From Mickiewicz to Young Turks

Relations between the Ottoman Empire and Poland are extensively recorded in history However their Jewishmystical counterparts which appear to have carried out a meaningful function remains as a less explored and even feebly recorded feature

Historical Background

Ottoman rule in Podolia (167299) the proximity of Poland to territories under Ottoman rule and the commercial relations between Polish Jews and their coreligionists in the Balkans and Turkey created a close relationship between the Jewish communities of each country
It is in this contingency that the evolvement of Sabbatean messianism and its aftermath spread to Poland As a matter of fact the Frankist movement which had sprouted developed and was propagated from Poland was molded on the Sabbatean model of the apostate messiah and the subsequent redemption

Jacob Frank: Eccentricity with Charisma

Born in Podolia as Jacob Ben Judah Leib Jacob Frank (c1726 – 1791) was the founder of Frankism a cryptoJewish sect that had developed out of the Sabbatean movement While still a schoolboy Frank began to reject the Talmud Later as a traveling merchant in textile and precious stones he often visited Ottoman territories and lived in the centers of contemporary Sabbateanism: Salonica and Smyrna

He became intimate with Sabbateans and joined the sect He returned to Podolia where posing as the reincarnation of Sabbetai Sevi he proclaimed himself the Messiah and gathered many supporters Attacking the Talmud and corroborating the alleged crime of ritual murder by Jews he professed to find in the Cabbala the evidence for the doctrine of Christian Trinitarianism Feigning conversion to Roman Catholicism he and the Frankists were baptized in 1759
Convicted on a charge of heresy by the Church he was arrested in Warsaw and exiled to the fortress of Czestochowa from which he was freed thirteen years later by invading Russians He then lived in Moravia until 1786

Accompanied by his daughter Eva he used to travel to Vienna Supported by the archduchess Maria Theresa who made him a baron he stayed there for several years in wealth until he established his residence in Offenbach Germany
The sect continued to survive through secret gatherings with separate rites The Frankist believers endeavored to marry among themselves by creating a wide network of interfamily relationships even among those who had remained within the Jewish fold
Frankists like Sabbateans were accused of heresy for having broken fundamental Jewish laws by perpetrating orgiastic rites and by accepting the sanctity of the Christian Bible

As a sociologicalreligious phenomenon Frankism has been credited with influencing later developments in Jewish thought including the rise of Hasidism and the Enlightenment

Initially Frankists circumcised their sons observed the Sabbath had separate burials and only married within the sect By the mid19th century the number of mixed marriages increased and many of their descendants became prominent members of the Polish elite Polish spiritual and political life would later also be deeply impregnated with messianic ideation (1 2 3 4 5)

Polnd: a legacy of glory servitude and resurrectioan

In 1382 Poland became closely associated with the powerful state of Lithuania The dynasty which was founded in the 14th century ruled Poland for the next two centuries By the mid16th century Poland and Lithuania merged into one state Its territories stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea determining Poland as the largest country in Europe and one of its most powerful states
However during the last quarter of the century Poland began to decline as a great power In the mid17th century a Swedish invasion and the Cossack Chmielnicki uprising ravaged the country and marked the end of its golden age Russia had also emerged to threaten Polish territory Gradually Poland lost many of its possessions and by the early 18th century had become the helpless battleground for foreign enemies After having defeated Sweden in war for mastery of the Baltic region Russia became Poland’s main enemy However Russia was not the only power to have grown in ambition when Poland declined Frederick the Great of Prussia and Maria Theresa of Austria also had designs on their neighbor The three powers descended on Poland in 1772 and stripped it of a quarter of its territory In 1793 swallowed up entirely in a partition between Russia Prussia and Austria Poland vanished from the map of Europe

The Poles rebelled several times against the partitioners For a few brief years during the Napoleonic Wars Poland seemed to be regaining some freedom Many of the Frankists regarded Napoleon Bonaparte as a potential Messiah When Napoleon attacked Russia in 1812 he recreated a Polish state the Duchy of Warsaw However after his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815 Poland was again divided between the same three powers
Late in 1830 a military revolt in Warsaw developed into a national crusade against Russia However the Polish army was soon defeated So was an insurrection of illarmed peasants in 1863 Prussia too attacked Polish patriotism by restricting the use of the Polish language and by encouraging thousands of Germans to settle in Polish territories

For a century and a quarter from the last decade of the 18th century until Poland regained its independence in 1918 after World War the free Polish nation lived only in the hearts and minds of its people(6 7)

