Frankism was an 18th-century to 19th-century Jewish religious movement centered on the leadership of the Jewish Messiah claimant Jacob Frank, who lived from 1726 to 1791. At its height, it claimed perhaps 50,000 followers, primarily Jews living in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. Unlike traditional Judaism, which provides a set of detailed guidelines called halakha that are scrupulously followed by observant Jews and regulate many aspects of life, Frank claimed that "all laws and teachings will fall" and asserted that one's most important personal obligation was the transgression of every boundary.
Frankism is commonly associated with Sabbateanism, a religious movement that formed around the claim that the 17th-century Jewish rabbi Sabbatai Zevi was the Jewish messiah. Like Frankism, the earlier forms of Sabbateanism believed that at least in some circumstances, antinomianism was the correct path. Zevi himself would perform actions that violated traditional Jewish taboos, such as eating fats that were forbidden by Jewish dietary laws and celebrating former fast days as feast days. Especially after Zevi's death, a number of branches of Sabbateanism evolved, which disagreed among themselves over which aspects of traditional Judaism should be preserved and which discarded. Some branches of Sabbateans actually converted to Islam, in emulation of Zevi—in 1666, the Ottoman Sultan had forced Zevi to become a Muslim. The more radical branches even engaged in orgies. In Frankism, orgies featured prominently in ritual.
Several authorities on Sabbateanism, including Heinrich Graetz and Aleksander Kraushar, were skeptical that there was such a thing as a distinctive "Frankist" doctrine. According to Gershom Scholem, another authority on Sabbateanism, Kraushar had described Frank's sayings as "grotesque, comical and incomprehensible." In his classic essay "Redemption Through Sin" Scholem argued a different position, that Frankism was a later and more radical outgrowth of Sabbateanism. In contrast, Jay Michaelson argues that Frankism was "an original theology that was innovative, if sinister" and was in many respects a departure from the earlier formulations of Sabbateanism. In traditional Sabbatean doctrine, Zevi and often his followers claimed to be able to liberate the sparks of holiness hidden within what seemed to be evil. According to Michaelson, Frank's theology asserted that the attempt to liberate the sparks of holiness was the problem, not the solution. Rather, Frank claimed that the mixing between holy and unholy was virtuous. Netanel Lederberg claims that Frank had a Gnostic philosophy wherein there was a "true God" whose existence was hidden by a "false God." This "true God" could only be revealed through a total destruction of the social and religious structures created by the "false God," thus leading to a thorough antinomianism. For Frank, the very distinction between good and evil is a product of a world governed by the "false God." Lederberg further compares Frank's position to that of Friedrich Nietzsche.
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