Jacob Frank (Hebrew: יעקב פרנק, Polish: Jakub Frank, born Jakub Lejbowicz; 1726, Korołówka – December 10, 1791, Offenbach am Main) was an 18th-century Polish-Jewish religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi and also of the biblical patriarch Jacob. The Jewish authorities in Poland excommunicated Frank and his followers due to his heretical doctrines that included deification of himself as a part of a trinity and other controversial concepts such as neo-Carpocratian “purification through transgression”.
Frank arguably created a new religion, now referred to as Frankism, which incorporated some aspects of Christianity into Judaism. The development of Frankism was one of the consequences of the messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi, the religious mysticism that followed violent persecution and socioeconomic upheavals among the Jews of Poland and Ruthenia.
FRANKISM, a Jewish religious movement centered on the leadership of
Ya‘akov (Jakub) ben Yehudah Leib Frank (1726?–1791). The term Frankism was coined in early nineteenth-century Warsaw and was initially a slur directed at the descendants of Frank’s followers who converted to Roman Catholicism and attempted to conceal their background. It was only with the appearance of the first scholarly accounts of the movement in the second half of the nineteenth century that the term became to be used for the whole variety of phenomena connected by the authors to Frank’s activity.
Sources [material from http://www.yivo.org/downloads/frankism.pdf] from Frank’s era, however, provide several different perspectives. In Jewish accounts, his followers are normally not presented as a separate group but as an offshoot of preexisting heretical movements, most notably of Sabbatianism. The majority of Christian observers saw the Frankists as a Jewish sect opposed to the Talmud. The Frankists initially thought of themselves as a branch of Judaism opposed to the authority of the rabbis and rejecting some elements of rabbinic tradition. Subsequently, Frankists redefined themselves as a separate religious group, practically independent from hitherto existing forms of both Judaism and Christianity.
The Jewish Encyclopedia, relying on Graetz’s History of the Jews, states:
NAḤMAN B. SAMUEL HA-LEVI:
Frankist; rabbi of Busk, Galicia; lived in the first part of the eighteenth century. When Mikulski, the administrator of the archbishopric of Lemberg, invited the representatives of Judaism to a disputation with the Frankists July 16, 1759, Naḥman was one of the Frankist delegates. On his baptism into the Christian faith he took the name of Piotr Jacobski.
- Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, x. 392.
Reflection: Modern scholars such as Pawel Maciejko do not give the same date, but reveal more information about the strange apocalyptic sect that formed around Frank, which gave both Jewish and Christian authorities cause for concern. The Jewish leaders were glad when Frank and several thousands of his supporters were baptised as Christians, as they did not want the Frankist doctrines to spread further in the Jewish communities of Poland. The Catholic church, and some Protestants, allowed the Frankists to retain Jewish clothing, beards, religious practices and identity, in their composite faith. While Frankist descendants continued for several generations (and even the composer Chopin was accused of having Frankish origins), Frank’s own claims to be the incarnation of Jesus were discredited by all but his closest followers, and the conversions to Christianity were seen as a mask for a far more esoteric, gnostic sect which emerged in the harsh anti-Semitic context of early modern Poland.
