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New Look at False Messiah

well before Shabbetai Zevi’s total defection from Judaism. That latter catastrophe led to the deeper, antinomian apostasy of the later Jewish Sabbateans, as well as to the Donmeh, the school of Muslim believers in Shabbetai Zevi, which persists, very secretly, in Turkey today.

Even in contemporary America, though limited to rather marginal Jewish circles, the Sabbatean and Donmeh madness continues. It has been argued, and I would agree, that many aspects of the new-age “Jewish Renewal Movement” betray Sabbatean influences. More significantly, today there are Sabbateans active mostly in (where else?) California. The origins of strange religious syncretism — incorporating Christianity and Islam and embracing all the messiahs of the Jewish past, Jesus included — that characterize latter-day Sabbateanism now can be better understood, thanks to the synthetic approach of this new book.

Throughout his work, Goldish reflects the influence of his two great teachers: the giant of early modern European intellectual history, Richard Popkin, and the leading Israeli scholar of kabbalah, Moshe Idel. Not only does Goldish build upon their body of work, but he also brings a unique combination of their talents to the table. Unlike Popkin, Goldish can ably decipher the most arcane Hebrew and Aramaic mystical sources; and unlike the famously imaginative and anti-historicist Idel, Goldish brings the sensibilities of the sober historian to his finely nuanced readings of them. The Rabbinical Sages always have insisted that the wisdom of successive generations of Judaic scholars is in perpetual decline. This exciting new book suggests quite the contrary.

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