The Charlatan at the Gottes Haus in Offenbach

  • H. Lenowitz
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 173)


It is a commonplace in the published research on the Jewish messiah Jacob Joseph Frank (1726–1791) that what he said to his followers contained gleanings from many sources, that were then restyled to fit his own mythopoesis. Gershom Scholem, knowing more than others, and suspecting yet more, went farther in discovering Frank’s sources than any other scholar.1 Yet it must be said (1) that his analysis of Frank’s mythopoesis rarely took into account the fact that Frank’s myths, for various reasons, changed over his lifetime; and (2) that Scholem’s feelings about Frank’s sources were intemperate and extremist. On the one hand, he credited the Sabbatian school of Barukhia Russo with a great deal of influence on Frank’s teaching and its expressions;2 on the other, he denied Frank any real depth of knowledge of any of the written sources of this school’s doctrine — from the midrashim and the Talmud through the Zohar and Lurianic and Sabbatian literature.3 A spell, cast by his desire to show that the roots of modern Judaism lay in Sabbatianism, lay over all of Scholem’s considerations of Frank. In this conception, Frankism was the horrifying last stage of Sabbatianism — a Jewish movement at first and then a non-Jewish movement that broke away from all that was Jewish. Scholem claimed that Frankism was one of the most important sources of Hasidism, Reform Judaism and the Haskalah, and that Frankists were themselves key players in the development of these movements.4 Furthermore, at least in his first studies of Frank, Scholem’s general convictions led him to adduce the Carpathians, the Valentinians and Marcionites and general “Gnosticism” in order to demonstrate the high degree of similarity between their teachings and this latter-day expression of Jewish mysticism and the teachings of Gnostics, one which recollected the similarly close relationship between Gnosticism and other much earlier schools and writings of Jewish esotericism, even if direct or indirect influence was not actually the case. Like all but a very few writers on Frank, Scholem was able to reach his foregone conclusions by avoiding or circling around the key document of Frankism: Frank’s dicta.


Good Standing Spirit Possession Austrian Court Charles Versus Hebrew Translation 
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  1. 1.
    Scholem admitted to being influenced by the appraisals of Frank in vol. 7, bk. 2,17–18,30–36 of Israel Zinberg’s History of Jewish Literature, (Vilnius, 1936) (in Yiddish), and later — eighteen years after having written his essay, “Redemption through Sin,” kneset, 2 (1937), 347–392 (in Hebrew) — by the essay of Y. Kleinman, “The morality and poetry of Frankism,” Jevrejski Almanach, (1923), 195–225 (in Russian). He must have seen the single volume of the work of A. Kraushar — Frank and the Polish Frankists, (Krakow, 1895) (in Polish) — that N. Sokolow had translated into Hebrew in 1895 as well. These highly colored descriptions and assessments of Frank, along with H. Graetz’ enflamed and condemnatory work, Frank and the Frankists, the History of a Sect, (Breslau, 1868) (in German), and M. Balaban’s sketch, Towards the History of the Frankist Movement, (Tel-Aviv, 1934) (in Hebrew), constituted the view of Frankism that Scholem formulated in his dialectic response in the essay of 1937 and thereafter. Scholem expressed his feelings about the importance of Kleinman’s essay in “The Shabbatian movement in Poland,” in Y. Heilprin, ed., The Jews in Poland, (Jerusalem, 1954) vol 2, 73n30 (in Hebrew), and said that he had not seen it before then. See Sh. Verses, Haskalah and Sabbatianism,(Jerusalem, 1988), 11–13 (in Hebrew) for further discussion.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See “Redemption”, 124 (H. Halkin’s translation can be found in G. Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism“, (New York, 1971);”The Shabbatian movement…,“ 66n5;”Barukhia, leader of the Shabbatians in Salonika,“ tziyon, 6, (1941), 119–147, 181–202 (in Hebrew). Scholem’s entry,”Frank, Jacob, and the Frankists,“ Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 7, col. 56, makes the same point in 1971 and it remains unchanged in the celebratory reprint of the”Redemption…“ essay in 1973 (Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    “Redemption,” 127Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    H. Skimborowicz,The Life, ,Death and Teachings of Jacob Joseph Frank, (Warsaw, 1866); Abraham Duker, “Polish Frankism’s duration,”Jewish Social Studies, 25 (1963), 287–333; Hillel Levine, “The Lublin manuscript of the FrankistKsiega Slow Panskich —, some themes,”Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, (1986);The