Idea in Judaism
Gershom Scholem 1971 Schoken Books, New York
The Messianic Idea in Kabbalism
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, and nineteenth-century Judaism, have bequeathed to the modern mind a complex of ideas about Messianism that have led to distortions and counterfeits from which it is by no means easy to free ourselves. We have been taught that the Messianic idea is part and parcel of the idea of the progress of the human race in the universe, that redemption is achieved by man's unassisted and continuous progress, leading to the ultimate liberation of all the goodness and nobility hidden within him. This, in essence, is the content which the Messianic ideal acquired under the combined dominance of religious and political liberalism - the result of an attempt to adapt the Messianic conceptions of the prophets and of Jewish religious tradition to the ideals of the French Revolution. Traditionally, however, the Messianic idea in Judaism was not so cheerful; the coming of the Messiah was supposed to shake the foundations of the world. In the view of the prophets and Aggadists, redemption would only follow upon a universal revolutionary disturbance, unparalleled disasters in which history would be dislodged and destroyed. The nineteenth-century view is blind to this catastrophic aspect. It looks only to progress toward infinite perfection. In probing into the roots of this new conception of the Messianic ideal as man's infinite progress and perfectibility, we find, surprisingly, that they stem from the Kabbalah. When we study the Messianic ideal we simultaneously study the nature of the Diaspore, the Galut. The medieval Jew thought of redemption as a state that would be brought about by the reversal of all that had produced Galut. The Messianic ideal of the prophets of the Bible and other classical Jewish sources provided no precedent for this view. Both prophets and Aggadists conceived of redemption as a new state of the world wholly unrelated to anything that had gone before, not the product of a purifying development of the preceding state. Hence for them the world unredeemed and the world in process of redemption were separated by an abyss. History was not a development toward any goal. History would reach its terminus, and the new state that ensued would be the result of a totally new manifestation of the divine. In the Prophets this stage is called the "Day of the Lord," which is wholly unlike other days: it can only arrive after the old structure has been razed. Accordingly, upon the advent of the "Day of the Lord" all that man has built up in history will be destroyed.
Classical Jewish tradition is fond of emphasizing the catastrophic strain in redemption. If we look at the tenth chapter of the tractate Sanhedrin, where the Talmudists discuss the question of redemption at length, we see that to them it means a colossal uprooting, destruction, revolution, disaster, with nothing of development or progress about it. "The Son of David [the Messiah] will come only in a generation wholly guilty or a generation wholly innocent"-a condition beyond the realm of human possibility. Or "the Son of David will not come until the kingdom is subverted to heresy." These hopes for redemption always show a very strong nationalistic bent. Liberation of Israel is the essence, but it will march in step with the liberation of the whole world. It is well known that the whole broad area of Messianic expectations which appear in the aggadic tradition and in Midrashim was not deemed worthy of systematic treatment by the great Jewish philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages (with the sole exception of Saadia Gaon in the tenth century). Thus popular imagination and the religious impulse were left free to dream their own dreams and think their own thoughts, without encountering the opposition of the enlightened part of the community. A whole popular literature grew up in the Middle Ages which prophesied the final apocalyptic war that would bring history to an end, and vividly pictured redemption as the crowning event in the national and communal saga. In this way, Messianic expectation, looked down upon by the intellectual aristocracy, struck roots among the masses of the people, diverting their minds from efforts to solve the problems of the present to the utopian realm of the "Day of the Lord." The early Kabbalists-from the twelfth century until the expulsion from Spain in 1492-had little to add to the popular myth of redemption, for their faces were turned not to the End of 39 Days but to the primal days of Creation. They hoped for a particular and mystical redemption for each individual, to be achieved by escaping from the turbulence, perplexity, chaos, and storms of the actual course of history to the beginnings of history.
These early Kabbalists assigned special importance to such questions as: What is the nature of Creation? and: Whence have we come? For they believed that to know the "ladder of ascent," or, more precisely, the ladder of descent, the order of rungs which link all creatures downward from the source of Creation, from God, "the root of all roots," down to our own straitened existence -to know the secret of our beginnings, whence the imperfections of this distorted and dark world in which we are stranded, with all the storms and perturbations and afflictions within it-to know all this would teach us the way back to "our inward home." just as we have descended, just as every creature descends by its particular path, so is it able also to ascend, and this ascent aims at a return to the origin of Creation and not to its end. Here, then, we have a view of redemption in which the foundations of the world are not moved by great Messianic disturbances. Instead, the world itself is rejected by ascent upon the rungs of the ladder which rises to the heavenly mansions in the bosom of God. The Kabbalist who was prepared to follow this path of inwardness would be liberated and redeemed by the fact that he himself in the depths of his own soul would seek a way of return to God, to the source whence he was hewn. The masterpiece of Spanish Kabbalism is the Zohar, which was written in the last quarter of the thirteenth century in Castile, the central part of Spain. In this book Kabbalah and Messianism are not yet dovetailed into a genuinely organic whole. On the subject of redemption we find utterances that give expression in new form and with the addition of interesting details, but without essential change, to the prophecies of the End recorded in the popular apocalyptic literature referred to above. The Zohar follows talmudic Aggadah in seeing redemption not as the product of inward progress in the historical world, but as a supernatural miracle involving the gradual illumination of the world by the light of the Messiah. It begins with an initial gleam and ends with full revelation: the light of the Messiah. At the time when the Holy One, blessed be He, shall set Israel upright and bring them up out of Galut He will open to them a small and scant window of light, and then He will open another that is larger, until He will open to them the portals on high to the four directions of the universe. So shall it be with all that the Holy One, blessed be He, does for Israel and for the righteous among them, so shall it be and not at a single instant, for neither does healing come to a sick man at a single instant, but gradually, until he is made strong.
The Gentiles (who are designated Esau or Edom), however, wi 'll suffer the opposite fate. They received their light in this world at a single stroke, but it will depart from them gradually until Israel shall grow strong and destroy them. And when the spirit of uncleanliness shall pass from the world and the divine light shall slime upon Israel without let or hinderance, all things wi 'll return to their proper order-to the state of perfection which prevailed in the Garden of Eden before Adam sinned. The worlds will all be Joined one to another and nothing will separate Creator from creature. All will rise upward by ascents of the spirit, and creatures wi 'll be purified until they behold the Shekhinah "eye to eye. " In the last section of the Zohar, this prophecy is supplemented by another foretelling the liberation of Israel from all the limitations which the yoke of the Torah has laid upon her in Galut. The author expresses his vision in the imagery of the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge (from which death depends). Since Adam sinned, the world has been governed not by the Tree of Life (as it properly should be) but by the Tree of Knowledge.
The Tree of Life is entirely and exclusively holy, with no admixture of evil, no adulteration or impurity or death or limitation. The Tree of Knowledge, on the other hand, contains both good and evil, purity and impurity, virtue and vice, and therefore under its rule there are things forbidden and things permitted, things fit for consumption and things unfit, the clean and the unclean. In an unredeemed world the Torah is revealed in positive and negative commandments and all that these imply, but in the redeemed future uncleanliness and unfitness and death will be abolished. In an unredeemed world the Torah must be interpreted in manifold ways-literal, allegorical, mystical; but in the redeemed future it wi 'll be revealed in the pure spirituality of the Tree of Life, without the "clothing" it put on after Adam sinned. It will be wholly inward, entirely holy. In this conception, redemption becomes a spiritual revolution which will uncover the mystic meaning, the "true interpretation," of the Torah. Thus a mystic utopia takes the place of the national and secular utopia of the early writers. But the author of these latest sections bestows special emphasis on the opposition between the Galut and the Torah of the redemption without indicating any transition between them. The two states of the world were still separated by a chasm which history could never bridge. The efforts of the Spanish Kabbalists had been bent upon a new understanding of Judaism. They re-examined Jewish life, the life of the commandments, the world of the Halakhah, no less than of the Aggadah, delving into the mystery of the Torah, of man's works in this world, of his relation to God. In these matters their convictions had no vital connection with the theme of redemption. But on the heels of the expulsion from Spain, the Kabbalah underwent a pronounced shift which was of momentous consequences for Jewish history generally, even more than for Kabbalah itself. just as the Kabbalah of the thirteenth century sought to interpret Judaism in a way that would enable a thirteenthor fourteenth-century man to be a Jew according to the religious conceptions of that period, so after the expulsion from Spain the Kabbalah sought to provide an answer for questions which arose from an event which had uprooted one of the principal branches of Judaism. But the attempt to reinterpret the nature of the universe and of Judaism in the light of this experience was not made in the years immediately following the catastrophe of 1492. The Kabbalists, like their fellow Jews in general, believed that complete redemption was around the corner. In the expulsion from Spain they saw the beginnings of the "travail of the Messiah"-the beginnings of those disasters and frightful afflictions which would terminate history and usher in the redemption. There was no need for new religious concepts and principles; the end had already come. At any hour, any moment, the gates of redemption might swing open, and men's hearts must now be awakened to meet the future. For the span of one generation, during the forty years after the Spanish expulsion, we find a deep Messianic excitement and tension almost as intense as before the eruption of the Sabbatian movement. Traditional principles remained untouched; the teaching of the early Kabbalah continued without basic change; the important thing now was propaganda, the dissemination of the apocalyptic message. The master propagandist of this acute Messianism in the generation after the Spanish expulsion was Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi, a rabbi from Spain who lived in Jerusalem and was one of the great Kabbalists of his day. On the basis of all Hebrew literature, from the book of Daniel to the Zohar and the writings of the medieval sages, he proved that the travails of redemption had already begun in 1492 and would end in full glory in 1531. We have other such ingenious books dating from the same period. The teaching of one of them, Kat ha-Ketoret ("Spoon of Incense"), an anonymous commentary on the book of Psalms (which is extant only in manuscripts), runs like this:
According to the words of the sages the Torah has seventy aspects, and there are seventy aspects to each and every verse; in truth, therefore, the aspects are infinite. In each generation one of these aspects is revealed, and so in our generation the aspect which the Torah reveals to us concerns matters of redemption. Each and every verse can be understood and explained in reference to redemption.
According to this author, every single verse in the Book of Psalms refers to the imminent redemption, and he declares that all the lyrics in the Psalms are battle songs of the final apocalyptic war. That a devout Jew should consider the Psalms as battle hymns is evidence of the depth of the new feelings which had seized the Jews upon the expulsion. But the implication is still that the notions of Galut and redemption do not require new interpretation. The redemption, however, did not come, only disaster and travail, and all these powerful expectations were frustrated. And in the measure that hope was disappointed in the external world, the spiritual effects of the Spanish expulsion sought expression in the deeper reaches of the soul. The weight of the event gradually sank, as it were, from the outer strata of man to the deeper strata in the soul, to more fertile strata out of which are formed new visions and new symbols. The prophecy of the imminent end waned, and men began to think the matter out anew. Only then did there begin a movement which involved setting up a new religious climate around the ideas of Galut and redemption. What now took place can be defined as the merging of two hitherto disparate forces-the Messianic theme and Kabbalah into a unified whole.
In other words, the Messianic theme became a productive element in the speculations of the mystics themselves. They began to seek explanations for the expulsion from Spain: What had happened? What brought on the affliction and suffering? What is the nature of this gloomy world of Galut? They sought an answer to such questions in terms of their basic mystical outlook, which regarded all external being as the sign and symbol of the inward being that speaks through it. And by connecting the notions of Galut and redemption with the central question of the essence of the universe, they managed to elaborate a system which transformed the exile of the people of Israel into an exile of the whole world, and the redemption of their people into a universal, cosmic redemption. The result was that the Kabbalah succeeded in establishing its predominance over the broad masses of the Jewish people. This is a phenomenon which has always puzzled scholars. How did a movement so highly mystical, individual, and aristocratic as the Kabbalah become a social and historical force, a dynamic power in history? At least part of the explanation is that the sixteenthcentury Kabbalah found in the expulsion itself a way of answering the most urgent question confronting the Jews of that period: the nature of Galut and the nature of redemption. This answer was formulated during the span of a single generation, from 1540 to 1580, by a small, albeit very intense, congregation of saints, devotees, priests, and reformers in the little Palestinian town of Safed. Since the question of Galut and redemption was everywhere troublesome in the same measure, and since the various Jewish communities throughout the world were still more or less homogeneous, it was possible for the definitive answer given at Safed to be accepted as relevant in all parts of the Galut.
