What’s Behind the Frankist-Sabbatean Movement and its Cult of the Evil?
Do what you want, and you will be saved. That is the message of Frankism, a cult which originated in the 18th century and has followers until our present days. The nihilist religion of Frankism preaches “redemption through sin”. This doctrine of “the sacred sin” demands to annihilate moral religion or any other ethical belief system. If we cannot be saints, let us all be sinners.
The “true way” of the “believers” is going the path of the evil in order to redeem oneself and humankind. Frankism praises the redemptive powers of destruction to bring deliverance to the world.
Did the founder of this movement, Jacob Frank (1726–91) foresee what should come in the centuries after him when he said of himself that “wherever I set foot all will be destroyed, for I came into this world only to destroy and to annihilate”? Are the Frankists the secret ruler of the modern world?
From Sabbatianism to Frankism
The name “Frankism” comes from the founder of this movement, Jacob Frank. He was the most radical representative of the Sabbatian movement, which, according to the great rabbinical scholar, Golem Scholem, has shattered the world of traditional Judaism beyond repair.
Frankism goes back to Sabbatai Sevi (1626–76), known as the “False Messiah” of the 17th century. Sevi (sometimes also written Zevi or Zvi) was born in Izmir, Turkey, in 1626. He proclaimed himself as the new Messiah and gained a huge following in Asia Minor and Eastern Europe. At the peak of his fame and popularity, Sabbatai asked the Turkish Sultan to hand him over Jerusalem. Yet the ruler of the Ottoman Empire confronted Sevi with the alternative of choosing either to be executed or convert to Islam. When Sabbatai chose not to die as a martyr, he consequently lost his influence and respect among his followers. Sabbatai Sevi died in obscurity in Montenegro in 1676.
One hundred years later, Jacob Frank revived the Sabbatian cult with the claim that he is the “true” new Messiah. In the Eastern European world at that time which longed for deliverance, his message aroused an enthusiastic fellowship. Frankism became a mass movement, fed by the burning desire of his followers to construct a new world order.
Frankism promotes the double negativity to deny the world through nihilism in order to save it. The cult follows the mystical tradition of the Kabbala. After the great shock of being expelled from the Iberian Peninsula towards the end of the 15th century, Judaism suffered another blow from the waves of deadly pogroms in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland and the Ukraine in 1648 and 1649.
Mystical movements arose and fought against rationalism that came with the enlightenment. The overall mental confusion of the age provided the ground for messianic movements. Like his predecessor Sabbatai Sevi, Jacob Frank preached purification through transgression. The desecration of what is considered to be holy, such as the Talmud or the Bible, and by performing orgiastic rituals, the human downfall must become so severe that God has no longer an alternative than saving the world.
Coming out of the Jewish tradition, the Frankists challenge the Judaic Talmud and the rule of the Rabbis.
The basic tenets of Frankism (for this and the following quotes see Gershom Scholem’s “Redemption through Sin” of 1936 (in in The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), 78–141) are the beliefs that
- an apostasy of the Messiah is necessary with a sacramental descent into the realm of the kelipot (Qliphoth)
- that the “believer” must not appear as he really is
- that the First Cause and the God of Israel are not the same, the former being the God of rational philosophy, the latter the God of religion.
- in three hypostases of the Godhead, all of which have been or will be incarnated in human form.
The followers of Jacob Fank saw in him the true Messiah and a veritable saint as he could impress the masses with his intrepidness that neither seems to fear God nor the rulers of his time, be they worldly or religious. Frank could make his followers believe that he was not just another kind of Sabbatai but the true messenger of redemption. The “Good God” first sent Sabbatai Sevi into the world. Yet Sabbatai was too weak to find the true way. Jacob Frank, in contrast, so he himself claimed, would be the true savior.
As its main theses, Frankism pronounces:
- The cosmos (tevel), the earthly world (tevel ha-gashmi) is not the creation of God because if it were, the earthly world would be eternal, and man would be immortal
- There are worlds that also belong to the “Good God” but they are hidden except the believers (Frankists) who possess divine powers
- Among the true believers (the Frankists) lives the “King of Kings”, who is also known as “the Big Brother” (!)
