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The true portrait of Shabtai Zvi, King of the Jews
The true portrait of Shabtai Zvi, King of the Jews

late 17th century
Engraving
22,9 x 16,2 cm

Photo Mario Goldman © Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme, Paris
 
mahj 95.27.1

A rabbi at the age of 18, Shabbetai Tsevi (b. 1626, Smyrna d. 1676, Albania) rapidly crossed the threshold between mystical asceticism and Messianic exaltation. From 1648, deeply dismayed by the massacres perpetrated by the Cossacks of Chmielnicki, he developed messianic pretensions which found support among the troubled Jewish communities throughout Europe. Expelled from Smyrna in 1651, he led an errant existence in the Mediterranean countries.

His proclamations, however, threatened the authority of the Sultan, who had him imprisoned and forced him to convert to Islam in 1666, then banished him. His conversion felt like a betrayal to the many faithful, but it did not completely destroy the Shabbateian movement, a powerful, lasting tremor whose repercussions continued to be felt until the end of the 18th century.
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