Of the many systems formulated in Safed, the one which was most highly respected and which achieved authoritative status, both among mystics and the masses of the people, was the Kabbalah of Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi (1534-72), later called the Ari ("the Lion"). The Ari's basic conceptions are pictorial in character and work upon the imagination, and though their original formulation was quite simple, they lent themselves to extremely subtle and profound interpretation. The Galut the Ari's Kabbalah saw as a terri 'ble and pitiless state permeating and embittering all of Jewish life, but Galut was also the condition of the universe as a whole, even of the deity. This is an extremely bold idea, and when the Lurianic Kabbalists came to speak of it, they shuddered at their own audacity, hedging it with such deprecatory expressions as 11 one might suppose," "as it were...... to stun the ear." Nevertheless, the idea was developed through the three central conceptions which shape the Lurianic system: limitation, destruction, reparation.
According to the Ari and his school, the universe was created by an action of which the ancients generally were ignorant. God did not reveal Himself overtly in creation, but confined and concealed Himself, and by so doing enabled the world to be revealed. Then came the second act, the fashioning of the universal 11 emanations," the creations of the worlds, the revelation of the divine as mankind's diety, as the Creator, as the God of Israel. The original phase of concealment carries many implications. There is voluntary restraint and limitation, something related to the quality of harshness and rigidity in God, for all concentration and limitation imply the functioning of this quality. There is ruthlessness toward Himself, for He exiled Himself from boundless infinity to a more concentrated infinity. There is a profound inward Galut, not the Galut of one of the creatures but of God Himself, who limited Himself and thereby made place for the universe. This is the Lurianic concept of limitation or concentration, tzimtzum, which supplanted the simpler idea of creation held by the Spanish Kabbalists. To the question of how the world came into being the Spanish Kabbalists had proffered their doctrine of emanations. From the abundance of His being, from the treasure laid up within Himself, God "emanated" the sefirot, those divine luminaries, those modes and stages through which He manifests Himself externally. His resplendent light emanates from stage to stage, and the light spreads to ever wider spheres and becomes light ever more thickened. Through the descent of the lights from their infinite source all the worlds were emanated and created; our world is but the last and outward shell of the layers of divine glory.
The process of Creation is thus something like progressive revelation. In the system of the Ari, the notion of concentration supplies a greater complexity. In order for a thing other than God to come into being, God must necessarily retreat within Himself. Only afterward does He emit beams of light into the vacuum of limitation and build our world. Moreover, at each stage there is need for both the force of limitation and the force of emanation. Without limitation everything would revert to the divine, and without emanation nothing would come into being. Nothing that exists can be uniform, everything has this basic Janus character-the limiting force and the emanating force, retreat and propagation. Only the concurrence of the two disparate motifs can produce being. The concept of limitation seems paradoxical, but it has vitality; it expresses the notion of a living God-a God thought of as a living organism. But let us consider the continuation of this process. God was revealed in His potencies and His various attributes (justice, mercy, etc., etc.). By these powers through which He willed to effect Creation He formed "vessels" destined to serve the manifestation of His own being. (It is a binding rule that whatever wishes to act or manifest itself requires garbs and vessels, for without them it would revert to infinity which has no differentiation and no stages.) The divine light entered these vessels in order to take forms appropriate to their function in creation, but the vessels could not contain the light and thus were broken. This is the phase which the Kabbalists call the "breaking of the vessels."
And what was the consequence of the shattering of the vessels? The light was dispersed. Much of it returned to its source; some portions, or "sparks," fell downward and were scattered, some rose upward. This "breaking" introduces a dramatic aspect into the process of Creation, and it can explain the Galut. Henceforth nothing is perfect. The divine light which should have subsisted in specific forms and in places appointed for it from the beginning is no longer in its proper place because the vessels were broken, and thereafter all things went awry. There is nothing that was not damaged by the breaking. Nothing is in the place appointed for it; everything is either below or above, but not where it should be. In other words, all being is in Galut. And this is not all. Into the deep abyss of the forces of evil, the forces of darkness and impurity which the Kabbalists call shells" or "offscourings," there fell, as a result of the breaking of the vessels, forces of holiness, sparks of divine light. Hence there is a Galut of the divine itself, of the "sparks of the Shekhinah": "These sparks of holiness are bound in fetters of steel in the depths of the shells, and yearningly aspire to rise to their source but cannot avail to do so until they have support"-so says Rabbi Hayyim Vital, a disciple of Luria. Here we have a cosmic picture of Galut, not the Galut of the people of Israel alone, but the Galut of the Shekhinah at the very inception of its being. All that befalls in the world is only an expression of this primal and fundamental Galut. All existence, including, "as it were," God, subsists in Galut. Such is the state of creation after the breaking of the vessels.
Next comes reparation, the third juncture in the great process: the breaking can be healed. The primal flaw must be mended so that all things can return to their proper place, to their original posture. Man and God are partners in this enterprise. After the original breaking God began the process of reparation, but He left its completion to man. If Adam had not sinned the world would have entered the Messianic state on the first Sabbath after creation, with no historical process whatever. Adam's sin returned the universe, which had almost been amended, to its former broken state. What happened at the breaking of the vessels happened again. Again the worlds fell.
Adam-who at first was a cosmic, spiritual, supernal being, a soul which contained all souls -fell from his station, whereupon the divine light in his soul was dispersed. Henceforward even the light of the soul would be imprisoned in a dungeon with the sparks of the Shekhlnah under a single doom. All being was again scattered in Galut. In all the expanse of creation there is imperfection, flaw, Galut. The Galut of Israel is only the expression, compelling, concrete, and extremely cruel of this phase of the world before reparation and redemption. The predicament of Israel, then, is not a historical accident but inherent in the world's being, and it is in Israel's power to repair the universal flaw. By amending themselves, the Jewish people can also amend the world, in its visible and invisible aspects alike. How can this be done? Through the Torah and the commandments. These are the secret remedies which by their spiritual action move things to their ordained station, free the imprisoned divine light and raise it to its proper level, liberate the sparks of Shekhinah from the domination of the "offscourings," complete the figure of the Creator to the full mwure of His stature, which is now wanting in perfection, "as it were," because of the Galut of the Shekhinah. Through the "discernment" of good and evil, a decisive boundary is fixed between the areas of the lioly and the unclean which became mixed up at the original breaking and then again when Adam sinned. ' Galut, then, is a mission for emendation and clarification. The children of Israel "lift up the sparks" not only from the places trodden by their feet in their Galut, but also, by their deeds, from the cosmos itself. Every man amends his own soul, and by the process of transmigration that of his neighbor.
This is a crucial item in the doctrine of the "selection" of goodness from its exile in the spheres of evil. Belief in transmigration spread as a popular belief only upon the heels of the movement which emanated from Safed from the middle of the sixteenth century onward. The causes are easy to understand. In the system of the new Kabbalists, transmigration was not an appendage but an inextricable basic element. Transmigration, too, symbolized the state of the unamended world, the confusion of the orders of creation which was consequent upon Adam's sin. just as bodies are in Galut, so also there is inward Galut for souls. And "Galut of souls" is transmigration. Isaiah Horovitz, one of the great Kabbalists of this school, writes: "In the blessing 'Sound Thou a great shofar for our liberation' we pray for the ingathering of the souls scattered to the four corners of the earth in their transmigrations . . . and also in 'Gather Thou our scattered from amongst the nations'; these apply to the ingathering of the Galut of souls which have been dispersed." Every living being is subject to the law of transmigration from form to form. There is no being, not even the lowliest, which may not serve as a prison for the sparks of the "banished souls" seeking restoration from their Galut. In this system, redemption is synonymous with emendation or restoration. After we have fulfilled our duty and the emendation is completed, and all things occupy their appropriate places in the universal scheme, then redemption will come of itself. Redemption merely signifies the perfect state, a flawless and harmonious world in which everything occupies its proper place. Hence the Messianic ideal, the ideal of redemption, receives a totally new aspect. We all work, or are at least expected to work, for the amendment of the world and the "selection" of good and evil. This provides an ideology for the commandments and the life of Halakhah-an ideology which connects traditional Judaism with the hidden forces operating in the world at large. A man who observes a commandment is no longer merely observing a commandment: his act has a universal significance, he is amending something. This conception of redemption is no longer catastrophic: when duty has been fulfilled the son of David, the Messiah, will come of himself, for his appearance at the End of Days is only a symbol for the completion of a process, a testimony that the world has in fact been amended. Thus it becomes possible to avoid the "travails of the Messiah." The transition from the state of imperfection to the state of perfection (which may still be very difficult) will nevertheless take place without revolution and disaster and great affliction. Here, for the first time, we have an organic connection between the state of redemption and the state preceding it. Redemption now appears not as the opposite of all that came before, but as the logical consequence of the historical process. We are all involved in one Messianic venture, and we all are called up to do our part. The Messiah himself will not bring the redemption; rather he symbolizes the advent of redemption, the completion of the task of emendation. It is therefore not surprising that little importance is given to the human personality of the Messiah in Lurianic literature, for the Kabbalists had no special need of a personal Messiah. But like all mystics, they were at once conservatives and radicals. Since tradition spoke of a personal Messiah they accepted him while revolutionizing the content of the traditional idea. We have, then, a complete array of conceptions in the new Kabbalah that show an inner logic. Galut and redemption are not historical manifestations peculiar to Israel, but manifestations of all being, up to and including the mystery of divinity itself. The Messiah here becomes the entire people of Israel rather than an individual Redeemer: the people of Israel as a whole prepares itself to amend the primal flaw. Redemption is a consequence of antecedents and not of revolution, and though the redemption of Israel in the national and secular sense remained a very real ideal, it was widened and deepened by making it the symbol of the redemption of the whole world, the restoration of the universe to the state it was to have attained when the Creator planned its creation. The new Kabbalah had a very important function in restoring to the Jew his sense of responsibility and his dignity. He could now look upon his state, whether in Galut or in the Messianic hope, as the symbol of a profound mystery which reached as high as God, and he could relate the fundamental experiences of his life to all cosmic being and integration. He saw no contradiction between the nationalist and secular aspect of redemption, and its mystic and universalist aspect. In the conviction of the Kabbalists the former served to adumbrate and symbolize the latter. The anguish of the historical experience of Galut was not blurred by this new interpretation; on the contrary, it may be said to have been emphasized and sharpened. But now there was added a conviction that the secret of Israel's anguish was rooted in the hidden sources of the vital sustenance of all creation.
The Crisis of Tradition in Jewish Messianism
WE HAVE SET a great theme for ourselves at this Eranos Conference: "Tradition and the Present." I should like to examine it here with regard to what seems to me an especially precise and enlightening phenomenon. There are three ways in which tradition evolves and develops in history. It can be carried forward with a retention of continuity; it can be transformed through a natural process of metamorphosis and assume a new configuration; and finally, it can be subjected to a break which is associated with the rejection of the tradition itself. In our time it is the break that stands in the foreground. Our attention is directed to the abandonment of tradition, even to the point of its total negation, in the interest of new construction. This break is the possibility most emphasized by those to whom we today listen most readily: the impetuous youth. But in their case as well the question which will force itself upon us during the course of the discussion remains: What persists even after the break? Is the break in a tradition really a break? Does the tradition not somehow manage to continue in new formulas and configurations even if metamorphosis is seemingly rejected? Is there anything that endures through all of this? And can this enduring element be formulated? Before I begin speaking about the specific problematics of the crisis of tradition and the radical forms in which it has appeared in Judaism under certain conditions, I should like to fill in the background against which my exposition will take place. Historical Judaism represents a classical form of religious community, one which is most emphatically grounded upon tradition and in which tradition was the vehicle of the vital energies which found their expression through it. Six years ago I spoke at length before this same conference on the meaning and the significance of the concept of tradition in Judaism.