Prayer: Lord, there have been many false messiahs and messianic movements among the Jewish people, and it is not surprising that belief in Yeshua has been seen as such a betrayal and deception by our people. Help us as Messianic Jews to live our faith with integrity to you and your Word, and loyalty and commitment of our people. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
From Graetz: History of the Jews
The position of affairs changed, however, when Lubienski withdrew to Gnesen, his arch-episcopal seat, and the administrator of the archbishopric of Lemberg, the canon De Mikulski, showed more zeal for conversion. He immediately promised the Frankists to arrange a religious conference between them and the Talmudists, if they would exhibit a sincere desire for baptism. On this the deputies, Leb Krysa and Solomon of Rohatyn, in the name of the whole body, made a Catholic confession of faith (May 25), which savored of Kabbalism: “the cross is the symbol of the Holy Trinity and the seal of the Messiah.” It closed with these words: “The Talmud teaches the use of the blood of Christians, and whosoever believes in it is bound to use this blood.” Thereupon Mikulski, without consulting the papal nuncio Serra, made arrangements for a second disputation in Lemberg (June, 1759). The rabbis of this diocese were summoned to appear, under pain of a heavy fine, and the nobility and clergy were requested in case of necessity to compel them. The nuncio Serra, to whom the Talmudists complained, was in the highest degree dissatisfied with the idea of the disputation, but did not care to prevent it because he wished to learn with certainty whether the Jews used the blood of Christians. This appeared to him the most important point of all. Just at this time Pope Clement XIII had given a favorable answer on this question to the Jewish deputy Selek. Clement XIII proclaimed that the Holy See had examined the grounds on which rested the belief in the use of human blood for the feast of the Passover and the286 murder of Christians by Jews, and that the Jews must not be condemned as criminals in respect of this charge, but that in the case of such occurrences legal forms of proof must be used. Notwithstanding this, the papal envoy at this very time, deceived by the meanness of the Frankists, partially credited the false accusation, and notified the Curia of it.
The religious conference which was to lead to the conversion of so many Jews, at first regarded with indifference, began to awaken interest. The Polish nobility of both sexes purchased admission cards at a high price, the proceeds to go to the poor people who were to be baptized. On the appointed day the Talmudists and Zoharites were brought into the cathedral of Lemberg; all the clergy, nobility, and burghers crowded thither to witness the spectacle of Jews, apparently belonging to the same religion, hurling at each other accusations of the most abominable crimes. In reality it was the Talmud and the Kabbala, formerly a closely united pair of sisters, who had fallen out with each other. The disputation failed miserably. Of the Frankists, who had boastfully given out that several hundreds of their party would attend, only about ten appeared, the rest being too poor to undertake the long journey and attire themselves decently. Of the Talmudists forty were present owing to their dread of the threatened fine. How Judaism had retrograded in the century of “enlightenment” when compared with the thirteenth century! At that time, on a similar occasion, the spokesman of the Jews, Moses Nachmani, proudly confronted his opponents at the court of Barcelona, and almost made them quake by his knowledge and firmness. In Lemberg the representatives of Talmudic Judaism stood awkward and disconcerted, unable to utter a word. They did not even understand the language of the country—their opponents, to be sure, were in like case—and interpreters had to be employed. But the287 Catholic clergy in Poland and the learned classes also betrayed their astounding ignorance. Not a single Pole understood Hebrew or the language of the rabbis sufficiently to be an impartial witness of the dispute, whilst in Germany and Holland Christians acquainted with Hebrew could be counted by hundreds. The Talmudists had a difficult part to play in this religious conference. The chief thesis of the Frankists was that the Zohar teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, and that one Person of the Godhead became incarnate. Could they dare to deny this dogma absolutely without wounding the feelings of the Christians, their masters? And that leanings toward this doctrine were to be found in the Zohar they could not deny. Of course, they might have refuted completely the false charge of using the blood of Christian children and of the bloodthirsty nature of the Talmud, or might have cited the testimony of Christians and even the decisions of popes. They were, however, ignorant of the history of their own suffering, and their ignorance avenged itself on them. It is easy to believe that the Talmudic spokesmen, after the three days’ conference, returned home ashamed and confused. Even the imputation of shedding Christian blood continued to cling to their religion.
