The Mixed Multitude
Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement, 1755-1816
2011 | 376 pages | Cloth $65.00 | Paper $22.50
History | Religion
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. In the Shadow of the Herem
Chapter 2. The Peril of Heresy, the Birth of a New Faith
Chapter 3. Where Does Frankism Fit In?
Chapter 4. The Politics of the Blood Libel
Chapter 5. How Rabbis and Priests Created the Frankist Movement
Chapter 6. Ghosts of the Past, Heralds of the Future
Chapter 7. The Fall of Edom
Chapter 8. The Vagaries of the Charlatans
Chapter 9. The Ever-Changing Masquerade
List of Current and Historical Place Names
List of Abbreviations
Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]
Conversions to Christianity were among the most traumatic events in the history of medieval and early modern Jewish communities. Jews regarded baptism as a "betrayal of communal values, a rejection of Jewish destiny, a submission to the illusory verdict of history." Willing apostates were seen as the worst traitors and renegades, forced conversions were considered the ultimate form of persecution of Israel by the Gentiles, and, according to the common ideal, it was better to choose a martyr's death than to submit to the power of the Church. Each soul that Judaism lost was mourned. The dominant narrative did not even entertain the possibility that a Jew might embrace Christianity without any threat or ulterior motive. Christians themselves, while officially praising the apostates and expressing hope for "the blind synagogue's" future recognition of the "obvious" truth of Christianity, privately voiced doubts concerning the sincerity of the converts and the very ability of the Jews to truly accept Christ.
In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the largest Catholic country in Europe and, at the same time, the home of the largest Jewish community in premodern times, baptisms of Jews were rare. Neither the local church nor the state conducted systematic missionary campaigns targeting the Jews. Forced conversions of individuals were forbidden by law and were few. Mass apostasies, like those known in Western Europe, did not occur-with one significant exception. In late summer and early autumn 1759, a sizable group of Jews-thousands, by most accounts-led by one Jacob Frank embraced Roman Catholicism in the city of Lwów. The conversion was unique not only in its sheer size. It was also-or at least appeared to be-voluntary: whatever caused Frank and his followers to approach the baptismal font, they were not facing a choice between baptism and expulsion or violent death like their brethren in medieval German lands or Portugal. What was most unusual, however, was the reaction of most Jewish contemporaries. In contrast to typical reactions of sadness, anger, or despair, many Jews saw the conversion of Frank and his group as a God-given miracle and a great victory for Judaism. Entire communities celebrated.
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 Lwów 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: "I heard from the rabbi of our community that concerning those who converted [in Lwów], the Besht said: As long as the member is connected, there is some hope that it will recover, but when the member is cut off, there is no repair possible. Each person of Israel is a member of the Shekhinah."
The Ba'al Shem Tov died in 1760, a year after the Lwów apostasy. Some 150 years later, in Berlin, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, an aspiring writer who was later to become the State of Israel's most celebrated author and a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote a short essay on Frank. He juxtaposed various Jewish accounts of the 1759 conversion, ending his piece with the testimony concerning the BeSh"T's words. He concluded:
We are only dust under the feet of this holy man, yet we dare to be of another opinion. Frank and his gang were not a limb of the body of Israel; rather, they were a [pathological] excrescence. Praise and thanks to our doctors, who cut it off in time, before it took root in the body!... Undoubtedly, Frank and his group were descendants of the foreign rabble, which tacked itself onto Israel during the Exodus from Egypt, and followed it thereafter. In the desert, in the Land of Israel, and later in the Exile, this multitude defiled the purity of Israel and defiled its holiness. May we be freed from them forever!
In recounting the BeSh"T's reaction to Frank's conversion, Agnon alluded to the symbolism of the "mixed rabble" or "mixed multitude," the erev rav. The concept appears in the Hebrew Bible in the narrative account of the Exodus (Exod. 12:37-38): "And the People of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot, who were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude [erev rav] went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, and very many cattle." Jewish tradition interpreted the phrase erev rav as denoting a group of foreigners who joined the Israelites following Moses from Egypt. While some midrashim understood it as a reference to the "righteous among the Egyptians, who celebrated Passover together with Israel," a prototype for future converts to Judaism, the majority of rabbinic exegetes saw in the mixed multitude the source of corruption, sin, and discord: accustomed to idolatry, the erev rav enticed Israelites to make the Golden Calf and angered God by demanding the abolition of the prohibition of incest. Thus, the emblem of the erev rav came to evoke the image of unwelcome strangers present in the very midst of the Holy People; the mixed multitude were not true "children of Abraham" but Egyptian rabble who mingled with Israelites, contaminated their purity, incited them to sin, and caused them to stray from the right path in the wilderness. It was because of them that the generation of the Exodus lost the right path on the desert and Moses did not enter the Land of Israel.
In the Middle Ages, the symbolism established by the ancient midrash was taken up and developed by kabbalah, particularly the book of the Zohar. The Zohar universalized the midrashic image by removing it from its original place in the sequence of biblical narrative: the presence and activity of the mixed multitude were not restricted to the generation of the Exodus but extended over the entire history of humanity. The erev rav were the impurity that the serpent injected into Eve; they were the descendants of Cain; the nefilim, "sons of God" who procreated with the daughters of men (Gen. 6:2-4); the wicked ones who survived the deluge. They were progeny of the demonic rulers, Samael and Lilith. They contributed to the building of the Tower of Babel and caused the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. They practiced incest, idolatry, and witchcraft. They were the cause of the imprisonment of the Divine Presence in the demonic realm of the "husks" (kelippot) and, likewise, the exile of Israel among the nations.