Here I should first like to review in brief what at that time I developed in larger scope. The concepts of revelation and tradition constitute two poles around which Judaism has grouped itself during two millennia. In the view that prevailed in the talmudic development of Judaism, revelation and tradition were both manifestations of Torah, of "teaching" on the shaping of human life. Revelation here comes to be regarded as the "Written Torah," wh'i-ch is 'represented by the Pentateuch, and as the tradition, which as "Oral Torah" serves as its ongoing interpretation, dealing with the possibility for application and execution of the revelation in historical time. The word of God in revelation, which is crystallized in the demands of the law, needs tradition in order to be capable of application. In the course of the history of the Jewish religion these categories of revelation and of the tradition in which revelation is refracted in the medium of history have become clearly established and have thereby pushed out all other forms. Thus there arose a traditionalism par excellence which was, however, accompanied and undergirded by powerful mystical accents. Revelation in Judaism is considered the voice which resounds from Sinai throughout the world, a voice which, although it can be heard, is not immediately meaningful. Rather it represents simply that which is capable of assuming meaning, which needs interpretation in the medium of language in order to be understood.
Thus tradition in Judaism is taken to be the Oral Torah, the voice of God turned into words which only here become capable of interpretation, significant and comprehensible. This, then, is the great line of tradition in Judaism: an attempt to render the word of God utterable and usable in a way of life determined by revelation. In juxtaposition to all of this in the history of Judaism stands Messianism in its manifold facets. It represents the intrusion of a new dimension of the present-redemption-into history, which enters into a problematic relation with tradition. The Messianic idea required a long period of time until it could emerge in post-biblical Jewish literature as the product of very diverse impulses, which in the Hebrew Bible still exist side by side without connection or unity. Only after the Bible did such varying conceptions as that of an ideal state of the world, of a catastrophic collapse of history, of the restoration of the Davidic kingdom, and of the "Suffering Servant" merge with the prophetic view of the "Day of the Lord" and a "Last judgment."
Initially, Messianism runs counter to the revelation idea of the Torah.' It does not originate as a continuation or a further development of the idea of a law which obligates the living, or of a tradition regarding its applicability, say, in the End of Days. Rather it comes from a different source. It has its origins in a historical experience, and above all in the counterpart of this experience present in the imagination of the Jews. Two elements are combined in the Messianic idea and they determine the historical configurations which Messianism has assumed in Judaism. These two elements are the restorative and the utopian. Conceiving the content of redemption as a public occurrence, which takes place at the end of history or even beyond it, affecting the collectivity and not the individual, Messianism could be, in the first place, the return to a primeval period, to a state of things which in the course of history, or perhaps even from the very beginning, became decadent and corrupt and which needs restoration, reconstitution, or reintegration. Redemption in this restorative sense means the restoration of a pristine state and, as such, contains an obvious conservative element. Here it is a matter of reinstituting a connection with something that was lost and that will be regained in the redemption. In contrast we find the second element, which was bound to enter into natural conflict with the first. It represents the conception of redemption as a phenomenon in which something emerges which has never before existed, in which somethin-a totally new is unmistakably expressed. These two elements appear clearly both in the theology of the Jews and in the historical forms of an at times acute Messianism. Of course these restorative and utopian elements in the Messianic idea could exist side by side as long as it was simply a hope that was projected into the distant future, an affirmation of faith that corresponded to no real experience. As long as the Messianic hope remained abstract, not yet concretized in people's experience or demanding of concrete decisions, it was possible for it to embody even what was contradictory, without the latent contradiction being felt. In this form the belief in the future redemption itself became a piece of tradition; the state of tension it produced with the other segments of the tradition could be silently passed over or rhetorically veiled. In the imagination which gave shape to these things the still unrealized restorative and utopian elements could live peacefully side by side or together with each other; for the imagination connects images and seeks to create bridges and roads between them.
Thus Messianism could take over even a conservative attitude and in this way become part of the tradition. Messianic activity, however, could hardly do this. The moment that Messianism moved from the realm of affirmation of faith, abstract doctrine, and synthesizing imagination into life and took on acute forms, it had to reach a point where the energies that lay dormant in these two elements would emerge into conflict with each other-the conflict of the tradition of the past versus the presence of redemption. It is for this reason that in Jewish theology there has not been the problem of a conflict between Messianism and tradition. The Messianic idea, even if it was not developed logically from the idea of tradition, was regarded as compatible with it. Only where historical experience stirred peop'le's hearts could such experience also find a quasi-theological expression in which the crisis of tradition then very quickly erupted within Messianism. Thus the obvious question of the status of the Torah in the Messianic world was treated by the early Jewish literature (the Talmud, the Midrash, and the apocalypses) in purely imaginative fashion: in wishful dreams, in projections of the past upon the future, and in utopian images which relegated everything new to a time yet to come. These images are more the products of hopes and desires than of historical experiences. Admittedly, here and there some scholars-Victor Aptowitzer with great emphasis have asserted that certain historical experiences have played a role in the formation of these conceptions; for example, the actions of the Hasmoneans of the second and first pre-Christian centuries, which wide circles viewed unsympathetically.
Likewise, it has often enough been claimed that the polemical disputes with Paulinism and the early Christian conceptions of the redemption reactively influenced the development of Messianic ideas in Judaism itself. However, these theories seem to me unsubstantiated and dubious, although I naturally would not deny that Paulinism represents a genuine crisis of tradition within Jewish Messianism that is analogous to the one we must still analyze here more closely in the case of Sabbatianism. But the reactive influence of this crisis upon the development of Jewish conceptions is highly hypothetical in view of the early Church's exceedingly rapid break with Judaism. Therefore a conception of the redemption, which was not the product of Messianic experience (or anti-experience), required an essentially conservative notion which did not embody any conflict, let alone one that would have insisted upon any such conflict.
In the sense of these speculations the redemption instead represents a more complete development of everything that previously was only partially capable of execution-but not its abrogation. This holds tfue for the familiar literary documents of early Messianism such as the Midrashim. At times the Messiah who brings about the redemption is viewed simply as a Moses of the new aeon, a Moses redivivus, and the question arises whether the parallel can be pursued any further. Is the Messiah as a new Moses who leads his people out of exile into the world of redemption also perhaps the giver of a Torah for the time of the redemption? Is the Torah and its radiation outward via the tradition the final word of God to Israel or is there in the Messianic or apocalyptic view a new revelation, a new form of the word of God? The Bible knows of no crisis of this kind. Isaiah (2:3) does know that at the End of Days "from Zion goes forth the Torah and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." But it is simply Torah, not old Torah and not new Torah. It is the untouched Torah, which has not yet known any crisis and which in the prophetic vision is seen in its full development.
Related to this is the notion, widely found in the rabbinic literature, that the Torah of the Messianic age will solve the contradictions and difficulties which now exist in regard to several points. On this issue the sources of Jewish tradition are nearly all clear. There is progress in the understanding of theTorah which in the Messianic age reaches its height. But the idea of a radical change or a questioning of the traditional element was eliminated and was not even perceived as a real possibility. "Since the Days of the Messiah represent the religious and political consummation of the national history and, however idealized, still belong to the world in which we live, it is only natural that in the Messianic age the Torah not only retain its validity but be better understood and better fulfilled than ever before." W. D. Davies, who has devoted a valuable study to the position of the Torah in the Messianic Age and on whom I have drawn to a considerable extent here, has rightly noted that even new covenant, of which Jeremiah is the first to speak (31:31ff.) and which then plays such a large role in the sectarian writings of the Dead Sea Community, was not counterpoised as a contradiction to the old tradition but as its final establishment in the hearts of all mankind, as its final interiorization.
One more factor must be stressed if we would understand why there could not originally be any awareness of a possible conflict between tradition and Messianism. As long as the historical process in which the Torah became the bedrock and life element of Judaism remained in flux, this positive factor of giving shape to life within the realm of the Torah made it possible to draw the productive energies inward. This process, which in the course of more than five hundred years had created the "tradition" itself, left no room for questions affecting the value or validity of this positive element of building a life under the law of the Torah. Only where this process reached its climax did such questions gain historical urgency, and even then, as I have already indicated, only when a new concrete element intruded as happened in the case of acute and activist Messianism.
Quite logically, the infinite estimation of the Torah in its two aspects of "written" and "oral" Torah produced the conception of its essential immutability, even if the interpretation of this immutability could in the course of generations become subject to highly diverse conceptions, especially in the case of the Kabbalists. According to Davies, "The fully developed (rabbinic) Judaism revealed to us in our sources was not a soil in which the belief in any radical changes in the existing Torah was likely to grow nor a soil which would welcome a new kind of Torah."7 This statement, however, holds up for the world of tradition only as long as the Messianic idea remains an abstraction. Here the only kind of Torah that could be foreseen was a more complete one, but not a radically new form of the Torah. For this reason it is frequently emphasized that in the future the precepts of the Torah will be followed ever more strictly. In contrast, as early as the Talmud we find hyperboles which express a utopian vision and suppose a Messianic status of the Torah in which certain demands of the law lose their force. In such cases the hyperbolic nature of the statements is evident. "All sacrifices will be abolished except for the offering of thanksgiving", "all prayers will be abolished except for the prayer of thanksgiving." 8 "All festivals will one day be abolished, except for Purim which will never be abolished. . . . Rabbi Eleazar said:
'Also the Day of Atonement [Yom ha-Kippurim] will never be abolished.' " The contrast between the holiest and the relatively least significant of all holidays-which likely also involves a pun -is quite characteristic. The pun is both witty and dangerous for it rests on the equivalent sound present in both the name of the most holy and thoroughly ascetic holiday of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippurim, and Purim, a day of joy. The Day of Atonement, which is now a day of fasting, of the utmost self-restraint, and of return to God, will one day be "like Purim," and we have to remember that in rabbinic tradition Purim is a kind of Jewish carnival. Thus a utopian elemcqt em.erles here which splits apart the Day of Atonement and equates it with its opposite. To be sure, these are statements that are made almost in passing.
Though still remaining in the purely speculative exegetical and literary realm, a remark concerning Psalm 146:7 goes much further. It decisively removes the words "The Lord releases the prisoners" from the previous undialectical interpretation according to which the tradition will be completely fulfilled in the Messianic age and, in most descriptions of it, shine forth with undiminished radiance. The Hebrew words of the Psalm lend themselves as well to a more daring but still faithful translation as: "The Lord dissolves the commandments" or "The Lord allows the forbidden" (mattif isurim instead of mattir asurim). "What does this mean? Some say: 'All animals which were forbidden [to be eaten] in this world God will one day again allow, as was the case until the time of Noah. And why, in fact, has He forbidden them? In order to see who would accept His words and who would not. In the time to come, however, He will allow everything which He has forbidden.' " This view is indeed immediately followed by another according to which even in the Messianic age the unclean animals will not be allowed. Little wonder that such passages, which were quoted gleefully by Christian apologists and anti-rabbinic polemicists, always disturbed conservative spirits and brought about protests and opposition. It remains unclear from which layer of the Midrash they originate.
Such cannot be said of a no less disputed interpretation which often appears in the sources. It understands Isaiah 51:4, "For Torah shall go forth from Me," as: "A new Torah shall go forth, from me." There seem to have be-e-n manuscripts of the Bible in which the verse existed in this form. Here we find the conception of a new Torah which some then associated with the Torah that the Messiah himself would teach. We are not told whether this new Torah is a reinterpretation of the old without its rejec tion or whether it represents an internal break, a new combination of the efements which constitute it. Both conceptions were possible and in fact are expressed in the different readings in which the Torah is cited. But as long as such statements could be found only in books and corresponded to no situation which could provide their contents with historical actuality, their ambiguity and equivo cality bothered hardly anyone at all.
