A controversial Jewish mystical movement that followed the messianic claims of Jacob Frank in the 18th century.

Religion: Judaism
Denomination: Sabbatean
Founder: Jacob Frank
Founded: 18th century
Ended: 19th century
Location: Primarily in Poland and surrounding regions

Frankism emerged in the mid-18th century as a Jewish messianic movement, deeply rooted in the teachings and fallout of Sabbatai Zevi, a previous messianic figure whose influence had persisted in various forms. Founded by Jacob Frank, who was born in approximately 1726 in Podolia (part of modern-day Ukraine), the movement distinguished itself through its radical challenge to traditional Jewish law and theology, advocating for the breaking of religious boundaries as a spiritual imperative. Frank proclaimed himself as the successor to Sabbatai Zevi and even as a divine incarnation, attracting followers with his enigmatic teachings and the promise of a new religious era.

The Frankists’ beliefs were centered around the concept of antinomianism—believing that existing religious laws and teachings would eventually be nullified and that his followers should actively seek to transcend traditional moral boundaries. Sabbatai Zevi himself had engaged in actions that defied Jewish laws, such as violating dietary restrictions and altering traditional fast days into feasts, setting a precedent for the Frankist disregard for halakhic norms.

Frankism’s development was significantly influenced by the socio-economic turmoil in Poland and the disillusionment following the massacres and destruction of Jewish communities during the Chmielnicki Uprising. This period of suffering and chaos created fertile ground for messianic movements, as devastated communities clung to the hope of divine deliverance. The Frankists initially emerged as a semi-Christian group, advocating for a syncretic blend of Jewish and Christian beliefs, which culminated in a mass conversion to Catholicism led by Frank. This act was not merely a religious statement but also a strategic move that allowed the Frankists to gain social and economic privileges under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The disputation of Lwów in 1759 was a significant event in which Frankists publicly challenged the Talmud and Jewish orthodoxy, leading to the conversion of around 3,000 of Frank’s followers to Christianity. Despite their formal conversion, the Frankists continued to practice their unique blend of religious beliefs, often in secret. Frank himself was eventually imprisoned by the Catholic Church, accused of heresy and misleading his followers. Nevertheless, he managed to maintain a degree of influence, conducting rituals and sending out emissaries from his place of confinement.

After Jacob Frank’s death in 1791, the movement continued under the leadership of his daughter, Eve Frank, who was regarded as a reincarnation of the Shekhinah, the divine presence, but the movement declined in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Frankism left a lasting impact on the religious landscape, challenging traditional norms and contributing to the complex tapestry of Jewish mystical and messianic thought​​​​​​.

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