- The evil power that created the cosmos introduced death into the world
- The evil power is connected to the feminine and composed of the “Rulers of the World” among them the “Angel of Death”
- These rulers have been reincarnated on earth in a human form and block the path leading to the “Good God”.
- The “Good God” is unknown to man and unknowable and there has not yet been an incarnation of Him
- In the present aeon, there are three “Rulers of the World”: “Life”, “Wealth”, and “Death”
- Wisdom, which is connected to the “Good God” must replace Death, yet the Good God has not been able to reveal Himself to mankind
- The world is in the thrall of evil laws
Frankism preaches to cast off the domination of the evil laws that rule human existence on this earth. The Good God has sent messengers such as the patriarchs as well as Moses and Jesus, yet human beings are too weak to follow their rules. The commandments of these religions that these failed messengers created are useless and even injurious.
In contrast to the ancient prophets, Jacob Frank promised to lead his followers to the true way. His commandments stipulate to free oneself of all laws, conventions, all traditional morals and religions and to transform all attitudes into its opposite and him as the leader into the abyss.
After his conversion to Catholicism, Jacob Frank declared (p. 49): “Christ, as you know, said that he had come to redeem the world from the hands of the devil, but I have come to redeem it from all the laws and customs that have ever existed. It is my task to annihilate all this so that the Good God can reveal Himself.”
Mankind is in a war that, paradoxically, will lead to an eternal structure. In the meanwhile, the warriors of annihilation must be warriors without religion. The bearer of destruction must reach freedom by his own might.
In order to ascend, one must first descend. No area of the human existence and soul must be left out. The biblical Jacob’s Ladder is shaped like a “V”. Mankind can only climb to the infinite when it first descends and be cast down to the bottom rung.
In this sense, Jacob Frank pronounces (p. 49): “I did not come into this world to lift you up but rather to cast you down to the bottom of the abyss.” One must fall to the point where it is impossible to descent any inch more. One must fall so deep that one cannot ascend again through one’s own strength but only the Lord can raise one up through His power.
“We are all now under the obligation to enter the abyss in which all laws and religions are annihilated”, says (p. 50) Jacob Frank. This “descent into the abyss” requires rejecting all religions and conventions and the practice of perversities as a cult of “strange acts”. The path to the pit requires voluntary abasement and utter shamelessness for through that one gains the “tikkun” of which speaks the Torah, the rectification that fixes one’s soul. In “The Chronicles of the Life of the Lord” Harris Lenowitz provides a collection of the many and varied “strange acts” attributed to Jacob Frank.
Insult must be heaped on the guardians of the authorities of old and an open revolt against the established rulers must be instigated. The gospel of libertinism lies at the heart of traditional Gnosticism whose political expression are revolutions and whose modern lifestyle echo is Alister Crowley’s motto “Do what Thou Wilt”.
The three “Rulers of the World” block the path to the bottom of the ladder. None of the ancients was able to descend far enough: neither Solomon nor Jesus or even Sabbatai Sevi. Their error was not to have kept silent.
Conspiracy of Silence
The way of deliverance is deceitful, and the followers of Jacob Frank have to be “perfectly silent”. The mystic principle of Frankism is “the burden of silence”. The followers must maintain a great reserve, and each must appear different from what one really is. Appearance must be upheld while the evil gets done and death comes before confession.
Frankism has no need of scholars, priests, rabbis or gurus. On the contrary, keeping silent is the true way. The right way is not to talk and to give presentations but to act with all force and to go the way of silence. The “believers” must carry the “burden of silence” and remain clandestine. A believer must hold his tongue like a man drawing a bow. “The longer one holds his breath and keeps silent, the further the arrow will fly.”
From the abyss “holy knowledge” will come when the “burden of silence” gets carried. One will be among the nations of the world, but not intermingle with them. The destination is the anarchic liberty of the truly free man. “Edom” is the name of the place to go to and the way to it is lit by the light of knowledge (gnosis).
The “Real Messiah” is a woman and to her all the king’s weapons are surrendered. She is Sophia, the “Divine Wisdom” who removes Death and takes its place as one of the three “Rulers of the World”. Yet as of now, this divine woman must remain hidden. She is the “holy serpent” who guards the garden.
