Back to Solzhenitsyn index
Back to article index


As many Jews left the area, sympathy spread to other Jewish communities throughout the world, encouraged by dramatic accounts of the massacre, and this was accompanied by the appearance of new religious movements, most dramatically that associated with the Jewish Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi, originating in 1648 in Smyrna, in Anatolia. According to Poliakov, 1648 had long been prophesied on the basis of an interpretation of the Zohar, chief text of the Kaballah, as the year of the coming of the Messiah, and a reading of the name Khmelnitsky in Hebrew characters could be interpreted as meaning 'The sufferings of the birth pangs of the Messiah will come on the world.' (p.402). Gershom Scholem, in his Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, argues for a continuity between the Sabbatian movement and the emergence of the Hasidim, a movement which posed a serious challenge to the authority of the kahals and the Rabbis in the eighteenth century:

'the Hasidic movement made its first appearance in the regions where Sabbatianism had taken strongest root, Podolia and Volhynia (both areas incorporated into the Russian Empire as a result of the partitions - PB) ... Those groups of Polish Jewry which already before and at the time of the first appearance of the Baal Shem (reputed founder of Hasidism. He died in 1760) called themselves Hasidim included many Sabbatians, if they were not indeed wholly crypto-Sabbatian in character, and it took some time before the difference between the new Hasidim of the “Baal Shem” and the old ones became generally appreciated ... A further and very important point in which Sabbatianism and Hasidism join in departing from the rabbinical scale of values, namely their conception of the ideal type of man to which they ascribe the function of leadership ... In the place of these teachers of the Law, the new movements gave birth to a new type of leader, the illuminate, the man whose heart has been touched and changed by God, in a word, the prophet.' (8)

(8)  Gershom Scholem: Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Schocken, 2011 (originally 1941). I have it in a Kindle edition which doesn't give page references. For what it's worth these extracts come from the Kindle locations 6,694 - 6,794.

Poliakov, who has earlier evoked the organisation of Polish Jewry as a state within a state, now suggests that the international sympathy for the Polish Jews after the Khmelnitsky rising, combined with the international impact of Sabbatianism, marked the beginnings of what could be called a Jewish national consciousness:

'These social changes were accompanied by new spiritual and religious currents. They left on the mentality of the Polish Jews a characteristic mark and, what is more, they had vast repercussions among all the Jews of the diaspora. It was a remarkable process of influences having the whole of Europe as its centre and in which an iinfiltration of Christian concepts (which this time did not stop at the details of life and customs but left their mark on the new messianic movements) played a role. And that is how, solidly implanted on the banks of the Vistula [in the area which went to Austria - PB] and in the Carpathian forests [the area which went to Russia - PB], a Jewish nation took on a definitive form.' (p.400).