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Militant Messiah: Or, the Flight from the Ghetto: The Story of Jacob Frank the Frankist Movement

jan peczkis|Saturday, November 30, 2013

This work provides a fine introduction not only to Jacob Frank and the Frankists, but also to events surrounding the man and his movement. It also describes other developments within Judaism. For instance, Mandel comments, (quote) In Hassidism the concepts of good and evil undergo a certain qualification. They no longer are determined by the deed itself, but depend on the doer. The same deed that would be evil committed by an ordinary man, committed by the tsaddik is good. (unquote). (p. 19). However, the Frankist movement went to the extreme of full-blown antinomianism. (p. 36, 37).

Of course, the Frankists were not a monolith. As many as 20,000 Jews had converted to Christianity under the auspices of the Frankists. They were ennobled, and given the rank of Generosus or Nobilis. (p. 65). Some of the Polish names given to the converts included Niedzielski or Niedzialkowski, Lutoslawski, Kwiecinski, Majewski, and others. (p. 66). The Polish Frankists, as a whole, maintained their identity into the second half of the 1800's, and many of the descendants of the Frankists rose to high positions in Polish society. (p. 120).


Works on Jewish-Polish relations typically center on Polish anti-Semitism. In contrast, Mandel realizes that the prejudices between Poles and Jews were mutual. He writes, (quote) To the Pole, the Jew was by and large a cheat and fanatic when poor, a boaster and braggart when rich, a scabby, evil-smelling garlic eater in any case. To the Jew, the Pole was more animal than man when poor, an arrogant nincompoop unable to handle his own affairs when rich, a chronic drunk in any case. (unquote). (p. 26).

The Christian exclusion of Jews also went both ways. Mandel comments, (quote) In any case, according to the Talmud, the Hebrew word for heresy, MINUTH, usually stands for Christianity. (unquote). (p. 37).


Mandel believes that accusations against Jews of ritual murder became very prominent in heretofore-tolerant Poland in the 18th century because of the influence of the Jesuits. However, Jews were not the only victims. The Romans had made such accusations against the early Christians. More recently, the Khlyste [unorthodox Russian mystics] were also subject to the blood libel. (p. 54).

The reader may be surprised to learn that, not only did the Jews have their own version of the Inquisition, but also they even availed themselves to the Christian Inquisition in order to punish the heretics within their camp. Mandel quips, (quote) Maimonides was and still is the perennial target of Jewish orthodoxy; his GUIDE OF THE PERPLEXED was the first book to be burned by the early Inquisition, and that at the request of the rabbis of Montpellier in 1232. (unquote).( pp. 20-21). Mandel continues (quote) The Frankists did not make any bones about their orgiastic rites and soon became a public outrage. In the summer of 1756 they were excommunicated by the Synod of the Jewish Communities...Referring to the decree forbidding the establishment of sects, the Synod demanded the Catholic Church declare the Frankists heretics, which would have condemned them to be burned at the stake. The rabbis were so sure of their case that they sent out invitations to the spectacle. (unquote). (pp. 47-48).


Although not described in these terms, Jacob Frank, for a time, tried to establish a Judeopolonia. Mandel states (quote) He [Frank] petitioned the king to assign to him a territory in eastern Galicia where he could settle with his followers in a vassal state with himself at the head. The Jews of the whole world would flock then to Poland and enrich her. In other words, a Zionism without Zion, as it was advocated under the name of Territorialism in the first few decades of the present century, leading to various projects of settling the Jews of eastern Europe to Uganda, Biro-Bidjan [Birobidzhan] and other places. The plan found favor with both king and magnates, but floundered on strategic considerations, that is the risk of settling a group with close relations to Turkey on the Turkish border. (unquote).(p. 56).


In the end, it turned out that Frank was a consummate opportunist. Following the political winds, he switched his loyalties to Russia. Mandel comments (quote) Frank foretold also the imminent partition of Poland which would (and actually did) bring him his freedom. Betting on Russian might, he sent a delegation to Moscow to sound out the Holy Synod about a possible conversion of the Frankists to the Russian Orthodox religion. When the delegation returned empty-handed, Frank exploded in furious exasperation... (unquote). (p. 74).

For more on Jacob Frank and the Frankists, please click on The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement, 1755-1816 (Jewish Culture and Contexts), and read the Peczkis review.
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