Sabbatianism and Mystical Heresy
Main Topics from Scholem, Major Trends Lecture #8
- Sabbatianism as the culmination of the Messianic focus in Lurianic Kabblah.
- The roles of Shabbetai Zvi and Nathan of Gaza:
Nathan appears as Shabbetai's
- mentor ("therapist")
- herald ("John the Baptist")
- Ideologist ("Paul")
- Nathan as commentator on Shabbetai's personality, not on texts or traditions.
Shabbetai Zvi's personality
- Scholem's diagnosis as manic-depressive.
- Left no theoretical legacy, written or oral.
- Nathan's writings focus on his life and personality.
- Note that the personality of the Messiah was not a theme in standard Jewish eschatological literature.
Main elements of Sabbatian theology:
- Since the "breaking of the vessels" the soul of the Messiah is imprisoned in the realm of the evil Kelippot, a great abyss with tormenting serpents/dragons.
Symbolized by Job.
- Extension of Lurianic ideal of Tikkun: Redemption is achieved through the separation of holiness from the Kelippot.
Having reached the final stage of the redemption process, evil itself must be redeemed.
- Follows from Lurianic "spiritualization" of the traditional eschatological imagery: Redemption is principally a mystical process.
- Belief that the Messianic era calls for transformation or subversion of the old order: Rejection of the old Law of the Exile.
Subsequent historical influence of the Sabbatian movement:
Scholem's tracing of its influence on the Jewish "Enlightenment" and Reform movement.
Weaknesses of his argument:
- Those phenomena can be accounted for on their own terms.
- We should encounter equivalent developments in non-European countries, but do not.
- Note nonetheless the parallel between the Sabbatian distinction between the Unknown Universal God and the revealed "God of Israel, with Moses Mendelssohn's distinction between rational belief and revealed legislation, an idea that beame central to Reform Judaism.
- Two streams of Sabbatians after the apostasy:
- Radicals tried to emulate Shabbetai Zvi's apostasy by performing sinful acts.
- The "Doenmeh," crypto-Jewish Muslims in Salonika.
- Frankist movement in Poland who pursued libertine rites, coversion to Catholicism, etc.
Justified their actions either as the "sanctification of sin," or by claiming to be above sinfulness.
- Moderates believed that the "strange acts" were unique to Shabbetai Zvi's mission, but themselves remained commitment to traditional observance.
Influence of Marrano experience:
- Theological justification of apostacy
- Channel for introduction of Christian ideas
Social dimensions of movement: An enthusiastic rebellion against the "old guard";
Reluctance to relinquish the momentum even after his apostasy.
In some communities the movement seems to have been generational, claiming to provide a more spiritual alternative leadership, with with no particular commitment to the person or theology of Shabbetai Zvi.
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