Sabbatai Zevi (Jewish Convert To Islam)

In continuation looking at the Messianic Jews movement, today we give our ear to “News That Isn’t In The Lamestream Media” a blog that wants to be a way to inform the world of current calamities around us. Often to understand the present we must look at the past. From an African American male living in  the United States, we come to hear his view on Sabbatai Zevi (שַׁבְּתַי צְבִי, other spellings include Sabbatai Ẓevi, Shabbetai Ẓevi, Shabbeṯāy Ṣeḇī, Sabbatai Sevi, Shabsai Tzvi, and Sabetay Sevi in Turkish) (August 1, 1626 – c. September 17, 1676) the Sephardic Rabbi  and kabbalist from a Romaniotes family, we started to look at in our articles “De Messiaanse beweging onder de loep” (Scrutinizing the Messianic movement), “The Sabbatean Prophets” and “Converso Involvement in the Sabbatai Zevi Movement“.

In this article we go back to February of 1666, having Sabbatai given by Köprülü, in the name of the Sultan Mehmed IV, the choice of either facing death by some type of ordeal, or of converting to Islam. Such pressure to convert we can find many times in history. Often we see that such conversion had no use and in some cases even had a contra-productive effect, bringing elements from the convertor his faith in to the pushed forward belief. In Sabbatai’s case we may find some of his followers also converted to Islam — about 300 families who were known as the Dönmeh (converts)


To remember

  • Sabbatai Zevi his father, Mordecai, poultry dealer in the Morea + Smyrna agent of an English trading house = managed to achieve some wealth in this role.
  • Sabbatai attended a yeshiva under the rabbi of Smyrna, Joseph Escapa > attained proficiency in the Talmud + fascinated by mysticism and Kabbalah, < influenced by Rabbi Isaac Luria > found practical kabbalah – with its asceticism
  • During first half of 17th century, millenarian ideas of approach of Messianic time popular = included ideas of redemption of Jews + return to land of Israel => independent sovereignty.
  • apocalyptic year identified by Christian authors = 1666 + millenarianism = widespread in England.
  • Manasseh ben Israel (Manoel Dias Soeiro) appealed Oliver Cromwell + Rump Parliament to readmit Jews into England
  • 1648 year to be of Israel’s redemption by long-awaited Jewish Messiah > Sabbatai started declaring to his followers in Smyrna = he was the true Messianic redeemer > to prove this claim started to pronounce the Tetragrammaton = highly symbolic act.
  • revealed his Messiahship early on to Isaac Silveyra + Moses Pinheiro
  • Messianic pretensions became too bold => under cherem, =  most rigorous form of  excommunication in Judaism.
  • 1651/54 banished Sabbatai + his disciples from Smyrna
  • By 1658 in Constantinople > met preacher Abraham Yachini => confirmed Sabbatai’s messianic mission.
  • Salonica = center of kabbalists > Sabbatai’s base
  • mystical events — e.g., celebration of his marriage as the “One Without End” (the Ein Sof) with the Torah, => banished  from the city by Rabbi Hiyya Abraham Di Boton=> settled in Cairo, where he resided for about two years (1660–1662).
  • Sabbatai befriended Raphael Joseph Halabi (“of Aleppo“) supporter + promoter of his Messianic claims.
  • During Chmielnicki massacres in Poland, Jewish orphan girl Sarah, found by Christians + sent to a convent for care > escaped+ made her way to Amsterdam > went to Livorno + conceived  notion to become bride of the Messiah => Sabbatai claimed such consort promised to him in a dream > as Messiah was bound to fall in love with an unchaste woman => married at Halabi’s house.
  • Sabbatai passing city of Gaza on his way to Palestine met Nathan Benjamin Levi, known since as Nathan of Gaza (נתן עזתי Nathan ‘Azzati) => serving as Sabbatai’s right-hand man + declaring himself to be risen Elijah. + proclaimed Gaza would be sacred city.
  • Sabbatai publicly declared himself to be the expected Messiah during the Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) in 1665; his declaration was made in the synagogue, with the blowing of horns, and shouts of “Long live our King, our Messiah!”
  • His followers refer to him with title AMIRAH, a Hebrew acronym for the phrase “Our Lord and King, his Majesty be exalted” (Adoneinu Malkeinu Yarum Hodo).
  • Sabbatai became leader of the community => used his power to crush opposition => deposing existing rabbi of Smyrna, Aaron Lapapa,
  • fame extended far and wide > Italy, Germany, + the Netherlands = centers of his Messianic movement.=> Henry Oldenburg, distinguished German savant = 1st secretary of the Royal Society
  • Sabbatai’s followers = Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, Moses Raphael de Aguilar, Moses Galante, Moses Zacuto, Hayyim Benveniste or Chaim Benveniste, Dionysius Benjamin Musaphia, Abraham Yachini
  • Sabbatai in Abydos prison > 2 prominent Polish Talmudists from Lwów, Lesser Poland informed  prophet Nehemiah ha-Kohen, had announced coming of Messiah => ordered prophet to appear before him. = meeting ended in mutual dissatisfaction.
  • Sabbatai taken from Abydos to Adrianople > sultan’s vizier gave him 3 choices=> September 16, 1666 Zevi came before sultan, cast off his Jewish garb + put a Turkish turban on his head = conversion to Islam accomplished=> title (Mahmed) Effendi,+ doorkeeper.
  • Sarah + approximately 300 families among Sabbatai’s followers also converted to Islam = new Muslims = dönmeh (converts).


  • By 1680s Dönme congregated in Salonica, cosmopolitan + majority-Jewish city in Ottoman Greece. > next 250 years lead an independent communal life — intermarrying, doing business together, maintaining their own shrines, + handing down their secret traditions. > Most migrated to Turkey, where by mid-century they were becoming highly assimilated.
  • Dönme split into 3 sects > Karakaş follow Sufi-influenced practices, + Kapancıs not been influenced by Islam at all, = now completely secular.


Preceding articles

De Messiaanse beweging onder de loep (Scrutinizing the Messianic movement),

The Sabbatean Prophets

Converso Involvement in the Sabbatai Zevi Movement


5 thoughts on “Sabbatai Zevi (Jewish Convert To Islam)

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