Conspiracy Theories Revisited – The Strange Case of Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz (Part 3)

(This is part 3 of a three-part post.  It appeared first on my website, November 15, 2013.  For part 1 click here; for part 2 click here.)

In the previous post, I began to describe the scandalous book of Kabbalah that surfaced in Germany in 1725, with the title Va-avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin, “I Came This Day to the Spring.”

Rumor had it that the book was the work of the brilliant young Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz, the rising star of the Prague academy of Jewish learning.  Rumor had it that Eibeschuetz, who went on to become the most distinguished rabbi of Central Europe, was a member of a secret cult of believers in the false Messiah Sabbatai Zevi.  That his book Va-avo ha-Yom was part of a conspiracy of “the Enemy Within,” to undermine the Jewish religion and all it stood for.

Was it?  You be the judge.

Va-avo ha-Yom is a strange book, very difficult to understand.  (I should know–I’m working on translating it from Hebrew into English.)   The story it tells begins eons before the Creation, in the midst of primordial Nothingness.  It ends on September 16, 1666, when the Messiah Sabbatai Zevi became a Muslim.

David fleeing Absalom. "He sought to engage in alien worship"?
David fleeing Absalom. “He sought to engage in alien worship”?

The book’s final sentences:

“This is why David, when ‘he came to the Head’ (symbolizing the Ancient One) ‘where he was to prostrate himself for God’ (indicating sexual coupling), ‘he sought to engage in alien worship,’ in accord with, ‘He even loves the nations.’  Understand.”

“Understand”–meaning, I’m hinting at a lot more than I’m saying; you’ll have to decipher my meaning by yourself.  “Understand”–and we’re left scratching our heads, and hunting up the source of the author’s quotations.

That’s Kabbalah for you.  It’s an esoteric literature, written in code.  The keys to the code are the ancient texts embedded within it.  The author quotes three of those texts.

The first is from 2 Samuel 15:32.  King David, in flight from his rebellious son Absalom, has just arrived at the summit of the Mount of Olives–the Hebrew word for “summit” is rosh, literally “head”–“where he was [accustomed] to prostrate himself to God.”

Then, in steps the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107a) to explain that “head” doesn’t really mean “summit.”  Rather it’s a pointer toward another Biblical passage that refers to idol-worship, clueing us in that David’s intent was “to engage in alien worship.”  David’s motive?  To keep people from speaking ill of God’s justice.  He therefore set out to commit a crime so abominable that his son’s trying to kill him would seem a fair punishment.  What could that be, but worshiping alien gods?

The third quote, “He even loves the nations,” is from Deuteronomy 33:3.  But and already we’re starting to get the point.   “David” is code for King David’s most illustrious descendant, the Messiah Sabbatai Zevi.  His “engaging in alien worship” is his conversion to Islam in 1666, in the presence of the Turkish sultan.  Why did the Messiah do that?  “In accord with, ‘He even loves the nations'”–to bring salvation to all the people of the world.

This is something new and startling.  The work of a conspiracy?  If so, a welcome one.

Traditional Judaism, for all its virtues, was afflicted with a deep streak of xenophobia.  The Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, did nothing to ease this burden of fearfulness and resentment.  On the contrary, it made it worse, by conjuring up spooky connections between the outsiders’ religions and the powers of evil.  Even Sabbatai Zevi’s followers, when they tried to explain why he’d converted to Islam, normally found explanations in terms of the benefits of that act for the Jewish people.  For them alone.

Now here’s a Sabbatian writer who sees the Messiah’s mission as the redemption of the world.  And, if the attribution of Va-avo ha-Yom to Jonathan Eibeschuetz is correct–as I think it is–this Sabbatian writer was the greatest rabbi of the 18th century.

The Ancient One--"pure Mercy, without any Judgment whatsoever, even for those who violate the Torah."
The Ancient One–“pure Mercy, without any Judgment whatsoever, even for those who violate the Torah.”

Let’s dig deeper.

“He even loves the nations.” This is the second time the author has quoted these words from Deuteronomy.  A few pages earlier in his book, he’s applied this same quote to the lofty divinity he calls the Holy Ancient One“‘He even loves the nations,’  even the Gentiles,” because “the Ancient One consists of pure Mercy, without any Judgment whatsoever, even for those who violate the Torah.”

