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Shabbetai Zevi

Shabbetai Zevi (1626–76). Jewish messianic leader. Shabbetai Zevi was ordained as a ḥakham after a thorough Talmudic and kabbalistic education. In 1665, he travelled to Gaza to meet Nathan of Gaza ‘in order to find tikkun and peace for his soul’. Nathan was convinced that Shabbetai was the messiah and on 17 Sivan, Shabbetai so declared himself. He appointed representatives of the twelve tribes and circled Jerusalem on horseback like a king. Rumour spread throughout Europe. Shabbetai was excommunicated in Jerusalem and returned to Smyrna, and the entire community was thrown into a state of messianic fervour. A division arose between the believers (the maʾaminim) and the ‘infidels’ (the koferim), but so hysterical was the excitement that many of the infidels were forced to flee from the city. After appointing counterparts to the ancient kings of Israel, Shabbetai sailed for Constantinople, where he was arrested and held in moderately comfortable imprisonment. Meanwhile, news of the advent of the messiah produced enormous excitement throughout the diaspora, and broadsheets and pamphlets were circulated throughout Europe. In some instances support was given to the movement by Christian millenarians who believed that the world would come to an end in 1666. From prison Shabbetai continued his activities, abolishing the fasts of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av, and signing his letters as ‘the firstborn son of God’ and even ‘the Lord your God Shabbetai Zevi’. In Sept. 1666, he was taken to the Sultan's court where he was given the choice of death or conversion to Islam. Shabbetai agreed to apostasy, took the name of Aziz Mehmed Effendi, and accepted a royal pension. Shabbetai himself continued to act as before among his secret followers in Adrianople and was finally exiled to Albania where he died in 1676. Although repressed by the rabbis, Shabbatean ideas, particularly in the realm of the kabbalah, continued to circulate, especially in Turkey, Italy, and Poland, and continued to inspire popular movements such as the ʿaliyah of ‘the holy society of Rabbi Judah Ḥasid’ to Jerusalem in 1700. Such scholars as Moses Luzzatto, Jonathan Eybeschuetz, and Nehemiah Hiyya Hayon provoked controversy because of their continued Shabbatean ideas. For later developments see DOENMEH; FRANK, JACOB.

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