June 07

A Hymn of Praise to Sabbatei Zevi

Translated by Gavriel Wasserman

At the height of his popularity, Sabbatai Zevi could count among his followers up to one third of European Jewry. Even after his apostasy, thousands remained faithful, either as Jews with a secret belief system, or as Muslims with a secret religion. This community, concentrated in Turkey but spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, produced liturgy, theology - even cookbooks for their special festivals.

In the 1950s, Moshe Attias published a collection of Sabbatean hyms, translated into Hebrew with notes by Gershom Scholem and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. It was Ben-Zvi, a former president of Israel, who instigated the project and who had gathered the crumbling manuscripts together; many of them now sit in the archive that bears his name. The book itself is hard to find - my copy is a rumpled photocopy of the edition from the Scholem Library in Jerusalem, dog-eared and recently stained by a broken bottle of juice. We at Zeek hope to publish a translation of this lost literature, together with other documents of Jewish "heretical" movements - if we can find the money to do it. In the meantime, here is one of the hymns, in the Ladino original, Attias's Hebrew translation, and a new translated into English by Rabbi Gavriel Wasserman, a student and scribe who lives in Jerusalem.

- Jay Michaelson



Gavriel Wasserman is a rabbi and student living in Jerusalem.