We must make mention of an additional element as well. What I have called the imaginative conceptions and portraits of the Messianic age, which were embodied in the literature, repre sent no active promotion of such Messianic strivings. There seems to be hardly any bridge here leading from imagination to activity. The historian Gerson D. Cohen has recently stressed the great and totally consistent rabbinic opposition to Messianic movements during the 1600 years between the destruction of the Temple and the Sabbatian movement. We know of many Messianic movements in Judaism during this long span of time. But ever since the collapse of the Messianic resistance to Rome led by Bar Kokhba. (Kosba) in the first half of the second century, which led to the ruin of the Jewish community in many parts of Palestine, they have always been geographically limited and remained with out historical effect. Generally they were lay movements which emerged in every conceivable part of the Diaspora and only in the rarest instances received the support of the local rabbinical authorities. In most cases such movements provoked resistance and were eliminated-which can to a large extent be explained by the circumstances I have outlined here. The preservers of the traditional element-and in the Jewish Middle Ages that meant the bearers of rabbinical authority-perceived in these acute Messianic outbreaks an element of nonconformity which en dangered the continuity of the authoritative tradition. Such appre hensions that acute Messianism would lead to a crisis, as also their fear of the anarclilc element in Messianic utopianism which they did not acknowledge, without question play a large role in this nearly unanimous opposition to the rabbis. There were many good reasons for this: concern for the stability of the community, con cern for the fate of the Jews after a disappointment as suggested by historical experience, combined with a deep-rooted aversion to th-e "Forcers of the End," as those people are called in Hebrew who could not wait for the arrival of the Messiah but thought to do something for it themselves. All of these factors operate in the direction of removing Messianism into the realm of pure faith and inaction, leaving the redemption to God alone and not requiring the activity of men. The bearers of religious authority, no less than the heads of the communities who were responsible to the powers reigning in the non-Jewish environment, were forced into a position of political quietism on account of the conditions necessary for sustaining Jewish life in the exile, and for many of them it then became second nature.
If in this connection I have spoken of "lay movements," I use the word "lay" not in opposition to priestly, but to learned rabbinic authority to which representation and interpretation of the tradition were entrusted. After the destruction of the Temple, Judaism no longer recognized a priesthood exercising any real functions and it reserved only a few insignificant liturgical and social privileges to the descendants of priestly families in the male line. The aggressiveness, the revolutionary element which is part and parcel of the Messianic movements, was bound to scare away the bearers of authority. In turning itself against the status quo, such a movement also called into question its subjection to the existing structure of traditional forms. Thus we find in the reports of the chroniclers no lack of complaints about an attitude of rejection, and even an inclination to break with elements of the tradition, as we have it attested for the movement of David Alroy in Kurdistan in the twelfth century. The more intensive the outbreak and the larger the arena in which such a movement took place, the more clearly was a new situation created in which traditional exegeses were no longer as important as the confrontation with historical realities. In the history of Jewish Messianism there are two possibilities which determine the content of an actually experienced redemption and the manner of dealing with the emotional states it produces.
A crisis in the tradition which finally leads to its abrogation could receive its direct im ulse from the outside, i.e., from an element which demanded confrontation with it. This is abundantly true of the religious strategy of Paul when, as we know from the Acts of the Apostles, in the interest of Christian propaganda he had to forgo demanding of the gentile Christians that they keep the law or accept its obligation. This impulse from the outside did not arise out of any immanent logic which might have forced Paul himself, after accepting Christ as a Redeemer, to break with the law and its tradition in his own life. However, especially in the seventh chapter of Romans, it then received a far-reaching dialectical and downright antinomian justification in the logic whereby Christ could be proclaimed the "End of the Law" (Rom 10:4).
Here for the first time the crisis of the tradition is explained out of the inner dynamic of the redemption itself in which the considerations that led to this theology have become unimportant and have receded completely into the background. On the other hand, a development could take place on the basis of a Messianic experience which opened up new perspectives in the concept of Torah itself. In this instance the Torah as such was not abrogated by calling into question the validity of the law on account of the influence of propagandistic considerations. Rather the antinomian tendencies, which constitute the eruption of the utopian elements in Messianism, were built into the Torah itself. The boldness and radicality with which this was done compares very well with the paradoxes of Pauline theology. The significant interest which this development has for the history of religions rests upon the fact that, in contrast to the very sparse documentation that exists for the movement accompanying these processes in early Christianity, we can here study the relevant processes in the full light of history and with manifold documentation.
I am speaking of the Sabbatian movement, to which I shall devote the remainder of my remarks. It was the movement which, beginning in 1665, first encompassed the collective Jewish community and later broke into radical and sectarian forms, and into forces smoldering beneath the surface - in all of this affecting wide circles of the Jewish people in Europe and the Near East. In Sabbatianism as well as in early Christianity the sudden appearance of the redemption, which is experienced as real and full of meaning, creates the element that releases the crisis of tradition. The Messiah has arrived, in whatever guise he may appear. In the light of such experience, what bappens to the validity of the tradition which both at the time of Paul and at the time of Sabbatai Zevi had reached high points of its development: in the middle of the first century in the complete development of Pharisaic Judaism and in the seventeenth century in the complete development of the Kabbalistic world of ideas within rabbinism? The differences between Paulinism and Sabbatianism are great, but the kinship of the basic structures, their antinomianism and the crisis theologies they rapidly developed, should be neither overlooked nor mistaken. It will be advisable to review briefly the facts which serve as the foundation for our further considerations. By the middle of the seventeenth century Kabbalistic mysticism had become a historical force within the rabbinic tradition, and to a large extent influenced and determined not only the thinking of those circles most affected by religion but, in its consequences, the entire Jewish community as well. This later Kabbalah, as it developed in classical forms in Safed in Palestine in the sixteenth century, was in its whole design electric with Messianism and pressing for its release; it was impelling a Messianic outburst which, as it turned out, came approximately one generation after the reception of this Kabbalah by the Judaism of that time. The movement that went forth from Safed required about three generations to gain general acceptance. But after that, one generation, fully imbued with these Messianic conceptions, was enough to create a situation in which a Messiah who seemed to fit these ideas could find a wide-ranging echo.
This was true in the case of Sabbatai Zevi from Smyrna who lived from 1626 to 1676 and who, under especially dramatic circumstances, in the year 1665 ignited a Messianic movement which began in Palestine and from this center reached out to the entire Diaspore. In the history of postChristian Judaism it represents by far the most significant and extensive Messianic movement. Within it impulses that arose out of the historical situation of the Jews and out of the dynamics of Messianism itself were entwined with others that referred to the personality of the central figure of the Messiah. For the consciousness of the Jewish masses the specifically personal element was almost from the beginning covered by a thick web of legends which had little or nothing to do with the real figure, but which met their religious needs and accommodated traditional and widespread notions. These notions set forth how one should regard the signs which would accompany the coming of the Messiah and his activity. The real Sabbatai Zevi, however, whose figure we can today draw quite precisely,16 scarcely fits the scheme. That just such a man could become the central figure of this movement is one of the greatest enigmas posed by Jewish history. Sabbatai Zevi was a strange kind of saint and far removed from the type a conservative Jew would have acknowledged or even apperceived as the Messiah. He was not a Messiah who represented the consummation of the tradition in the conservative sense and he was certainly not a conqueror who could have made the kings of the world tremble. He was a man affected by the most severe mental imbalance, who tottered between heights of ecstasy and depths of melancholy in steeply alternating manic-depressive stages. He was a rabbinically educated Jew, well versed in the talmudic tradition and deeply entwined in the world of the Kabbalah. He was highly unusual in only one respect: in moments of religious exaltation he tended to commit bizarre acts which violated the law. He enjoyed performing deeds which involved a violation of the law, or effecting fantastic demonstrations as if they were particularly meaningful religious ceremonies. In such acts he apparently found a certain meaning which they were to bear in the mystical process of the reintegration of all things. Carrying out such functions, which he dared to do only in ecstatic moments and without later being able to explain them, was hardly likely to win him adherents.
The type of the "holy sinner" did not belong to the stock of the Messianic tradition in Judaism. As a matter of fact, from his first appearance in Smyrna in 1648 until his proclamation as the Messiah in Gaza in 1665, Sabbatal Zevi had not one adherent who would have regarded him as the Messiah. He was laughed at, declared insane, or pitied. No one cared about him until under especially peculiar circumstances he found a young rabbi of the Talmud schools in Jerusalem who had settled in Gaza. Nathan of Gaza had Intensively studied the Talmud and the Kabbalistic mysticism of his time and possessed significant powers of imagination, In March 1665 he had had a vision in which this peculiar Sabbatai Zevi, who he must often have seen on the streets of Jerusalem, appeared to him as the Messiah. For his part, Nathan convinced the much older man, who was plagued by self-doubt and was struggling with the demons in his own soul, that his mission was legitimate. As the prophet of the Messiah he then embarked upon a wide range of activity and produced that great outburst of Messianism which in the eyes of the Diaspora Jews was substantiated precisely by the appearance of a true prophet-and Nathan of Gaza was considered such-confirming the mission of the Messiah.
In a very short time the movement overwhelmed Jewish coinmunities from Yemen and Persia to England, Holland, Russia, and Poland. It produced something to which the custodians of the tradition had paid all too little attention but which to the historian is quite comprehensible: the experience of redemption as a historical event is anticipated in the experience of redemption as an emotional reality and appears in broad circles with such force that this anticipation is even capable of surviving the conflict. For disappointment in the historicai world was ineluctable and was bound to conflict with the religious experience which took place on a different level. The fantastic wave of enthusiasm which swept up Jewish communities for an entire year created a mental reality which had not been anticipated by the rabbis or considered in the ancient books. After one year came the catastrophe: in September 1666 Sabbatal Zevi was brought before the Sultan in Adrianople and given the choice of upholding his Messianic claims and suffering martyrdom, or of converting to Islam. He preferred apostasy from Judaism which for him in some strange manner seemed to confirm the paradoxical claim of his Messianic mission, a final step of holy sinfulness, in fact, its apotheosis. From that point on a choice between the two levels of outer and inner experience was unavoidable.
We can estimate how strong the force of this Messianic eruption was if we consider that even this act of apostasy from Judaism and conversion to Islam-the most scandalous act imaginable from the viewpoint of faithful Jews-did not immediately lead to the total collapse of the high expectations. All other movements were destroyed by historical disappointment and left no trace in Jewish consciousness; we know about them only through the testimony of chroniclers. But here the transforming power of the movement was so strong that significant groups accepted even this totally unprecedented step of the Messiah, one of which no one had ever previously read in the ancient literature, and indicated they were ready to Justify it out of these very writings. Suddenly there opened before the eyes of the "believers"-as the followers of Sabbatai Zevi called themselves-a new view of the 'ancient writings and documents of the tradition'. Now it appeared to the theologians-or one might say ideologues-of the Sabbatian movement that all the pages of the old books really spoke of nothing other than the necessary apostasy of the Messiah, who was required to complete his mission by [email protected] or descending into the underworld of the nations. For the sparks of the holy which are scattered among all peoples must be brought home if everything is to return to its proper place and the redemption thereby be completed. Induced by a historical event, the conception of the Messiah suffers a dialectical ruin. His mission takes on a destructive and paradoxical quality which must come into full effect before the positive part of the redemption can become visible. The figure of the Messiah himself takes on a sinister character which calls into question every traditional value. One cannot overlook the abyss which yawns between the figure of the Messiah who died for bis cause upon the Cross and this figure who became an apostate and played his role in this disguise. Nonetheless, like the former, this ambiguous and treacherous twilight figure also exercised a seductive fascination.
