By Israel Jacob Yuval
(Review of the The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement, 1755-1816, by Pawel Maciejko)
Many messianic figures in Jewish history bore names with messianic significance. Two of the most famous would-be redeemers whose names testify to their messianic qualities were Jesus (”redeemer,” in Hebrew ) of Nazareth and Shimon Bar Kochba (Bar Kochba is “son of the star,” in Hebrew ). It may be that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, the editor of the Mishna, also saw himself as a messiah, identifying with the tribe of Judah, which established the kingdom of the House of David. I recently came upon a suggestion that Moses Maimonides had messianic pretensions too, stemming from his identification with his name. He saw himself as a second Moses, and therefore, like the first one, he wrote a new Torah (the Mishna Torah ), led his people as the rais (leader ) of the Jews, and was close to the ruler of Egypt. Scholar Moshe Idel argues that Shabbetai Zvi identified with the astrological and messianic qualities of the planet Saturn (”Shabbetai” in Hebrew ). And Jacob Frank, who died in 1790, the founder of the Frankists, the sect that viewed him as the Messiah, identified with the biblical figure of Jacob the forefather, and saw himself as the third Shabbetai, after Shabbetai Zvi and his disciple Baruchia Russo.
Pawel Maciejko’s book about the history of the Frankist movement, soon to be published in Hebrew translation by the Zalman Shazar Center, reminded me of the experience I had several decades back when I read Gershom Scholem’s book “Sabbetai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, 1626-1676.” It is very rare for a work of scholarly research to offer such a fascinating reading experience. From this point of view, Maciejko’s book on Frank and the Frankist movement, which was awarded a 2010 Polonsky Prize for Creativity and Originality in the Humanities at the Hebrew University, where the author is a lecturer in Jewish thought, is a natural and valuable successor to Scholem’s classic volume on Shabbetai Zvi and his followers.