The Zoharites who had obtained their desire were now strongly urged by the clergy to perform their promise, and allow themselves to be baptized. But they continued to resist as if it cost them a great struggle, and only yielded at the express command of their chief, Frank, and in his presence. The latter appeared with great pomp, in magnificent Turkish robes, with a team of six horses, and surrounded by guards in Turkish dress. He wished to impress the Poles. His was the strong will which led the Frankists, and which they implicitly obeyed. Some thousand Zoharites were baptized on this occasion. Frank would not be baptized in Lemberg,288 but appeared suddenly, with dazzling magnificence, in Warsaw (October, 1759), aroused the curiosity of the Polish capital, and requested the favor that the king would stand godfather to him. The newspapers of the Polish capital were full of accounts of the daily baptisms of so many Jews, and of the names of the great nobles and ladies who were their godparents. But the Church could not rejoice in her victory. Frank was watched with suspicion by the clergy. They did not trust him, and suspected him to be a swindler who, under the mask of Christianity, as formerly under that of Islam, desired to play a part as the leader of a sect. The more Frank reiterated the demand that a special tract of country be assigned to him, the more he aroused the suspicion that he was pursuing selfish aims and that baptism had been but a means to an end. The Talmud Jews neglected nothing to furnish proofs of his impostures. At length he was unmasked and betrayed by some of his Polish followers, who were incensed at being neglected for the foreign Frankists, and showed that with him belief in Christianity was but a farce, and that he had commanded his followers to address him as Messiah and God Incarnate and Holy Lord. He was arrested and examined by the president of the Polish Inquisition as an impostor and a blasphemer. The depositions of the witnesses clearly revealed his frauds, and he was conveyed to the fortress of Czenstochow and confined in a convent (March, 1760). Only the fact that the king was his godfather saved Frank from being burnt at the stake as a heretic and apostate. His chief followers were likewise arrested and thrown into prison. The rank and file were in part condemned to work on the fortifications of Czenstochow, and partly outlawed. Many Frankists were obliged to beg for alms at the church doors, and were treated with contempt by the Polish population. They continued true, however, to their289Messiah or Holy Lord. All adverse events they accounted for in the Kabbalistic manner: they had been divinely predestined. The cloister of Czenstochow they named mystically, “The gate of Rome.” Outwardly they adhered to the Catholic religion, and joined in all the sacraments, but they associated only with each other, and like their Turkish comrades, the Donmäh, intermarried only with each other. The families descended from them in Poland, Wolowski, Dembowski, Dzalski, are still at the present day known as Frenks or Shäbs. Frank was set at liberty by the Russians, after thirteen years’ imprisonment in the fortress, played the part of impostor for over twenty years elsewhere, in Vienna, Brünn, and at last in Offenbach; set up his beautiful daughter Eva as the incarnate Godhead, and deceived the world until the end of his life, and even after his death; but with this part of his career Jewish history has nothing to do.
FRANKISM, a Jewish religious movement centered on the leadership of
Ya‘akov (Jakub) ben Yehudah Leib Frank (1726?–1791). The term Frankism
was coined in early nineteenth-century Warsaw and was initially a slur
directed at the descendants of Frank’s followers who converted to Roman
Catholicism and attempted to conceal their background. It was only with the
appearance of the first scholarly accounts of the movement in the second half
of the nineteenth century that the term became to be used for the whole
variety of phenomena connected by the authors to Frank’s activity. Sources
from Frank’s era, however, provide several different perspectives. In Jewish
accounts, his followers are normally not presented as a separate group but as
an offshoot of preexisting heretical movements, most notably of
Sabbatianism. The majority of Christian observers saw the Frankists as a
Jewish sect opposed to the Talmud. The Frankists initially thought of
themselves as a branch of Judaism opposed to the authority of the rabbis and
rejecting some elements of rabbinic tradition. Subsequently, Frankists
redefined themselves as a separate religious group, practically independent
from hitherto existing forms of both Judaism and Christianity.