National Redemption: A Leading Value In Polish Consciousness

The French Revolution in 1789 with the 25 years of agitation that followed deeply impressed Europe Its legacy gave birth to new concepts in policy philosophy literature and the arts The first half of the 19th century in Europe is marked by the arousal of nationalism impregnated with the revolutionary ideas of liberty equality and fraternity

The emotional appeal of nationalism was stronger than any political force yet known Loyalty was no longer given to king or lord to class or creed or Church but to the nation and to territory
Besides nationalism and political freedom the Romantic Movement also flourished in literature and the arts It set a high value on emotions and the imagination by enhancing the freedom of expression and by breaking the restraints of existing ruling systems The aspiration for freedom and for an independent state impelled the philosophic and mystical inclinations of Poland and molded its literary and artistic creativity

Following the Russian victory over the revolt of the Polish army in 1832 many Polish intellectuals settled in Paris playing a significant and decisive role on the development of Polish nationalistic aspirations Politically humiliated and without any achievable hope of restoring Poland’s independence their cravings for national redemption were switched towards mystical deliberations

The mission of philosophy was apprehended not only as the search for truth but also as the reformation of life and the salvation of mankind It was permeated with the persuasion that the vocation of man was to determine the salvation of mankind and that nations and more particularly the Polish nation had been assigned the role of Messiah to the nations (8 9)

Adam Mickiewicz: The Impact On Messianic Redemption

Mickiewicz was born in Lithuania in 1798 three years after the final partition of Poland He died in Constantinople in 1853 during the outbreak of the Crimean War

Even though he never set a foot in Warsaw or in Krakow Mickiewicz stands out in the consciousness of Poles as a political leader He is revered as a man of letters and the moral leader of the nation during the dark years after the Partitions He animated the Polish national spirit through his poetic dramatic and political writings providing hope and spiritual sustenance to Poles under Russian Prussian and Austrian rule

He had been brought up in the culture of the PolishLithuanian Commonwealth a multicultural state that had encompassed most of what today are the separate countries of Poland Lithuania Belarus and Ukraine His most famous poem Pan Tadeusz begins with the invocation “Oh Lithuania my fatherland thou art like good health” It is generally accepted that in Mickiewicz’s time the term “Lithuania” still carried a strong association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania part of PolishLithuanian Commonwealth and that Mickiewicz used it in a political rather than an ethnic sense

Mickiewicz anticipated in his mystical visions the idea of a free and united Europe Beyond becoming the voice and the inspiration of the Polish people he was also perceived as one of the leading figures in the struggle for the rights of oppressed nations

On His Biography

After being involved in student nationalist politics at Vilna University Mickiewicz was expelled to Russia Later he was given permission to go abroad He then began his journeying from one European city to another that was to last for the rest of his life

In 1832 he settled in Paris and there he wrote in biblical style the “Books of the Polish Nation and its Pilgrimage” and his great poetic epic “Pan Tadeusz” He taught Slavonic literature at the Collá¨ge de France He remained in this post until he lost his chair in the third year for having expanded into philosophical and religious ideas

Envisioning a great regeneration of peoples brought about by revolution he went to Rome in 1848 to persuade the new pope to support the cause of Polish national freedom At the outbreak of the Italian revolution he created the Polish legion to fight for Italy against Austria and to become the nucleus of a Polish army of liberation

When the Crimean War broke out Mickiewicz went to Constantinople in 1852 to help raise a Polish regiment to fight against the Russians The Poles had great hopes that France and Britain would crush Russia and that Poland would thus regain independence He hoped to include a Jewish legion and was prepared to assure its soldiers the right to observe the Sabbath and all other religious duties It was presumed that he believed that the creation of a Jewish armed unit would be a first step towards the revival of the Jewish nation in its own land He suddenly died in Constantinople before his mission was completed

The Jewish Roots

Mickiewicz’s mother Barbara Majewska is believed to have been a descendant of a Frankist family The use by Mickiewicz himself of the phrase “[born] from a foreign mother” in the autobiographical section of his drama Dziady “The Forefathers Eve” was considered as a clue to the Jewish origins of his mother

Other facts also seem to verify this assumption Mickiewicz had married a Polish lady Celina Szymanowska also born to parents from Jewish Frankist families The idealized Jew Jankiel in Mickiewicz’s masterpiece the great epic Pan Tadeusz is an ardent Polish patriot In his political writings Mickiewicz repeatedly referred to the Jewish Bible – a rather rare habit among Catholic writers – and compared Poland’s martyrdom and the dispersion of Poles after the November 1830 uprising to the suffering of the Jews and the Jewish Diaspora His work “Books of the Polish Nation and the Polish Pilgrimage” was influenced by the Jewish Bible