In the Zohar's narrative, the activity of the mixed multitude was by no means restricted to the past. Rather, the erev rav represented the ever-present force of destruction, whose aim was to bring the world back to the state of biblical "waste and void," the primordial chaos (tohu va-vohu). And, it should be noted, this force was located within the Jewish people. As the mixed multitude mingled with Israelites in the desert, their descendants became outwardly undistinguishable from other Jews and existed in every generation: in accordance with its wider mythology of metempsychosis, the Zohar depicted present-day Jewish sinners as Jews the "roots of whose souls" originated among the erev rav.
The topos of the mixed multitude thus became the figure of the ultimate enemy within, as opposed to Gentile haters of Israel. As Yitzhak Baer has demonstrated, in its original Zoharic setting, this motif had already been employed as a vehicle of a powerful social critique directed against the contemporary Jewish establishment, which was said to oppress scholars and abuse the poor. The rabbis and parnassim (lay leaders), who "studied Torah not for its own sake," "erected synagogues not for the glory of God but rather to make a name for themselves," and turned into "false shepherds of Israel," were surely not "true children of Israel" but the descendants of the Egyptian hangers-on who had joined Moses in the wilderness. Thus, the rich, powerful, materialistic rabbinic and secular powers were contrasted with holy spiritualists lacking riches or high social position and extolling poverty for the sake of God. In the eyes of kabbalists, only the latter formed the true congregation of Israel.
The Jews who converted in Lwów in 1759 were Sabbatians-followers of a religious movement triggered by messianic claims of the Ottoman Jew Sabbatai Tsevi (1626-76). Sabbatai first voiced his pretensions to the messiahship in 1648, but the movement that formed around him began to gain momentum only in 1665, when a young kabbalist, Nathan of Gaza (1643-80), "recognized" the truth of his mandate in an ecstatic vision. Shortly after proclaiming Sabbatai as the messiah, Nathan-who was soon to become "at once the John the Baptist and the Paul of the new messiah" -composed a commentary on an ancient apocalyptic text that he had supposedly discovered in an old synagogue's storage room. In order to counter rabbinic opposition to the budding messianic upheaval, he invoked the symbolism of the mixed multitude: the messiah's contemporaries "shall rise against him with reproaches and blasphemies-they are the 'mixed multitude,' the sons of Lilith, the 'caul above the liver' [Lev. 3:4], the leaders and rabbis of the generation."
In his subsequent writings, Nathan developed a doctrine of salvation attainable by messianic belief alone (as opposed to the observance of commandments) and extended his use of the motif of the erev rav claiming that all Jews who fully observed the Law but denied Sabbatai's mandate had souls of the mixed multitude. As Gershom Scholem observed, by linking the symbolism of the mixed multitude with eschatology and messianic mysteries, Nathan combined two distinct motifs that function separately in the Zohar. For the Sabbatians, the litmus test of what was the root of one's soul became not, as in the Zohar, spiritual piety and "observance of the Torah for its own sake" but faith in the messiah Sabbatai Tsevi (or lack thereof): the sectarians "increasingly felt themselves to be the true Israel, harassed by the 'mixed multitude' because of their faith."
The radical dichotomy between the messianic believers and the rabbinic skeptics was further elaborated in the Commentary on the Midnight-Vigil Liturgy, composed by Nathan's disciple Rabbi Israel Hazzan of Kastoria. Hazzan argued that the true messiah would be recognized not by the Jewish leaders, whom he defined as the progeny of the mixed multitude, but by simpletons. The denial of Sabbatai Tsevi as the messiah and the failure to understand hints about him in the Jewish canon came to be attributed to a kind of metaphysical blindness stemming from the very roots of the nonbelievers' souls. According to the Sabbatians, the "pretended rabbis" could no longer assert any rights to leadership over the Jewish people or lay claims to the authoritative interpretation of Jewish tradition. Their learning was false, their worldly position based on abuses of power, their ostensible piety worthless and lacking deeper sense.
As Nathan of Gaza and Israel Hazzan composed their polemics against the rabbis, detractors of the new messiah attempted to turn the tables on the Sabbatians. Rabbi Jacob Sasportas, the preeminent adversary of early Sabbatianism, heard about Nathan's statements. Angered by the preposterous claims that the very cream of the cream of the rabbinic elite consisted of descendants of the mixed multitude, Sasportas proclaimed that it was not the leaders of the generation but the Sabbatians themselves whose souls originated among the erev rav. In a short time, the symbolic opposition of the "mixed multitude" and the "true Israelites" permanently entered the lexicon of the debate between the Sabbatians and their opponents. This became especially pronounced in the eighteenth century and in the documents directly concerning Frank. In one of the first accounts of the Lwów conversion, Ber Birkenthal of Bolechów reported that "they call us [the anti-Sabbatians] the erev rav, and their faction they call the mahaneh [company, fellowship]." Frank's most important competitor for leadership over all the Eastern and Central European Sabbatians, Wolf Eibeschütz, also defined the conflict between the sectarians and the rabbinate as a struggle between bne mehimenuta (children of the faith) and the children of the erev rav.
On the other side of the barricade, Rabbi Jacob Emden, the most zealous anti-Sabbatian of the period, interpreted Frank's baptism as the final severance of the erev rav from the chosen people, so that the purified Israel might taste from the Tree of Life and achieve redemption. Shortly after the conversion of the Frankists, Emden composed a laudatory poem praising God for "separating between the unclean and the pure . between us and the mixed multitude, who tried to bring the world back to its antediluvian state."
