Dear Buber Students,
We are sharing two parallel approaches supporting the world of Hasidism and Martin Buber. CLICK HERE to see a slide show presentation on Shabbatai Sevi prepared by Peretz Wolf-Prusan, referencing "Shabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah," by Gershom Scholem.
Jennifer Clayman sent the following to her class.
Hi friends, in class this week we'll be discussing the first chapter of our book, whose title is the same as that of the book: Hasidism and Modern Man. As we attempt to understand Buber's views on Hasidism, it will be helpful to have a sense of how Buber viewed the rise of Hasidism in the context of Jewish history. In particular, he saw Hasidism as a response to the failed messianic movement of Shabbetai Zevi and other false Jewish messiahs of the 17th and 18th centuries. Below you'll find some information about Shabbetai Zevi, excerpted from an article by Matt Plen on myjewishlearning.com. If you have a chance, please read this before class on Thursday. Thanks, Jen
Context: On Shabbetai Zevi, the False Messiah (from Matt Plen, on myjewishlearning.com)
“...in the mid-17th century, belief in the false messiah Shabbetai Zevi spread like wildfire throughout the Jewish world, sweeping up entire communities and creating a crisis of faith unprecedented in Jewish history.
Shabbetai Tzvi was said to be born on the 9th of Av in 1626, to a wealthy family of merchants in Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey).
In 1648, Shabbetai Tzvi declared himself to be the messiah but did not make much of an impression on the Smyrna community which had become accustomed to his eccentricities. Nonetheless, the rabbis banished him from his hometown, and he spent much of the 1650s traveling through Greece and Turkey.
The turning point in his messianic career came in 1665 as the result of a meeting with his self-appointed prophet, Nathan of Gaza.
Nathan...initiated a mass movement of repentance, fasting and ascetic acts to prepare the way for the coming redemption. In September 1665, he announced that a fundamental cosmic shift had taken place and that within the year, without war, Shabbetai Tzvi would take the Turkish Sultan’s crown and make the Sultan his servant.
What made the Jewish world so receptive to the false messianism of Shabbetai Tzvi? In 1648-49, Cossack bands led by Bogdan Chmielnicki massacred 300,000 Jews in the Ukraine amid unprecedented acts of cruelty. Many communities that escaped were then devastated in the Russian-Swedish war of 1655. In this context, the Jewish people’s historical dream of redemption from the bondage of exile took on a new degree of urgency and desperation. In these communities, Shabbetai Tzvi found a receptive audience.
In 1666 Shabbetai Tzvi was arrested in Constantinople. After a period of imprisonment — during which he held court as messiah, replaced the fast of the 9th of Av with a festival celebrating his birthday and began to sign his letters “I am the Lord your God Shabbetai Tzvi”–he was denounced for fomenting sedition and brought before the Sultan. Now in a depressive state, he denied ever having made messianic claims. Offered the choice of apostasy or death, he chose to convert to Islam. Shabbetai Tzvi became Aziz Mehmed Effendi, and, with a royal pension, lived until 1676, outwardly a Muslim but secretly participating in Jewish ritual. His letters reveal that at the time of his death, he still believed in his messianic mission.
The movement survived into the early 18th century, when the Shabbateans divided into two camps: moderates who combined their secret messianic faith with adherence to Jewish law, and radicals who set about covertly spreading the heretical doctrine that the “nullification of the Torah was its true fulfillment.” This radical wing of the Shabbatean movement achieved a short-lived revival under Jacob Frank, a Polish Jew who, in 1756, was heralded as the reincarnation of Shabbetai Tzvi.
Shabbateanism subsequently died out as a significant feature of Jewish life, but its long-term impact was far-reaching. Its most immediate influence was in the formulation of a new version of Jewish mysticism–the Hasidic movement, born in late 18th century Poland. The quietistic, inwardly spiritual tone of early Hasidism was a conscious reaction against the messianic excesses of the Shabbeteans, while the Hasidim’s unconditional faith in their rebbe or tzaddik had as its precedent the dynamic between Shabbetai Tzvi and his followers.”