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Superb scholarly historical account,
This review is from: The Lost Messiah (Paperback)
As a Jew, I had heard of the Shabbati Sevi (a.k.a. "Tzvi") story, most of which was told as if the writer was spitting a curse over their shoulders. The "False Messiah" and how much of a total disaster he left in his wake. I had heard but most of these stories were bitterly written and spoken of and I had very little hard facts to sift through. I had not read Gershom Scholem's works, which are cited repeatedly by Freely; Scholem provided quite a bit of information it seems on Shabbati's life. I had actually read a few lines that peaked my interest in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's monumental book "Meditation and Kabbalah", a book I treasure. Kaplan's take was that Shabbati had dabbled in very high and very dangerous Kabbalistic techniques and that he was obviously transformed by his experiences. So, I wanted more....I noticed that my dad had Freely's book on hand and so I borrowed it, read it and here are my views.
Clearly S.S. (Shabbati Sevi) was gifted but also prone to mental imbalances from an early age. He was also a seeker of experiences far from the normal, mundane sort that was reached by your average observant Jew, whether in Turkey or anywhere else. Having been exposed to teachers and Kabbalistic texts at an early age, having found an experiential facility with spiritual realms, S.S. was the perfect candidate for entering the dangerous realms that traditional Jews around the world have always said lies waiting for those who would dabble in the esoteric for the wrong reasons or even for the right reasons. Kabbalah has been framed as the mystical hence (largely) unknown avenue to the spiritual life. However, S.S. came upon the world shortly after the lifetime of the very great and influential lives of the Kabbalists of S'phat, in Israel. I refer now to the Ari and his students and colleagues. S.S. lived at a time when more of the mystical texts were surfacing for Jews to learn from. And learn he did and grow and ascend and perhaps stumble.
While it is tempting to judge S.S. by the results of what is known, I will only say that his life is ultra strange. That he, in his states of ecstatic illumination (Freely calls it) was capable on many occasions to deeply impress others with his aura, cannot be cast aside just because his critics say he was deranged. I am reminded of the Talmudic saying that stated that when Prophecy was banished from the world, the Lord hid it in the mouths of children and madmen. Think on this before you decide that S.S. was this or that. What is clear from Freely's wonderful story is that S.S. most certainly attained extraordinary high levels of "connection" to realms of spirituality and that in these realms he returned to his normative states a totally transformed person. That these experiences led him to believe that he had been chosen the Redeemer is clear. What we do not know is what he really truly experienced and what we too would have made of such an experience. How we can account for his erratic, some would say mentally sick behaviour, is difficult to pin down. A sad story for the Jewish people who so much longed for the promised redeemer and who still do. Who knows....there are so many things that go unknown......An excellent and sometimes disturbing book.