The issue was not merely terminological and went far beyond the mutual mudslinging. The dichotomy between the true Israel and the mixed multitude constituted the major conceptual axis of the theological controversies that tore apart eighteenth-century Judaism. Approximately a century after the advent of Sabbatai Tsevi, most debates concerning Sabbatianism (and, more broadly, Jewish heterodoxy) did not revolve around messianism, let alone Sabbatai's specific messianic claims. Rather, the disputes concentrated on the limits of religion and conditions for belonging to the Jewish people. Each side considered only its own version of Judaism legitimate and claimed to be the one true Israel. Each party branded the other as "progeny of the mixed multitude," implicitly denying its Jewishness. Thus the discourse of the mixed multitude endeavored to establish the boundaries of Judaism and of the Jewish people independently of the traditional halakhic criteria of who is a Jew: within the framework of this discourse, certain groups of people might have been "externally" Jewish for generations but were said to remain alien in the depths of their souls. By drawing a line between those whose souls originated from "children of Abraham" and those who came from the erev rav, the Sabbatian debate aimed to distinguish between the "real" Jews and pseudo-Jews, "true" Judaism and false faith. Frankism, the movement that crystallized around Jacob Frank in the 1750s, was the last-and, in many ways, most dramatic-word in this debate.
Sabbatianism in the Eighteenth Century
The beginning of Sabbatianism was Sabbatai Tsevi's messianic self-revelation and the prophecies of Nathan of Gaza. The news of the messiah's advent spread like wildfire through Jewish communities in the Ottoman Empire and Europe and, for a brief period, the majority of the Jewish people seem to have been inclined to accept his claims. Sabbatianism became "the most important messianic movement in Judaism since the destruction of the Second Temple." Yet Sabbatai was an odd messiah. The concept of true Israel's simplicity, as expressed in the commentaries of Rabbi Israel Hazzan, had two fundamental aspects: belief in the superiority of non-mediated religious experience over any learned knowledge and the established religious canon; and the conviction that this experience by its very nature articulates itself in a totally paradoxical, incomprehensible way, one that may even be scandalous for nonbelievers. During the early stages of Sabbatai's career, the second aspect quickly found its expression and theological elaboration in the concept of ma'asim zarim, "strange deeds"-odd or absurd acts that the messiah "had to commit under the spell of a mysterious impulse." Some of these acts were merely bizarre. For instance, one day Sabbatai bought a large fish, dressed it up like a baby, and put it into a cradle. Others displayed a clearly antinomian character and were typified by evident transgressions of Jewish religious law, such as contravening the Sabbath and dietary laws, shifting the dates of religious festivals, abolishing fasts, and pronouncing aloud the ineffable Name of God.
Worried by the rise of religious enthusiasm among the Jews, the Ottoman authorities had Sabbatai arrested. In September 1666, he faced Sultan Mehmed IV, and-in a move completely unexpected and profoundly shocking even to his most faithful followers-he performed the most bizarre of his bizarre acts: he cast off his Jewish garb and donned a turban, thereby signaling that he had embraced Islam. Most of his followers parted ways with Sabbatai and proclaimed him yet another false messiah. They undertook penitence and returned to their daily lives. But some did not. Sabbatianism did not die with Sabbatai's conversion to Islam, but that act radically altered its social profile. After the conversion, Sabbatianism as a public messianic movement gave way to sectarian crypto-Sabbatianism: a secret creed observed by clandestine believers who pretended to be perfectly orthodox Jews but continued to regard Sabbatai Tsevi as the true messiah, redeemer of Israel. Confronted with rabbinic opposition, crypto-Sabbatians protested their innocence, vociferously rejected heresy, and, in some cases, even signed anti-Sabbatian bans of excommunication. Never did they intend to separate themselves openly from Judaism, and, for the most part, they practiced Sabbatian rituals in addition to normative Jewish observances rather than instead of them.
The two largest Jewish religious controversies that erupted in the eighteenth century were connected with crypto-Sabbatianism. The first scandal broke out in 1713 in Amsterdam, when the kabbalist Nehemiah Hayon (ca. 1650-ca. 1730) succeeded in publishing a tract titled Oz le-Elohim . Even though the book was printed with the approbations of several prominent rabbis and its text did not mention Sabbatai Tsevi by name, the Sabbatian character of the work was recognized almost immediately. This led to a bitter and protracted quarrel between Hayon's supporters and his opponents, the latter led by Rabbi Moses Hagiz (ca. 1671-1750), who, in the words of Elisheva Carlebach, managed to rally other rabbis against heretics and transfigured "the rabbinate to a vigorous, aggressive force in the pursuit of Sabbatianism."
Twelve years later, another scandal emerged. In 1725, Moses Meir Kamenker, a Sabbatian emissary traveling from Poland to Germany, was detained by rabbinic authorities in Mannheim. A search of his luggage revealed a manuscript of the heretical treatise Va-avo ha-yom el ha-ayyin. The subsequent investigation disclosed that Kamenker had been disseminating copies of this work among sectarians all over Europe, and a clandestine network linking Sabbatian groups in different European countries came to light.
The treatise itself, although distributed anonymously, was widely attributed to Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschütz of Prague (1690-1764), one of the most illustrious rabbinic scholars of the time. Along the lines of the crypto-Sabbatian paradigm, Eibeschütz promptly distanced himself from the heretics and signed a ban publicly condemning Sabbatai Tsevi and his followers. For a time, the matter was closed. But the accusations refused to go away. In 1751, Eibeschütz, by then having attained the position of chief rabbi of the triple community of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbeck, was again charged with Sabbatianism, this time by another well-respected Jewish scholar, Rabbi Jacob Emden (1697-1776).
The Emden-Eibeschütz controversy turned into the most contentious rabbinic dispute of the early modern period: every major European community as well as virtually all the prominent rabbis became embroiled in the debate on one side or another. The European Jewish establishment split into two hostile factions. Excommunications and counter-excommunications were issued. Pamphlets and brochures supporting and denouncing the parties were printed and widely disseminated (especially by Emden, whose private printing press played a crucial role in the controversy). In some places, there were outbreaks of physical violence. Both sides sought justice in Gentile courts and sponsored press coverage promoting their respective positions. Non-Jewish authorities became involved in the quarrel, and Christian scholars took a keen interest in the debate.
