The Judaism that most people are familiar with today is the rabbinical Judaism that is the dominant form today. Of course the temple worship and sacrificial form of the died with the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem after the Jewish uprising in .
However, another form of Judaism was very common well into the early modern period, and still has its practitioners today. This is the Kabala. The Kabala is an amorphous grouping of beliefs and is about as easily contained within a short summary as Protestant Christianity. In general, the Kabala stresses the mystic/individual relationship with God. Many of its forms appear to be heavily influenced by Platonic philosophy with an ordering of different spheres of reality, with a person working toward a spiritual journey closer to the route source of the divine. Some forms intermixed with Gnosticism (Christian and otherwise) and had a strong belief in secret knowledge and rituals that brought salvation (or equivalent) to the elect.
The reason this is of issue here, is because Sabbatai Zevi, the messiah we have in question here, came from a Sephardic tradition, and as the great scholar Roseanne Barr (LOL) has noted the Sephardic tradition is associated with the Kabala.
In the Zohar, one of the primary text of the Kabala, 1648 was a noted as the year of the long-awaited Jewish messiah. As the position of the Zohar, as a text of authority was not entirely clear at the time, and Jews do not have a single canonical authority to universally decide these issues, its teachings would be given differing weights by the rabbinical Jewish groups.
In additions, some Christian authors in the mid-17th century set 1666 as the year of the Jewish Redemption and their return to Israel.
We will now go to our story of Sabbatai Zevi. Note that this summary is not the views of a follower, but of a skeptic.
David Cassel, 1913
Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676)
Towards the end of the seventeenth century the life of the Jews in the East, which was generally spent quietly and uneventfully amongst Talmudical and Kabalistic studies, experienced a stir and movement, the tide of which flowed on until near our own times.
Sabbatai Zevi of Smyrna [Coast of Turkey, then a Greek City within the Ottoman Empire] was born in 1626. He was extraordinarily gifted, both in mind and body, and from an early age devoted all his energies to the mystic study of the Kabala. Gradually he became more and more ascetic in his daily life, and as early as 1648 he announced himself as the Messiah to his friends and followers. He was excommunicated by the rabbinate of Smyrna (to which his teacher Joseph Iskaffa belonged), and was compelled to leave the city in 1651.
After wandering hither and thither for some time, he found support and followers in Cairo [Egypt- but also within the Ottoman Empire at that Time]. While there he heard of and sent for a certain girl named Sarah, of Jewish descent, who had escaped a convent where she was being educated, and was leading a wandering king of life. A pseudo-prophet, Nathan of Gaza then announced that he had had visions in which Sabbatai had been proclaimed as the Messiah, and the messianic fervor to the credulous people soon rose to such a height that in Smyrna (whither Sabbatai had returned in triumph) the community turned against his opponent, the rabbi Aaron Lapapa, and compelled him to leave the city.
The belief in the so-called Messiah spread rapidly to the congregations of Asia Minor, Turkey, and Italy; in several places fanatical visionaries appeared , who proclaimed the approaching messianic age, and the voices of individual sober-minded men, such as Jacob Sasportas of Amsterdam, were lost in the crowd. Everywhere preparations were made for the journey to Palestine, which was to be once more in possession of the Jews.
In 1666 Abbatai, who received almost divine honors from his disciples, betook himself to Constantinople [now Istanbul; then the capital of the Ottoman Empire], but there he was taken prisoner and conveyed to the castle of Abydos on the Dardanelles. In spite of his imprisonment, however, the number of his followers continued to increase; the report of his miracle-working powers spread through Europe, and impressed even Christians. Sabbatai himself led a life of princely splendor in his so-called captivity, until the Turkish government became alarmed at the possible results of this fanaticism.
Sabbatai was set for to Constantinople, where he was introduced into the Sultan’s presence, became converted to Moslemism, under the name of Mehemed Effendi, and was appointed doorkeeper (Kapidschi Basha). A portion of his disciples followed his example and became Mahommedans. But only a small number of his followers were thus undeceived, Sabbatai even continued to preach in different places, and to appear sometimes as a Jew and sometimes as a Mahommedan.
At last he was exiled to Albania, and died there in solitude in 1676. In spite of this pitiable ending of the supposed Messiah, the fantastic belief in him lasted for a century after his death. Apostles of the new faith, such as Abraham Michael Cardoso (1622-1706) and Nehemiah Chija Chajon (1650-1738) wandered about from place to place, preached about the new Messiah, and managed here and there to obtain credence even with otherwise sensible men.
Note that he announces himself as the Messiah in 1648, and he goes to Constantinople in 1666. Both these dates show an admirable awareness of earlier prophetic writings by others. However, unlike the earlier Jewish Messiahs noted by Josephus, he was not willing to suffer torture and death. To his followers, this would be a little like John the Baptist deciding to make sacrifices to Caesar at the Roman Temple.
However, even with his changing religions he remained a very powerful force. He is the founder of the Sabbateans movement that lasted for two-hundred years within Judaism.
The Orthodox movement, though not Sabbateans, started shortly after his death, and today still is more accepting of the Zohar, and Kabalistic teachings.
|Sabbatai Zevi (from Wikipedia)|