In the lectures he gave in Paris (1840 – 44) Mickiewicz was at pains to praise the Jews and defend them against their detractors In a sermon delivered in a Paris synagogue on the Fast of the Ninth of Av 1845 he expressed his sympathy for Jewish suffering and yearning for Eretz Israel He was greatly disappointed at the assimilationist tendencies of French Jews In one of the statutes of the Polish legion in Italy he wrote: “To Israel our elder brother: honor fraternity and help in striving towards his eternal and temporal goal Equal rights in all things”

As recorded before towards the end of his life Mickiewicz was actively involved in organizing the Jewish legion to fight against Russia
Mickiewicz’s patriotism and nationalism were inextricably linked with his mysticism and spirituality He developed a concept of Israel as a fellow sufferer of Poland and of Poland as a Christ of nations Mickiewicz believed that in the middle of the 19th century the Kingdom of God would prevail and the chosen nations of the epoch would be the Poles the French and the Jews (10 11 12 13)

A Singular Phenomenon: Jewish Battalion In An Ottoman Revolutionary Army

On April 1909 an Ottoman army supported by Young Turks – known as ’Action Army’ – marched from Salonica to Istanbul to repress the bloody proIslamic rebellion perpetrated against the Constitution and calling for the restoration of the Sharia the holy law of Islam Created by regular forces and voluntaries recruited from different ethnic and religious groups from the Balkans this army incorporated many Sabbatean Believers and a Jewish battalion formed of around 700 volunteers The battalion took an active part in the combat The rebellion was put down the Islamist Sultan Abdulhamid II was deposed and the progressive Committee of Union and Progress retained power

The existence of a separate and operative Jewish military unit in the Ottoman army seems at first sight as a singular phenomenon and even an oddity In order to understand it we need to survey the prevalent political ideology and its interaction within the peculiar sociocultural position of Salonica
In 1876 Sultan Abdulhamid II was forced by reformers to establish a democratic constitution However he soon restored despotic power In 1890 the Committee of Union and Progress was set up by youthful reformers who became popularly known as the ’Young Turks’ Mustafa Kemal who later became the founder of the Turkish Republic and its president joined the Committee In 1908 troops revolted in Macedonia and the Sultan had to restore the Constitution It is through the intervention of the ’Action Army’ that the attempt of a counterrebellion to dissolve the parliament once again failed
The first government that followed the Young Turks Revolution included three Sabbatean ministers with a Sabbatean deputy minister and a Jewish minister The number of Jews among Young Turks was relatively large Several Jews occupied important positions as undersecretaries and as highranking functionaries in key ministries In the reconvened 300seat Ottoman Parliament there were four Jews with one Jew in the Senate (14 15)

A Legacy Of Jewishness Pluralism Enlightenment And Coexistence

With the conquest of Salonica by the Ottomans Jews enjoyed security Throughout history Ottoman Salonica continued to be a secure and flourishing hub for Jews in search of a fortunate environment The arrival of Sephardic Jews and Portuguese Marranos had a positive impact on its cultural and economic development The Rabbinate of Salonica issued a special haskamah – religious decree – regarding Marranos as Jews
Constituting a key point on the international trade route between East and West and the fact of being a port largely contributed to the financial development of Salonica Its Jewish community prospered and waves of Jewish immigrants from many European and Mediterranean countries continued to settle in the city

Aside being renowned as a of Jewish religious studies center Salonica was also a center of Cabbala In addition to Jewish studies humanities Latin and Arabic as well as medicine the natural sciences and astronomy were taught Rabbinical courts were known for their justness Many Muslims and Greeks preferred to try the cases they had with Jews in these courts instead of the Turkish ones

In 1873 the Alliance Israelite Universelle established a school and additional schools in accordance with Western standards were also founded A new port built in 1889 helped to develop trade European culture and technology also began to flow into Salonica Signs of ’westernization’ became apparent This marked a general opening of the Ottoman Balkans to Western modernists who imported to the Ottoman world new techniques and ideas

Until the beginnings of the 20th century Salonica was a prosperous Jewish city with Jews representing a majority of around fortyfive to sixty percent of a total multiethnic population of 120000 to 170000 depending upon periods Aside almost every profession the stevedores of Salonica were mainly Jews On Sabbath days the town and the port came to a standstill since the Jews did not work (16 17)