We have become acquainted with the situation which posed the question of how the crisis of tradition would develop in such an acute Messianic outburst. This crisis emerged especially in the circle of the most determined "believers" in direct connection with attempts to understand the apostasy of the Messiah as a mission which leads into realms inaccessible to believing Jews; realms which the Messiah alone can penetrate and even there complete the mission of redemption. The apostasy of the Messiah necessarily produced a division. Those who regarded the verdict of history and of the exterior world as decisive-because everything exterior also symbolically expresses the inner state-had to turn away from such a Messiah. For some, anticipation of the redemption had become so vivid in their experience that they could endure the dialectical split between exterior and interior experience. But most could not remain loyal to this Messiah who seemed to have disowned bimself and betrayed his mission.
Thus Sabbatianism became a heretical movement within Judaism which in Central and Eastern Europe continued to proliferate down to the beginnings of the age of Emancipation in the first part of the nineteenth century while in Turkey, though now dying out, it has preserved itself even down to the present. It took on the forms of a sect operating in the underground of the ghetto, at first treated mainly with silent rejection by the Jewish authorities in the communities, and then in increasing measure vehemently persecuted by them. At first the crisis of tradition appears in an implicit antinomianism which in the radical wing of the "believers" later turns into an explicit one. This process is supported with concepts from the Jewish tradition itself and formulated in a thoroughly Jewish way of thinking. With amazing rapidity this crisis of tradition finds significant expression in the literature of the "believers." The decisive formulations were crystallized as early as the years 1667-79. They by no means appear in the very small group which, while Sabbatai Zevi was still alive, imitated him by apostatizing to Islam, thinking the actions of the Messiah exemplary and obligatory also upon his followers. Rather they appeared just in those circles of "believers" who sought to give their new Messianic consciousness expression within the Jewish community and without taking symbolic steps of separation from it.
Sabbatai Zevi himself, who in the last decade of his life led a double life as Muslim and Jew, did indeed possess a very lively imagination and he remained very influential in circles that were close to him personally. But he did not have the ability to formulate his concepts with persuasive force. This was left to the prophets, especially to Nathan of Gaza, and to the theologians of this group. After 1683, the year of the mass conversion of several hundred families in Salonika, there arose in that city the sect of the Dbnmeh (literally: Apostates), as they were simply called by the Turks, whose members were ostensibly Muslim but in reality crypto-Jewish Sabbatians who felt themselves obligated to carry through in their lives that imitation of Sabbatai Zevi which I just mentioned.
This sect maintained itself for more than 250 years, and several of its most important writings have only very recently come into the hands of scholars. They sought to solve the conflict between the exterior and their interior worlds, which their faith laid bare, by attaching themselves on the outside to the unredeemed world of Islam but on the inside to a mystical, Messianic Judaism which very soon assumed orgiastic-anarchic features. The theological capacity for formulating the crisis of tradition was, however, already forged earlier, and by men who never left the framework of Judaism. They had to justify the same contradiction which loomed in the first Christian generation after the death of Jesus between the apparent reality which knew nothing of any Messianic transformation of the world and their Messianic faith which dally expected the return of the Messiah in his glory. just as at that time the theology of Christianity emerged from this contradiction, so in this case there arose the theology of Sabbatianism which was all too long neglected by Jewish historiography. Thus it is that the three most upsetting and astonishing texts which document this transformation and crisis of tradition were unable to induce any scholar before my generation to read them. Here are three men and three texts which show what is possible in an atmosphere saturated with the tradition and the concepts of Judaism when the situation is felt to be revolutionary.
The first name that must be mentioned is that of Nathan of Gaza, who died in Skoplje ( Turkish: iiskilp), Macedonia in 1680, and who appeared in fils writings both as prophet and theologian-a very rare combination in the liistory of religions. He elaborated his ideas in numerous open letters and treatises, but especially in a manuscript the Hebrew title of which (Zemir Aritzi'm, cf. Isa. 25:5) implies: "Overthrow of the Enemy Forces" or "Overthrow of the Tyrants," i.e., of those who hinder redemption.18 It was written about 1670.
The second author is Abraham Miguel Cardozo (1627-1706) who was born into a crypto-Jewish Marrano family in Spain, returned to Judaism in Venice in 1648, and whose attachment to the Sabbatian movement grew out of Marrano currents of thought. For him the apostasy of the Messiah represented a kind of highest justification of the apostasy of the Spanish Marranos in 1391 and 1492. Under the influence of the prophet Nathan, with whose writings he was familiar, he composed in Tripoli (North Africa) as early as 1668-two years after the conversion of Sabbatal Zevi-a long open letter entitled Magen Abraham ("Shield of Abraham"). His later writings scarcely exceed the sharpness with which his ideas were formulated here. The third author is Israel Hazan from Kastoria in Macedonia, a student and for many years the secretary of Nathan of Gaza. We possess from his hand a commentary to a large number of psalms which he composed about 1678-79 in Kastoria; it is one of the most moving personal documents of Sabbatianism. He interprets every psalm either as a lament of the Messiah who lias apostatized in fulfillment of his mission and speaks of his destitution and his liope, or as a triumphal ode for the redemption which has begun and for the upheavals which are associated with it. All of these writings were composed while Sabbatai Zevi was still alive or shortly after his death. They prove how quickly the crisis of Jewish tradition manifested itself within this acute Messianism, while in the case of Paul this crisis received literary expression only about fifteen years after the death of Jesus.
Of what sort, then, are the currents of thought which are presented here and are repeated and varied in manifold ways in the later literature of the Sabbatians, both of those wbo remained within Judaism and of the Donmeh? In this case we are not concerned with the question of how the apostasy of the Messiah was explained as a necessary descent into the realm of darkness. Our authors do not doubt the legitimacy of Sabbatai Zevi's Messianic mission nor its paradoxical character. The question which agitates the "believers" is: What about the Torah and everything associated with it now that the Messiah has appeared in the flesh and our hearts are filled with this experience? Something must now follow for our lives in the immediate future and even more after his expected return from those realms of darkness. In addition, the new eyes with which the "believers" read the old books had revealed to them that those books, in fact, spoke throughout of that seeming apostasy of the Messiah which no one had noted there 'I 't actually canie about. Thus they searched for conceptions unti 1 and symbols in which that unnoticed crisis of tradition, which had come to life in the feelings of the Sabbatians, could have manifested itself. The attitude of Sabbatai Zevi, even before his apostasy, had made clear to them that the Messiah himself at particular moments stood above the way of life prescribed by tradition, violated it in a downright challenging fashion in several of his actions, and thus showed himself a figure standing at the boundary between the validity of the old law and the coming into view of a new level of the Torah's fulfillment. By his concrete appearance the problem of the validity of all previous tradition had become acute. As proof of their faith, Sabbatai Zevi had demanded of a few adherents that they transgress certain prohibitions which were in themselves incomprehensible and meaningless but were expressed with great emphasis in the Torah, such as eating the fat of animals (Lev. 7:23 ff.), a ritual gesture of decidedly symbolic nature since it was not connected with any sensual gratification. After his apostasy he had also required a number of the "believers" to take this same step. Thus from the beginning the problem was not limited to the figure of the Messiah himself but -as some of our authors put it-was posed for all those who came from the same "root" as the soul of the Messiah and were designated "the kin of the Messiah."
As early as 1668 Cardozo expressed this crisis in a radical formulation: "The Torah as it now exists [or: as it is now observed] will not exist in the Messianic age." For him the reason is clear: at that time the world will be cleansed of every defect and be restored to its original state or tikkun. Since fulfillment of the precepts of the Torah serves as the instrument of this reintegration-a fundamental teaching of the Lurianic Kabbalah-the status of the Torah must necessarily change in the Messianic world where the reasons for this fulfillment lose their force. According to later Kabbalistic lines of thought, the Messiah, more than bringing about the redemption, signalizes in symbolic fashion the conclusion of a process which we realize ourselves through our actions. Once we have carried through this process of the integration of all things in their original place-and it is a mystical process in the interior of the cosmos-then the redemption will appear entirely of itself and conclude this process in the exterior realm as well. Once the interior world is put in order, the exterior must manifest it also: it is put into effect because everything exterior is nothing more than a symbol of the interior. Cardozo says:
The two Torahs [the Written and the Oral] correspond to the situation of a person who has fallen "from a high roof into a deep well." Whoever plunges from a height down to the ground, his body becomes bruised all over and he needs various medicaments and cures until all of his 365 blood vessels and 248 organs [i.e., his entire physical organism] are healed. The same is true of events in the upper [divine] lights which are the mystical figure of the Creator. These lights are the precepts of the Torah whose number not by chance corresponds to the number of organs in the human body which they are supposed to cure if wounded or broken. just as someone who has become injured or wounded must abstain from foods and beverages which could harm him and must keep to his diet for as long a time as an experienced physician prescribes, so it is also with the observance of the commandments. When the new era and the time of healing will have come and brought about the ascension of the holy sparks [of the divine light] to their ,original place, the patient will surely no longer have need of the prescriptions of the physician nor of the diet affecting foods and beverages which previously would have hurt him. And this analogy holds directly for the status of the commandments which correspond to the physician's cures. For at that time the lights and all worlds will surely arise to their former level, which of course will become possible only in the days of the redeemer; he bas the power of restoring all worlds because he himself is the first Adam [in his Messianic reincarnation].
At the end of this exposition Cardozo manifestly casts aside the traditional Lurianic conception of the character and the function of the Messiah, which corresponds to his own analogy, in favor of an extravagant conception, widely found among the Sabbatians, according to which the mystical abundance of power resident in the Messiah himself brings the process of healing salvation to its conclusion. According to Cardozo, this gradual advance in the process of salvation manifests itself in the giving the Torah and its commandments in different stages according to the requirements of various generations; some commandments had already been given to Adam, others to Noah and his sons, still others to Abraham, until finally Israel received the Torah in its entirety "in order to purify all the holy sparks, cleanse them from their admixture [with the unholy powers] and raise them up to their point of origin, for they possess the ability and power to raise those sparks up into the primeval thoughts [of Godl since they themselves originate there."
However, in this exposition of the function of the Torah and the concrete fulfillment of the commandments, Cardozo at other points makes a clear distinction between the Written and the Oral Torah. Leaning upon the mystical speculations of the Kabbalists, he no longer takes the Written Torah to mean what it meant to the Talmudists, i.e., a realm circumscribed by the Bible itself, containing concrete commandments and prohibitions to which the oral law added only further, more explicit statements. Following the mystics, the Written Torah, the revelation as such, is seen as not calling for concrete execution in any realm of application whatever. The Torah becomes applicable only through the medium of the Oral Torah in which the word of God is appropriated to the contingencies of its fulfillment. The concept of the Oral Torah, identical with that of the tradition, encompasses the actual historical tradition of rabbinic Judaism, of the historical form of Judaism which the Kabbalists sought to interpret. Thus there could be a differentiation here: the crisis of tradition, which the beginning of the redemption was bound to bring about, could conceivably remain limited to the realm of the Oral Torah if the Written Torah were understood as an essentially mystical realm of pure revelation, of the absolute word of God which by i-iature is immutable-though it may be received in different ways by those [email protected] hear it. In this view, the translations of the absolute word into humanly intelligible words capable of articulation already belong to the realm of tradition; they represent a permutation into something that can be spoken and fulfilled. The written law in the normal sense, as a readable book and concrete instruction, thereby becomes itself an initial manifestation of the Oral Torah. Only in this sense does a crisis take place even within the written law, since in the Messianic age the letters which constitute the Written Torah will become subject to different combinations and thus take on new meanings, or at least their old combinations will be interpreted in an entirely new way.
