Converso Involvement in the Sabbatai Zevi Movement

Sabbatai Zevi - Portrait by an eyewitness, Smy...

Sabbatai Zevi – Portrait by an eyewitness, Smyrna, 1666. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez looks at the rise of the false King messiah who developed a mass following and threatened rabbinical authority in Europe and the Middle East, Sabbatai Zevi (Sabbatai Zebi or Sabbatai Zevi) and on how his messianic movement greatly impacted communities comprised of former Conversos.

1666 members of the community in Amsterdam succumbed to the predominant enthusiasm as did those in Hamburg and travelled to Adrianople (or Hadrianopolis), now Edirne, Turkey, to meet the professed messiah.


To remember

  • Attraction of former Conversos to Sabbatai not limited to communities of Western Europe > links to Sabbatai + mystics of the movement.
  • Sabbateanism > centers of Sabbatean engagement before Zevi’s apostasy = centers of settlement for many former Conversos = Istanbul, Salonika, Livorno, Amsterdam, and Venice = centers of Jewish learning
  • In Izmir, Sabbatai Zevi’s native city, many former Conversos had settled. = rabbi Moses HaCohen Isaac Silveyra, Abraham Baruch, Rabbi Moses Pinheiro (teacher of Abraham Miguel Cardoso)
  • Conversos =  crypto-Jews attracted to the movement as a means of atoning for their Christian past.
  • many Conversos who settled in Amsterdam + in other settlements struggled with challenge of integration into a normative Jewish environment > previous lives as Christians, financial challenges + stark differences to what they may have imagined as being reflective of Jewish life may have provided some with ample reason to embrace views which offered what they perceived to be a more a spiritual solution.
  • presence of significant numbers of former conversos in many centers of Jewish population paved the way for a positive response to Sabbatean nihilistic and antinomian doctrines.
  • Jacob Sasportas, described the enthusiasm for the Sabbatai’s messianic claims in Amsterdam + Hamburg
  • support for Zevi not limited to lower classes
  • Levantgoverning board of Beit Israel community of Hamburg debated whether or not a delegation should be sent out to the Levant in order to pay respect to “nosso rey Sabettay Seby ungdio do Dio de Jaacob cuja coroa seja exaltada.”
  • the wealthy Abraham Pereyra of Amsterdam founded the yeshivah Hesed le-Abraham in Hebron in 1659.
  • for Sabbateans, conversion of Messiah Zevi to Islam = not a treacherous act > necessary action to begin redemptive process. = influences of Converso experience
  • predilection of Conversos looking towards a rectification of their spiritual + physical situation =  factor in continuation of messianic idea in the Peninsula
  • source of influence felt in Smyrna in Ottoman Empire which became a key settlement of former Portuguese Conversos. Jacob Barnai notes the influence of various factors in the rise of the Sabbatean movement which reinforced the already present ideas.
  • Christian messianism, Portuguese Marranism or Marrano + Sabbateanism = inextricably tied together.

Portrait of Menasseh Ben Israel by Rembrandt

  • concern over Ten Lost Tribes = near obsession particular to Conversos mentioned by individuals like Converso Alvar Gonzalez from the Canary Islands.
  • In 1650, Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel or Manoel Dias Soeiro unintentionally provided a spark for growing messianism among both Jews and Christians.
    Menasseh authored Esperanca de Israel, in Spanish in the city of Amsterdam. By appearance of Sabbatai Zevi’s in 1665,  published in seven languages.
  • Similar stories circulated about tribes located in Andes Mountains, horn of Africa, + Arabian Peninsula > desired reinstatement of Jewish political freedom.
  • In 16 + 17th century = great awakening of Christian messianism
  • Nathan Shapira related the struggles of Jews in Poland suffering from pogroms + difficult status of Jews in living in Ottoman Palestine.
  • Christian millenarians > influenced Jews because of their business and social relationships.
  • Smyran Marranos = direct supporters of Sabbatai Zevi
  • Members of the Orphan Society connected with Mordecai Jessurun (“King Jehoiakim.”)
  • R. Moses Pinheiro,
  • Baruch Ben Gershon of Arezzo, follower of Sabbatai + author of pro-Sabbetean tract “Zikkaron li-Bene Yisrael”.
  • Sephardic names = descendants of Spanish or Portuguese émigrés as opposed to native Romaniote Jews.
  • Abraham Miguel Cardoso = successor of sorts to Zevi. > emphasized idea that the Torah “as it now exists” would soon “no longer be necessary.”



De Messiaanse beweging onder de loep

The Sabbatean Prophets


B'nei Anusim Center for Education

By Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez

The rise of Sabbatai Zevi and his messianic movement greatly impacted communities comprised of former Conversos. In 1666 for example, many of the members of the community in Amsterdam succumbed to the predominant enthusiasm as did those in Hamburg. Prayers had even purportedly been offered in the synagogue denoting Zevi as King Messiah. Some prayer books were printed which included reference to year one of the Messiah, and even incorporated etchings portraying Sabbatai Zevi. Some members of the community traveled to Adrianople to meet the professed messiah. Rabbi Jacob Sasportas, a member of the board aggressively combated the movement and its influence.

The attraction of former Conversos to Sabbatai was not limited to the communities of Western Europe. Many persons from Converso had links to Sabbatai and mystics of the movement. A map detailing the dissemination of Sabbateanism makes it clear that the cities that were…

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