Finally, in 1753, the Council of Four Lands of Poland, the most important organ of Jewish autonomous governance, stepped in. While some of the council's rabbis were undoubtedly convinced that there was truth to Emden's charges (the pro-Emden party among the council was led by its shtadlan (intercessor), Baruch me-Erets Yavan), the assembly as a whole resolved to do everything possible to quell the public dispute and restore the shattered image of the homogeneity of Jewish leadership: in October of that year, it issued a ban on printing and distributing publications supporting either side. Crypto-Sabbatianism might have been a theological threat for normative Judaism; a public quarrel that engulfed entire communities, compromised the reputation of the rabbinate, and exposed Jews to the interventions of Christian authorities and the prying of strangers was far worse. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that in the eyes of most rabbis, the man who had gone too far was not the (alleged or real) crypto-Sabbatian Eibeschütz but the anti-Sabbatian Emden: by incessantly trumpeting the charges of heresy, he turned an otherwise marginal matter into a central issue in Jewish life. In addition, he placed before the Gentiles' eyes a dispute that most Jews would rather have preserved as an internal affair.
Crypto-Sabbatianism was the form that the Sabbatian movement took in eighteenth-century Western Europe. In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, developments followed a different route. In Poland, the Sabbatian movement spread particularly in the southeastern part of the country, in Podolia. "Podolia" is a name of a geographical area (the Podolian Upland) and of an administrative division of the Crown of Poland (the Podolian Voivodeship or Palatinate of Podolia). To add to the confusion, early modern Jewish sources speak of "the Province of Podolia" (mahoz or galil podoly'ah), usually meaning something in between: an area larger than the Palatinate of Podolia but smaller than the entire Podolian Upland and roughly encompassing the Podolian, the Braclaw, and the eastern part of the Ruthenian Palatinates of the Commonwealth. This usage entered Jewish historiography, and I shall continue to use the term in this "Jewish" sense, although some locations most commonly associated with Podolia in works on Eastern European Jewry (such as Zólkiew and Podhajce) never belonged to the Podolian Palatinate.
From the perspective of the Jewish autonomous system of government, the territory of the Crown of Poland was divided into four large regions called "Lands" (Hebr., aratsot or medinot; Pol., ziemstwa), jointly administered by the umbrella organization of Jewish communities in the kingdom, the Council of Four Lands. The Land authorities collected poll tax paid to the Crown from all communities belonging to it, and the rabbi of the Land served as head of a court hearing appeals from verdicts of local bate din. The Province of Podolia belonged to the Land of Ruthenia with the seat of the Land rabbi in Lwów; the remaining three Lands were Greater Poland, Little Poland, and Volhynia.
In the late seventeenth century, the situation of Podolian Jewry went through a significant change. Following the disastrous war with the Porte and the Crimean Khanate, the Commonwealth signed a humiliating peace treaty in Buczacz in 1672, ceding the Palatinates of Podolia and Braclaw to the Ottoman Empire. Poland-Lithuania had regained part of its territories by the following year, and all of them after the treaty of Karlowitz (1699); yet the impact upon the province's Jewish communities of twenty-seven years of practical independence from the central administrative bodies of Polish Jewry was profound. Podolian Jews developed close ties with their brethren in Turkey, and for over twenty years, Turkish, Wallachian, and Moldavian Jews settled in the region. Even after the province was returned to Poland in 1699, the Council of Four Lands did not regain full control: local Jews often voiced their dissent from the decisions of the council or the rabbi of the Ruthenian Land in Lwów, and many disgruntled individuals moved to Podolia to seek a measure of freedom from the scrutiny imposed by the rabbinate in other parts of the Commonwealth.
After their return to Poland, the Podolian communities refused to pay their poll tax to the Land of Ruthenia, and the tax evasion in Podolia severely increased the fiscal burden placed on other regions. On 1 June 1713, King Augustus II ordered the creation of a separate, fifth Land, with the seat of the presiding rabbi in Satanów. Initially, the Council of Four Lands ignored the ruling. After several years, the new division of Polish Jewry into five Lands in fiscal matters became a fait accompli; in 1719, Jerzy Przebendowski, secretary of the royal treasury, confirmed that the Jews of Podolia were to pay the poll tax through their own Land, independently from the Lwów rabbinate. However, the central Jewish authorities still considered the split of Podolia from the Land of Ruthenia a source of danger to their power over the region, and on several occasions, they sought to reintegrate the province into the previous structures. The spread of Sabbatianism among the Podolian Jews was both the reason for the rabbinate's worries and an ever present pretext for its interventions.
In the mid-eighteenth century, Podolia became for Judaism what twelfth-century Languedoc was for Christianity: a seditious province where dissenters gathered and heterodoxy was practiced openly and publicly. Podolia was the only place in the world where-almost a hundred years after Sabbatai Tsevi's conversion to Islam-many Jews openly adhered to Sabbatianism. A number of communal rabbis belonged to the sect and drew in their entire communities. Many Podolian Sabbatians were scholars: among some twenty sectarians identified by name in Ber Birkenthal's Divre binah, the names of eight of them are preceded by the title morenu ("our teacher"), a rabbinic equivalent of the title of doctor conferred by Christian universities.