Likewise in the writings of the Sabbatians the differentiations in the concept of the Torah play a part when its position in the Messianic age is to be defined. Cardozo explicitly states that the crisis of the Torah affects the forms of the tradition, of the Oral Torah. For the six orders of the Mishnah and its sixty tractates in which the tradition was first codified correspond to its status in a cosmic order, or rather disorder, which has its symbolic expression in Israel's exile. He therefore has good reason to refer to a passage in the Zohar which gives a mystical interpretation of a. verse in the Midrash regarding the beginning of the redemption: "The heart does not reveal it to the mouth." Originally this meant that the date of the Messianic redemption was hidden.25 One cannot find out anything about the redemption until it begins. However, this was interpreted mystically to mean that where the heart, i.e., the heart of the Torah as the secret, absolute word of God, becomes manifest it no longer needs the mouth of tradition by which it has hitherto expressed itself. Where the inner mystical essence breaks forth undisguised and no longer needs any intermediary, the masking expression which veiled this "heart" becomes unnecessary. Whereas the talmudic eschatology expected an infinitely rich development of the oral law in the Messianic age, for Cardozo the law will be "no longer necessary"; in fact, it undergoes a distinct transvaluation, as we shall see shortly.
In their endeavor to develop the crisis of tradition out of the concepts of the tradition itself the Sabbatians were able to refer back to symbols of the earlier Kabbalistic literature whose implicit antinomianism had for inore than three hundred years liardly aroused any attention, let alone protests. But now, in the excitement of the Messianic uprising and in the hands of the Sabbatians, these symbols showed their explosive power in shattering the tradition. There are, above all, three typological descriptions which recur here again and again, and which originate in the most recent layer of the Zohar. In these sections, especially in the "Faithful Shepherd" (Ra'ya Mehemna), and in the Tikkune Zohar, an extensive commentary to the first chapters of Genesis composed as an independent volume, these typological figures are used at many points and are varied in the most diverse ways. They are:
1. The figure of the two trees of Paradise, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
2. The figure of the two pairs of the tablets of the law which Moses received at Sinal. For when Moses came down from the mountain with a pair of tablets and was forced to witness the dance of Israel around the golden calf they had made in his absence, he smashed them upon the ground. Only later, after Israel liad again been humbled by Moses' anger, did lie receive a second pair of tablets whose content is conveyed in the Torah (Exod34).
3. The figure of the six days of the week and the Sabbath as archetypes of world history which runs its course in a great cosmic week and a Sabbath which follows there after.
Let us examine the conceptions lying behind these figures.
What do the two trees in Paradise represent? Already in biblical metaphor wisdom, identified by Jewish tradition with Torah, is designated as Tree of Life (Prov. 3:18); thus opens the whole realm of typology. The trees in Paradise are not merely physical trees; beyond this they point to a state of things which they represent symbolically.21 In the opinion of the Jewish mystics both trees are in essence one. They grow out into two directions from a common trunk. Genesis tells us that the Tree of Life stood in the center of Paradise, but it does not indicate the exact position of the Tree of Knowledge. The Kabbalists took this to mean that it had no special place of its own but sprouted together with the Tree of Life out of the common matrix of the divine world. The two trees are different aspects of the Torah, which have their common origin in revelation. The Tree of Life represents that aspect which has hitherto been unrealizable because, due to the sin of Adam, it remained virtually hidden and inaccessible, and we do not know the taste of its f ruits. The law which is concealed in the life of this tree is that of a creative force manifesting itself in infinite harmonies, a force wliich knows no limitations or boundaries. The paradisaic life under this law never came into being. The sin of Adam was that he isolated the Tree of Life from the Tree of Knowledge to wliicii he directed his desire. Once the unity of the two trees in men's lives was destroyed, there began the dominion of the Tree of Knowledge. No longer did unitary gushing, unrestrained life prevail, but the duality of good and evil in which the Torah appears in this aspect of revelation. Since ,L4e expulsion -from Paradise, in the exile 'in which we all now find -o-u-rs,-el-ves, we can no longer apperceive the world as a unified whole. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil under whose law the world now stands corresponds to a condition of this world in which distinctions must be made before the unity of life can be regained: the distinctions between good and evil, commandment and prohibition, holy and profane, pure and impure.
For the author of those sections of the Zohar the two trees were not only, as they were for the other Kabbalists, symbols of the sefirot, of the manifestations of God in Creation, of which the Tree of Knowledge represented the tenth and last sefirah, but beyond this they were models for two possible forms of life in the light of revelation. Of course at the present only the one is tangible and capable of fulfillment. Precisely out of those very distinctions and limitations man is to restore the lost form and the violated image of the divine in himself and thus bring the Tree of Knowledge, with which he is mystically associated, to its full development. This Torah of the Tree of Knowledge is, however, nothing other than the world of tradition which represents the law of the unredeemed world since the expulsion from Paradise. Only the redemption, breaking the dominion of exile, puts an end to the order of the Tree of Knowledge and restores the utopian order of the Tree of Life in which the heart of life beats unconcealed and the isolation in which everything now finds itself is overcome. Thus the inner logic of this conception of the dominion of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as the legitimate form of revelation in an unredeemed world had to regard the redemption itself as a return home to Paradise where all things will again be in their true place. Although it is not a matter of a physical return to a geographical Paradise, it is in any case life in a state of the world which corresponds to that of Paradise or in which Paradise, for its part, expands into the world. The Torah of the Messianic age will then be that of the Tree of L ife, which no longer knows anything of all those separations and limitations. This Torah is still revelation and, in Kabbalistic terms, an evolution of the divine name; but it has nothing further to do with the form under which we have known it until now. It is a utopian Torah for a utopian state of the world. The Sabbatians saw in such a vision no contradiction to acknowledging the forms of the tradition, i.e., those of historical Judaism, for the period of exile. Without question this thinking of the Jewish Messianic heretics is structurally connected closely to that of the spiritualistic sects in Christianity. It was not, however, influenced by them in its specific historical appearance and formulation, which remained entirely Jewish.
According to the conception of the Sabbatians, who here again followed the intimations of these same sections of the Zohar, such a state of redemption, of liberation from exile, was achieved at the time of the revelation on Sinal. It is not surprising that when this typological thinking was applied to the exodus from Egypt-the very archetype of exile-revelation should seem the opportunity of redemption. But Israel, which was to receive this revelation, was not equal to the opportunity and it lapsed into worship of the golden calf. Thereupon the Torah under the aspect of the Tree of Life, which would have made up the content of the revelation, reverted to its hidden state, and the tradition, the Oral Torah whith encompassed the real revelation like a husk enclosing a kernel, began its dominion under the aspect of the Tree of Knowledge; only in this form could it be realized in history.
At this point the figure of the two trees in Paradise is brought into relation with that of the two pairs of tablets of the law. The first tablets, which were given to Moses before the peofle lapsed into the heathen cult of the golden calf, were the laws for a redeemed world and represented a revelation of the Tree of Life. They were the law of freedom. To this the spiritualistic exegesis of the Tikkune Zohar applied the famous passage of the Mishnah regarding these first tablets of which the Torah says (Exod. 32:16): "And the tablets were God's work, and the writing was God's writing, incised, harut, upon the tablets." The word harut, however, can also be read as herut, which means freedom.29 While the talmudic exegesis still understood this reading to mean that it was precisely the study of the Torah which lent true freedom, a freedom under the law, the mystical interpretation of the Zohar saw it as the freedom of the redemption expressed through the Torah on the first set of tablets. This idea is taken up and stressed by both Nathan of Gaza and Cardozo. No one has yet read the Torah of the Tree of Life which was inscribed on the first tablets. Israel was entrusted only with that second set of tablets, and they render the Torah as it is read under the dominion of the Tree of Knowledge and Differentiation, which is also called the Tree of Deatb. But with the redemption the first tablets will again be raised up; they will be a Torah in which the restoration of the state of Paradise is associated with a utopia [email protected] as yet has never been, that as yet has never been capable of realization. In [email protected] exegesis of the Zohar we can already notice the unconcern with a passage of the Torah such as Exodus 34:1 which says explicitly that the second set of tablets contained the same words as the first. It did not matter. The parallel between the trees in the primeval history of man and the tablets in the story of the revelation was simply too seductive for the radicals of mysticism.
The third typology is that which saw a parallel between the course of world history and the history of the Creation. A day for God, according to one interpretation of a verse in Psalms, is a thousand years. Thus the six thousand years of world history correspond to the six workdays leading up to the great cosmic Sabbath, to redemption on the seventh day of the universe. Like a good Jewish exegete, Cardozo argues-even though he carries this exegesis over into heresy-that other laws hold on the Sabbath than on a workday. The activities of the workday are to a large extent prolilbited on the Sabbath and other activities take their place. Whoever performs the actions of a workday on the Sabbath violates the law. But on the cosmic Sabbath the Tree of Life reigns, and not the Tree of Knowledge. "Thus there clearly follows from all of this that, with the onset of the order of the Tree of Life on the great cosmic Sabbath, not only shall we no longer need to observe the order of the six weekdays, which corresponds to the mode of life prescribed in the six orders of the Mislinali. But beyond tails, everyone who wants to serve God as he does now [i.e., by the traditional way of life] will in those days [of the Messiah] be called a desecrator of tile Sabbath and a destroyer of the plantiiigs [i.e., a downright hereticl." The Mishnah is the first codification of the oral Torah and the six orders into which it is divided by subject constitute the framework of halakhic Judaism. The author of the above-mentioned parts of the Zohar indulged abundantly in remarks regarding the inferiority of the Mislinah; lie opposes it to the mystical order of life of the Kabbalah and to the Messianic abrogation of those aspects of the Torah which it contains. Cardozo, who was very much attracted by these seditious passages, in his above-mentioned formulation simply drew the consequences. He presents us with the palpable intrusion of implicit antinomianism into the world of tradition. What was commandment becomes downright prohibition. And from here it was only a short step to a further consequence, of which we liave yet to speak: acts that had previously been prohibited now become not only permissible but are even considered holy.
However Cardozo, who remained loyal to the tradition in his personal observance, established a safeguard within these channels of thought which put off any explicit antinomianism, at least for a transitional period. As long as the Messiah lias not returned from his mission into those realms where Cardozo does not dare to follow him, believing that they can be entered only by the Messiah-lie decisively re'ected mystical apostasy for anyone other than the Messiah himself-so long does the tradition retain its undiminished validity. The restoration of the true figure of man, Adam, is not complete as long as the Redeemer himself remains in the world of the "husks," of the powers of the "other side," where he gathers up the holy sparks. With his return, which corresponds to the New Testament conception of the parousia, the law of the renewed world-the Torah of the Tree of Life-will come into effect. Thus the world of the tradition is liable to collapse at any time, and for the Sabbatians the reasons for this collapse have been given long before it actually takes place. According to the immanent logic of their conceptions, its crisis cannot be averted.
