The Conversation of Sabbatai Zvi (1666)

Satanas de novo construere

From spring 1666 back in Smyrna, Shabbtai initially behaved cautiously. In his hometown, too, the Jews were divided on how to behave towards him. In December Shabbtai Zvi took the next step: he occupied the Sephardic synagogue. He began to repeal religious commandments on his own initiative, for example moving Shabbat to Monday or calling women to read the Torah. On December 30, 1665, he went to Constantinople, accompanied by four rabbis. If the Turkish authorities had reacted calmly so far, they now stepped in and arrested the “Messiah” and his entourage when he arrived in Constantinople at the beginning of February 1666. He was given a kind of honorary detention in Gallipoli, where he could receive envoys and give audiences. His closest collaborators were his childhood friends Abraham Baruch and Chaim Penia, to whom he had promised kingdoms in the world to come.

The Amsterdam Jews, led by their chief rabbi Isaak Aboab de Fonseca, were among the most passionate defenders of Shabbatai Zvis. From there her writings spread to Germany. Especially in Germany, devastated by the Thirty Years War, the messianic frenzy gripped large parts of the Jewish communities:

“The large congregations of the European West, especially those of Amsterdam and Hamburg, received with enthusiasm the multifaceted reports that reached them from Turkey. Portuguese and German Jews hoped to see an extraordinary transformation of all things through Sabbatai Zwi in the near future. Some prepared themselves excitedly with song and dance, the others in humble contrition through mortification and penance, but all in feverish excitement prepared for the new messianic kingdom. In Smyrna the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz was abolished because Sabbatai Zwi spread the news that on that day the divine calling had been bestowed on him. The day the temple was destroyed, as his birthday, should no longer be celebrated with gloomy mourning customs, but with loud festivities. "

Many Jews sat on packed suitcases, but there were also staunch opponents of the self-proclaimed Messiah. These tried him, inter alia. to defame his family origins. It was rumored that Shabbtai Zvi's father had sold him for a pair of shoes and that his mother had prostituted herself to earn a living.
Conversion and end.

On June 18, 1666 (15 Sivan 5426), the deadline for the redemption of the world, announced by Nathan of Gaza, had expired without the announced miracles. On September 15, 1666 Shabbtai presented himself to the court in Andrianopol. The trial was preceded by an encounter with the Polish Jew Nehemia ha-Cohen, who also claimed to be the Messiah. Ha-Cohen asserted that Shabbatai Zvi could not be the Messiah because this - by definition a descendant of David - must first be preceded by a descendant of Joseph as the Messiah. After Ha-Cohen denounced his competitor to the authorities, Shabbatai was faced with the decision of “death or acceptance of Islam” - the former in the form of an archer shooting an arrow at him so that his invulnerability would prove messianic. The following day (September 16), he refused the request and converted to Islam (by putting on a turban); he was given the name of the Sultan Mehmed IV, who had cast doubt on the Messianic Shabbatai Zvis because of his poor knowledge of Turkish. Shabbatai's wife Sarah also converted to Islam, as did many - but not all - followers. It was now up to Nathan of Gaza to justify the unexpected event: From his point of view, the time of redemption had actually begun with Zvi's conversion to Islam. The Messiah, as he saw Shabbatai Zvi, had merely taken up the fight with the forces of evil and, in his disguise as a Muslim, had penetrated into the core of the "kingdom of evil" in order to overcome it in a final battle. Nathan found several passages in the Bible, Talmud and Zohar which, as he interpreted them, indicated the need for such a conversion. In doing so, Nathan referred several times to those biblical passages that are also cited by Christians as references to the coming of a Messiah.

In late 1672, Shabbtai Zvi was arrested on charges of apostasy from Islam. But he was not sentenced to death, as was customary in similar cases, but sent into exile in Albania. There he led a Jewish-Muslim double life and further developed his religious doctrine.

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