Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 17 (1958-1959)

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J
e w i s h
B
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A
n n u a l
“The Age of Regeneration,” while referring to Hassidism as
“disintegration in Judaism.” Graetz described the Hassidim
as “miracle-maniacs who promulgated the wildest superstitions,
and undermined the foundations of Talmudic and Rabbinic
Judaism.” Yet even Graetz conceded that “serious men too felt
drawn to Hassidism in the hope of filling the void in their souls.”
The Jews of the West had not been left untouched by
mysticism. The Sabbataian heresy had invaded England too.
The Messianic speculations of the Puritan millenarians had
helped Manasseh ben Israel in his efforts to bring the Jews
back to England. Hyamson, in his history of the London Sephar-
dic community, speaks of “a Sabbataian undercurrent that had to
be fought.” It existed also in Germany. Eybeschuetz, a German
Rabbi, was brought by Feuchtwanger into his
Tew Suess
: “Our
teacher Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschuetz, Rabbi of Hamburg. Did
he really believe in the teaching of the Cabbalah and practise it,
the secret pupil and disciple of Sabbatai Zevi?” Feuchtwanger
also brings in Jew Suess’ kinsman, Rabbi Gabriel Oppenheimer
the Cabbalist, who buried Jew Suess after his execution and
said Kaddish for him. Tacob Frank himself, with some of his
followers, had found refuge in Germany, in Offenbach.
But the Sabbataian collapse had not plunged the Jews of the
West into such despair as in Eastern Europe. In Western Europe
it was for the most part the Age of Emancipation. The Jews of
these countries, unlike those in Eastern Europe, had prospered
economically, and were accepted socially. Their next aim was
political equalitv, on which they had set their minds. It was
the time when Lord George Gordon had become a convert to
Tudaism (1787) . Zangwill speaks of it in his
King o f Schnorrers.
“In the days when Lord George Gordon became a Jew. there
had been a special service of prayer and thanksgiving for the
happy restoration of his Majesty’s health, and the cantor had
interceded tunefully on behalf of Royal George. The congregation
was large and fashionable—far more so than when only a heaven­
ly sovereign was concerned.”
True, Anglo-Jewry had at that time, as Zangwill recalls in
the same paragraph, “Dr. Falk, the Baal Shem of London,
saint and Cabbalistic conjurer.” But Falk was a different kind of
Cabbalist. “He seems to have persuaded his superstitious con­
temporaries, Christian and Jewish, that he could discover hidden
treasure and work other marvels, such as the transmutation of
metals.”
Cabbalistic Mysticism
The pre-Hassidic Cabbalistic mysticism on which Falk based
himself had influenced English literature in his time and even
earlier. One of Falk’s contemporaries was the great English poet,