Persuading a Sultan: Sabbatai Zvei and Theodore Herzl, Two Failed Attempts

Dec 17, 2023 10:00AM—12:00AM


Temple Beth El and on Zoom

Cost Free

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In a notebook entry from 1896, the Austro-Hungarian Jewish activist Theodore Herzl compared himself to Sabbatai Zvei, a charismatic rabbi living in Smyrna in the seventeenth century:

“The difference between myself and Sabbatai Zvei (the way I imagine him), apart from the difference in the technical means inherent in the times, is that Sabbatai Zvei made himself great so as to be the equal of the great of the earth. I however, find the great small, as small as myself.”

This course sets out to compare and contrast two messianic figures who both appealed to Sultans but failed in their efforts. Through this framework, we explore how Zionism, as it was pursued at the end of the nineteenth century and as it underwrote the problem of European Judennot (Jewish distress), turned towards secular messianism as a solution for European Jews. Some 250 years earlier, in 1650, Zvei told the Jewish world of Ukraine and Poland, and eventually the Moslem world of the Near East, that he was God’s Messiah, amassing great support during this time. How then do these two specific moments in Jewish history shed light on Zionism as we understand it today?

This adult education course will be taught by Sanford Freedman, and it will be held both in-person at TBE and virtually on zoom.

Class dates: December 17, January 7, January 14. 10:00am-12:00pm

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