Frank, Jacob

views updated May 17 2018


FRANK, JACOB . Yakov ben Lev (17261791), cynosure of the last large Jewish messiah-event, took the surname Frank at his baptisms in Poland in 1759 and 1760, when he also added the name Joseph and became Jacob Joseph Frank. The surname had become attached to him as an epithet that in Yiddish denoted a Turkish Jew and in Turkish denoted a European Jew. He himself never explained which he was, contenting himself with the ambiguity of the reference. Frank acted out the role of a Jewish messiah in the territory of the Ottoman Empire in Poland and in Bohemia and Germany from about 1750 until he died in a fit in Offenbach, to be succeeded by his daughter, Ewa.

Though Frank presented himself as the inheritor of Shabbetai Tsevi (16261676) and Barukhya Russo (d. 1721), his forerunners in this tradition, he did not do so in their urban Turkish environment, nor was his doctrine theirs. Frank defined both of them to his inner circle of disciples, the twelve Brothers and fourteen Sisters, as predecessor messiahs in the tradition of failed messiahs, and he discarded the entire qabbalistic system associated with them and their messianic roles in favor of an original mythology and cult management whose major characteristics were duplicity and a tyrannical authority shrouded in mystery. To the false conversions to Islam of Tsevi and Barukhya in Turkey, Frank added a false conversion to Roman Catholicism in Christian lands. He gave his name to three separate movements known as Frankist the first being a community of Polish Shabbateans who had been adherents of the Dönmeh sect in Salonika into which he inserted himself in Turkey and, thereafter, in Poland; the second, his personal following; and the third in Bohemia, in which he played no active part.

Shortly after his own conversion, the Inquisition had him imprisoned for thirteen years in the fortress shrine of Częstochowa under suspicion of perpetrating a hoax and an attempted insurrection. His closest followers remained faithful to him. While Frank promoted a combination of obedience to himself and disingenuous behavior towards those outside his circle, many of his followers either sought their way back to Judaism or became Christians within his own lifetime, excepting those who had been part of the original company of adherents or who were with him at his courts in Brno and Offenbach after he regained his freedom and left Poland at the time of the Russian invasion in 1773.

In Brno and especially in Offenbach, Frank played the part of a noble maintaining a large court and retinue, and he sought to interfere in European politics in the West and East. Before his conversion he had persuaded Turkish powers that he would bring the Jews to Islam and promote the interests of the Ottoman Empire in Europe, and he had gained government support. After his entry into western lands, he sought, with the same degree of sincerity, to serve the interests of Prussia and Austria. Here his performance achieved greater success. His daughter Ewa served as a social and sexual pawn to attract social prestige, and Frank gained for a time the backing of Joseph II of Austria, among others.

In the intellectual and political society of early modern Europe, Frank was a familiar figure. To enlightened Christians and proselytizing millennialists he was a Jew converted to Christianity and a freethinker typified by mysterious connections and magic and secret riches. He was also seen as a herald of liberation from the oppression of gender, class, regime, religion, and mores, including sexual ones. To some Jews, he augured assimilation, enlightenment, political power, and millennial redemption. To other Jews, especially rabbinic figures, Frank was not just one more in a colorful crew of anomians or antinomians, leaders of the gullible from the time of Jesus through the contemporary movement of Hasidismhe was a catastrophe; the ultimate false messiah; the ruin of hope, faith, and religion; the diabolic climax of that history.

Frank served anti-rabbinic belligerents as their figurehead in two debates (Kamieniec, 1757; Lwów, 1759), though he did not seek these opportunities out; the debates were produced by the Polish Catholic authorities together with the remnants of Shabbatean followings. The theses argued in these debatesthe last great public Christian-Jewish disputations, the first concluding with the last major public burning of Jewish books before the modern periodincluded old themes, such as the falsity of the Hebrew Bible in its rabbinic interpretation, as well as the blood libel and some novelties. The Frankists sought to achieve a separate existence and maintain for themselves many elements of Jewish culture while converting to Christianity and proclaiming the truth of the Zohar and its ostensible Trinitarianism. Frank wanted to establish the anti-rabbinic disputants as his own followers and gain a separate and autonomous community. The neighboring village of Iwanie was actually granted to them by Augustus III following the first disputation. The history of Frankism as Polish Shabbateanism ends here and is well documented in the recent work of Pawel Maciejko.

From the time in Iwanie through the years of his imprisonment, the establishment of his court in Brno and then in the palaces of the prince of Isenburg in Offenbach, Frank taught his own doctrine to the circle of the Brothers and Sisters, and records of the history of the group were kept. A lot of these materials remain and have received some study. The conduct of the sect can be studied through entries in the internal history, the Chronicle; Frank's own doctrine is found in the Collection of the Words of the Lord. In these works one sees Frank's talent in adapting himself to changing circumstances and persuading his followers to remain steadfast. The Collection displays Frank's prowess as the innovator of several literary forms, including threefold (allegorical) tales. Other contemporary observers have left a large body of accounts of his peculiar activities and self-presentation during this period, and these have been employed by later scholars. There are clear connections between this Frankism and developments in Hasidism in terms of the configuration of its leadership, as well as its characteristic literary modalities.

The third branch of Frankism in Bohemia, especially Prague, before, during, and after the disputations was, like the first, rooted in the continuation of Shabbateanism and can be associated with modernizing movements in Judaism, including assimilation. This variety knows almost nothing of Frank, his deeds, or his teachings.

