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Laurance Wieder


Far from Me

Messianic unease.

Tradition holds that a messiah is born in every generation. "Yes," the talmudic sages say. "Let the Messiah come, but not in our time." Since 2001, at least seven books have been published concerning three Jewish messiahs of the past three-and-a-half centuries: Sabbatai Sevi, Abraham Miguel Cardozo, and Jacob Frank. All such studies and historical revisions are written in the shadows or on the shoulders of Gershom Scholem's landmark 20th-century history, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah. That work of scholarship made respectable again a mystical tradition based largely on the Zohar. Scholem established that Moses de Leon, a late-medieval Spanish Jew, wrote the Zohar. Among learned Jews, that book enjoyed a status equal to the Talmud, a respect undone by the Messiahship of Sabbatai Sevi. Following the English and French Revolutions, modern Jewry sought enlightenment before redemption, citizenship before Jerusalem. Philosophy became preferable to prophecy.

Born in Turkey in 1626, Sabbatai Sevi spent much of his adult life oscillating between a luminous conviction that he was the long-awaited Messiah son of David, and profound inner darkness. Hoping to be cured of delusive sickness, in 1665 Sevi sought out a young healer of souls, the kabbalist-prophet Nathan of Gaza. Alas, instead of release, Nathan proclaimed the manic-depressive rabbi the Redeemer.

That same year, the newly anointed Messiah delivered a public address (reproduced by Ada Rapoport-Albert in Women and the Messianic Heresy of Sabbatai Zevi) on what the Messiah means for the other half of humanity:

As for you wretched women, great is your misery, for on Eve's account you suffer agonies in childbirth. What is more, you are in bondage to your husbands and can do nothing great or small without their consent …. Give thanks to God, then, that I have come to the world to redeem you from all your sufferings, to liberate you and make you as happy as your husbands, for I have come to annul the sin of Adam.

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