In the early 1700s, the main channel of transmission of esoteric doctrines from the Ottoman territories to Poland was Hayyim Malakh, the open Sabbatian and acknowledged rabbinic scholar who had studied with several famous kabbalists in Italy and Turkey and become acquainted with all the major Sabbatian schools of the period. In 1700, Malakh had taken part in the abortive attempt to resettle the Land of Israel led by Rabbi Yehudah Hasid (1650-1700). Expelled from Jerusalem, he made his way to Podolia, where he established vibrant Sabbatian groups in Buczacz, Nadworna, Rohatyn, and other places. He is said to have transformed the prestigious center of rabbinic learning, the bet midrash (house of study) of Zólkiew, into a hotbed of radical Sabbatianism. In the end, he was excommunicated and expelled by the rabbinate. Yet others followed in his footsteps. Fishel of Zloczów, also a noted Torah scholar, reputed to know the entire Talmud by heart and greatly honored for his extreme piety, suddenly "revealed that he belonged to the sect of Sabbatai Tsevi" and confessed that he had been committing numerous offenses for many years.
Another well-known ascetic (and another ex-member of the group of Rabbi Yehuda Hasid), Moses of Wodzislaw, who used to fast every day of the week except for the Shabbat and who refrained from eating meat at all, "publicly announced that none other than Sabbatai Tsevi is the messiah." When reproached by some members of the community, he stated that he "would be prepared to stand upon the tallest tower of the city and loudly proclaim his belief, and was not afraid even to die for it." Rabbi Moses David, an eminent kabbalist to whom I shall return in Chapter 5, overtly preached Sabbatianism in Podhajce; the same is true of Rabbi Mordechai Ashkenazi in Zólkiew. Messianic beliefs were upheld in public by the communal rabbi and rabbinic judge of Rozdól. Documents from 1759 state as a known fact that the towns of Busk and Gliniany were "under the control" of Sabbatians. The anti-Sabbatians also confirmed that the sectarians had completely taken over some communities: Rabbi Jacob Emden lamented that "in a town called Nadworna, the entire community turned to heresy, following Sabbatai Tsevi."
Indeed, Nadworna seemed to be particularly notorious for the open practice of Sabbatianism. Ber Birkenthal of Bolechów reported that in 1742, a known Sabbatian from Nadworna stayed at his father's inn. Those present were told a story about how, on the fast day of the Ninth of Av (the fast commemorating the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans, abolished and turned into a feast day by Sabbatai Tsevi), the people of Nadworna went to the surrounding fields and stole a sheep. They slaughtered it without observing the requirements regarding ritual slaughter, cooked it in milk (thereby breaking another dietary prohibition), and celebrated merrily, hoping for Sabbatai's second coming and expecting imminent liberation from exile. In the years directly preceding Frank's appearance in Podolia, the most prominent Sabbatian from Nadworna was Leyb son of Nata, called Leyb Krysa. Ber Birkenthal, who met him in Lwów in 1752, recounts that Krysa was known as a kabbalist and came to Ber's house to study the Zohar from the Amsterdam edition, which Birkenthal owned. He used to "wander through all the towns of Podolia in order to deceive and incite the people of Israel . to accept the faith of Sabbatai Tsevi," and he established a Sabbatian house of study in Lwów. Insofar as we can judge from the few existing sources, in the year or so preceding Frank's appearance, Krysa gained a substantial following and was singularly successful in uniting Podolian Sabbatian groups under his leadership; it seems that many of the later "Frankists" were initially the "Krysists." But suddenly, Frank showed up and stole the show.
According to the Frankist chronicle, Pan ("the Lord"), Ya'akov ben Leyb, later known as Jacob Frank, was born in 1726 in Berczanie, a small village in Podolia. Other sources give other Podolian locations, Korolowka or Buczacz, as the place of his birth. The family had strong Sabbatian connections: his father, Leyb Buchbinder, was a brother of Moses Meir Kamenker, the Sabbatian emissary detained in Mannheim while distributing Va-avo ha-yom el ha-ayyin (Kamenker was a brother-in-law of Fishel of Zloczów); Jacob Frank's mother, Rachel Hirschl of Rzeszów, was a sister of Löbl, father of Schöndl Dobruschka, the spiritus movens of Sabbatianism in Moravia. When Frank was only a few months old, his family left Poland and moved to the Ottoman Empire; it is likely that the move was connected to the affair that erupted after the detention of his uncle Moses Meir Kamenker a year earlier.
Young Jacob grew up in the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, spending extended periods in the Ottoman territories proper; he lived in Czernowitz, Smyrna, Bucharest, Sofia, and Constantinople. At some point during his stay in Turkey, he acquired the nickname "Frank" or "Frenk." The word is a Turkish equivalent of the Arabic ifrandj or firandj, referring initially to the Franks, inhabitants of the empire of Charlemagne and then, by extension, to the Crusaders. By the sixteenth century, in many oriental languages (for example, Persian, farangi; Armenian, frank), the term had become a common appellation for Europeans in general as well as for "various things believed to have been introduced by the Franks, such as syphilis, cannon, European dress, and modern civilization." In Jacob Frank's milieu, his nickname betrayed his foreign European origins, identifying him as a Polish Ashkenazic Jew, a native Yiddish speaker who found himself among the Ladino-
speaking Turkish Sephardim.
The Frankist chronicle informs us that in 1752, in Nikopol (present-day Bulgaria), Frank married Hana, the daughter of a certain Rabbi Tova; the rite was conducted according to the "Jewish-Turkish religion," and his groomsmen were Rabbi Mordechai and Rabbi Nahman. Another source adds that on the night of his wedding, the groomsmen disclosed "the mystery of faith" to him, and one of them told the bridegroom that "there was a messiah in Salonika." The practice of initiating new members of the sect on their wedding nights is known from Sabbatian rituals, and the "mystery of faith" was the final revelation of Sabbatai Tsevi, which he divulged only to those of his disciples who converted to Islam; its content was transferred orally among the sectarian elite. It is a matter of conjecture, but there is reason to believe that Frank's father-in-law, called by the chronicle "Rabbi Tova," was one of the most important Turkish Sabbatian leaders, Yehudah Levi Tova (Frank's first biographer, the Jesuit Father Awedyk, confirms that Tova, father of Frank's wife, was a Levite). The "Jewish-Turkish" religion was nothing other than the faith of the Muslim-Sabbatian group known as the Dönmeh.
