Pawel Maciejko

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:


Sabbatianism was a movement in Judaism spurred by the messianic pronouncements of the Ottoman Jew Sabbatai Tsevi (b. 1626–d. 1676). In contrast to earlier messianic upheavals, which had limited and localized character, Sabbatianism spread over all main Jewish communities in Europe, Asia, and North Africa and became a large public movement attracting thousands of followers and the careful attention of outside observers. Redemptive hopes associated with Tsevi were dashed in summer 1666, when the Ottoman authorities had him arrested. In September of that year he converted to Islam, thus putting an end to Sabbatianism as a public movement. The majority of Jews proclaimed Sabbatai a false messiah. However, a few of his believers interpreted the apostasy as a part of the messiah’s mission and founded sectarian groups recognizing the nominally Muslim leader as the true redeemer of Israel. One such group, later known as the Dönmeh, also converted to Islam. Others continued to operate within the framework of normative Judaism. Sectarian Sabbatianism elicited intense opposition of rabbinic authorities: a number of bans of excommunication were issued, and scores of polemical works were composed. It also developed highly original theological doctrines, in which traditional Jewish Kabbalistic motifs were reinterpreted in very novel ways and blended with Muslim and later also Christian elements. The last stage of the movement was the sect of Jacob Frank (Frankism), which was founded in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 1750s. Sabbatianism dwindled by the late 18th century, but it had significant impact on the most-important phenomena of 19th-century Judaism, such as the Haskalah.

Article.  7282 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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