Frankism was a heretical Sabbatean Jewish religious movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, centered on the leadership of the Jewish Messiah claimant Jacob Frank, who lived from 1726 to 1791. Frank rejected religious norms, and said his followers were obligated to transgress as many moral boundaries as possible. 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 – following antinomianism – asserted that the most important obligation of every person was the transgression of every boundary.
Frankism is associated with the Sabbateans of Turkey, a religious movement that identified the 17th-century Jewish rabbi Sabbatai Zevi as the 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 foods that were forbidden by kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and celebrating prescribed 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. The more radical branches even engaged in sexual foreplay. In Frankism, orgies featured prominently in ritual.
Several authorities on Sabbateanism, including Heinrich Graetz and Aleksander Kraushar, were skeptical of the existence of 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, seeing Frankism as 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 allegedly 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 compares Frank's position to that of Friedrich Nietzsche.
After Jacob Frank
After Jacob Frank's death in 1791, his daughter Eve, who had been declared in 1770 to be the incarnation of the Shekhinah, the dwelling of the divine presence, continued to lead the movement with her brothers.
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Edited, translated, annotated and with an introduction by Harris Lenowitz.