After the death of Sabbatai Tsevi (1676), his last wife, Jocheved, proclaimed that the soul of the messiah had not left the earthly world but had reincarnated in her brother, Jacob Querido. Shortly thereafter, Querido received a series of revelations urging him to continue upon the path of Sabbatai and apostatize. Following these revelations, a group of some three hundred Jewish families converted to Islam in 1683 in the city of Salonika, thus founding the Sabbatian-Muslim sect of the Dönmeh. The Turkish word dönmeh signifies a recent convert, a neophyte, and has strong negative connotations; in modern Turkish, it might also be used as a slur against a male-to-female transsexual. It was intended as a term of abuse heaped upon the Salonika apostates by their enemies; the group's own term was ma'aminim ("believers"; the standard Sabbatian self-designation) or sazanikos. Sazan is Turkish for carp, a fish that lives both in fresh- and in seawater. Thus the converts conducted their double lives under Judaism and under Islam; and just as the carp seems to change color, so they changed external appearances in accordance with changing needs and circumstances.
The Dönmeh formed a close-knit group shunning exogamous marriage with either Jews or Muslims, and they developed their own version of Sabbatian theology, focusing on the radical duality between the Torah of the Created World (torah de-beri'ah) and the new spiritual Torah known as the Torah of Emanation (torah de-atsilut). With the coming of the messiah, the former-identified with the commandments of Judaism-was replaced with the latter, and Sabbatai Tsevi's "strange deeds" provided a pattern for normative behavior. Accordingly, the Dönmeh's brand of Sabbatianism acquired a very pronounced antinomian tendency, whereby ritual violations of the principles and rites of Jewish religion became a significant part of religious practice. Since the advent of redemption signified liberation from the yoke of the commandments, their further observance would be not only senseless, but blasphemous.
Conversely, almost the only way to demonstrate that the redemption had arrived was to break the laws and statutes of the unredeemed world. In the words of Rabbi Moses Hagiz: "It is their custom to argue that with the arrival of Sabbatai Zevi, the sin of Adam has already been corrected and the good selected out of the evil and the 'dross.' Since that time, according to them, a new Torah has become law under which all manner of things formerly prohibited are now permitted, not least the categories of sexual intercourse hitherto prohibited. For since everything is pure, there is no sin or harm in these things."
Jacob Querido died during a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1690. As the principle of leadership among the Dönmeh was based on the idea of reincarnation of Sabbatai Tsevi's soul into a new leader, several pretenders appeared, each claiming to be the new abode of the soul of the messiah. The Salonika group splintered into three principal branches-the Kavalieros, the Jakubis, and the Koniosos; the most important one for the present discussion is the last, led by Berukhiah Russo (in Islam: Osman Baba; 1677-1720). Berukhiah's group was the most radical among the Dönmeh subsects: not only did he believe that the traditional laws of Judaism had been abrogated, but he claimed that, with the arrival of the messianic era, the thirty-six most serious transgressions punishable by the ultimate punishment of karet had turned into positive commandments (the category includes all sexual prohibitions, mainly various forms of incest). In 1716, Berukhiah's followers declared him the incarnation not merely of the soul of the human messiah Sabbatai, but also of the God of Israel (the idea of the divinity of the messiah or some form of the doctrine of divine incarnation had appeared in earlier Sabbatian theology but was eschewed by most Sabbatians). His group promulgated this claim among other Sabbatian groups, and until his death in 1720, Berukhiah was worshiped by some Sabbatians of Salonika as a divine being, Señor Santo, Holy Lord.
At first, Frank was skeptical about the revelation of the "mystery of faith" that he had received during his wedding. He told his mystagogues that he would not believe their words until he saw that they possessed "the wisdom of making gold." He also questioned Berukhiah's divinity, asking: "If he really belonged to the Godhead, why did he die?" When told in response that the divine Berukhiah had to experience everything in the world, including the bitterness of death, Frank continued: "If he came to experience everything, why, then, did he not taste how it would be to be pasha, vizier, or sultan? Why did he not experience power? I don't believe it." Yet, notwithstanding his initial incredulity, Frank's interest in the messiah of Salonika was aroused. Perhaps his ambitions were also awakened at this critical juncture: Frank decided to go to Salonika and take up where Berukhiah had left off, that is, to experience the only thing missing from the messiah's catalog of accomplished experiences: power.
According to the Frankist chronicle, a year or so after his wedding, in November 1753, Frank arrived in Salonika accompanied by Rabbi Mordechai, his groomsman. Rabbi Mordechai ben Elias Margalit was a known Sabbatian from Prague; accused of adultery and other antinomian conduct, he also left Bohemia and moved to the Ottoman Empire after Moses Meir Kamenker was caught smuggling Sabbatian literature into Germany in 1725. According to Rabbi Jacob Emden, Frank arrived in Salonika as Rabbi Mordechai's servant. The leaders of the Dönmeh told Rabbi Mordechai that secrets of the Torah could be revealed only through a young and unlearned man and asked him to let his servant act as a medium. Indeed, on the very first night that he stood before the Dönmeh, Frank entered a trance, fell to the ground, and revealed many secrets and mysteries. The Frankist chronicle, skimpier in details and-rather predictably-contrary to Emden in its appraisal of the protagonists of the story, described the same event as follows: "It was the first night on which the Lord had the Ru'ah hakodesh-sending of the Holy Spirit.. He said: 'Mostro Signor abascharo, Our Lord descends.'" On the very first night that he spent among the Dönmeh, the soul of Signor Santo, Berukhiah, entered Frank's body.