The real Adam is restored in the figure of the Messiah and now begins his career in a renewed world which stands under the law of freedom. In the writings of the Sabbatians bidden conflicts come to liglit on this issue and are expressed, for example, in the differences between the positions of Cardozo and Nathan of Gaza. The Messiah could be conceived as one who has completely mastered the Tree of Knowledge and its Torah, and from this experience, which is that of the Jew in exile as well as that of suffering mankind, pushes forward into the new realms of the Tree of Life. He could appear as the heir of the millennia who thereby gives the redemption a plenitude which it might have never had if Adam had not succumbed to temptation. For according to the Lurianic Kabbalah the first opportunity for redemption presented itself to Adam on the day of his creation. Had Adam decided otherwise on the proposition of the serpent, the redemption of all worlds would already have begun then and the first Sabbath would also have been the last-the final cosmic Sabbath. But whether the Adam who would never have tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge would have been richer than the one who went through this experience could remain doubtful. In fact we find, especially in the writings of Nathan of Gaza, a very different conception of the Messiah which stands in opposition to this one. According to Nathan's view, t'he soul of the Messiah was from the first and since the beginning of the world inextricably bound up with the Tree of Life and was never subjected to the law of the Tree of Knowledge. Thus he always stood beyond good and evil, commandment and prohibition, because he never left the state of Paradise. Only from our perspective do his actions often seem reprehensible, illicit, and scandalous, when in truth they conform to the laws of his origin. He must be measured by other criteria. But this is not to say that passage through the world of tradition, which is incumbent upon all other holy souls and soulsparks, does not exist at all for the Messiah. In the pre-natal history of his soulabout which Nathan of Gaza relates astonishing things-as well as in his earthly career, he represents the rebellious element which stems from his root and is bound by no tradition, the "holy serpent" which from the very beginning struggles against its rival. Motifs which the Zohar carries through in a variety of ways the Sabbatians combine into a coherent imagery of antinomianism. It is by no means disobedience or apostasy which appears in this abrogation of the Torah, but rather a changed situation of the world. When Adam was driven from Paradise and came under the law of the Tree of Knowledge, he had need of clothing and raiment in his exile into the world because in his present situation he could no longer reveal his naked essence. The same is true of the Godhead, the Shekhinah, who mani 'fests herself in the Torah and who accompanies Israel on their way through exile. She too needs clothing that must cover her real nature. In exile the Shekhinah wears the sombre dress of mourning. The pure spirituality of the Torah requires the physical garments of the commandments and prohibitions. An unveiled Torah would be the Torah of the Tree of Life. But the Torah of the Tree of Knowledge is a veiled Torah and its garments are identical with the tradition, with the Judaism of the commandments and the Halakhah, with Judaism as it is known by history. At the time of redemption it will no longer need these garments since that redemption will signify a restoration of the state of Paradise in which Adam and Eve stood naked within the context of the pristine life. In exile the inner Torah was unrecognizable, or rather recognizable only by great initiates. But in the redemption it will be visible to every man. Cardozo says: "When the dross of the husks is removed [i.e., after the reintegration of all things], the world will no longer need to keep those garments in good condition." This keeping in good order, however, is nothing other than the fulfillment of the commandments and prohibitions; in their stead "the Torah will youthfully renew itself."
Following upon these trains of thought we find as early as Nathan of Gaza and Cardozo the appearance of an additional motif which in the Sabbatian heresy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries proves to be very effective, but also especially offensive and objectionable: the abrogation of sexual taboos, and of the incest prohibition in particular, as indices of the Messianic Torah. Here the crisis of tradition achieves a symbolically very visible, if also scandalous, expression. The restrictions which originate in the curse of woman after the Fall lose their force in the Messianic world. These restrictions, however, according to a talmudic interpretatlon, are above all of a sexual character. In Cardozo's view, Eve might, at least in principle, have belonged to several men while she was still in Paradise. In the redemption this promiscuity, be it animal or paradisaic, will be restored, as it were, on a new and hitherto unattained level. The restorative and utopian elements interpenetrate here in a most characteristic fashion. The abrogation of the sexual taboos finds its expression in heretical rituals. When fulfilling each commandment, the pious Jew says a blessing. But according to the new Messianic formulation, introduced by Sabbatal Zevi himself, he says: "Praised be He who permits the forbidden." a formula which the defenders of Jewish tradition rightly regarded as the epitome of this revolutionary heresy. As so often in the history of spiritualistic sects, the sexual taboos provided a point of application at which Messianic freedom-through libertinism-could find its confirmation and concrete content. Orqiastic rituals were preserved for a long time among Sabbatian groups, and in the circles of the Donmeh until about 1900. As late as the seventeenth century a festival was introduced called Purim that was celebrated at the beginning of spring. It reached its climax in the "extinguishing of the lights" and in an orgiastic exchange of wives. That such rituals, which anticipated the Messianic utopia, struck at the heart of the strict sexual morality of the Jewish tradition is obvious. And in fact the bitter struggle against the Sabbatians began in earnest only when the performance of such rituals, about which the Sabbatian texts could leave no doubt, became known to wider circles. Here was an obvious reversal of values that could destroy the moral structure of the Jewish communities.
Especially embittering in this regard was the behavior of a certain Baruchya Russo who about the year 1700 was the leader of the most radical wing of the Sabbatians in Salonika. The Torah knows of thirty-six prohibitions that are punishable by "extirpation of the soul." Varying speculations existed as to the meaning of this punishment, but one thing was clear: it involved particularly heinous sins. Half of them are the prohibitions against incest mentioned in the Torah (Lev. 18). Baruchya not only declared these prohibitions abrogated but went so far as to transform their contents into commandments of the new Messianic Torah.
The new Torah is designated the Torah of atzilut, the Torah of the highest condition of the world, as opposed to the Torah of beriah, the Torah of the sensual creaturely world which exists before the redemption. This pair of concepts also originates in the Tikkune Zohar. There, however, the meaning is somewhat different. The "Torah of Creation" represents the aspect of the one absolute Torah in which it exoterically presents itself to us in the circumstances of our world; the "Torah of the World of Emanation" represents the Torah on the mystical level, the Torah read with the eyes of the Kabbalist. The creaturely Torah with its explicit commandments and prohibitions is the shell enfolding a mystical kernel which the Kabbalist can reveal. But as early as the Kabbalah of Safed there is a shift in the meaning of this mystical Torah. It contains not only the mysteries of the Kabbalah, but also the law of pure spirituality which will one day be revealed, a kind of Evangelium Eternum as the Franciscan spiritualists understood this concept. As the word of God, this Torah of atzilut existed even in the earliest aeons in the form of combinations and permutations of the name of God and of lights which shine forth with this name. But even before the Creation of the lower, visible world, it was woven into the world of divine emanation as its determining power. It had not yet, however, become-one could say: flowed into-that applicable Torah as which it appears in our world of Creation.
The higher form of the Torah could also easily take on a Messianic dimension in which at the final redemption it could appear as a higher revelation replacing the existing Torah. In such fashion this pair of concepts was closely identified with the two trees discussed earlier. To be sure, this Torah is still not accessible since it can become visible only in a world transformed in every respect, even externally. Such was the opinion of Nathan of Gaza and his circle. His disciple Israel Hazan of Kastoria says: "Only at the second and final appearance of the Messiah (the parousial shall we who have the true faith [in tile mission of the Messiah Sabbatal Zevil apprehend the mystery of our holy Torah, the Torah of atzilut, from the mouth of the Most High." For whereas the previous forms of the Torah come from the tenth sefirah, malkhut, or the central sefirah, tiferet, this final form of revelation will originate in the first sefirah, the highest manifestation of the Godliead which in the Zohar is called "the Holy Ancient One," atika kadisha. This Torah will be the gift of God to the redeemed world and will replace that Torah which was given in the desert under the conditions of a desolate, unredeemed world. Instead of reading the word of God in the form of the Torah of Moses as it has come down to us, we shall receive the gift of reading it as the Torah of atzilut which the Messiah one day will teach us. In other words: as yet he has not taught it, even though he has already-before his apostasy made his first appearance. We stand in an in-between realm, in transition between the two phases of the Messiah's mission. The Torah of atzilut is thus not identical with the teaching of the historical Sabbatai Zevi, either before or after his apostasy. At that moment it could not even have been described or conceived and therefore could be transmitted only in the most general terms. Only after the passage of thirty years, long after the death of Sabbatal Zevi, was that further step taken whereby Baruchya set up his nihilistic Torah as the content of the teachings propounded by Sabbatai Zevi. From that point on the Torah of atzilut becomes the symbol of a Messianic, anarchic Judaism, even in the circles of those sectartans who remain in the confines of Judaism. This new Judaism has in principle already completed the inner break with the Jewish tradition even where it continues to draw sustenance from it, and it has confirmed that break by symbolic acts and rituals.
The Sabbatian "believers" felt that they were champions of a new world which was to be established by overthrowing the values of all positive religions. And so, from the pen of their last significant leader, Jacob Frank, who appeared as a successor to Baruchya in Poland in 1756, we have a watchword which matchlessly expresses the situation of these mystical "soldiers" in the army of the Messiah: "Soldiers are not allowed to have a religion." 40 In its positive valuation of both the situation of the soldier and the lack of religion in the service of a mystically understood world revolution, this statement represents the extreme consequence to which a Messianic crisis of tradition, erupting in the very heart of Judaism, could lead. The old mystical Kabbalistic symbols in which this crisis was formulated disappeared. What remained was a wild revolt against all traditions, a movement that found a new, popular content in the biblical books and translated them into a totally untheological, even vulgar language. And all this was happening in the generation directly preceding the outbreak of the French Revolution, the event which left in its wake an intense crisis of a totally different sort, one that shook the very foundations of the realm of Jewish tradition.
Extract from Enlightenment
Karen Armstrong 1993 A History of God,
William Heinemann, London. ISBN 0-7493-0692-0
There had been some remarkably similar developments within Judaism which would also prepare the way for the spread of rationalist ideals among Jews and would enable many to assimilate with the Gentile population in Europe. In the apocalyptic year of 1666, a Jewish Messiah declared that Redemption was at hand and was accepted ecstatically by Jews all over the world. Shabbetai Zevi had been born on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple in 1626 to a family of wealthy Sephardic Jews in Smyrna in Asia Minor. As he grew up he developed strange tendencies which we would perhaps diagnose today as manic-depressive. He had periods of deep despair, when he used to withdraw from his family and live in seclusion. These were succeeded by an elation that bordered on ecstasy. During these manic' periods, he would sometimes deliberately and spectacularly break the Law of Moses: he would publicly eat forbidden foods, utter the sacred Name of God and claim that he had been inspired to do so by a special revelation. He believed that he was the long-awaited Messiah. Eventually the Rabbis could bear it no longer and in 1656 they expelled Shabbetai from the city. He became a wanderer among the jewish communities of the Ottoman empire. During a manic spell in Istanbul, he announced that the Torah had been abrogated, crying aloud: 'Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord our God, Who permits the forbidden!' In Cairo he caused scandal by marrying a woman who had fled the murderous pogroms in Poland in 1648 and now lived as a prostitute. In 1662 Shabbetai set off for Jerusalem. He was now in a depressive phase and believed that he must be possessed by demons. In Palestine he heard about a young, learned Rabbi called Nathan who was a skilled exorcist, so he set out to find him in his home in Gaza. Like Shabbetai, Nathan had studied the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria. When he met the troubled Jew from Smyrna, he told him that he was not possessed: his dark despair proved that he was indeed the Messiah. When he descended to these depths, he was fighting against the evil powers of the Other Side, releasing the divine sparks in the realm of the kelipoth which could only be redeemed by the Messiah himself. Shabbetai had a mission to descend into hell before he could achieve the final redemption of Israel. At first Shabbetai would have none of this but eventually Nathan's eloquence persuaded him. On May 31 1665, he was suddenly seized with a manic joy and, with Nathan's encouragement, he announced his Messianic mission. Leading Rabbis dismissed all this as dangerous nonsense but many of the jews of Palestine flocked to Shabbetai, who chose twelve disciples to be the judges of the tribes of Israel, which would soon reassemble. Nathan announced the good news to the Jewish communities in letters to Italy, Holland, Germany and Poland as well as to the cities of the Ottoman empire and Messianic excitement spread like wildfire through the Jewish world. Centuries of persecution and ostracism had isolated the Jews of Europe from the mainstream and this unhealthy state of affairs had conditioned many to believe that the future of the world depended upon the Jews alone. The Sephardim, descendants of the exiled Jews of Spain, had taken Lurianic Kabbalah to their hearts and many had come to believe in the imminent End of Days. All this helped the cult of Shabbetai Zevi. Throughout jewish history, there had been many Messianic claimants but none had ever attracted such massive support. It became dangerous for Jews who had their reservations about Shabbetai to speak out. His supporters came from all classes of Jewish society: rich and poor, learned and uneducated. Pamphlets and broadsheets spread the glad tidings in English, Dutch, German and Italian. In Poland and Lithuania there were public processions in his honour. In the Ottoman empire, prophets wandered through the streets describing visions in which they had seen Shabbetai seated upon a throne. All business ceased; ominously the Jews of Turkey dropped the name of the Sultan from the Sabbath prayers and put in Shabbetai's name instead. Eventually, when Shabbetai arrived in Istanbul in January 1666, he was arrested as a rebel and imprisoned in Gallipoli. After centuries of persecution, exile and humiliation, there was hope. All over the world, Jews had experienced an inner freedom and liberation that seemed similar to the ecstasy that the Kabbalists had experienced for a few moments when they contemplated the mysterious world of the sefiroth. Now this experience of salvation was no longer simply the preserve of a privileged few but seemed common property. For the first time, Jews felt that their lives had value; redemption was no longer a vague hope for the future but was real and full of meaning in the present. Salvation had come! This sudden reversal made an indelible impression. The eyes of the whole Jewish world were fixed on Gallipoli, where Shabbetai had even made an impression on his captors. The Turkish vizier housed him in considerable comfort. Shabbetai began to sign his letters: 'I am the Lord your God, Shabbetai Zevi'. But when he was brought back to Istanbul for his trial, he had fallen once apin into a depression. The Sultan gave him the choice of conversion to Islam or death: Shabbetai chose Islam and was immediately released. He was given an imperial pension and died as an apparently loyal Muslim on September 17, 1676. Naturally the appalling news devastated his supporters, many of whom instantly lost their faith. The Rabbis attempted to erase his memory from the earth: they destroyed all the letters, pamphlets and tracts about Shabbetai they could find. To this day, many Jews are embarrassed by this Messianic debacle and find it hard to deal with.