I told you in the previous installment:  this “Holy Ancient One” is a representation of Christianity, a lofty being of pure Grace and Mercy.  He’s higher in the scale of divinity than the entity called the God of Israel, in whom Mercy and Judgment are in balance and everybody gets (more or less) what’s coming to him or her.  Which is, of course, the God of Judaism.

The picture is coming into focus.  Sabbatai Zevi, by leaving Judaism, has made a direct connection with the higher divinity who represents Christianity.  He thereby brings the Gentiles into connection with this divinity, who loves them as well as he loves the Jews.

No wonder the book was denounced as heretical by rabbis all over Europe.

But it isn’t exactly orthodox Christianity, either.  Sabbatai Zevi, not Jesus, is the Savior.  And he accomplishes his salvation in a way that’s bound to offend Christians no less than Jews.  He “prostrates himself for God”–which means, says our author, that he offers his buttocks to the Holy Ancient One for anal penetration.


There’s a lot of sex in Kabbalah; the author of Va-avo ha-Yom didn’t have to invent that.  The divine energies are spoken of as “effluence,” a kind of liquid light, whose transmission from one level of divinity to the next is reflected in our bodies as the spurting forth of seed.  (We’re in the image of God, after all; we’re sexual beings, precisely because our Creator is.)  The bestower of “effluence” is seen as male, the receiver as female.  The God of Israel is incomplete without His Shechinah, His Divine Female, into whom He spills his effluence and the lower worlds get it from Her.

To which our author adds: the divine sperm, unmediated by a female, is dangerous stuff.  Too potent for the lower worlds to tolerate.  When it flowed down unmediated from the Holy Ancient One–who has no female, who is pure Grace, pure expansion, unrestrained by any vessel of Judgment–the result was disaster.  The fledgling structures of divinity crumbled before it.  This was the primordial catastrophe that the Kabbalists call the “Shattering of the Vessels,” that’s hinted at in the Bible’s story of the Flood.

That’s why the God of Judaism, with His restrictive Law and Judgment, had to come in between.

But now Sabbatai Zevi performs his saving act.  He offers himself to the Ancient One, in place of a female.

“Know this: the true Messiah couples with the Ancient One.  He stands in for the Shechinah [that is, the Female], and with him there to receive it, the ejaculate [of the Ancient One] is not uncontained”–as it once was, at the Shattering of the Vessels.  Now it is safe.  Now we can receive it.

So the Ancient One, embodiment of Grace and Mercy, becomes the God of us all.  “Do not loathe an Edomite, for he is your brother.” The author quotes these words from Deuteronomy 23:8; he means, in his code language, that any Gentile is brother or sister to any Jew.  This is part of his world religion of the future, a kind of neo-Christianity redeemed and made viable by the Messiah Sabbatai Zevi: universal brotherhood.

The author takes up the Kabbalah’s sexualization of divinity.  But whereas the traditional Kabbalah thought only in terms of heterosexuality, Va-avo ha-Yom finds a place for gay sex as well.  This is among divinities, of course.  Yet he envisions a time, perhaps already here, when the Mindless Light no longer poses a threat to the stability of Creation, and “the lower realms” can safely share in the divine freedoms.

The Shechinah (bottom circle) is now under the feet of the male God. She won't always be.
The Shechinah (bottom circle) is now under the feet of the male God. She won’t always be.

And what of men and women?  Is there a glimmer, in Va-avo ha-Yom‘s world religion, of what we’d call gender equality?

Just before the end of his book–just before the passage I quoted at the beginning of this post–the author gives a glowing picture of the transformed relations of the God of Israel with His Shechinah.  (Recall, as you read it, that Jonathan Eibeschuetz and his wife Elkele had a long and loving marriage, which came to a tragic end with her death from breast cancer.)