Following this dramatic event, Frank's star rose quickly in Salonika. He established his own house of study, where he expounded the Zohar, and came to be known as Hakham Jacob (hakham, lit., "sage," is a Sephardic equivalent to the title "rabbi" as employed by Ashkenazic Jews). His former teachers, Rabbi Mordechai and Rabbi Nahman, became his first pupils. He debated the secrets of Torah with Jewish scholars in Salonika and tried to bolster his Sabbatian credentials by mimicking some of the actions of Sabbatai Tsevi: he threw himself into the sea, which did not want to take him and resuscitated him alive, and performed "strange deeds," publicly violating the Shabbat or-during a service in a synagogue-taking the Torah scroll, lowering his trousers, and sitting on it with his naked buttocks. He also made a pilgrimage to the grave of Sabbatai's prophet, Nathan of Gaza, in Skoplje. At the grave of Nathan, he formulated his program for the first time: "The Ran [Rabbi Nathan of Gaza] ordered that after he died, a bag of earth should be placed in his coffin, thus giving a sign that he wished to convert the spiritual world into the world of flesh. But I tell you that already in this world, everything that is in spirit must be made into flesh like our flesh. Then everyone will see, as any visible thing is seen."
Frank's meteoric rise did not go down well with some of the Dönmeh. Hints scattered in the Frankist dicta suggest that, in pretending to be the incarnation of Berukhiah, Frank became embroiled in a ferocious power struggle with other leaders of the Salonika Sabbatians. "The messiah of Salonika," about whom Frank had been told by Rabbi Mordechai on his nuptial night, was most likely Berukhiah's son and designated successor. Frank was told that he would not even be able to speak to him (he finally managed to do so, only once, after singing a song in Ladino in front of his window). Many years later, during the investigation at the Warsaw consistory after his conversion to Christianity, Frank testified that he had demanded a miracle from the alleged messiah of Salonika, but the "messiah" could not deliver; in a conversation with his disciples, Frank pronounced him the Antichrist.
Clearly, the sect of Berukhiah, the Koniosos, were loyal to the accepted line of succession and refused to recognize Frank-a foreigner and an upstart among the Turkish Sabbatian elites-as the vessel of their messiah's soul. It seems that another faction of the Dönmeh, the Kavalieros, were more forthcoming: according to a Frankist source, they offered Frank fifty purses of gold if he would agree to lead them. Initially, Frank was inclined to agree; but during the night, he had a dream telling him that it was not his destiny to become a leader of the Dönmeh. He declined and remained steadfast in his refusal even after the Kavalieros raised the offer to a hundred purses of gold and a maiden from their group. Frank might really have had a vision advising him not to tie his future to the Kavalieros. He might also have realized that no matter how well he played his hand in Salonika, he would always remain a maverick among the Turkish Sabbatians. And perhaps, precisely at this time, he might have understood that another option had opened up.
According to Dov Ber Birkenthal, sometime in the early 1750s, two emissaries from Podolia, the dayyan (rabbinic judge) of Strzyze Rabbi Mordechai Baharab and morenu Ze'ev Wolf Benditsch of Nadworna, were sent by all the Podolian Sabbatians to welcome the messiah Berukhiah. They arrived in Salonika and found Berukhiah severely ill, lying on his deathbed. They witnessed how "Berukhiah passed away while revealing secrets of the Torah, but, before his holy soul departed, he anointed Hakham morenu Rabbi Jacob Frank of Korolowka by placing two hands on his head.. And [Frank] stood up and left for Poland."
As it stands, Birkenthal's story is inaccurate, at best. Berukhiah died in 1720, before Frank was even born; it is also highly unlikely that the Podolian Sabbatians did not know about his death some thirty years after it happened. However, Rabbi Jacob Emden confirms that a certain Wolf of Nadworna (accompanied by Frank's uncle Moses Meir Kamenker!) indeed went to Salonika on a mission sometime before the eruption of the 1725 scandal concerning Eibeschütz. Sabbatian sources, in turn, attest that throughout the first half of the eighteenth century, European sectarian Jewish groups often sent emissaries to the Ottoman Empire seeking to access the authentic esoteric traditions transmitted orally among the Turkish Sabbatians. I conjecture that Ber Birkenthal conflated the mission of the early 1720s, during which the Podolian Sabbatians learned about the death of Berukhiah, with another, which took place in the early 1750s, when emissaries from Podolia heard about the incarnation of Berukhiah's soul in Jacob Frank (indeed, it is even possible that Ze'ev Wolf of Nadworna took part in both missions). Be that as it may, the news that Frank was a reincarnation of Berukhiah certainly began to spread in Podolia around 1753-54. The scene was thus prepared, and the return to Poland suddenly began to look like an attractive possibility.
In May 1754, Jacob Frank, accompanied by two disciples, left Salonika. He spent some months in the Moldavian town of Romani, than in Czernowitz. On 3 December 1755, he crossed the Dniester River and entered the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. After arriving in Poland, Frank took a kind of tour through the principal centers of Sabbatianism in Podolia, retracing the steps of Hayyim Malakh. He went first to Korolowka, and then to Jezierzany, Podhajce, and Busk, where his disciple Nahman was a rabbi. From Busk, Frank journeyed to Lwów. After a short stay in Lwów, Frank came to Rohatyn, where he established contacts with the Shorrs, probably the most important Sabbatian family in Podolia. The family descended from Rabbi Zalman Naftali Shorr, whose book Tevu'at Shorr was held in high esteem among rabbinic scholars, and the Shorrs enjoyed a high status among all Jews. Elisha Shorr, the doyen of the family, was known as a principal leader of the Sabbatian movement in the region; his daughter Hayah was considered a prophetess. Through marriages, the Shorrs were tied to Sabbatians in all the major towns of the province. If Frank managed to win them over, his success in Podolia would be assured. Indeed, before long, Elisha's three sons, Salomon, Nathan, and Leyb, accepted Frank as their leader. As Frank's following was growing, Yehudah Leyb Krysa also joined his group. However, tension between the two never abated, and Krysa challenged Frank's leadership on several occasions.
