Communities > Shabbetai Zevi
NATHAN, OF GAZA (1643/4-1680).
Igeret be-enyan Shabbetai Tsevi.
Manuscript in Hebrew, on paper.
Italy, ca. 18th century.
MS X893 F84
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
In the 17th century, the false messiah Shabbetai Zevi ignited the entire Jewish world. In 1665, with the strong support of Nathan of Gaza, Shabbetai Zevi proclaimed himself publicly as the messiah, and many of the communities in Palestine turned toward him as a savior. Nathan of Gaza was Shabbetai Zevi’s self-appointed prophet, and he sent letters throughout the Jewish world telling them of the messiah’s coming. While some significant figures of the time opposed him vocally, a significant number of Jews throughout the known world turned to Shabbetai Zevi as the long-awaited Messiah. In 1666, however, he was arrested by the grand vizier of Turkey, and ultimately offered the choice of death or conversion to Islam. His choice of conversion shocked and confused both his followers and detractors, and many records of the event were destroyed. There were some followers, however, who were convinced that Shabbetai Zevi’s conversion was just a façade, and that he would still re-emerge as the Messiah. This manuscript, copied in the century following the event and including important documents such as one of Nathan’s letters, may have been written by one of these followers, known as Sabbateans, who split into various groups and persisted throughout the 18th century.