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Dissident RabbiThe Life of Jacob Sasportas$
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Yaacob Dweck

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691183572

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691183572.001.0001

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(p.123) Three Crowds
Dissident Rabbi

Yaacob Dweck

Princeton University Press

This chapter assesses the doubt of an individual versus the certainty of the crowd. It posits that Jacob Sasportas's aversion to Sabbetai Zevi as the Messiah was as much a response to the force of perceived social chaos as it was an attack on the truth-value of Sabbetai Zevi's claims. Sabbatianism posed an acute philosophical problem to Sasportas. The certainty with which the Sabbatian believers propagated their newfound faith, the confidence and imperiousness with which they attempted to silence dissent, and their contempt for doubt as a condition for belief, all of these threatened the welfare of the body politic. Belief, or the acquisition of the correct opinions, could be cultivated and acquired only if the welfare of the body politic and the welfare of the soul had been adequately regulated. These intellectual and social demands forced Sasportas to draw upon the single most important resource he had in order to confer intellectual legitimacy upon his argument for the conditionality of messianic belief: Maimonides. As opposed to the collective need for instant certainty, he upheld the individual quest for discernment. Throughout The Fading Flower of the Zevi and throughout his long career in the Sephardic Diaspora, Sasportas consciously cultivated the posture of an articulate outsider. He saw himself as a figure of authority, the product of his lineage and his learning, who was quite capable of seeing the problems in Jewish society.

Keywords:   Jacob Sasportas, Sabbetai Zevi, Messiah, social chaos, Sabbatianism, Sabbatian believers, messianic belief, Maimonides, Jewish society, Sephardic Diaspora

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