In the traditional Kabbalah, the Shechinah is the junior partner, subordinated to the male deity.  But  …

“A time will come when the Higher Shechinah will be above the God of Israel, as represented in ‘a noble woman is her husband’s crown’ [Proverbs 12:4].  This is the significance of ‘then Moses shall sing’ [Exodus 15:1].  As matters now stand, whenever the Shechinah wants sex, She does the serenading, as in, ‘I am a singing rose’ [Song of Songs 2:1, Kabbalistically interpreted].  But a time will come when the God of Israel will serenade Her, and this is what is meant by ‘then Moses shall sing,’ ‘Moses’ being symbolic of the God of Israel.

“This is the inner meaning of the verse, ‘The moon’s light shall be like the sun’s light’ [Isaiah 30:26], conveying that the Shechinah will be in a lofty place like the God of Israel, who is symbolized by the ‘sun’ … ‘and the sun’s light shall be … like the light of Seven-days,’ i.e., like the light of the Shechinah, who is called ‘Seven-days.’ Not meaning, of course, that His light will be diminished; rather, that the Shechinah will be elevated until the God of Israel will be in comparison to Her as the Shechinah is now in comparison to Him.”

Male and female, God and Goddess, man and woman–they’re equal.  Or they will be, in some longed-for future.  It won’t diminish him if she’s on top for a change.

So taught the illustrious rabbi of Prague, in the treatise that was the charter of his egalitarian, universalist “conspiracy.”  The book that may have been the greatest and most humane of his works, but to which he could never sign his name.

by David Halperin
Learn more about David Halperin on LinkedIn:
Connect to Journal of a UFO Investigator on  Facebook at:
and Find David Halperin on Google+

The Shechinah, as envisioned by "Rabbi Melinda"
The Shechinah, as envisioned by “Rabbi Melinda”

Conspiracy Theories Revisited – The Strange Case of Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz (Part 2)

(This is part 2 of a three-part post.  For part 1, click here.)

“I came this day to the spring of wisdom … and now I shall enlighten you with words of understanding.”

This is the beginning of what may have been the most controversial Jewish book of the 18th century.

"Arikh Anpin," the highest of the Kabbalistic divine potencies, from Knorr von Rosenroth's "Kabbalah Denudata" (1684). For Jonathan Eibeschuetz, this was the divine "body" for which the Holy Ancient One was the "soul."
“Arikh Anpin,” the highest of the Kabbalistic divine potencies, from Knorr von Rosenroth’s “Kabbalah Denudata” (1684). For Jonathan Eibeschuetz, this was the divine “body” for which the Holy Ancient One was the “soul.”

It was a book of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical doctrine inherited from the Middle Ages.  Most people called it Va-avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin, Hebrew for “I Came This Day to the Spring,” after its opening words.  It created a scandal when it surfaced in Germany in 1725—in manuscript; to this day it’s never been published.  Its critics said it was filled with heresies that even the ancient pagans wouldn’t have dared to speak.  They said it ought to be burned, along with its author.

No one knew for sure who wrote it.  Rumor had it that the author was Jonathan Eibeschuetz, a brilliant young scholar and preacher in Prague who was to become the most illustrious rabbi of central Europe.  Eibeschuetz denied under oath that he had anything to do with the book.  I don’t believe him.  Nor do most scholars.  The evidence is too strong that this outwardly Orthodox Jew lived a double life, and that it was his hidden life that was the more interesting.  Perhaps also the more inspiring.

As I read Va-avo ha-Yom, it’s a charter for the world religion of the future, a faith rooted in Kabbalistic Judaism but unlike any religion ever known.  A religion that would bring all humanity together in universal brotherhood, men and women equal, and free in ways they’d never been before.

How to read a book like this?  How to describe it?  Maybe: from the very beginning.

“Know this: before any existence, before the Emanation, He was alone, the Infinite, without any end or beginning whatsoever.”

The Bible begins with the creation of the world.  Va-avo ha-Yom starts out long before that—before there was any material existence, before there was God, even.  God, as we know Him from the Bible, steps onto the stage much later.

In the beginning there’s only the Infinite, the primordial Nothingness.  A Nothingness, however, that possesses a Will to bring Something into being.

