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May 31: The Messiah, Revealed

May 31, 2011

Shabbatai Zvi “revealed” himself as the messiah on this date in 1665 in Gaza — and a large part of the Jewish world believed him. Jews had suffered the slaughter of tens of thousands during the Chmielnicki uprising of 1648, which had spread desperate refugees from Poland and the Ukraine across the world. At the same time, the influence of Kabbalah, which had arisen in Safed and other mystical centers in the 16th century, had made the Jewish world particularly gullible to mystical fantasies of redemption. Zvi’s messianic status was denied by the rabbinical authorites of Jerusalem, but Jewish leaders in Aleppo, Cairo, Smyrna, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Avignon, Venice, Livorno and other cities in both Europe and Asia were smitten by the rumors and prepared their communities for exodus to the Holy Land. The following year, however, Zvi was confronted with a choice by the Ottoman sultan: conversion to Islam or death. Some 300 families of his followers converted with him and became the ancestors of the “donmeh” of modern Turkey, an economically and politically influential subculture that is also the subject of many conspiracy theories.

“God has made me an Ishmaelite; He commanded, and it was done. The ninth day of my regeneration.” —Shabbatai Zvi, 1666