1698-1760), who was the founder of Hasidism, the most important spiritual movement in Judaism of the period, was said to have bemoaned the Lwow mass apostasy or even to have died of pain caused by it. According to the story recorded in the hagiographic collection Shivhe ha-BeSh”T, the Ba’al Shem Tov laid the blame for the eruption of the entire affair on the Jewish establishment; he was ‘very angry with the rabbis and said that it was because of them, since they invented lies of their own.’ The leader of Hasidism saw Frank and his group as part of the mystical body of Israel and presented their baptism as the amputation of a limb from the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence on earth.”

Pawel Maciejko, The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement, 1755-1816

The anger of the Ba’al Shem Tov at the rabbis for their “lies” is not connected to the Sabbateans but rather to a charge of “false introductions” which we do not understand.

“One Yom Kippur Eve the Besht perceived a serious charge brought against the Jews that the oral tradition would no longer be theirs. He was very angry with the rabbis and said that it was because of them, since they invented lies of their own and wrote false introductions.* [* Unfortunately we could not clarify the meaning of these sentences to our satisfaction. The “false introductions” which are mentioned in the text may refer to introductions to books which the rabbis gave to new authors.] He said that all the Tannaim and Amoraim were brought before the heavenly court.”

https://archive.org/details/inpraiseofbaalsh0000dobb/page/54/mode/2up?view=theater&q=heard+still+more+from+rabbi

The death of the Besht is more likely the spiritual toll or penalty for fighting against other Jews in public, in the 1759 debate where he successfully defended against the charge that the Talmud is anti-Christian.

 “On the seventh day of the Passover Rabbi Pinhas perceived within the prayer that it was decreed that the Besht would soon pass away because of his fight against the sect of Shabbetai Tsevi.”

In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov, p. 255 https://archive.org/details/inpraiseofbaalsh0000dobb/page/254/mode/2up?view=theater&q=+Tsevi

Frankist Influence On The Elites

This entire affair could be a footnote of history if not for four things:

  1. The Frankists are religiously devoted to evil deeds.
  2. The Frankists carefully cultivated elite contacts.
  3. The Frankists got a foothold in Judaism, Islam, and Catholicism.
  4. The Frankists intermarried.
  5. The Frankists operate in total secrecy.

This means that they are an existential threat of unknown proportions.

If you can find it, Frank is depicted in the movie “Daas” (2011), featured in the 2011 New York Jewish Film Festival. One reviewer of “Daas” points out the movie’s emphasis on Frankism as an “influence” on Polish culture of the time:

“‘Daas’ ….recalls the influence Frank and his followers (Frankists) had on the upper spheres of Polish society once they had assimilated. Their philosophies are said to have had an influence on the romantic poetry of Adam Mickiewicz and other major Polish poets.

https://culture.pl/en/work/daas-adrian-panek (https://archive.ph/9b1UV)

What Hasidism Offers – An Antidote To The Heresy

The Ba’al Shem Tov, in developing the Hasidic approach to Judaism, emphasized three things:

  • Concentration
  • Communion with God
  • Constant enthusiasm about keeping the commandments

Hasidism also emphasizes closeness to the “Tzaddik” — the holy man, the righteous man, the Rebbe — as a means of drawing closer to God.

It is outside the scope of this post to develop the theology of Hasidism more fully.

Suffice it to say that Hasidism removes the “non-kosher” ideas and practices of Sabbatianism-Frankism while keeping the ones that work for the people.

Chabad Hasidism

In contemporary Jewish life, Chabad alone has taken on the task of going into spiritually devoid or challenging environments and establishing centers of Jewish observance.

Thus as a child I joined the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson) organization, “Tzivos HaShem” – Army of God.

I was fortunate enough to meet the Rebbe.

Throughout my life I have in some way been aligned with Chabad.

References / For Further Study


By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal (Dossy). All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.