Kronika — on Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement, (Jerusalem, 1984); Aviva Sela,A study in one threefold tale of Jacob Frank, MA thesis (University of Utah, 1988); “Motif and Plot in the tales of Yakov Frank,”Proceedings of the Tenth World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, (1990); Ch. Shmeruk, “The `Book of the Words of the Lord’ — its transmutations from Yiddish to Polish,” gal’ed 14 (1995) (in Hebrew); “A new look at the `Book of the Words of the Lord’ Jacob Frank,”Teksty drugie, 6, 36 (1995) (in Polish); H. Lenowitz and Dan Chopyk, “TheSayings of the Lord, Jacob Frank,”Alcheringa: Ethnopoetics, III, 2 (1978); Lenowitz, “An introduction to the Sayings of Jacob Frank,”Proceedings of the Eighth World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, (1982); “The three-fold tales of Jacob Frank,”Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, (1986); “The false messiah’s dreams,”Tiferet, 1 (1988); “The visions of the Lord [Jacob Frank],”Proceedings of the Tenth World Congress of Jewish Studies, (1990); “The tale of Zahak in the ’ Collection of the Words of the Lord,” in M. Marashi, ed.,Persian Studies in North America, (Bethesda, 1994); “The messiah makes an account of himself,”Proceedings of the Twelfth World Congress of Jewish Studies, (1998);The Jewish Messiahs, (Chapter 8), (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); “Returning…,” n. 2 (above); J. Doktor,Various notes, ,happenings, ,deeds and anecdotes of the Lord, [Jacob Frank], (Warsaw, 1996) (in Polish);The Book of the Words of the Lord, [Jacob Frank], (Warsaw, 1997 ) (in Polish).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bibliotheka Jagiellonska mss 6968, 6969/ 1 /2/3.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Kraushar’s “confession” I.15f. inter alia., Moreover, Kraushar was moving towards a conversion to Catholicism while writing the work on Frank. This, along with his ignorance of Jewish literature, may be presumed to have motivated his selection, heavy editing and bowdlerization of the dicta texts. It is also the case that Kraushar does not reproduce any of Frank’s dicta touching on the Russians, and this is very likely due to his fear of irritating that occupying power.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    M. Balaban’s acquaintance with the dicta appears to have been haphazard. For example, in the introduction to Towards the History…, he discusses the nature of Polish Jewish belief and practice in the 18th century and retells a famous tale of spirit possession from Kaidanover’s kav ha-yashar, but fails to note that the same tale appears in Frank’s dicta. (Balaban’s work in general has been criticized for his lack of depth in Jewish, especially Hebrew, sources.) There have been translations of the dicta as they appear in Kraushar and in the BJ mss. Ms. Hadassah Goldgart did one into German from the Kraushar material (the appendices) for Scholem; it is now in the Scholem archive at the National Library of Israel shelf-listed under the title Skimborowicz gave the dicta in his monograph, Biblia balamutna;, Ms. Fania Scholem did a translation of the BJ mss into Hebrew for her husband, but it is unreliable and Scholem must have come to know that he could not depend on it for further work.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Shmeruk’s article shows just how important a document the dicta are, not only for understanding Frankism but for understanding the varieties of Jewish life of the time and place. In the Polish version in Teksty drugie, 6, 36 (1995), written after the Hebrew article in gated, appeared, he admits to having discovered how vast was the difference between the mss of the dicta and what appeared in Kraushar’s work. Prof. Shmeruk had a typescript of the mss prepared for his use. (His immediate plan was to have produced an essay on the life of Jewish boys in 18th century Podolia, using the dicta as an important source.) When we began going over the typescript together it became clear that the transcriber he had hired had made many errors in reading the mss. (There are also more than a few errors in the editions of J. Doktor, unfortunately.) I am indebted to Professor Shmeruk for sharing with me his learned conclusions concerning other researchers. At an earlier stage of my own work, I was likewise privileged in having the guidance of Professor Duker. He was the one who had the original microfilms of the BJ mss made and it was he who drove me to learn Polish.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    However important a part Polish worship may have played, Scholem’s opinion concerning the influence of mariolatry (“Redemption…,” 125) on the creation of the image of his daughter by Frank needs to be balanced by the history of the term “matronita”, used for the wives of Sabbatai Zevi and Barukhia Russo.