Towards political activism: JewishSabbatean connection

Following the conversion of Sabbetai Sevi to Islam some 300 Jewish families followed his example in 1683 by forming a cryptoJewish sect Popularly called Doenmeh – apostate in Turkish – its members chose Salonica as their spiritual center This choice was due to the very peculiar nature of the city As long as they lived in Salonica Sabbatean believers enjoyed an indulgent attitude from the environment allowing them to carry on safely with their way of life as a separate community and to maintain their autochthonous features The sect attracted other proselytes belonging to different ethnic groups among them Polish Jews who were integrated into the Sabbatean community The Frankists in Poland continued to maintain contacts with Sabbateans in Salonica
Although maintaining their traditions Sabbateans did not break of their ties with Judaism They used to consult rabbis in religious issues and to settle their disputes instead of bringing them to Turkish courts Preservation of their Jewish character was feasible because of their proximity and steady contact with the large and bustling Jewish population

Sabbateans as Jews had enjoyed in Salonica the advantage of being directly involved in the process of westernization and composing the intellectual elite of the city However being officially Muslims they had as first class citizens the privilege of being instrumental in political matters
If modernization entered Salonica by the intermediary of Jews Sabbateans constituted the vector that transmitted it to the Ottoman Muslim population of Macedonia and made possible its integration and implementation into military and political developments
As a matter of fact Sabbateans constituted the leading and operative agent during the Young Turks revolution in 1908 and the subsequent achievements of the ’Action Army’

This revolution was ideologically rooted in the principle of the right to freedom of expression the equality among the peoples of the Empire and the aspiration to unity through affiliation to the Ottoman nation It is on those basic concepts of equality and liberty that the ideology of ’Ottomanism’ proclaiming a common national fate irrespective of religious and ethnic affiliation emerged in this period
The adhesiveness of Sabbatean Believers to the process leading to the Revolution stemmed most likely from the messianic hope that promised a new social order similar to that of religious reformation The desire of being free of antiquated dogmas found a welcome substitute in revolutionary values such as secularism freedom of expression and social equity

The Young Turk movement built a rich tradition that shaped the intellectual and political life of the late Ottoman period and laid the foundation of the Republic The Revolution also served as a source of inspiration to Asian peoples aspiring to national emancipation (15 18 19 20 21)

Retrospect And Conclusions

Many common similar and parallel features exist between the birth ideology evolution results and consequences of the Polish national resurrection and the Young Turks Revolution

The process that had started with Sabbatean messianism in the Ottoman Empire was linked with and perpetuated by Frankist messianism In their case political reform was substituted for a religious one

Each one of them has their roots in the messianic metaphor of apostasy leading to liberation by the abolition of the existing order
Each of them was motivated by insurrection against an oppressive power was revived by the disappointment of a recent liberation experience and developed in a distinctive milieu of leniency

The ideology of each one of them was based on the principle of equal rights and union among nations Each of them served as a model to other nations seeking redemption

During a ceremony organized in 1909 by Young Turks to pay homage to Adam Mickiewicz a plaque with the inscription: “Adam Mickiewicz The Great Polish Poet and Patriot – Friend of Turkey The Committee of Union and Progress July 10 1909″ was affixed to the door of Mickiewicz’s house in Istanbul (22)

Even though the project of Polish nationalists led by Mickiewicz to form a Jewish armed unit to fight against the Russian oppressor and the aspiration of its participants to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine was not implemented a Jewish battalion took an active part in the ’Action Army’ which brought freedom to the Ottoman people

Let us remember that Zionist leaders such as David Ben Gurion and Yitzhak Ben Zvi were so favorably impressed with the reformative and unionist ideology of the Young Turks Revolution that on the eve of the First World War they advocated the idea of defending the land of Israel on the side of the Ottomans and of establishing a Jewish settlement there under Ottoman auspices

Concerning the Jewish Battalion that had fought for the cause of the Young Turks Yitzhak Ben Zvi referred to it by these words:
” the fact of founding a warrior Jewish unit deserves by itself to be specially pointed out as one of the precedents for the foundation of the Israeli army to which we are at present indebted It deserves also to be pointed out that the majority of the enrollees in the battalion were ardent and nationalist Zionists and believed that the Ottoman revolution will open new horizons to the Jews of Turkey in general and to Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel and to Zionism in particular”(23)


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