The ideology of sabbateanism, which was formulated by Nathan of Gaza (1643-80), concentrated on the origin of evil, sin and general salvation. The followers of sabbateanism believed that the creation of the world caused a separation of “divine sparks” (sephirot) and Shechinah (Divine Presence), who was imprisoned in the material world, “crust of evil”. Sabbateans thought that the inversion of this process, i.e. the rejoining of Shechinah and Sephirot Tiferet, is accomplished by bringing the “divine sparks” out of the “crust of the world”. This reunification may be achieved by Jews when they obey religious orders and also when they fulfill their destiny. 

The history of Israel reflects “the expulsion” of God during the sephirots’ emanation. Jews had to flee from Jerusalem and then from Spain so that during all their wanderings they could take as many “divine sparks” as possible. However, “divine sparks” were also imprisoned in the “crusts”, which were beyond the reach of religious Jews, “at the bottom of sin”. Sabbatai Zevi ,with his selected followers, were aiming to get to “the bottom of the sin” and to take it out. By completing the whole process, they would usher in the messianic age.

At the beginning Sabbatai believed that Messiah would come in 1666, and consequently he manifestly broke all the religious laws of Judaism, which were part of the “old”, “pre-messianic” order. When the prophecy did not come true and Sabbatai Zevi was arrested and forced to convert to Islam, he thought that Shechinah was imprisoned in this religion. Therefore, he decided on banishment, and with a selected group of people, he converted to Islam. Sabbatai believed that he became a “vessel” storing Shechinah and therefore he gained a divine nature.

Different sects evolved from sabbateanism after the founder’s death. Dönmehs [Turkisch: dönme – convert] saw the next embodiment of the Messiah in Jacob Querido. Koniozos, named after their leader Konio Ruso, considered Baruch Ruso, Konio’s son, to be a Messiah. Both sects were active among Sefardic Jews in Turkey (Edirne, Smyrna, Istanbul, Thessaloniki, Wallachia). In the nineteenth century the sect disintegrated. There were only several hundred Dönmehs. However, some important activists of the Young Turkey Movement came from this sect. Among them was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), the first president of Turkey after the proclamation of the Republic in 1922.

The ideas of sabbateanism influenced Jewish elites in Europe, and specifically in Poland. Many kabbalists secretly studied sabbateanism and were under the influence of the anticipation of the very imminent Messianic age. Frankism, which was established in the eighteenth century, was under clear influence of Konizos. Jacob Frank repeated the act of apostasy performed earlier by Sabbatai Zevi, converting first to Islam and then to Catholicism.

Alina Cała

 

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