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    G. Scholem, “A forgotten mystic of the Enlightenment, E.J. Hirschfeld,” Yearbook VII of the Leo Baeck Institute, (1962), 247–278 (in German); J. Katz, “Mendelsohn and E.J. Hirschfeld,” Bulletin des Leo Baeck Instituts, Year VII (1964), 295–311 (in German); Katz, “The first controversy over accepting Jews as Freemasons,” tziyon, 25 (1965) (in Hebrew); Katz, Freemasons and Jews, (Jerusalem, 1968) (in Hebrew; English translation, (Cambridge, MA: 1970); Scholem, “The career of a Frankist: Moshe Dobrushka and his transformations,” tsiyon, 35 (1970), 181–127 (in Hebrew). Initially, Scholem wrote that Hirschfeld was the mystic behind the doctrines and practices of the Asiatic Brothers; after Katz showed that the chief informant was, in fact, von Schoenfeld/Dobrushka and pointed to materials Scholem hadn’t used, Scholem reworked his thinking and produced — noting somewhat less obligation to Katz for the guidance than he might have and leaving his own misdirection alone — the great article on Dobrushka (which has also appeared in French, with some few changes).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    In general, there is no serious scholarly contention against the connection between Sabbatianism, including Frankism, and Hasidism though there has been a long debate over the question of the “neutralization” of messianism in Hasidism as a component of its successful program to gain adherents. On the other hand, there is good deal of objection to drawing a connection between Sabbatianism/Frankism and either Reform Judaism or the Haskalah, or both. See Verses (n. 1) most recently and before him J. Katz, “Concerning the question of the connection between Sabbatianism and the Haskalah and Reform Judaism,” in Studies in Intellectual and Jewish History Presented to Professor Alexander Altman, (Tuscaloosa, 1979) (in Hebrew).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    This is not the place to go into the whole history of the fringe-Masonic lodge in its various transformations and leaderships. See n. 10 above for further information and bibliographic guidance. I am indebted to the library of the Prins Frederik Masonic Center in the Hague and its gracious conservator, Dr. E.P. Kwaadgras, for the courtesy extended me there on these researches. I am also obliged to the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam for the guidance I received there, initiating me into this aspect of my research. I was led to the latter by a note in J. Godwin’s Theosophical Enlightenment, (Albany, 1994), one of several helpful directions given me by my friends, noted students of 16th century magic and science, Drs. Michael and Phyllis Walton. I will return to the Godwin book, below.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Scholem, “Career…”; A. Mandel,The Militant Messiah, (Atlantic Highlands, 1979), 121–173; P. Arnsberg,From Podolia to Offenbach, (Offenbach am Main, 1965 ) (in German)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    It is not clear whether the Prince ever collected the 3 000 000 fl. for which he sold Frank the Schloss Ysenburg and the noble prerogatives that accompanied it.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    The Order of the Asiatic Brethren (hereafter, the Asiatics) was transformed more than once and known by other names: the Knights of the Rising Dawn, the Brothers of St. John the Evangelist of Asia in Europe. The group and its history are described by Scholem — “A forgotten Jewish mystic of the period of the Enlightenment, E.J. Hirschfeld” Yearbook VII of the Leo Baeck Institute, (1962) (in German) which is based on the writings collected in The Brothers of St. John the Evangelist of Asia in Europe… (Berlin, 1803) (in German) then by Jacob Katz, incorporating new material from the collection of George Kloss — in Jews and Freemasons in Europe 1723–1939, (Cambridge, 1970) (and see the notes and bibliography there) — and then again by Scholem, taking into account Katz’ work and some other new material — in “The career of a Frankist, Moshe Dobrushka and his transformations,” tsiyon, 35 (1970) (in Hebrew).Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kraushar covers the whole history of Frank to the death of Ewa. The last days of Frank’s court and the first of Ewa’s are described in A.G. Schenk-Rink, The Poles in Offenbach on the Main, (Frankfurt/Main, 1866) (in German). The influence of the Asiatics, and in particular of Hirschfeld, on Ewa Frank and her court at Offenbach after the death of her father may shed some light back on the period before his death. “The memoirs of Moses Porges, the conduct of the Frankist court at Offenbach,” ed. N.M. Gelber, Vivo Historishe Shriftn, 1 (1929) (in Yiddish) are one source among many.