On 20 February 1759, on Sołtyk’s instigation, the Contra-Talmudists requested permission for another disputation. They called for a unity of all faiths, and promised to prove that Jews used Christian blood for ritual purposes. They presented the following seven points for the debate: 1. All prophecies about the coming of the Messiah have already been fulfilled. 2. The Messiah is the true God, whose name is Adonai. He took human form and suffered for our redemption. 3. Since the advent of the true Messiah, sacrifices and ceremonies have been abolished. 4. Everyone should follow the teaching of the Messiah, for salvation lies only within it. 5. The cross is the sign of the Holy Trinity and the seal of the Messiah. 6. A person can achieve faith in the Messiah the King only through baptism. 7. The Talmud teaches that Jews need Christian blood, and whoever believes in the Talmud is bound to use it. The disputation took place in Lwów from 17 July to 19 September 1759. Although Frank did not take part in the disputation, he came to Lwów and was recognized as the leader of the Contra-Talmudists. Pressure from the Vatican led to no decisive verdict being promulgated and the rabbis were obliged only to formulate a written response to the Frankists’ accusations. During the disputation, Frank’s followers became to be treated not as a Jewish sect professing tenets that were not recognized by mainstream Judaism, but as a group of candidates for conversion to Christianity. The first baptisms took place even before the formal end of the disputation, and they were attended by a large public, with many important noblemen acting as godparents. On 17 September, Frank himself was baptized in Lwów Cathedral and adopted the name Jakub Josef. Approximately 3,000 people converted in Lwów, Lublin, and Warsaw. Some of them were immediately ennobled on the basis of a Lithuanian statute of 1588, which gave the prerogatives of the gentry to baptizing Jews and their offspring. The church devoted much effort to spreading news of the Lwów disputation. The primate of Poland issued a pastoral letter urging Catholics to support the converts with alms and ordered that an abridged version of the minutes of the disputation be sent to parish churches and read during Sunday sermons. Reports and manifestos from the disputations were translated into Latin, French, Spanish, Armenian, Portuguese, Italian, and German and disseminated in different countries. News of the conversions reached England and the New World. After his baptism, Frank conducted
From: The Mixed Multitude
Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement, 1755-1816
Conversions to Christianity were among the most traumatic events in the history of medieval and early modern Jewish communities. Jews regarded baptism as a “betrayal of communal values, a rejection of Jewish destiny, a submission to the illusory verdict of history.” Willing apostates were seen as the worst traitors and renegades, forced conversions were considered the ultimate form of persecution of Israel by the Gentiles, and, according to the common ideal, it was better to choose a martyr’s death than to submit to the power of the Church. Each soul that Judaism lost was mourned. The dominant narrative did not even entertain the possibility that a Jew might embrace Christianity without any threat or ulterior motive. Christians themselves, while officially praising the apostates and expressing hope for “the blind synagogue’s” future recognition of the “obvious” truth of Christianity, privately voiced doubts concerning the sincerity of the converts and the very ability of the Jews to truly accept Christ.
In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the largest Catholic country in Europe and, at the same time, the home of the largest Jewish community in premodern times, baptisms of Jews were rare. Neither the local church nor the state conducted systematic missionary campaigns targeting the Jews. Forced conversions of individuals were forbidden by law and were few. Mass apostasies, like those known in Western Europe, did not occur-with one significant exception. In late summer and early autumn 1759, a sizable group of Jews-thousands, by most accounts-led by one Jacob Frank embraced Roman Catholicism in the city of Lwów. The conversion was unique not only in its sheer size. It was also-or at least appeared to be-voluntary: whatever caused Frank and his followers to approach the baptismal font, they were not facing a choice between baptism and expulsion or violent death like their brethren in medieval German lands or Portugal. What was most unusual, however, was the reaction of most Jewish contemporaries. In contrast to typical reactions of sadness, anger, or despair, many Jews saw the conversion of Frank and his group as a God-given miracle and a great victory for Judaism. Entire communities celebrated.
