Sasportas, Jacob

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SASPORTAS, JACOB (c. 1610–1698), rabbi, a fierce opponent of the Shabbatean movement. He was born and educated in Oran (North Africa) and became widely known for his talmudic erudition. After his appointment as rabbi of the Tlemçen community the neighboring communities also recognized his authority. However, when he was 37 years old he was dismissed by the government; he then proceeded to wander throughout Europe, visiting many communities in Germany, Italy, and England (he was offered the position of haham of the Sephardi community in London in 1664 but left the next year because of the plague). His main ambition was the rabbinate of Amsterdam, but he did not achieve it until 1693, when he was 83 years old. Personal bitterness deriving from his lack of a congregation which could serve as a base for his activities colored his attitude in many disputes. He was a staunch defender of the rabbinate and the traditional halakhah and throughout his life was involved in polemical disputes. Many of his responsa were collected in the book Ohel Ya'akov (Amsterdam, 1737), published by his son, Abraham.

Sasportas was largely known, however, for his collection of letters, Ẓiẓat Novel Ẓevi, comprising his answers to various Shabbatean letters and pamphlets, as well as the original pamphlets themselves. The work therefore became one of the main sources for the study of the Shabbatean movement during the lifetime of *Shabbetai Ẓevi. At the time of the dispute Sasportas lived in Hamburg, so that most of the material in his collection is mainly concerned with Western Europe and Italy, but he had some success in his efforts to obtain material from the East as well.

Arranged in chronological order, the work covers the years 1666–76. In the main it consists of letters received by Sasportas, his answers to them, some letters which he wrote on his own initiative, and some comments on the development of the Shabbatean movement. Nearly half of it concerns the year 1666, from the first announcements of the appearance of Shabbetai Ẓevi as Messiah until his conversion to Islam at the end of that year. The second part is dedicated to the events following the conversion, 1667–68, and describes the "failure" of the Shabbatean movement. The third part consists of letters written in 1668–69, and is mostly directed against the renewed Shabbatean propaganda, which tried to explain the conversion of the Messiah and to introduce new norms of behavior suitable for the period of messianic fulfillment. The last four pages deal with the period from 1673 to 1676, sketching some of the main events of these years.

Sasportas' bitter denunciation of the Shabbatean movement, its prophet *Nathan of Gaza, and its believers (some of whom were his former friends), is based upon various ideological concepts. First was his adherence to the traditional conception of the messianic age; in great detail he pointed out the differences between what was happening at that time and the traditional ideas concerning the messianic era. He also saw the new movement as a revolution against established institutions and rabbinic norms, fearing that they might be set aside through the influence of Nathan of Gaza and other Shabbatean thinkers who laid claim to the faith of the populace without any appeal to rabbinic tradition. His hatred was also based on his not unfounded suspicion that the new movement contained antinomian elements, revealed in some utterances of Nathan, in the "strange deeds" of Shabbetai Ẓevi, and in the behavior of their followers. He frequently compared the new movement with Christianity and feared that the Shabbateans would follow the ancient example.

Sasportas' book is the fiercest attack upon Shabbateanism written during the early years of the movement. However, I. *Tishby and R. Shatz have proved that the published work does not reflect his attitude during the period before Shabbetai Ẓevi's apostasy. By comparing Sasportas' original copies with the version prepared for publication, they demonstrated that in many instances he falsified his own letters, changing phrases and adding passages to show that his opposition was far more thorough and resolute from the beginning than it really was, and he glossed over his own hesitation and half-belief in Shabbetai Ẓevi during the months in which the movement reached its peak. The full version of Ẓiẓat Novel Ẓevi was first published by I. Tishby from the only complete manuscript in 1954. For a long time, however, it was known only in the shortened version (Kiẓẓur Ẓiẓat Novel Ẓevi) printed in Amsterdam in 1737, by Jacob Emden in Altona in 1757, and lastly in Odessa in 1867.


I. Tishby (ed.), Ẓiẓat Novel Ẓevi (1954); R. Shatz, in: Beḥinot, 10 (1956), 50–66; Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, passim.

[Joseph Dan]