It’s an old philosophical problem, and a Kabbalistic one.  How does Something emerge from Nothing?  How does undifferentiated Unity beget diversity?  How, if that Unity is essentially good, does evil spring from it?

For Va-avo ha-Yom, the Infinite Will manifests itself in a duality, of what the writer calls “Mindful Light” and “Mindless Light.”  The Mindful Light’s impulse is to bring forth multiplicity—that is, the existence of something distinct from the Infinite.  The Mindless Light has the opposite impulse: to return to the undifferentiated Unity out of which it came.  It’s not “evil,” exactly; there’s no malice in it.  But by its nature it’s hostile to all existence outside the Infinite, which is to say, us.

Very abstract.  And so the opening pages of Va-avo ha-Yom are.

William Blake, God presenting Eve to Adam. For Eibeschuetz, "Adam" was a code term for the God of Israel, "Eve" for the Higher Shechinah.
William Blake, God presenting Eve to Adam. For Eibeschuetz, “Adam” was a code term for the God of Israel, “Eve” for the Higher Shechinah.

But then it changes.  It’s hard to pinpoint just where the shift comes—there are no chapters or any other divisions in the text.  But after a while you notice that the quotations from the Jewish classics—the Old Testament, the Talmud, the mystical Zohar—are coming in thicker and thicker, the author giving them his imaginative symbolic interpretations.

As Va-avo ha-Yom grows increasingly scholastic, something else happens.  It grows more and more mythological.

From the Infinite Unity with which we began, from the duality of Mindful and Mindless Lights, a multiplicity of divine beings spills forth.  Or, to be more exact: a small number of distinct entities, wearing a multiplicity of masks.

Some are male, some female.  They couple with one another, in pairings that are usually heterosexual, sometimes gay or lesbian.  Occasionally some figure, male or female, will climb into the womb of a loftier female, to be reborn in new and improved form.

It’s a theogony, a myth of the birth of the gods.  Maybe not quite as exuberant as that of the ancient Greeks, but approaching it.  No wonder the critics complained: even the idolaters weren’t as bad as this.

Is this monotheism?  I’d say yes, but not the way we normally think of it.

Biblical monotheism is exclusive monotheism: only the One is true divinity.  The Many are either delusions or devils.

The ancient Greek intellectuals had a different kind of monotheism, an inclusive monotheism in which the Many are the aspects of the One.  The One and the Many are both real; the reality of the One is the more profound, but the reality of the Many is the more palpable.  This is the kind of monotheism we have in Va-avo ha-Yom.

The God we know from the Bible is one of that Many.  The author calls him by a fixed title: the God of Israel.  He’s male; and he has a Woman, or should I say a Goddess?  This is She who’s called the Shechinah, or the Higher Shechinah.

(There’s a Lower Shechinah too—or sometimes two of them—for whom the God of Israel lusts, much to the Higher Shechinah’s jealous annoyance.)

The Higher Shechinah is God’s lover.  She’s also His mother.  At one stage of the unfolding of the sacred drama, She’s the embryonic sac in which He curls up as a fetus.

And there’s yet another divinity, higher than either God or the Shechinah.  This is the Ancient One, or the Holy Ancient One.  Also male, but womanless.  (Or should I say, goddess-less?)

Good cast of characters.  Exciting plot, too, although you have to decipher layers of Kabbalistic code to get to it: something like an end-of-the-world movie, with plenty of sex thrown in.  Only, the world that’s ended is something that existed long before we came to be.

It was destroyed in a primordial cataclysm–the Mindless Light run wild–that the Kabbalists called the “Shattering of the Vessels,” which the author sees obliquely hinted at in the Biblical story of the Flood.  We live in the post-cataclysmic world, rebuilt and designed so as to make our existence possible.

But what’s all this got to do with anything real?

This: once you’ve got the codes unraveled, it becomes clear that the Holy Ancient One is a representation of Christianity, a lofty being of pure Grace and Mercy.  The God of Israel + Shechinah, in whom Mercies and Judgments are in balance and everybody gets what’s coming to him or her (more or less), is a stand-in for Judaism.  With his story, the author wants to say something about how Judaism is like and unlike the faiths and peoples that surround it.  (All of which the author chooses to include under the Christian rubric.)