As Gershon Scholem explains (p. 51): “As of yet, the place of ‘Esau’, the home of ‘the Virgin’ and of true salvation, has not been attained by anyone, but its hidden light will first be revealed to the ‘believers’, who will have the distinction of being its soldiers and fighting on its behalf.”
Early roots of the mysticism of Jacob Frank go back to the second century of the spiritualist morality of Gnosticism (pneumatics). In his book on Gnosticism, Hans Jonas explains the revolutionary character of the pneumatics. The followers of this cult combine their full rejection of all traditional norms of behavior with a claim to unlimited freedom. By this, the believer obtains the license to do as one pleases. These actions are the proof of one’s own authenticity that is bestowed to a person from above.
The Frankist rule requires that the believer must remain silent and must not reveal himself but practice deception and spread confusion. The pneumatic movement is secretive and elitist. This select group enjoys an “extra spirit” that allows the believer of being no longer subject to the standards and obligations of his time. This select groups enjoys the privilege of being a free person, free from the demands of the laws and conventions. The pneumatic way of life is not reactive but implies the right to the realization of this freedom. Uninhibited behavior is not protest but self-realization.
As the believer throws himself into the arms of sin, he performs a sacred act as his self seeks to fill the vacuum between the present time and that to come. Hostility to all conventions and to the traditional morals is not opposition but deliverance in order to define oneself as exclusive and different from the majority of the human race and actually an act to place oneself above all kinds of religious and mundane authorities.
Gershom Scholem (part VII) laments that “for the Jew who saw in Frankism the solution to his personal problems and queries, the world of Judaism has been utterly dashed to pieces, although he himself may not have traveled the ‘true way’ at all, may even, in fact, have continued to remain outwardly the most orthodox observers.”
After 1758, following Jacob Franks lead, many of his followers in Central and Eastern Europe converted to Catholicism beginning. In Western Europe, however, the Sabbatians remained Jewish. Its tradition was carried on not by individuals but through families. (Scholem, part VIII). For these, many of them rooted in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, have had largely a wealthy background and high rabbinical learning. Over generations, some of them have kept on to “the holy faith” and their Judaism has become an outer cloak for their true beliefs.
The idea of violating the Torah as the cardinal principle of “the holy faith” has been transformed into the dream of a general revolution that would establish the “new order” in a single stroke. Is it a coincidence that towards the end of Jacob Frank’s life, the American (1776) and the French Revolution (1789) began? Jacob Frank and his followers at least saw the events in America and in France as a visible proof of their belief. Gershom Scholem informs in part VIII of his book “Redemption Through Sin” that the believers in the ghettos of Austria celebrated the French Revolution for the persecution of the Catholic Church and its priestly members.
According to Scholem, the biblical text “The Prophecy of Isaiah” shows the delight at the prospect of a coming apocalypse, “which is destined to take place solely that the Jewish people might be reborn, repudiate its rabbis and other false leaders, and embrace the faith of ‘the true Jacob’ as befits ‘the People of the God of Jacob’. Religious ideas mingle freely with apocalyptic expectations with the ‘true faith’ as the path that leads to both, the spiritual and political liberation.”
In 1799 circulated “The Red Epistle” (Scholem, p. 56), a letter written in red ink and addressed to the Frankists in Offenbach, Germany, that called for following “the holy religion of Edom”. In it, the author claims that the first Jacob of the Bible will be perfected by the second Jacob (Jacob Frank). Although there is a burden of silence about this and while the heart must not reveal what it knows to the mouth, the believers will live among the nations and have their shelter under the Biblical Jacob to complete their mission to make the light known out from the darkness.
Frankism lives on not only in some parts of Judaism but — given the conversion of Sevi to Islam and of Jacob Frank to Catholicism in the other two great monotheistic religions.
(References to the Literary Treatment of the Frankist movement include the great Jewish author Isaac Bashevis Singer who treated the Frankist movement in two novels: Satan in Goray and “Window through the World”. The novel “The Books of Jacob” by Olga Tokarczuk won her the Nobel Prize in 2018).