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Towards the end of his life Sabbatai Zevi sent a letter to followers requiring of them that they “bury their belief in me; cut off the branches of their practices and preserve the root” The letter is presented and discussed in A. Elkayam,—Bury my faith’ — a letter from Sabbatai Zevi in exile,“pe’amim, 55 (1993) (in Hebrew). The idea of”silence“ in this letter from Frank’s most important predecessor shows well how different the orders of the two messiahs to their followers, that they must be silent about their faith, were, and how different the circumstances that produced them. Zevi’s command deals with how his remaining followers should conduct themselves in order to be members in good standing of Jewish communities, and it was preceded by other letters in which Zevi made attempts to explain his conversion, so that the matter of silence was woven into the core of the faith. Frank required silence from his followers largely in retrospect of the act of their betrayal; he made no attempt to keep his faith secret before that time or to have his followers keep it secret. He complained that his followers caused his being sent to prison with their confessions before the Inquisition and the loose chat that led to them and neither sought to have them return to good standing in their previous Jewish circles nor to have their faith remain secret from any but the Polish Catholic authorities.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Frank bought this cloak in Brno in the summer of 1776. Kronika, (Levine) #94, p. 82.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Sh. Zucker, R. Plesser, eds., R. Leib ben Ozer,The Story of Shabtai Zvi, ,from the original Yiddish manuscript with Hebrew translation, ,introduction and notes by Zalman Shazar, (Jerusalem, 1978 ) 35a.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Frank’s employment of the symbolism of flags or banners provides a more typical and vexing example of the difficulty in establishing the origin and application of an important symbol. Frank often speaks of the Company and the Brothers and Sisters arranged as military troops when the time comes, each one having its own flag of certain colors. The dispositions of the flags and the four companies in three sub-divisions each that exhibit them ultimately derive from the account in Numbers. (The account is elaborated in midrashim and receives some treatment in the Zohar, though the elaborations do not seem to contribute to Frank’s version.) Bridging this history to another, the messiahs David Reubeni and Shlomo Molkho carried a flag made for them by Beatriz Abravanel to their fateful meeting with Charles V near Regensburg; flags appear in the iconography of Sabbatai Zevi, associated with the return of the lost tribes of Israel and Zevi’s command over them as the new Moses. On the other side of the bridge a completely separate history of flags exists, of course, to which the Israelites are extraneous: their use as military emblems by kings and nobles from Mesopotamia through Rome into Europe. (Perhaps Charles V dispensed with Reubeni and Molkho because he was irritated at the insolence of two Jews waving their bastard flag.) This collective history writes the flags Frank describes in dictum 439: For there will come an innumerable force of Jews. In one row there will be no less than 10000. Each company will have its flag. All the flags will be of different colors, except black and blue, which will go to the end; and the flags will be lowered and that will last only briefly. Suddenly a certain thing will appear on these flags, they will come and tell me that this-and-this appeared on that flag, and so they will report to me about each flag. Then I will take something round and in it I will put the names of those people, no one will be allowed to put his hand in it, but the name of each individual will rise up on its own. Only then will they call him: Come forward. What that round thing is I cannot reveal to you. It was prepared for you that you would carry myflag, for we shall go with that flag to a certain thing, therefore Ialso called you Brothers, so that you could carry that flag and I would have walked with you under that flag, now I must carry it alone, although it will be difficult for me, yet it stands: that Jacob was left alone. At that time all who have died in that status will come to life., In the image Frank finds nobility, as did other Jews who began to attain the seals and coats of arms of successful entry into non-Jewish and aristocratic society. Still another history brings some of these impulses together: the religious parades of Poland in which banners were displayed and none so precious as the banner of the Mother of God and Poland, the Black Virgin of Czestochowa. Together with this there occurs the ban promulgated in 1666 by King Jan Kazimierz against the parading of banners emblazoned with the figure of Shabtai Zvi throughout Poland, a clear case of iconomachy, returning the matter to Czestochowa and the contending Virgins (Mary the Mother of God and Ewa Frank the Matronita, the Bride of God).