The Holy Heresy of Jacob Frank | Kallah 2018

at UMass Amherst

Amherst, MA
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Jacob Frank (1726-1791) was a notorious Jewish heretic who led the largest apostasy in Jewish history, conducted sexual rituals with his followers, and was regarded by Gershom Scholem as “a truly corrupt and degenerate individual.” But beware: almost everything we think we know about Jacob Frank turns out to be wrong. In fact, Frank’s elaborate theology is partly a surprisingly modern critique of Jewish theodicy (i.e. traditional religion just isn’t true) and partly a magical-materialistic Western Esotericism complete with gnostic myths, goddess worship, sexual liberation, a quest for immortality, and extremely bawdy tales of tricking rabbis and exposing religious hypocrisy. Frank’s radical sexual praxis wasn’t a big orgy; it was a form of mystical messianism that was equal parts liberationist and sexist. And while Frankism was a dead end in terms of Jewish history, his combination of radical skepticism and experiential spirituality paved the way for Hasidism and anticipates many currents in our own Jewish/post-Jewish moment. This is a rare opportunity to study the Frankist texts themselves (in translation) with someone who, for better or for worse, has spent over ten years studying them. We will also study Reb Zalman’s text “Renewal is Not Heresy,” and see whether we agree.