Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sabbatai Ṣevi, the Ottomans
& the rivalry
between Jews & Orthodox Christians /

Ο Σαμπατάι Τσεβί, οι Οθωμανοί
& ο ανταγωνισμός
μεταξύ Εβραίων & Ορθόδοξων χριστιανών

Shabbatai Tzevi’s messianic calling could not have come at a worse time for the Jewish elite in Istanbul. It confirmed for the Ottomans that Jews were untrustworthy and helped convince them to turn to the Jews’ rivals, Orthodox Christians, as the two groups struggled for positions of power and influence. Jews appeared to be a volatile and untrustworthy group because they so wholeheartedly endorsed Shabbatai Tzevi. Their actions threatened to undermine the social order and directly challenged the sultan’s uncontested rule when he was facing serious military and fi nancial problems, including the siege of Venetian Crete, a fact noted by a late Ottoman historian. Shabbatai Tzevi’s attempt to dethrone the sultan and his inciting Jews to sedition worsened already negative palace opinion of Jews. The decade of the 1660s was thus a crucial turning point for the fortunes of Istanbul Jewry. Shabbatai Tzevi’s mission to the city, initially met with such hope and even cockiness on the part of some Jews who felt their persecutors would soon taste their just reward, ended with most of the rabbi’s original followers in despair and many eventually converted to Islam. It benefited Orthodox Christian physicians, translators, diplomats, and advisors, to whom Ottomans would thereafter entrust their lives and political affairs.

Due to the dissemination of prophecies concerning Shabbatai Tzevi, many Jews in Istanbul expected a “quick transfer of the sultan’s power” to the rabbi. Especially those from Iberia believed Shabbatai Tzevi would dethrone the sultan and crown himself king sometime in the autumn of 1665 or winter of 1666: “Jews printed prophecies of rescue from the tyranny of the Turk, and leading the Grand Signior [the sultan] himself captive in Chains.” He referred to himself as “the High King, above all the kings of the Earth,” and told the Jews not to fear, “for you shall have Dominion over the Nations.” According to the Frenchman Chevalier De La Croix, Jews expected “the imminent establishment of the kingdom of Israel” and the subsequent “fall of the Crescent and of all the royal crowns in Christendom.” Christians such as the Armenian historian and priest Arakel of Tabriz feared the Jews would then destroy other peoples. A French Catholic priest wrote that Jews threatened Christians “with dire disaster if we failed to join them as soon as possible, and of our own good and free will walked in front of the king who would rule over them, acknowledging his kingdom and submitting to the religion and the laws which he would establish in the world.” As a result of this fervor, Jews exhibited a “peculiar atmosphere of feverish expectation” that was a “psychological and social reality.”

[Τιμημένος με τη Δόξα του Ισλάμ: Μεταστροφή και Κατάκτηση στην Οθωμανική Ευρώπη],
Oxford University Press, 2011
p./σ. 123.

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