Jacob Frank: Wikis


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Jacob Frank.

Jacob Frank (יעקב פרנק Ya'akov Frank, Jakob Frank; 1726–1791) was an 18th century Jewish religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi and also of King David. Frank and his followers were excommunicated due to his extremely unconventional doctrines that included acceptance of the New Testament, Enlightenment and some controversial concepts such as "purification through transgression."[1]

Frank arguably created a new religion, now referred to as Frankism, which combined some aspects of Christianity and Judaism. The development of Frankism was one of the consequences of the messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi, the religious mysticism that resulted as a reaction to nascent Hassidism and the socioeconomic upheavals among the Jews of Poland and Ukraine.


Historical background

The heyday of Frank's messianic movement occurred during a period of the loss of relative social and economic stability in the late 1770s resulting from the Koliyivshchyna rebellion, an uprising of Ukrainian peasantry that resulted in many Polish and Jewish casualties.

Messianism at the end of the seventeenth century assumed mystical coloring, possibly under the influence of the Rosicrucian movement in Germany, which dressed its doctrine of improvement of the World in mystical garb. In then Eastern Poland (now Ukraine),[2] particularly in Podolia and Galicia, there were numerous secret societies of Sabbateans (after Sabbatai Zevi) formed.

In expectation of the great Messianic revolution, the members of these societies abandoned many Jewish principles of faith and discarded Jewish religious laws and custom. The mystical cult of the Sabbateans is believed to have included both asceticism and sensuality: some did penance for their sins, subjected themselves to self-inflicted pain, and "mourned for Zion"; others disregarded the strict rules of modesty required by Judaism, and at times were accused of being licentious. The Polish rabbis attempted to ban the "Sabbatean heresy" at the assembly at Lviv (Lwów) in 1722, but could not fully succeed, as it was widely popular among the nascent Jewish middle class.

Early life

Jacob Frank is believed to have been born as Jacob ben Leiba (or Leibowits) in Korolivka (now Ukraine), in Podolia of Eastern Poland, in about 1726. His father was a Sabbatean, and moved to Chernivtsi, in the Austro-Hungarian region of Bukovina in 1730, where the Sabbatean influence at the time was strong. While still a schoolboy Frank began to reject the Talmud, and afterward often referred to himself as "a plain" or "untutored man."

As a traveling merchant in textile and precious stones he often visited Ottoman territories, where he earned the nickname "Frank," a name generally given in the East to Europeans, and lived in the centers of contemporary Sabbateanism: Salonica and Smyrna.

In the early 1750s, Frank became intimate with the leaders of the Sabbateans. Two followers of Osman Baba were witnesses at his wedding in 1752. In 1755 he reappeared in Podolia, gathered a group of local adherents, and began to preach the "revelations" which were communicated to him by the Tzeviists in Salonica. One of these gatherings in Landskron ended in a scandal, and the rabbis' attention was drawn to the new teachings. Frank was forced to leave Podolia, while his followers were hounded and denounced to the local authorities by the rabbis (1756). At the rabbinical court held in the village of Satanov the Sabbateans were accused of having broken fundamental Jewish laws of morality, modesty, and more importantly of acceptance of sanctity of the Christian Bible.

The anti-Talmudists

As a result of these disclosures the congress of rabbis in Brody proclaimed a universal Cherem (excommunication) against all "impenitent heretics", and made it obligatory upon every pious Jew to seek them out and expose them. The Sabbateans informed Dembowsky, the Catholic Bishop of Kamenetz-Podolsk, that they rejected the Talmud and recognized only the sacred book of Kabbalah, the Zohar, which did not contradict the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. They stated that they regarded the Messiah-Deliverer as one of the embodiments of the three divinities.

The bishop took the "Anti-Talmudists," or "Zoharists," under his protection and in 1757 arranged a religious disputation between them and the rabbis. The Anti-Talmudists presented their theses, to which the rabbis gave a very lukewarm and unwilling reply lest they offend the Church dignitaries who were present. The bishop decided that the Talmudists had been vanquished, and ordered them to pay a fine to their opponents and to burn all copies of the Talmud in the bishopric of Podolia.

After the death of the bishop, the Sabbateans were subjected to severe persecution by the rabbis, although they succeeded in obtaining an edict from Augustus III of Poland guaranteeing them safety.

Declaration of being a successor to Sabbatai Zevi

At this critical moment Jacob Frank came to Iwania, proclaimed himself as a direct successor to Sabbatai Zevi and Osman Baba, and assured his adherents that he had received revelations from Heaven. These revelations called for the conversion of Frank and his followers to the Christian religion, which was to be a visible transition stage to the future "Messianic religion." In 1759 negotiations looking toward the conversion of the Frankists to Roman Catholicism were being actively carried on with the higher representatives of the Polish Church; at the same time the Frankists tried to secure another discussion with the rabbis. The Polish primate Lubenski and the papal nuncio Nicholas Serra were suspicious of the aspirations of the Frankists, but at the insistence of the administrator of the bishopric of Lemberg, the canon Mikulski, the discussion was arranged. It was held in Lemberg, and was presided over by Mikulski. Protestant missionaries also tried to detour the Frankists to Protestantism, and a handful did in fact join the Moravian church.

