Gershom Scholem Essay The Crisis of Tradition in Jewish Messianism

There are three ways in which tradition evolves and develops in history. It can be carried forward with a retention of continuity; it can he 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 tradi’tion 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,” which 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 Hne of tradition in Judaism: an attempt to render the word of God utterable and usable in a way of Hfe 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 idea! 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 appHcabihty, 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 pubHc 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 something totally new is unmistakably expressed. These two elements appear dearly 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 behef 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 unreaHzed 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 Ufe 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 people’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 lole 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 true 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 dear. There is progress in the understanding of the Torah 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 reUgious 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 the new covenant, of which Jeremiah is the first to speak (3 1:3 Iff.) 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 he 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.”‘ 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 wilt 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.” “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 element emerges here which splits apart the Day of Atonement and equates it with its opposite. To he 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 affording 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” (mattir isurim instead of mattir assurim). “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 been 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 rejection or whether it represents an internal break, a new combination of the elements 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 equivocality 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, represent 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 without 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 endangered the continuity of the authoritative tradition. Such apprehensions that acute Messianism would lead to a crisis, as also their fear of the anarchic 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, concern for the fate of the Jews after a disappointment as suggested by historical experience, combined with a deep- rooted aversion to the “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 reUgious 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 impulse 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 encountered 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 happens 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 Diaspora. In the history of post-Christian 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 corning of the Messiah and his activity. The real Sabbatai Zevi, however, whose figure we can today draw quite precisely, 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, Sabbatai 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 communities 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 historical 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 Sabbatai 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 passing 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 his 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 twihght figure also exercised a seductive fascination. II •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” indirect 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 himself 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 dose 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 or the mass conversion of several hundred families in Salonika, there arose in that city the sect of the Donmeh (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 daily 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: Uskup), Macedonia in 1680, and who appeared in his writings both as prophet and theologian-a very rare combination in the history of religions. He elaborated his ideas in numerous open letters and treatises, but especially in a manuscript the Hebrew title of which (Zemir Aritzim; cf. Isa. 25:5) implies: “Overthrow of the Enemy Forces” or “Overthrow of the Tyrants,” i.e., of those who hinder redemption. 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 Sabbatai Zevi-a long open letter entitled Magen Abraham (“Shield of Abraham”) .19 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 has apostatized in fulfillment of his mission and speaks of his destitution and his hope, 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 who 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 until it actually came about. Thus they searched for conceptions 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 dear 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 will not exist in the Messianic age.” For him the reason is dear: 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 has 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 of 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 God] 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 nature is immutable-though it may be received in different ways by those who 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 expUcitly 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 washidden. 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 more than three hundred years hardly 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 Sinai. 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 had again been humbled by Moses’ anger, did he receive a second pair of tablets whose content is conveyed in the Torah (Exod. 34). 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 thereafter. 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. 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 fruits. The law which is concealed in the life of this tree is that of a creative force manifesting itself in infinite harmonies, a force which 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 which 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 the expulsion from Paradise, in the exile in which we all now find ourselves, 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 Life, 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 Sinai. 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 which 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 people 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. 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 Death. 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 that as yet has never been, that as yet has never been capable of realization. In this 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 prohibited 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 dearly 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 Mishnah. But beyond this, 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 the Sabbath and a destroyer of the plantings [i.e., a downright heretic].” 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 Mishnah; he 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 have 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 has 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-he decisively rejected 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 hidden conflicts come to light 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, the 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 soul sparks, does not exist at all for the Messiah. In the pre-natal history of his soul— about which Nathan of Gaza relates astonishing things—as well as in his earthly career, he represents the rebellious dement which sterns 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 manifests 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 somber 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 interpretation, 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 Sabbatai 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. Orgiastic 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 win 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 Kazan of Kastoria says: “Only at the second and final appearance of the Messiah [the parousia} shall we who have the true faith [in the mission of the Messiah Sabbatai Zevi] 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 win originate in the first sefirah, the highest manifestation of the Godhead 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 Sabbatai Zevi, was that further step taken whereby Baruchya set up his nihiUstic 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 sectarians 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 symboUc acts and rituals. The Sabbatian “behevers” felt that they were champions of a new world which was to be estabUshed by overthrowing the values of all positive reUgions. 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 reUgion.” In its positive valuation of both the situation of the soldier and the lack of reUgion 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 KabbaHstic symbols in which this crisis was formulated disappeared. What remained was a wild revolt against all traditions, a movement that found anew, 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.


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