Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati
Sheldon H. Blank, Editor
Matitiahu Tsevat, Associate Editor
Offprint from Hebrew Union College Annual, Vol. LIII 1982
©1983, by the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
[Reprinted with Kind Permission of the Author]
The Hebrew Zoharic letter, written apparently in 1800 to the Jews of Hungary by the three leading disciples of Jacob Frank, is made available here for the first time together with a transcription, and an English translation and commentary. Peter Beer published a German translation of a similar letter in 1823, but the Hebrew-Aramaic original is lost. A similar letter addressed to the Jews of Bohemia was published by N. Porges in 1894. M. Wischnitser printed another copy addressed to the Jews of Tartary in 1914. This document consists of a single sheet, 37 cm by 24 cm, folded and containing four pages. Pages 1 and 2 have thirty lines each. Page 3 has twenty-eight lines and Page 4 has fifteen lines for a total of one hundred and three lines. The letter's signatories, appearing in the last three lines of the document, Shlomo ben Elisha Shor, his brother Nathan Nata, and Yeruham ben Hananiah led the Frankist movement after the Master's death in 1791.
The letter is addressed to the Jewish communities of Hungary but contains no specific addressee. This would indicate that the epistle was carried by messengers who recited it to the faithful and sympathizers. Unfortunately, the letter does not contain the place of composition, or, for that matter, a formal date. The assumption that the letter was composed in 1800 rests on line 28 of page 2, i.e., "this year of 560" (1799/1800). There existed many copies of this document, known as "the red letter" to symbolise the link between Adom and Edom, red and Rome. As was mentioned above, Peter Beer's German translation was based on a copy that differed slightly from ours. One of those differences was the color of the ink. The ink of our copy is black.
The letter is very important since it reveals the mindset of the leading Frankists in 1800, doing so in their own words rather than in a Polish or German paraphrase. Most of the extant evidence concerning the Frankist movement consists of documents written in Polish, which was a foreign tongue for the writers. The Polish documents in our possession probably were translated from Hebrew and Yiddish originals or reconstituted de novo by members of the second or third generation for whom Polish had become a native tongue. Furthermore, the letter quotes verbatim the entire contents of Jacob Frank's own two letters of 1767. Of the massive Frankist evidence, as far as we know, these two letters are the only texts that can be said to have been penned by Jacob Frank himself.
They provide first-hand testimony of Frank's literary and intellectual acumen. Frank reputedly referred to himself as a prosdak, someone who could not find his way in abtruse rabbinical texts. His two letters, however, reveal a deep understanding of the Jewish sources. Only the possession of a deep understanding enabled him to expand upon traditional exegesis. He could not only cite the Bible and Zohar with ease, but also make up lines that imitated the biblical and Zoharic style and spirit.
Frank writes in an obscure manner, avoiding direct speech, conveying his message through the use of biblical and Zoharic citations. The style of gluing together a variety of biblical and Zoharic lines frustrates the reader.
Nevertheless, the general message comes through and may be summarized as follows:
The document divides itself into two parts: Frank's messages and the current letter. The first part is introduced by an address to the Jewish communities of Hungary (lines 1-2 page 1), preliminary words to the first of Frank's letters (lines 3-4 page 1), the body of the first letter (lines 4-20 page 1), preliminary words to the second letter (lines 20-21 page 1), the second letter itself (line 21 page 1 to line 21 page 2) and an oral message addressed to several Jewish communities in Poland, carried by the signatories of our document (lines 21-26 page 2). The second part, which comprises the remainder of the letter (line 26 page 2 through line 12 page 4), urges the Frankists to retain their faith in their Master.
Were the letters attributed to Jacob Frank actually written by him? It is impossible to answer the question unequivocally. If they are not authentic, it would have to be presumed that Frank's three leading disciples forged the documents. Such an assumption seems implausible. It is one thing for a single person to manufacture such a correspondence; it is another for at least three people to collaborate on a fabrication. The problem of what to include and what to exclude in such a forgery would probably result in disagreement. Moreover, as far as is known, the Frankists have no history of conscious misquoting of their Master. Unless proven otherwise, it must be presumed that the letters and message attributed to Frank are genuine.
The efforts of Mutzal M'Aish made this publication possible. I express my deep gratitude to Dr. and Mrs. Sidney Peerless for making available this document. Rabbi Isaac Neuman was extremely helpful in its transcription and elucidation. Herbert Paper has carefully read the letter making valuable contributions to its transcription. I am also grateful to Michael Meyer for his instructive suggestions. Aryeh Azriel and Judith Bluestein have contributed to the transcription of this document. Jan Katzew has been of tremendous assistance to me in the writing of this article.
 Geschichte, Lehren und Meinungen aller bestandenen und noch bestehended religiosen Sekten der Juden und der Geheimlehre oder Cabbalah. Peter Beer. Brunn, 1823, pp. 329-339. In some cases, Beer's archetype seems to have differed from our copy. Page 2 line 18 citing Deuteronomy 32:2 either was not in Beer's Vorlage or was omitted by him. Also absent is page 4 line 8, Ki lo davar req hu. Page 3 line 7 notes that the words "Rise O Virgins of Israel" are missing. In addition, even when Beer's text seems to reflect the wording found in our document, his translation diverges substantially from the one presented here, e.g., ve'edveh (3:14) which he translates "verlies ihu" reflects a misreading (ve'azveh). Beer does not provide a commentary though he does include parenthetical explanations. Cf. N. Porges, Texte de la lettre adresee par les Frankists," REJ v. 29, (1894), pp. 282-288. M Wischnitser in Memoires de l'academie imperiale des Sciences de St. Petersbourg, Vol. 12 no. 2 (1914) pp. 1-19. These letters, according to Scholem, were composed in Offenbach. Cf. Scholem "The Holiness of Sin," Commentary vol. 51 (January 1971), p. 68. Parts of this letter were quoted by Jakob Abraham Brawer, Galitsyah Viyehudeha (Jerusalem, 1956), pp. 269-274.
 For example, the Slowa Panskie, a collection of sayings attributed to Jacob Frank known only to us in a Polish translation. See The Words of the Master. Also Alexander Kraushar's Frank I Frankisci Polscy, Crakow, 1895, 2 volumes, based also on Polish memoirs. For a bibliography on Frank consult G. Scholem, Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 7, col. 57