Among early Jewish accounts of the 1759 conversion, only one departed from the prevailing triumphant mood and expressed radically different sentiments. Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, known as the BeSh”T (1698-1760), who was the founder of Hasidism, the most important spiritual movement in Judaism of the period, was said to have bemoaned the Lwów mass apostasy or even to have died of pain caused by it. According to the story recorded in the hagiographic collectionShivhe ha-BeSh”T, the Ba’al Shem Tov laid the blame for the eruption of the entire affair on the Jewish establishment; he was “very angry with the rabbis and said that it was because of them, since they invented lies of their own.” The leader of Hasidism saw Frank and his group as part of the mystical body of Israel and presented their baptism as the amputation of a limb from the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence on earth: “I heard from the rabbi of our community that concerning those who converted [in Lwów], the Besht said: As long as the member is connected, there is some hope that it will recover, but when the member is cut off, there is no repair possible. Each person of Israel is a member of the Shekhinah.”
The Ba’al Shem Tov died in 1760, a year after the Lwów apostasy. Some 150 years later, in Berlin, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, an aspiring writer who was later to become the State of Israel’s most celebrated author and a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote a short essay on Frank. He juxtaposed various Jewish accounts of the 1759 conversion, ending his piece with the testimony concerning the BeSh”T’s words. He concluded:
We are only dust under the feet of this holy man, yet we dare to be of another opinion. Frank and his gang were not a limb of the body of Israel; rather, they were a [pathological] excrescence. Praise and thanks to our doctors, who cut it off in time, before it took root in the body!… Undoubtedly, Frank and his group were descendants of the foreign rabble, which tacked itself onto Israel during the Exodus from Egypt, and followed it thereafter. In the desert, in the Land of Israel, and later in the Exile, this multitude defiled the purity of Israel and defiled its holiness. May we be freed from them forever!
In recounting the BeSh”T’s reaction to Frank’s conversion, Agnon alluded to the symbolism of the “mixed rabble” or “mixed multitude,” the erev rav. The concept appears in the Hebrew Bible in the narrative account of the Exodus (Exod. 12:37-38): “And the People of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot, who were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude [erev rav] went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, and very many cattle.” Jewish tradition interpreted the phrase erev rav as denoting a group of foreigners who joined the Israelites following Moses from Egypt. While some midrashim understood it as a reference to the “righteous among the Egyptians, who celebrated Passover together with Israel,” a prototype for future converts to Judaism, the majority of rabbinic exegetes saw in the mixed multitude the source of corruption, sin, and discord: accustomed to idolatry, the erev rav enticed Israelites to make the Golden Calf and angered God by demanding the abolition of the prohibition of incest. Thus, the emblem of the erev rav came to evoke the image of unwelcome strangers present in the very midst of the Holy People; the mixed multitude were not true “children of Abraham” but Egyptian rabble who mingled with Israelites, contaminated their purity, incited them to sin, and caused them to stray from the right path in the wilderness. It was because of them that the generation of the Exodus lost the right path on the desert and Moses did not enter the Land of Israel.
In the Middle Ages, the symbolism established by the ancient midrash was taken up and developed by kabbalah, particularly the book of the Zohar. The Zohar universalized the midrashic image by removing it from its original place in the sequence of biblical narrative: the presence and activity of the mixed multitude were not restricted to the generation of the Exodus but extended over the entire history of humanity. The erev rav were the impurity that the serpent injected into Eve; they were the descendants of Cain; the nefilim, “sons of God” who procreated with the daughters of men (Gen. 6:2-4); the wicked ones who survived the deluge. They were progeny of the demonic rulers, Samael and Lilith. They contributed to the building of the Tower of Babel and caused the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. They practiced incest, idolatry, and witchcraft. They were the cause of the imprisonment of the Divine Presence in the demonic realm of the “husks” (kelippot) and, likewise, the exile of Israel among the nations.
In the Zohar’s narrative, the activity of the mixed multitude was by no means restricted to the past. Rather, the erev rav represented the ever-present force of destruction, whose aim was to bring the world back to the state of biblical “waste and void,” the primordial chaos (tohu va-vohu). And, it should be noted, this force was located within the Jewish people. As the mixed multitude mingled with Israelites in the desert, their descendants became outwardly undistinguishable from other Jews and existed in every generation: in accordance with its wider mythology of metempsychosis, the Zohar depicted present-day Jewish sinners as Jews the “roots of whose souls” originated among the erev rav.
