Between the two world wars, there roamed the streets of Jerusalem a man who made a nuisance of himself, pestering the populace that he was the Messiah.
Finally the “Messiah” was brought to the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Rav Kook asked to meet with the deranged man alone. After a few moments with Rav Kook, the “Messiah” never again boasted his claim.
Sometime later Rav Kook revealed what produced such a wondrous effect. “I told him: ‘The truth is, there is a spark of Messiah in every Jew. You obviously have received an especially large endowment. But the quality of the spark is such that it works only as long as one does not speak of it to others.’”
Unlike many Orthodox thinkers, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook did not shy away from the subject of Sabbatianism. His published works reveal a more than fleeting interest in the entire Sabbatian phenomenon, from the initial impetus of Messianic activity surrounding the person of Shabbetai Zevi, to the Hayyon and Emden-Eybeschütz controversies, to that Polish offshoot of Sabbatianism, Frankism. This interest extends to both the external, historical, as well as internal, philosophical and psychological aspects. Rav Kook is even willing to rebut the author of ‘Or la-Yesharim ‘s comparison of Herzlian political Zionism to Sabbatianism.
In 1666, the mystic Shabbetai Zevi of Izmir (Smyrna) convinced most of the Jewish world that he was the righteous Messiah come to redeem his people Israel. Much of the Christian world, particularly Protestants in Western Europe, were equally fascinated by the tidings from the East (though they might have cast Shabetai Zevi in the role of Antichrist). All this came to a dramatic end with the Messiah’s forced conversion to Islam by the Sultan in Edirne (Adrianople). Was this truly the end? Does a Messiah ever truly end?
Reuven Alpert has doggedly tracked the remnants of Shabbetai Zevi’s followers in Greece and Turkey. A highlight of his journey is a visit to the home of this controversial personality in Izmir. Caught in the Crack is a search for the Messiah in time and space. Beyond that, Caught in the Crack has some disturbing things to say concerning Messiahs—Bar Kochba, Shabbetai Zevi, Jacob Frank—and the entire phenomenon of Messianism.
Reuven Alpert describes himself as a “spiritual anthropologist.” He has devoted several years to exploring exotic Jewish communities around the globe. He studied Talmudic law and Jewish philosophy in yeshivot and universities in the United States and Israel. His travelogs have appeared in Lifestyles magazine and elsewhere. Most recently, Mr. Alpert authored God’s Middlemen: A Habad Retrospective (White Cloud Press, 1998).
“On our globe, perhaps no rift is so profound as that separating Jew and Muslim. This is the story of a sect of some 25.000 souls who for over three hundred years have lived a double identity of Jewish Muslims. It is also the story of intense longing for the Messiah, of the apocalypse, of deep disappointment, and of faith beyond faith.”
Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook served as the first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Erets Israel from 1921 until his death in 1935. Born in Grieva, Latvia in 1865, he studied in the famed Volozhin Yeshivah, dubbed “the mother of yeshivot.” Beside the intellectual tradition of Volozhin, reaching back to the Vilna Gaon, Rav Kook was exposed in early childhood through his mother’s family to the mystical legacy of Habad Hasidism.
The discipline of Kabbalah is generally subdivided into kabbalah ma’asit, practical or applied kabbalah, and kabbalah ‘iyyunit, theoretical kabbalah. In the popular imagination, the kabbalist is a practitioner of the magical arts. However, there is another sort of kabbalist whose way of relating to and interpreting the world is based on a profound system of thought.
Such a comprehensive, all-encompassing thought evidences itself in the spiritual diaries of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (1865-1935). Gershom Scholem, Professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, wrote: “Rabbi Kook’s great work… is a veritable theologia mystica of Judaism equally distinguished by its originality and the richness of its author’s mind. It is the last example of productive kabbalistic thought of which I know.”