Frank's authority among the Podolian Sabbatians was based on the claim that he had inherited the mantle of Berukhiah and his transmission and dissemination of Turkish Sabbatian teachings and rites in Poland. Baruch me-Erets Yavan, the chief opponent of the Frankists during the early phase of the development of the movement, recorded a prayer introduced by Frank in Podolia; the prayer addressed Berukhiah as God of Israel incarnate and mentioned the abolishment of the Torah de-beri'ah and its replacement by the Torah de-atsilut. In a letter to Emden accompanying the text of the prayer, Yavan claimed that Frank had spread Berukhiah's teachings in Podolia, advocating abolition of the prohibition of incest and introducing idolatry in the proper sense of the term: worship of a deified human being.
Indeed, Frankist sources also confirm that during his first months in Poland, Frank recited the Ladino prayer Mi dio barach io (Berukhiah my God), and his followers responded with a verse from the "credo" of the Dönmeh: "I believe with perfect faith in the faith of the God of truth . the three knots of faith that are one." On the basis of such accounts, Gershom Scholem argued that Frankism was "for generations nothing other than a particularly radical [off]shoot of the Dönmeh, only with a Catholic façade." Scholem's claim is only partly true: if Frank's followers were, in some sense, "nothing other than a particularly radical offshoot of the Dönmeh," this was not for generations but only before they acquired their "Catholic façade": during the first two months of Frank's activity in Podolia. Afterward, Frankism became something entirely different.
Sabbatianism, particularly the Turkish variety, is the indispensable context for the study of Frankism. HoweverI believe that Frank consciously-and, to a large extent, successfully-attempted to discard his Sabbatian legacy and to separate himself from other Sabbatian groups, including (and perhaps particularly) the Dönmeh. Most scholars have tended to treat Frankism as an extension, branch, or late phase of Sabbatianism. Thus Simon Dubnow stated that "Jacob Frank was for the Polish-Russian Jews of the eighteenth century what Sabbatai Tsevi was for entire Jewry of the seventeenth." Scholem argued that "there is no basic difference between the terms Sabbatianism and Frankism." Such an approach oversimplifies the issue. Not all Polish (or even not all Podolian), Czech, or German Sabbatians accepted Frank's leadership, and some of Frank's followers did not come from Sabbatian backgrounds. Essential theological differences, as well as dissimilarities between the Frankists and other Sabbatian subsects in their social makeup and political aspirations, will be presented in the following chapters.
Most important, in his later activity Frank did not see himself as a continuator or an incarnation of Sabbatai Tsevi or Berukhiah. As he put it, Sabbatai Tsevi "did not accomplish anything." It was only himself, Frank, who "came to this world to bring forth into the world a new thing of which neither your forefathers nor their forefathers heard."
Jacob Frank's very name indicated his foreignness and showed that he remained an outsider in his milieu: in Salonika, despite his family ties to Tova and his success among local Sabbatians, he was a Pole among the Turks. Upon his arrival in Poland, this perspective was reversed: the term frenk in the Orient denoted a European custom or object or a visitor from Europe; in Yiddish, by a peculiar linguistic inversion, it came to signify a Sephardic, that is, an Oriental, Jew. When two preachers from Podolia, Yiddish speakers, told a story "about how a certain Frenk had come to Poland, and caused there a great uproar," they meant to say that, in the Commonwealth, Jacob Frank was a stranger coming from the East. To my mind, nothing better illustrates Frank's personality and his fate than this inversion: wherever he went, he remained an outsider, escaping qualifications and provoking contradictory reactions.
Two depictions of Frank were written by eyewitnesses in 1759, the year of his conversion. One, composed by the Jesuit Konstanty Awedyk, described Frank as a man "beautiful, of imposing posture and resounding voice." The other one, Jewish, preserved in Rabbi Jacob Emden's Sefer shimush, claimed that he was a small man, "incredibly ugly, not resembling a human being, with the face of a demon." Awedyk further marveled at his linguistic capabilities, claiming that Frank fully mastered "Hebrew, Turkish, Wallachian, Italian, German, and Ladino [Frencki]"; the Jewish account stated that "Frank had no command at all of any language or speech whatsoever but stammered, whistled, and cried like a rooster so that anyone who was not well accustomed to him could not understand anything."
Such contrasting accounts of Frank are many. He was an Ashkenazi among the Sephardim, a Sephardi among the Ashkenazim, a Pole among the Turks, a Turk among the Poles, an unlearned boor among the sages, a sage among the simpletons, a believer among skeptics, a libertine among the pious. Following his conversion in 1759, he continued to be seen as a Jew among the Christians and yet was considered a Christian among the Jews. Heinrich Graetz, the first monographer of Frankism, characterized the founder of the movement as "one of the worst, slyest, and most deceitful villains of the eighteenth century." A Polish Catholic encyclopedia defined him as "the greatest reformer of Polish Jewry." Aleksander Kraushar called Frank's dicta a "theosophical system arisen in a head of a boor, a teaching lacking any theological background, in which shreds of Christian dogmas are associated in a disorderly manner with concepts from the Zohar, with traces of occultist tenets, and with chaos of incomprehensible tones." Gershom Scholem claimed that they "contained a genuine creed of life." In short, Frank was the most mercurial of all Jewish leaders. In this work, I seek to penetrate his mercuriality and uncover the facts of his astonishing career.