The topos of the mixed multitude thus became the figure of the ultimate enemy within, as opposed to Gentile haters of Israel. As Yitzhak Baer has demonstrated, in its original Zoharic setting, this motif had already been employed as a vehicle of a powerful social critique directed against the contemporary Jewish establishment, which was said to oppress scholars and abuse the poor. The rabbis and parnassim (lay leaders), who “studied Torah not for its own sake,” “erected synagogues not for the glory of God but rather to make a name for themselves,” and turned into “false shepherds of Israel,” were surely not “true children of Israel” but the descendants of the Egyptian hangers-on who had joined Moses in the wilderness. Thus, the rich, powerful, materialistic rabbinic and secular powers were contrasted with holy spiritualists lacking riches or high social position and extolling poverty for the sake of God. In the eyes of kabbalists, only the latter formed the true congregation of Israel.
The Jews who converted in Lwów in 1759 were Sabbatians-followers of a religious movement triggered by messianic claims of the Ottoman Jew Sabbatai Tsevi (1626-76). Sabbatai first voiced his pretensions to the messiahship in 1648, but the movement that formed around him began to gain momentum only in 1665, when a young kabbalist, Nathan of Gaza (1643-80), “recognized” the truth of his mandate in an ecstatic vision. Shortly after proclaiming Sabbatai as the messiah, Nathan-who was soon to become “at once the John the Baptist and the Paul of the new messiah” -composed a commentary on an ancient apocalyptic text that he had supposedly discovered in an old synagogue’s storage room. In order to counter rabbinic opposition to the budding messianic upheaval, he invoked the symbolism of the mixed multitude: the messiah’s contemporaries “shall rise against him with reproaches and blasphemies-they are the ‘mixed multitude,’ the sons of Lilith, the ‘caul above the liver’ [Lev. 3:4], the leaders and rabbis of the generation.”
In his subsequent writings, Nathan developed a doctrine of salvation attainable by messianic belief alone (as opposed to the observance of commandments) and extended his use of the motif of the erev rav claiming that all Jews who fully observed the Law but denied Sabbatai’s mandate had souls of the mixed multitude. As Gershom Scholem observed, by linking the symbolism of the mixed multitude with eschatology and messianic mysteries, Nathan combined two distinct motifs that function separately in the Zohar. For the Sabbatians, the litmus test of what was the root of one’s soul became not, as in the Zohar, spiritual piety and “observance of the Torah for its own sake” but faith in the messiah Sabbatai Tsevi (or lack thereof): the sectarians “increasingly felt themselves to be the true Israel, harassed by the ‘mixed multitude’ because of their faith.”
The radical dichotomy between the messianic believers and the rabbinic skeptics was further elaborated in the Commentary on the Midnight-Vigil Liturgy, composed by Nathan’s disciple Rabbi Israel Hazzan of Kastoria. Hazzan argued that the true messiah would be recognized not by the Jewish leaders, whom he defined as the progeny of the mixed multitude, but by simpletons. The denial of Sabbatai Tsevi as the messiah and the failure to understand hints about him in the Jewish canon came to be attributed to a kind of metaphysical blindness stemming from the very roots of the nonbelievers’ souls. According to the Sabbatians, the “pretended rabbis” could no longer assert any rights to leadership over the Jewish people or lay claims to the authoritative interpretation of Jewish tradition. Their learning was false, their worldly position based on abuses of power, their ostensible piety worthless and lacking deeper sense.
Nahman ben Samuel of Busk (Piotr Jakubowski), 13, 16, 18, 22, 26
Bernstein also uses this material
Nachman ben Samuel Halevi, Rabbi of Busk, Galicia. When Mikulski, the administrator of the Archbishopric of Lemberg, invited the representatives of Judaism to a disputation with the Frankists, July 16, 1759, he was one of the Frankist delegates. He afterwards became a Christian, and took the name of Pietr Jacobski (Gräetz x., 392).
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