Remember the old cliche?  “Christianity has not be tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult, and left untried.” The author will have none of that.  Christianity has been tried.  It “shattered the Vessels,” and thereby destroyed the world.

We can translate the writer’s mythology into historical terms.  Looking back on the preceding two centuries, he could see how Christian theological quarrels, turned into religious wars, had left Europe covered in blood and ashes.  He drew the lesson that pure Grace, untempered and unconfined by Judgment, begets chaos.  The precise opposite of its golden promise.

But suppose it didn’t?  Suppose there was some way to make that promise real, to transcend the conventional categories of right and wrong, good and evil–those that Judaism laid down with its religious law–without destroying human society in the process?

Suppose a Savior were to appear who could redeem Christianity, transform it into a fit religion for human beings?  That man or woman would be the Messiah.

Of course, Christianity would no longer be Christianity but something new, unknown so far on the surface of this planet.

Jesus Christ?  Forget him.  There’s a new Messiah, a true Messiah, who lived and did his redemptive act just about 60 years ago.

This was Sabbatai Zevi, whom I spoke of in the previous installment of this post, and in more detail twice in the past (here and here).

His act of redemption?  To convert to Islam.  As Sabbatai Zevi did, one September day in 1666.

(To be continued.)

by David Halperin
Learn more about David Halperin on LinkedIn:
Connect to Journal of a UFO Investigator on  Facebook at:
and Find David Halperin on Google+

The Flood, as envisioned by Gustave Dore (1865). For Eibeschuetz, the real Flood happened before the world existed. It was the primordial catastrophe of the "Shattering of the Vessels."
The Flood, as envisioned by Gustave Dore (1865). For Eibeschuetz, the real Flood happened before the world existed. It was the primordial catastrophe of the “Shattering of the Vessels.”

Conspiracy Theories Revisited – The Strange Case of Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz (Part 1)

(Originally published October 22, 2013 on my website.)

“By this time it is quite obvious that Shloimele was a secret disciple of Sabbatai Zevi.  For even though the False Messiah was long dead, secret cults of his followers remained in many lands.  They met at fairs and markets, recognized each other through secret signs and thus remained safe from the wrath of the other Jews who would excommunicate them.  Many rabbis, teachers, ritual slaughterers and other ostensibly respectable folk were included in this sect.  Some of them posed as miracle workers, wandering from town to town passing out amulets into which they had introduced not the sacred name of God but unclean names of dogs and evil spirits, Lilith and Asmodeus as well as the name of Sabbatai Zevi himself.  All this they managed with such cunning that only the members of the brotherhood could appreciate their handiwork.  … [E]ach of them in his own fashion paid homage to the forces of evil–and Shloimele was one of them.
— Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Destruction of Kreshev”

It’s a scary scenario.  Your neighbor, your rabbi, your husband or son-in-law might be secretly a servant of evil.  Devotee of a false Messiah who’d deceived the world and then abandoned his faith.

It’s the kind of nightmare fantasy that Jesse Walker, in his new book on conspiracy theories, classifies under the rubric of “The Enemy Within” or “The Devil Next Door.”  The kind of thing that the late Isaac Bashevis Singer’s exuberant, demon-swarming imagination might have been expected to come up with.

Jonathan Eibeschuetz (1690-1764), the "heretic rabbi" ...
Jonathan Eibeschuetz (1690-1764), the “heretic rabbi” …

But the backdrop of “The Destruction of Kreshev”–one of Singer’s most powerful stories–comes not from his imagination but from history.   The network of secret Sabbatian (= Sabbatai-an) cultists that he writes about really did exist.

Who knows?  If I’d lived in Poland around the year 1700, when Singer’s story is set, I might have been one of them.

To their enemies the Sabbatians seemed perverted servants of evil, much akin to the witches who not long before were being burned and hanged all over Europe.  In their own eyes they were pioneers of a new kind of faith, prophets of humanity’s future.

The background:

In 1666, the would-be Messiah Sabbatai Zevi had shocked his many thousands of followers by converting to Islam.  Most of those who’d believed in him–the vast majority of the Jews of his time–came to the natural conclusion, Well, we were wrong.  But many drew a different conclusion, not so natural but far more interesting.