See Also

Messianism, article on Jewish Messianism; Shabbetai Tsevi.


Doktór, Jan. Księga Słów Pańskich. Warsaw, 1997. The only complete edition of the manuscript fragments of Frank's dicta from the collection of the library of Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Both these works contain a fairly large number of errors, especially in the notes.

Doktór, Jan, ed. Rozmaite adnotacje, przypadki, czynności i anekdoty Pańskie. Warsaw, 1996. The only complete edition of original materials from the Łopaciński Library in Lublin, containing the Chronicle and later dicta.

Kraushar, Alexandr. Jacob Frank: The End to the Sabbataian Heresy. Edited by Herbert Levy. Lanham, Md., 2001. A translation of the Polish study, Frank i Frankiści Polscy: 17261816. Kraków, 1895. The classic study in Polish; Levy's presentation is particularly untrustworthy in the translation of the original dicta and his introduction is preposterous, but this is all there is in English.

Maciejko, Pawel. "The Development of the Religious Teachings of Jacob Frank." Ph.D. diss., Oxford University, 2003. Adds a great deal of new information and documentation to the work of earlier scholars. The result is a careful restatement of the movements and their histories, especially in relation to political interests and the Christian interface. Includes the only comprehensive and up-to-date bibliography.

Scholem, Gershom. "Frank, Jacob, and the Frankists." Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 7, cols. 5571. Jerusalem, 1971.

Scholem, Gershom. "Redemption through Sin." Translated by Hillel Halkin. In The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality, pp. 3748. New York, 1971.

Harris Lenowitz (2005)

Frank, Jacob

views updated May 23 2018


Jewish pseudo-Messiah; b. Korolowska (Podolia), Poland, c. 1726; d. Offenbach (Hesse), Germany, 1791. Frank flourished in a time of economic and political insecurity for the Jewish community and of spiritual confusion resulting from the exposure of the messianic pretensions of Shabbetai Zevi (see shabbatiÏsm), which, while disillusioning many of the latter's followers, persuaded many others that his conversion to Islam was a necessary condition to the fulfillment of his messianic claims.

Having grown up in an atmosphere filled with mystical aberration and superstition, and having received a poor Jewish education, Frank was attracted early to the teachings of the Shabbatians whom he met in Turkey, where he had settled as a merchant. Adapting the beliefs and practices of this semi-Islamic cult to his purposes, he returned to Podolia in 1755, where, through clandestine meetings characterized by mystical formulas and erotic behavior, he assumed leadership as the reincarnation of Shabbetai Zevi, the second person of a trinitarian doctrine.

The Jewish community, scandalized by the activities of the Frankists, reported them, to the authorities in 1756, resulting in Frank's expulsion from Poland as a Turk and his followers' excommunication by the rabbis for gross violations of Jewish observance and morality. As anti-Talmudists and Trinitarians, the sectarians sought relief from the archbishop of Podolia, who granted them his protection and convened a public disputation between them and the rabbis. This concluded with the Jewish community being compelled to pay their opponents a heavy indemnity and publicly burning copies of the Talmud. Reappearing in Podolia, Frank convinced his adherents to adopt Christianity as a cover for their messianic expectations, and in 1759 the Frankists negotiated with the Catholic Church for their conversion, requesting another public disputation, wherein they attempted unsuccessfully to demonstrate a Talmudical basis for the blood accusation.

After a pomp-filled conversion ceremony, which included the participation of the royal house, reports of non-Christian preachings and practices by the converts confirmed the Church authorities' growing suspicion of Frank's hypocrisy. After a trial for heresy in 1760, he was imprisoned for 13 years, during which time he vigorously propagandized his cause. He was released by the Russians in 1772 at the first partition of Poland.

Leaving Poland, Frank had some success in Moravia, and finally established himself in a palace in Offenbach, giving himself the title of baron. Supported by the gifts of his devotees, he and his daughter, Eve, "the Holy Lady," lived a life of luxury. After Frank's death, Eve assumed the leadership of the sect, but her father's supporters did not transfer their loyalty to her, either in spirit or in coin, and at her death in 1816 she was destitute. As for the Frankists, they merged into their surroundings, eventually disappearing as a sect.

Bibliography: s. m. dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, tr. i. friedlander, 3 v. (Philadelphia 1946) 1:211220. h. h. graetz, History of the Jews, ed. and tr. b. lÖwy. 6 v. (Philadelphia 1945) 5:271290. j. r. marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World (Cincinnati 1938) 279283. Encyclopaedia Judaica: Das Judentum in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Berlin 192834) 6:107180.

[r. krinsky]

Frank, Jacob

views updated May 09 2018

Frank, Jacob (1726–91). Founder of a Jewish sect. Born in Poland, Frank declared himself to be messiah and the successor of Shabbetai Zevi. He was excommunicated in 1756 after he had attracted many disciples and had been accused of encouraging sexual immorality. Jacob appealed to the bishop of Kamenetz-Podolsk who offered protection in exchange for the Frankists renouncing the Talmud. The Frankists also declared their belief in the Trinity of the three ‘equal faces’. Initially Frankists only married within the sect, but by the mid-19th cent., the number of mixed marriages increased and many of their descendants became prominent members of the Polish nobility.