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    The Schoenfelds — Moshe made himself known in France as “Junius Frey” — died together with Danton and Chabot. One motive that connects the several figures is sex: Julienne, the “youthful” sister of the Schoenfelds and the aging Chabot; another is money: it seems that the handling of the dismemberment of the Compagnie des Indes by Chabot, the treasurer of the Revolution, or his associates exhibited some impropriety and the financial affairs of the Schoenfelds fueled the suspicion that they were Austrian spies. See Scholem, “Career…,”161175, Mandel, The Militant Messiah, 121–154.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    See her article in this volume.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    The mss of the dicta are all labeled “as spoken in Brno” except for a part of the Lublin ms which is said to have been “spoken in Offenbach.” The dicta include material recorded as early as the group’s sojourn in Iwanie and as late as 1791 and it is all mixed together with no respect for chronology. Shmeruk thought to show that the speeches were made in Yiddish at Offenbach or Brno, then translated to Hebrew and still later, at Offenbach, to Polish where the dicta were numbered. Still, there are dicta from Iwanie, bound to that place by phrases that show they were uttered “in Iwanie,” that gestures were observed at the time of their utterance, “Here the Lord raised his holy finger,” set among dicta spoken at later times. I must also add that there is no necessity to Shmeruk’s argument. It is very likely that some of the dicta went through the process he proposed and others went through other processes. A similar problem arises in regard to the Kronika;, see Levine in the “English summary” vi and vii. Cp. Kraushar, n.6, above, but Kraushar doesn’t take up the question of the editing of the whole ms, in stages.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    The Asiatics’ costumes as they advanced through three degrees were embroidered with roses of different colors, and who knows but that the flower came to them from the Zohar?Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    These numbers are my own. There are problems with the pagination and item numbering of the dicta in all the remaining mss and there are even inconsistencies in Kraushar’s own references. While awaiting the publication of my translations, notes and introduction of the Zbior slow Panskich, (the Cracow recension is so titled, The Collection of the Words of the Lord), including the Lublin material, I have sent a copy of the draft — which it would be better not to depend on — to the Scholem Library at Giv’at Ram. The word bilez, also appears in dictum 1057 in the sense of English “billet.”Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Scholem went into the use Frank makes of the Baalekaben, in his article, “Barukhia…,” 196202. These figures are also referred to in Polish in the dicta as the beznogy, the “legless.” This linguistic usage shows how far Frank was from the understanding of the whole legend, as Scholem would have it, from the time of the Zohar through that of his predecessor, Barukhia. See further, my article, “Returning to `Redemption through Sin, — (n. 2, above).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Book of Constitutions, 1728.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Dictum 108. I tell you, people who come forth from earthly seed have no soul yet and their spirit is like that of a beast, and that is what Job said: Through my body I see God, which means: that the Adam who created Adam was not whole, but those people who will be worthy to embrace a soul from God himself will be able to see from one end of the world to the other and live forever. Even concerning Jacob no more is [said] than that his spirit became alive but not [his] soul.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    See A. Wertheim, “Traditions and Customs in Hasidism,” in G.D. Hundert,Essential Papers on Hasidism, (New York, 1991 ), 378–382.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Godwin, 127.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Ibid., 134.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. Lenowitz
    • 1
  1. 1.University of UtahUSA

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