TRANSLATIONS
FRANKIST LETTERS


Address

He who is the master of peace, may he give blessing and peace to you and to the entire House of Israel [who are] scattered in the lands of Hungary.


Introductory

Our beloved House of Israel! You should know that our holy lord, while still in the castle of Rome in Czestochowa, wrote a holy letter to the city of Brod, and these are his sacred words:


Frank's First Letter

Hear me ye stouthearted, you who are far from deliverance[1] and who are shrewd in their ways.[2] Who among you fears the Lord?[3] Who can hear the voice, the voice that comes from the wilderness to the nations? Woe unto you when the mightly lion awakes to remember the ram! It is written, For the Lord will not do anything unless He reveals His secret [to His prophets].[4] But if, indeed, you are the Children of the Holy One, Blessed is He, how is it that it has not been revealed to you what shall occur in the end of days, in these times? But surely the early predictions have already been fulfilled, and the new predictions[5] I foretell from beginning to end.[6] Therefore, let them be ready to weep and to cry out concerning Krakow and its surroundings. Mourn, gird yourselves in sackcloth, cry out in the streets;[7] for a fire has gone forth from Heshbon,[8] [the number] of their sins, and it shall consume the city.[9] Who shall die by the sword, who by hunger, by plague, or in captivity?[10] Their corpses shall be like dung on the ground,[11] and dogs shall lick their blood.[12] Behold the storm of the Lord, His wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will fall upon the head of the wicked[13] [for a fire is kindled by my anger] and it shall burn to the depths of Hell.[14] And it shall come to pass that the one who escapes the sword shall be caught in the trap.[15] Therefore, let them be ready to weep, to cry out for them. But let them be ready to cry out for your town and in your surroundings. A nation is about to rebel[16] [against] the nation of the sons of Edom with a battle cry as the king presses against the other king. Let them purify themselves and make themselves white[17] and condemn the guilty. But none of the wicked will understand, only those of real understanding will know[18] that anyone who has a spark of the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must enter into the holy faith of Edom, and whoever will accept this creed with love will be saved from all of them [the persecutions] and will merit all of the consolations promised in Isaiah and in all the Prophets.

I would like to write at greater length, but a hint suffices for one of wisdom and understanding.[19] And I shall conclude with [the blessing of] life. - Jacob Jozef Frank

Footnotes

[1] Isa. 46:12
[2] Cf. Prov. 2:15 [and Job 5:13].
[3] Isa. 50:10
[4] Amos 3:7
[5] Isa. 42:9
[6] Isa. 45:10
[7] Jer. 4:8
[8] Num. 21:28
[9] Jer. 4:8
[10] Cf. Unetaneh Toqef in Rosh Hashanah liturgy
[11] Cf. Jer. 16:4
[12] I Kings 22:38
[13] Jer. 23:19
[14] Deut. 32:22
[15] Jer. 24:18
[16] Cf. Targum Ps. 55:7
[17] Dan. 12:10
[18] Dan 12:10; cf rabbinic commentaries referring to messianic computations
[19] Zohar I 26b, 28ob




Commentary on Frank's First Letter

Before the address proper, the letter begins with a blessing, "He who is the master of peace, etc." This points towards the midrashic interpretation of the "Song of Songs by Solomon" 1:1 (lishomo is interpreted as lemi shehashalom shelo,[1] i.e., God). Here it functions as an invocation of the Diety.

"The entire House of Israel": this is a standard formula throughout the document drawing a distinction between Israel and yehudi, using the latter in a perjorative sense.[2] Hungary was an important center of the Frankist movement.[3] There is good reason to believe that similar letters were addressed to other Frankist enclaves. Moreover, the writers no doubt hoped to attract adherents from the general Jewish population. In a sense, therefore, the letter was designed for propagandistic effect. The two introductory lines to the body of the first letter (lines 3-4 page 1) are concise, containing the elemental information of when and where Frank wrote the epistle and to whom it was addressed.

By choosing the letters of 1767 and 1768 rather than any other message that Frank promulgated throughout his activities, the writers seem to point to their unusual significance. It would seem that these letters signalled a new turn in Frankist dogma. Apparently 1767 marked a reevaluation of Frank's intellectual independence upon the Shabbatean movement, commencing with a proclamation of Frank's own role as the prophet of Israel. It is worth noting that 1767 was a year of political turbulence in Poland. What needs emphasis is that the entire document contains no apparent allusion to the Shabbateans or their doctrine which had been instrumental in the launching of the Frankists.

The introductory sentence points out that the letter was composed while Frank was in detention which had begun in 1760 in the Roman tower (Jasna Gora) of Czestochowa in Poland. The significance of this point seems to be that he was a captive of Rome, i.e., Esau. This theme is fully developed in the body of the document. The authors stress that his wording is quoted verbatim: "these are his sacred words."[4]

Frank's two letters conflate biblical and Zoharic quotations with his own words. But the citations, whether from Scripture or Zohar, are rarely letter perfect.[5] He adds or subtracts in order to focus upon his own message, though sometimes the changes may be attributable to to imprecise memory. At any rate, accuracy of citation did not appear mandatory. The biblical and Zoharic references given in this article are therefore not intended to convey exactitude, but rather act as a general guide to the author's intellectual baggage. It is important to remember, however, that Frank's interest was not in sources per se, but only insofar as they served to frame his own message.