If the Messiah betrayed and abandoned his faith, then that act, awful as it seems, has to be a messianic act.  The true meaning of religion, of life itself, can’t be what we always thought.  It’s something deeper and darker, something that dissolves boundaries between Jew and Gentile, permitted and forbidden, right and wrong.

The fences within which we’ve always constructed our lives–they’re now broken down.

We must live accordingly.

When Singer writes about “amulets,” into which these sectarians “had introduced … the name of Sabbatai Zevi himself,” he isn’t making that up.  He’s thinking of a scandal that rocked the Jewish world in the middle of the 18th century, that sucked the Jewish communities of eastern and central Europe–plus some distinguished outsiders, like the royal court of Denmark–into bitter controversy.  It remains controversial to this day.

The time: February 1751.  The place: the triple community of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek.  (Nowadays Altona and Wandsbek are part of the city of Hamburg, securely within Germany; in 1751 they were under Danish rule.)  Jonathan Eibeschuetz, then about 60 and at the zenith of his illustrious career as Europe’s leading rabbinic preacher and scholar, had just arrived to take up his new position as chief rabbi of the Triple Community.

... and Jacob Emden (1697-1776), the man who blew the whistle.
… and Jacob Emden (1697-1776), the man who blew the whistle.

There’d been a rash of deaths in the Triple Community, of women in childbirth.  How to keep such tragedies from recurring?  The new chief rabbi, who had a formidable reputation as a Kabbalist, distributed his hand-made amulets to pregnant women, to protect them from harm.

Then the scandal broke out.

Another rabbi in Altona, named Jacob Emden, went to the trouble of decoding the cryptic Kabbalistic phrases in the Eibeschuetz’s amulets.  In them, he found invocations of Sabbatai Zevi.  And he raised the hue and cry: the devil is among us!!!

Does this remind you of the contemporary brouhaha over “backward Satanic messages in rock ‘n roll” (about which Jesse Walker has recently blogged)?  It should.  The issue is basically the same.  The rock bands deny any devilish intent; so did Eibeschuetz.  He was able to point to a personal motive behind Emden’s attacks.  The two had been competitors for the job of rabbi in the Triple Community; Emden had lost out.  He was jealous, bitter.  And, I would add, a little bit crazy.

Which didn’t prevent him from being right.

Emden remembered, and others couldn’t help remembering too: this wasn’t the first time Jonathan Eibeschuetz had been linked to the secret Sabbatians.

26 years earlier, in 1725–when the young and brilliant Eibeschuetz was head of the Prague academy of higher Jewish learning–manuscript copies of a strange book had been found in the luggage of travelers from that city.  The book was called Va-avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin, “I Came This Day to the Spring.”  (The title is taken from Genesis 24:42.)  It contained heresies, its readers said, that would make your hair stand on end.  That not even the pagans of antiquity would have dared to utter.

Rumor had it that Eibeschuetz had written the book.  Eibeschuetz denied it.  On Yom Kippur of 1725, he took an oath before the opened Ark of the Torah in the synagogue that he had nothing to do with any kind of Sabbatian belief.  For good measure, he added his signature to a proclamation excommunicating all believers in Sabbatai Zevi.

Yet his enemies were almost certainly right.  Eibeschuetz was indeed the author of Va-avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin–which I’m currently engaged in translating into English.

What does the book contain?  Invocations of the forces of evil?  Black magic?  Not at all.

As I read it, it’s a charter for the world religion of the future, rooted in Kabbalistic Judaism but unlike any religion ever known.  A religion that would draw all humanity together, into a freedom barely imaginable.

To be continued.

by David Halperin
Learn more about David Halperin on LinkedIn:
Connect to Journal of a UFO Investigator on  Facebook at:
and Find David Halperin on Google+

The gravestones of Jonathan Eibeschuetz (right) and his wife Elkele, in Altona (Hamburg).
The gravestones of Jonathan Eibeschuetz (right) and his wife Elkele, in Altona (Hamburg). From a site, apparently no longer active, called