şomrei Sabat

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ŞOMREI SABAT , Christian sect in *Transylvania; though chronologically the latest, it was the most extreme faction in the Reformation in Hungary. Founded in the 1580s in central Transylvania, the sect had distinct anti-Trinitarian trends. During its long history the sect passed from denial of the Trinity to rejection of the New Testament until it approached very close to Judaism. The inhabitants of the Transylvanian village *Bezidul Nou, the majority of whom were adherents of the sect, converted to Judaism in 1868–69, and their descendants were completely absorbed in Judaism.

Ideologically, the history of the sect, which in 1971 still had a small number of followers in Transylvania, may be divided into two periods. In the first period, on the instructions of the sect's founder, the Transylvanian nobleman András Eössi (d. c. 1602), the Şomrei Sabat almost completely abandoned the principles of Christianity, though they still recognized Jesus as the messiah to reappear. But by that time, in religious as well as everyday life, they behaved according to the biblical precepts, observing "the Jewish Sabbath" as the day of rest instead of Sunday, and celebrating Jewish festivals according to the Jewish calendar: Passover, the New Moon, etc. In that early period the prayer rite of the sect was already influenced by Jewish liturgy. The Şomrei Sabat also refrained from eating ritually unclean food.

The second period, beginning in 1630, was marked by the outstanding personality of Simon *Péchi (c. 1575–1642), the adopted son of Eössi. A scholar with a command of the classical languages as well as Hebrew, Péchi performed important functions in the political administration of independent Transylvania and was chancellor at the princely courts. In 1621 Péchi was dismissed from all his posts, probably in connection with his religious views. Thereafter he devoted himself to the organization and development of the Şomrei Sabat sect and also became involved in clandestine activities. In this period the sect deviated even more from Christianity and came conspicuously close to Judaism. The leader of the sect as well as his disciples translated into Hungarian many Hebrew prayers of the Sephardi rite. At that time the Şomrei Sabat based themselves only on the Old Testament, observing the Jewish precepts and completely rejecting the principles of Christianity. It is estimated that the membership of the sect was then about 20,000.

In 1638, on instructions from the prince, the Transylvanian authorities started to persecute the members of the sect and its leaders. Some emigrated to *Turkey where several of them converted to Judaism. Those who had remained in Transylvania were put on trial, their property was confiscated, and some were sentenced to death. The leader of the sect also became impoverished as a result of the confiscations and spent the last years of his life in his rural home under house arrest. As a result of the persecutions the membership of the sect greatly diminished.

The spiritual leaders of the sect created a varied literature, including prayers, religious poems, etc., partly independent original literary creations but most of them showing Jewish influence. The outstanding Hungarian author, Zsigmond Kemény (1814–1875), gives a vivid description of the life of the sect, the persecutions, and the life of its leader, Péchi, in his historical novel A rajongók ("The Devoted"; first published in 1858).


S. Kohn, A szombatosok (1889) = Die Sabbatharier in Siebenbuergen (1894); M. Guttmann and S. Harmos, Péchi Simon szombatos imádságos kȯnyve (1914); A. Pirnat, Die Ideologie der Siebenbuerger Antitrinitarier (Budapest, 1961); B. Varjas, Szombatos énekek (1970).

[Yehouda Marton]