When Frank speaks in the first person or constructs his own wording, the style is apocalyptic, reminiscent of the prophetic formulations found in the Dead Sea Scrolls or in apocalyptic writings. Occasionally he becomes apologetic, but at all times he repeats the old tradition that the messianic era would be preceeded by an immense catastrophe.[6] But Frank does contribute something new. This is the need to be circumspect. He addresses his followers hanelozim be'orhotam (shrewd in their ways), alluding to Proverbs 2:15.[7] Before concluding, Frank writes that he would have liked to speak at greater length,[8] but was, under the circumstances, constrained not to do so. It is clear that Frank was alluding here to a message which he would not, or perhaps could not, divulge in his writing, evidently because he expected his messages to be intercepted by the Catholic Church or by his Jewish enemies. The absence of direct speech frequently obfuscates the understanding of many phrases. But this obfuscation, though part of the then current style, may have been intentional. It would seem that Frank uses the language of the Zohar as a code.

Frank employs different styles of writing for different parts of the letter. Assertions that urge the Jews to be baptised are formulated in simple Hebrew which would have been understandable to the Catholic censors. But references to the ultimate destruction of Christianity are couched in abtruse Hebrew or Aramaic lines that only his learned disciples could decipher. For example, the Aramaic in lines 15-16 page 1 are seemingly incoherent. But an analysis of those phrases shows that they recall the midrashic interpretation of vayitrosesu beqirbah which is in Genesis 25:22, 23. "The children pressed hard upon each other in her womb, and she said, 'If this is how it is with me, what does it mean?' So she went to seek the guidance of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb, two peoples, going their own ways from birth. One shall be stronger than the other; the older shall be a servant to the younger.'"[9]

The tradition interprets these lines as the beginning of the struggle between the descendants of Jacob and Esau, i.e., Edom in our letter; a struggle which originates in Rebecca's womb and which will end in messianic times with Israel's victory.[10] Frank seems to hint here at what becomes clearer in the second letter: the baptism of the Jews constituted part of the messianic pangs necessary to effect the ultimate downfall of Christianity,[11] which is referred to throughout the document as Edom.

The rebelling nation, "a nation is about to rebel [against] the nations of the sons of Edom with a battle cry as the king presses against the other king"[12], refers to the descendants of Jacob who will be rising against the nation of Edom, i.e. Rome. Here Frank fails to state the victor, relying on the reader's awareness that the older, i.e., Esau, will submit to the younger, i.e., Jacob.[13] To make doubly sure that the Zoharic message will be understood as a code, Frank concludes with a statement paraphrasing Daniel 12:10 "Let them purify themselves and make themselves clean and white," and, "the wicked will not understand but those of real understanding will know."

This is to say that Frank was writing with cunning in addressing two audiences, those who could understand simple Hebrew only, and those who possessed a key to the hidden meaning. Put in plain language, Frank says that anyone who is truly a descendant of the patriarchs must undergo baptism in order to merit the consolations announced by the prophets of old. But for the discerning, he announces Jacob's ultimate victory over Esau on the way to Zion. This appears to be the meaning of the statement that "anyone who accepts the faith of Rome. . . will merit the consolations promised by Isaiah and all the prophets."[14] Conversion to Christianity was a necessary, if evil, prerequisite for Israel's redemption.

Footnotes

[1] Midrash Rabbah, Song of Songs 1:1, Rashi ad locum
[2] 1:3, 2:27 - bet yisra'el; 1:21, 2:3, 2:9, 2:24, 2:28 - yehudi
[3] Gershom Sholem, "Frank, Jacob," Encylopaedia Judaica, Vol. 7 col. 57
[4] 1:14
[5] 1:16, 2:18-20
[6] Cf. Malachi 4:5
[7] 1:5
[8] 1:9
[9] "Each of the twins was eager to slay the other." Genesis Rabbah 63, 6, page 682, Albeck on vayitrosesu.
[10] Cf. Targum Jonathan and Nachmanides on Genesis 25:22, 23
[11] Havalim - pangs, 2:28, 4:10. Scholem (note 1 to Introduction) argues that in the epistle Edom is not to be rendered as a reference to Christianity but to Frank's own new creed. This obscures the difference between appearance and reality in the letter. Frank's allusions to Edom were intended to give an appearance that his followers ought to accept Christianity. To be sure, this was only a trick to mislead the authorities. In Frank's exalted faith, Edom, i.e., Christianity, will be defeated.
[12] 1:14
[13] Cf. Genesis 25:13 and traditional commentary
[14] 1:18, 19



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