In 1666 the entire Jewish world -- and much of the Christian
and Muslim as well -- accepted the Jewish Kabbalist, Sabbatai Zevi,
as the Mystical Messiah of Israel (See Gershom Scholem, Sabbatai
Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, Princeton University Press, 1973.) Perhaps
the defining moment in this Sabbatian advent -- at least according to
his detractors -- was his "conversion" to Islam, concerning
which four points should be kept in mind:
1. Despite the conventional wisdom of contemporary mainstream
Judaism that Sabbatai's conversion to Islam was a cowardly act of betrayal
that almost annihilated Judaism, a careful reading of modern historical
data (particularly those of Gershom Scholem) strongly suggests that
his apostasy had been predicted by Nathan of Gaza, long before it happened,
as a necessary step in the Messiah's redemption of the world.
2. After "becoming" a Muslim, Sabbatai openly
continued in his Messianic activities as a Jew with the full knowledge
of the Islamic authorities.
3. It is questionable that he ever required others to
follow him into Holy Apostasy, more likely seeing it as an action that
he alone, as the Messiah, was called upon to take, but that others were
free to follow if they chose; the specific notion of "following
the Lord into the Maw of Satan" was instituted by others, primarily
the most radical of Sabbatian theologians, Baruchia Russo and, later,
Sabbatai's 18th century spiritual heir, Yakov Leib Frank.
4. Nathan of Gaza -- Sabbatai's "prophet" and
chief interpreter -- never himself made Holy Apostasy to Islam, or any
other "alien" religion, but remained to his death a practicing
Jew. Nor, in fact, did Sabbatai ever ask Nathan to convert, not even
during their several post-conversion meetings.
The point of Holy Apostasy is Tikkun, and not formal conversion. That is, the goal is to bring about a Sacred Reconciliation between two religions in order to Repair the Face of God, rather than to actually practice either. This is accomplished by internalizing an "alien" religion into one's own person in order to reconcile inwardly what is outwardly antagonistic -- thereby effecting a Tikkun between two seemingly opposite systems and raising up the Holy Sparks in each to their Source.
Yeshua HaNotzri is reputed to have done this by his "sacrifice" on the Cross and Sabbatai
Zevi (for whom there is far better historical evidence) by his "conversion"
to Islam -- in both cases, "actually destroying in his own person
the hostility [between opposites]...to create one single New Man in
himself out of the two and by restoring peace [between them] . . . to
unite them in a single Body and reconcile them with God." (Ephesians
But "Holy Apostasy" is only one of many Tikkunim
to be performed for the Redemption of God. There are yet many Holy Sparks
waiting to be liberated from the realms of stones, plants and animals
and returned to their Source, which is God -- thus restoring Ayn Sof
and the universe to their premundane state of Unity from which they
have fallen by the act of creation.
When you chew food, raise up its Holy Spark. When you
saw wood, raise up its Holy Spark. When you see a dead animal on the
road, raise up its Holy Spark. When you embrace another, raise up their
Holy Spark. There are many, many "things of this world [that draw
near to us] in order that the Sparks of Holiness in them should be raised
by us back to their Root."
Nathan of Gaza, for the most part, conceived of Sabbatai's
entry into Islam not as a model for others to follow, but as a one-time
sacrificial act -- akin, I might point out, to Jesus' acceptance of
his crucifixion -- performed by the Messiah on behalf of the world.
In a sense, this "holy apostasy," like Christ's crucifixion,
and the condemnation that followed it, can be seen as a fulfillment
of the Messianic prophesy of Isaiah,
"We thought of him as someone...brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On
him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we
are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5)
"On the eve of the Passover Jesus was hanged
[on the cross]. For forty days before the execution took place a herald
went forth and cried, '[Jesus] is going to be [executed] because he
. . . enticed Israel to apostasy'." (Babylonian Talmud,
Tr. Sanhedrin 43a)
"Was it not a great opportunity missed, rather
than a big lie? A victory of the hostile powers, rather than the collapse
of a vain thing." -- Professor Gershom Scholem (Sabbatai
Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, Princeton University Press, 1973, p.