June 25, 2006

Good grief, more Sabbateans!

A reader in Istanbul writes about the crypto-Jewish ethnic group, descended from followers of the apostate false messiah Shabbetai Zevi, who make up a big chunk of modern Turkey's secular elite:

There's a Turkish saying that goes: "When a madman meets another madman, he hides his stick". It means that people - especially people of extreme nature - tend to inspire reasonable behavior in each other. Seems like our "Muslim fundamentalists," in their craze to discover conspiracies in the way Turkey has been steered in the last century, hit upon something quite significant with their research into the Donmeh. They were among the most relentless and instrumental, though by no means the sole, element in unearthing this.

But whenever their opinion leaders meet with alleged members of the Sabbetaians in the media - either the TV or the write-ups on the Internet - the discussion becomes remarkably sober, well-reasoned, and empirically grounded. Using micro-demographic techniques like census records, marital bondings and family genealogies, cemeteries, residential areas, common private schools, enterprises with certain connections, etc., they have aggregated quite a clear picture now of this reality...

God, there's so much buried under the ground in this part of the world - this truly Byzantine world - that it gives me a headache to even think of it.

And here is an article, "Secret Muslim Jews await their messiah: Shabbetai Tzvi" by Gad Nassi, an Israeli psychiatrist who grew up in a Jewish community in Istanbul. He writes:

Today, only the Karakash, one small group of three to four thousand Dônme, continue in the traditional ways and does not marry out. The remaining 40,000 to 60,000 Dônme who retain some memory of their heritage have ceased all observance and restrictions on marriage.

Although the Dônme maintain their traditions, they have not made a complete break with Judaism. For more than 200 years, they have not brought their disputes to Turkish courts. As knowledge of Talmud decreased among them, they consulted rabbis to settle controversial cases. As long as the Dônme lived in Salonica, preservation of their Jewish character was feasible because of their proximity and steady contact with its large, bustling Jewish population. Many members of the Dônme community in Salonica were among Turkey's reform leaders - the Young Turks - and members of an influential reform organization known as the Committee for Progress and Union. In 1909, the revolution of the Young Turks overthrew the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II. The first administration that then came to power, laying the foundation of the future Turkish republic, included three Dônme ministers - Nuzhet Faik, Mustafa Arif and Mehmet Javid.

At the time of the [Turkish] revolution, few Dônme lived in Turkey; the center of community - about 16,000 strong - was in Salonica. There they remained until after the Turko-Greek war, when a treaty in 1924 provided for an exchange of populations. During the period of amnesty before exchange, members of the sect, whishing avoid their transfer to Turkey, asked the rabbis of Salonica to permit them to return to Judaism. Their application was rejected by the rabbis because children who were the fruit of the Festival of the Lamb were mamzerim, conceived from an adulterous relationship, according to halachah (Jewish religious law). The Dônme left for Turkey.

The Festival of the Lamb was, apparently, an annual religious holiday evening devoted to eating lamb, followed by wife-swapping. Young Donmeh deny that it is still practiced. A reader suggests that the orgy in Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," which was based on a work by the Jewish Viennese writer Arthur Schnitzler, was inspired by this (perhaps through the intermediary of the colorful Central European false messiah Jacob Frank, who claimed to be the reincarnation of Zevi).

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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