Baptism of the Frankists

At the discussion in 1759, the rabbis energetically repulsed their opponents. After the discussion the Frankists were requested to demonstrate in practice their adherence to Christianity; Jacob Frank, who had then arrived in Lemberg, encouraged his followers to take the decisive step. The baptism of the Frankists was celebrated with great solemnity in the churches of Lwów, with members of the Polish szlachta (nobility) acting as god-parents. The neophytes adopted the names of their godfathers and godmothers, and ultimately joined their ranks. Frank himself was baptized in Lwów (September 17, 1759) and again in Warsaw the next day, with Augustus III as his godfather. Frank's baptismal name was "Joseph" (Józef). In the course of one year more than 500 individuals were converted to Christianity at Lwów, and nearly a thousand in the following year. By 1790 26,000 Frankists were recorded baptised in Poland.[3]

However, the Frankists continued to be viewed with suspicion, due to their unusual doctrine. Frank was arrested in Warsaw on February 6, 1760 and delivered to the Church's tribunal on the charge of heresy. The Church tribunal convicted Frank as a teacher of heresy, and imprisoned him in the monastery of Częstochowa.

Prison and later days

Jacob Frank on his deathbed, 1791

Frank's imprisonment lasted thirteen years, yet it only increased his influence with the sect by surrounding him with the aura of martyrdom. Many Frankists established themselves near Częstochowa, and kept up constant communication with their "holy master". Frank inspired his followers through mystical speeches and epistles, in which he stated that salvation could be gained only through the "religion of Edom," or dat ("law"), a mixture of Christianity and Sabbateanism. After the first partition of Poland, Frank was released by the Russian general Bibikov, who had occupied Częstochowa, in August 1772. Frank lived in the Moravian town of Brno until 1786, surrounded by a retinue of adherents and pilgrims who came from Poland. His daughter Eve began to play an important role in the organization of the sect at this time. Frank kept a force of 600 armed men at his "court" in Brünn. Future czar Paul I of Russia visited him.

Accompanied by his daughter, Frank repeatedly traveled to Vienna, and succeeded in gaining the favor of the court. Maria Theresa regarded him as a disseminator of Christianity among the Jews, and it is even said that Joseph II was favorably inclined to the young Eve Frank. Ultimately Frank was deemed unmanageable and he was obliged to leave Austria. He moved with his daughter and his retinue to Offenbach, in Germany, where he assumed the title of "Baron of Offenbach," and lived as a wealthy nobleman, receiving financial support from his Polish and Moravian followers, who made frequent pilgrimages to Offenbach. On the death of Frank in 1791, Eve became the "holy mistress" and leader of the sect. Her fortunes dwindled in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, and she died in Offenbach in 1816.

Some Frankists were active during the French Revolution, such as Frank's nephew Moses Dobruška. Many of the Frankists saw Napoleon Bonaparte as a potential Messiah. The Frankists scattered in Poland and Bohemia eventually intermarried into the gentry and middle class, and a number of important cultural figures in Poland are descended from former Frankists, including Frederic Chopin[4], Adam Mickiewicz[5][6][7][8], Juliusz Slowacki [9] and Maria Szymanowska.[10]


  1. ^ Maciejko (2003)
  2. ^ Map of Kresy at File:Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 1635.png
  3. ^ Mieses
  4. ^ http://www.russian-globe.com/N79/Klein.RodoslovnayaShopena.htm
  5. ^ http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/mickiewicz/grol.html
  6. ^ Balaban, Meir, The history of the Frank movement, 2 vols., 1934-1935, pp. 254-259.
  7. ^ Magdalena Opalski & Israel Bartal, "Poles and Jews: a failed brotherhood" p.119-121
  8. ^ "Mickiewicz's mother, descended from a converted Frankist family": Encyclopaedia Judaica, art. Mickiewicz, Adam. "Mickiewicz's Frankist origins were well-known to the Warsaw Jewish community as early as 1838 (according to evidence in the AZDJ of that year, p. 362). The parents of the poet's wife also came from Frankist families." Encyclopaedia Judaica, art. Frank, Jacob, and the Frankists.
  9. ^ Mieses
  10. ^ "Album Musical de Maria Szymanowska (review)". Oxford University Press - Journal of Music and Letters. 2002. http://ml.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/pdf_extract/83/4/671. Retrieved 2010-01-05.  

See also



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