Rabbis and rationalists alike have down-played its significance. Recently, however, scholars have followed the late Gershom Scholem in trying to understand the meaning of this strange episode and its more significant aftermath. Astonishing as it may seem, many Jews remained loyal to their Messiah, despite the scandal of his apostasy The experience of redemption had been so profound that they c not believe that God had allowed them to be deluded. It is one of the most striking instances of the religious experience of salvation taking precedence over mere facts and reason. Faced with the choice of abandoning their new-found hope or accepting an apostate Messiah, a surprising number of Jews of all classes refused to submit to the hard facts of history. Nathan of Gaza devoted the rest of his life to preaching the mystery of Shabbetai: by converting to Islam, he had continued his life-long battle with the forces of evil. Yet again, he had been impelled to violate the deepest sanctities of his people in order to descend into the realm of darkness to liberate the kelipoth. He had accepted the tragic burden of his mission and descended to the lowest depths to conquer the world of Godlessness from within. In Turkey and Greece, about two hundred families remained loyal to Shabbetai: after his death they decided to follow his example in order to continue his battle with evil and converted to Islam en masse in 1683. They remained secretly loyal to Judaism, keeping in close touch with the Rabbis and congregating in the clandestine synagogues in one another's houses. In 1689 their leader Jacob Querido made the haj pilgrimage to Mecca and the Messiah's widow declared that he was the reincarnation of Shabbetai Zevi. There is still a small group of Donmeh (apostates) in Turkey, who live outwardly impeccable Islamic lives but cling passionately to their judaism in secret. Other Sabbatarians did not go to these lengths but remained loyal to their Messiah and to the synagogue. There seem to have been more of these crypto-Sabbatarians than was once believed. During the nineteenth century, many Jews who had assimilated or adopted a more liberal form of Judaism considered it shameful to have had Sabbatarian ancestors but it appears that many outstanding Rabbis of the eighteenth century believed that Shabbetai had been the Messiah. Scholem argues that even though this Messianism never became a mass movement in Judaism, its numbers should not be underestimated. It had a special appeal to the Marranos, who had been forced by the Spanish to convert to Christianity but eventually reverted to Judaism. The notion of apostasy as a mystery assuaged their guilt and sorrow. Sabbatarianism flourished in Sephardic communities in Morocco, the Balkans, Italy and Lithuania. Some, like Benjamin Kohn of Reggio and Abraham Rorigo of Modena, were eminent Kabbalists who kept their link with the movement secret. From the Balkans, the Messianic sect spread to the Ashkenazi Jews in Poland, who were demoralised and exhausted by the escalating anti-Semitism of Eastern Europe. In 1759 the disciples of the strange and sinister prophet Jacob Frank followed the example of their Messiah and converted en masse to Christianity, adhering to Judaism in secret. Scholem suggests an illuminating comparison to Christianity. Some sixteen hundred years earlier, another group of Jews had been unable to abandon their hope in a scandalous Messiah, who had died the death of a common criminal in Jerusalem. What St Paul had called the scandal of the cross was every bit as shocking as the scandal of an apostate Messiah. In both cases, the disciples proclaimed the birth of a new form of Judaism which had replaced the old; they embraced a paradoidcal creed. Christian belief that there was new life in the defeat of the Cross was similar to the Sabbatarians' conviction that apostasy was a sacred mystery. Both groups believed that the grain of wheat had to rot in the earth in order to bear fruit; they believed that the old Torah was dead and had been replaced by the new law of the Spirit. Both developed Trinitarian and Incarnational conceptions of God. Like many Christians during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Sabbatarians believed that they were standing on the threshold of a new world. Kabbalists had repeatedly argued that in the Last Days the true mysteries of God, which had been obscured during the exile, would be revealed. Sabbatarians who believed that they were living in the Messianic era felt free to break away from traditional ideas about God, even if that meant accepting an apparently blasphemous theology. Thus Abraham Cardazo (d.1706), who had been born a Marrano and had started by studying Christian theology, believed that because of their sins all Jews had been destined to become apostates. This was to have been their punishment. But God had saved his people from this terrible fate by allowing the Messiah to make the supreme sacrifice on their behalf. He came to the frightening conclusion that during their time in exile, the Jews had lost all true knowledge of God. Like the Christians and Deists of the Enlightenment, Cardazo was attempting to peel away what he saw as inauthentic accretions from his religion and to return to the pure faith of the Bible. It will be recalled that during the second century, some Christian Gnostics had evolved a kind of metaphysical anti-Semitism by distinguishing the Hidden God of Jesus Christ from the cruel God of the Jews, who was responsible for the creation of the world. Now Cardazo unconsciously revived this old idea but completely reversed it. He also taught that there were two Gods: one who was the God who had revealed himself to Israel and another who was common knowledge. In every civdisation people had proved the existence of a First Cause: this was the God of Aristotle, who had been worshipped by the whole pagan world. This deity had no religious significance: he had not created the world and had no interest whatever in humanity; he had, therefore, not revealed himself in the Bible which never mentions him. The second God, who had revealed himself to Abraham, Moses and the prophets, was quite different: he had created the world out of nothing, had redeemed Israel and was its God. In exile, however, philosophers such as Saadia and Maimonides were surrounded by the goyim and had absorbed some of their ideas. Consequently they had confused the two Gods and taught the Jews that they were one and the same. The result was that the Jews had come to worship the God of the philosophers as though he were the God of their Fathers. How did the two Gods relate to one another? Cardazo evolved a Trinitarian theology to account for this additional deity without abandoning Jewish monotheism. There was a Godhead which consisted of three hypostases or parzufim (countenances): the first of these was called Atika Kadiska, the Holy Ancient One. This was the First Cause. The second parzuf, which emanated from the first was called Malka Kadisha; he was the God of Israel. The third parzuf was the Shekinah, who had been exiled from the Godhead as Isaac Luria had described. Cardazo argued that these 'three knots of the faith' were not three entirely separate gods but were mysteriously one, as they all manifested the same Godhead. Cardazo was a moderate Sabbatarian. He did not believe it his duty to apostasise because Shabbetai Zevi had performed this painful task on his behalf. But in proposing a Trinity, he was breaking a taboo. Over the centuries, Jews had come to hate Trinitarianism, which they considered blasphemous and idolatrous. But a surprising number of Jews were drawn to this forbidden vision. As the years passed without any change in the world, Sabbatarians had to modify their Messianic hopes. Sabbatatians like Nehemiah Hayim, Samuel Primo and Jonathan Eibeschijtz came to the conclusion that the 'mystery of the Godhead' (sod ha-elohut) had not been fully revealed in 1666. The Shekinah had begun to rise from the dust', as Luria had foretold, but had not yet returned to the Godhead. Redemption would be a gradual process and during this time of transition it was permissible to continue to practise the Old Law and worship in the synagogue, while adhering secretly to the Messianic doctrine. This revised Sabbatarianism explained how many Rabbis who believed that Shabbetai Zevi had been the Messiah were able to stay in the pulpits during the eighteenth century. The extremists who did apostasise adopted a theology of Incarnation, thus breaking another Jewish taboo. They came to believe that Shabbetai Zevi had not only been the Messiah but an incarnation of God. As in Christianity, this belief evolved gradually. Abraham Cardazo taught a doctrine that was similar to St Paul's belief in the glorification of Jesus after his resurrection: when the Redemption had begun at the time of his apostasy, Shabbetai had been raised to the Trinity of parzufim: 'the Holy One [Malka Kadisha] blessed be He, removed himself upward and Shabbetai Zevi ascended to be God in his place. He had, therefore, somehow been promoted to divine status and had taken the place of the God of Israel, the second parzuf Soon the Donmeh, who had converted to Islam, took the idea a step further and decided that the God of Israel had descended and been made flesh in Shabbetai. Since they also came to believe that each of their leaders was a reincarnation of the Messiah, it followed that they became avatars too, in rather the same way, perhaps, as the Shii Imams. Each generation of apostates, therefore, had a leader who was an incamation of the divine. Jacob Frank (1726-95), who led his Ashkenazi disciples to baptism in 1759, had implied that he was God incarnate at the very beginning of his career. He has been described as the most frightening figure in the entire history ofjudaism. He was uneducated and proud of it but had the ability to evolve a dark mythology that attracted manyjews who had found their faith empty and unsatisfying. Frank preached that the Old Law had been abropted. Indeed, all religions must be destroyed so that God could shine forth clearly. In his Slowa Panskie (The Sayings of the Lord), he took Sabbatarianism over the edge into nihilism. EverAing had to be broken down: 'Wherever Adam trod a city was built, but wherever I set foot all will be destroyed, for I have come into this world only to destroy and annihilate. There is a disturbing similarity to some of the sayings of Christ, who had also claimed that he had come to bring not peace but the sword. Unlike Jesus and St Paul, however, Frank proposed to put nothing in the place of the old sanctities. His nihilistic creed was not too dissimilar perhaps, to that of his younger contemporary the Marquis de Sade. It was only by descending to the depths of degradation that men could ascend to find the Good God. This meant not only the rejection of afl religion but the commission of 'strange acts' that resulted in voluntary abasement and utter shamelessness. Frank was not a Kabbalist but preached a cruder version of Cardazo's theology. He believed that each of the three parzufim of the Sabbatarian Trinity would be represented on earth by a different Messiah. Shabbetai Zevi, whom Frank used to call 'The First One', had been the incamation of 'the Good God', who was Cardazo's Atika Kadisha (the Holy Ancient One); he himself was the incarnation of the second parzuf, the God of Israel. The third Messiah, who would incarnate the Shekinah, would be a woman whom Frank called 'the Virgin'. At present, the world was in thrall to evil powers, however. It would not be redeemed until men had adopted Frank's nihilistic gospel. Jacob's ladder was in the shape of a V: to ascend to God, one had first to descend to the depths like Jesus and Shabbetai: 'This much I tell you,'Frank declared, 'Christ, as you know, said that he had come to redeem the world from the power of the devil, but I have come to redeem it from all the laws and customs that have ever existed. It is my task to annihilate all'this so that the Good God can reveal himself. Those who wished to find God and liberate themselves from the evil powers had to follow their leader step by step into the abyss, violating all the laws that they held most sacred: 'I say to you that all who would be warriors must be without religion, which means that they must reach freedom under their own powers.'s' In this last saying, we can sense the connection between Frank's dark vision and the rationalist Enlightenment.