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October 3, 2022

The Queernesses of Jewish Heresy

From the 17th to 19th centuries, European Judaism witnessed an eruption of ecstasy and eros in a series of heretical and quasi-heretical movements, beginning with the failed messiahs Sabbetai Zevi (1626-76) and Jacob Frank (1726-1791), and continuing through the ‘domestication’ of Sabbateanism by the Hasidism of the Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) and his followers.  These movements offered intensified spiritual experiences, complete with sublimated and non-sublimated erotic expression.  They were also, in various ways, queer, including the ambiguously gendered Sabbetai, the liberation of sexuality as harbinger of the messianic age, the leadership and power of women in Sabbatean and Frankist communities, the female messiah in Frank’s imaginaire, and sexualized worship and homoerotic/homosocial bonds among the Hasidim.

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