Sunday 23 October 2022

402) Was R. Nachman’s Tikun haKelali a ‘fixing’ of Sabbatianism?




Years ago, when I was in yeshiva, Breslov was a rather unknown Chassidic sect. Today R. Nachman (1772-1810) and his Breslov movement need no introduction as it has become one of the most popular of the Chassidic movements. I spent about fifteen years in the movement and have always been fascinated by the personality of R. Nachman. According to Professor Yehuda Liebes (1995:109),[1] when it comes to machshvet Yisrael (Jewish theology), R. Nachman is certainly one of its key personalities. However, Liebes boldly maintains that R. Nachman was - at least in his early days (Liebes 1995:109 in the Appendix) - influenced by the secretive yet powerful and widespread Sabbatian and Frankist movements of Shabbatai Tzvi (1626-1676) and particularly Jacob Frank (1726-1791) respectively.[2] Liebes suggests that in his youth, R. Nachman may have had contact with Frankists who had remained Jewish and who were plentiful in Podolia at that time. Although, Liebes continues, these influencers may have been factors, nevertheless, R. Nachman indeed produced highly individualised and unique teachings (Liebes 1995:109).

Tikkun haKelali as the antidote to Sabbatainism?

R. Nachman is well known for his famous work, the Tikkun haKelali (General Remedy) which included the recitation of ten specifically chosen Psalms, which he claimed could ‘rectify’ sexual sins.  Liebes, however, maintains that R. Nachman really intended to ‘rectify’ the sin of Sabbatianism (Liebes 1995:90). Sabbatians were known for their promiscuity, which - based on their Sabbatian Kabbalah - required them to actually enter into the realm of sin in order to elevate it (yeridah tzorech aliya, or descent for the sake of ascent), as a final preparation for what they believed were messianic times. The parallelism between Sabbatian promiscuity and the need to ‘rectify’ sexual sins through the Tikkun haKelali, forms part of this argument.

The scholarly debate

There is no doubt that much has been written about the unblemished righteousness of R. Nachman and a large body of hagiography, or ‘praise literature,’ has risen around his personality. R. Nachman himself, was not averse to self-praise (or, as his followers would interpret it, speaking the truth about himself) and on many occasions, he called himself the greatest Tzadik of the generation (and even previous generations). One source shows R. Nachman claiming to be greater than the Baal Shem Tov (and this was why his uncle R. Baruch of Medzhybizh became estranged from him). R. Nachman claimed that at the age of thirteen, he had already surpassed the greatness of his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov).[3] R. Nachman saw himself as the Mashiach ben David and particularly the Mashiach ben Yosef. In a text that has been severely censored (probably under R. Nachman’s orders as it was published in his lifetime) R. Nachman says:

“And there is one Tzadik in whom these two messiahs [of David and Yosef] are combined. He said several other things there, more than have been printed. At that point the table broke, because so many people were pressing around him…”[4]

According to Professor Arthur Green:[5]

“Whenever Nahman used a phrase like ‘there is one zaddiq,’ his disciples knew well that the reference was to none other than himself” (Green 1992;190).

It is common for Chassidim to venerate their Rebbes. At worst this would only awaken the ire of the Mitnagdim (non-Chassidim). But an apparent claim to the title of Messiah - specifically at a time when Sabbatianism and Frankism were still active and secret influencing factors - is another matter entirely:

“No wonder that Nahman took care in his early years to keep handwritten copies of his teachings safe from the probing eyes of any outsider. Even when he did print the teachings, he was careful to delete some of the most sensitive passages” (Green 1992:196).

Yet, unlike Liebes, Green insists time and again that it is not correct to associate R. Nachman with Sabbatianism:

“The serious differences between Sabbatianism and Nahman’s messianic longings should not be minimized” (Green 1992:216, note 21).

The year 1805

Around 1805, or 5566 in the Hebrew calendar (566 has the numerical value of Mashiach ben Yosef), R. Nachman began assigning penitential practices and fasts to his immediate followers, in preparation for the messianic event:

“…each one of us went in to him individually, and he gave us a slip of paper telling us when we were to fast. He had a list in front of him, written in his holy hand, which we were not permitted to see.”[6]

In that same auspicious year, R. Nachman instituted the midnight petition known as Tikkun Chatzot, as well as his Tikkun haKelali. Gershom Scholem (1971:99) points out that an increase in penitential prayers and practices always indicates the belief that messianic redemption was imminent.[7]

The Shpole Zeida and R. Baruch (R. Nachman’s uncle) became suspicious of R. Nachman, and Green suggests it may have particularly been as a result of this frenzied messianic activity of that year, because the:

“awareness on the part of outsiders that the excitement brewing in Bratslav had a familiarly dangerous edge to it” (Green 1992:208).[8]

Internal censorship

During that same time, there was also an urgency to collect, edit and disseminate R. Nachman’s teachings, which had been largely kept secret up to that point. Green points to this relative secrecy of R. Nachmans’ writings by recording an oral testimony by:

“a Bratslav hasid in about 1970 [who told him][9] that the community is still in possession of an uncensored version of Hayey MoHaRan.”

And Green continues:

“A most important work of Nahman, Megillat Setarim, which was long thought to have been destroyed, is quoted by N.Z. Koenig, Neweh Zaddikim, pp 87ff., and apparently still exists” (Green 1992:20).

Also, after R. Nachman’s return from his travels to the Land of Israel in 1799, after his mysterious visit to the former Sabbatian enclave of Kamenets-Podolsk the previous year, he declared that all his writings that dated from before his journey were to be disregarded and not studied or even preserved (Green 1992:48).

But the more ‘authentic’ writings were later collected and distributed just before Shavuot 1805. On Shavuot that year, R. Nachman dressed for the first time in pure white garments and he made frequent references to redemption through the Tzadik which took on a new urgency[10] (Green 1992:210).

Messiah from his prodigy

In that same year, when R. Nachman was thirty-three years old, his first son Shlomo Efraim was born. Up to that point, R. Nachman had expected one of his daughters’ sons to be the redeemer:

“In the year 1803, he [R. Nachman] married off his daughter Sarah…After the ceremony, which took place in the evening, they spoke of messiah, etc. (and our master hinted that it would be fitting that it came from this union, etc.).”[11]

Later, however, the messianic focus shifted to his own son.[12] The Tikkun haKelali was to emerge just three weeks after the birth of Shlomo Efraim (Green 1992:208).

The strange journeys to Kamenets-Podolsk and Shargorod

R. Nachman made mysterious journeys to Kamenets-Podolsk in 1798 and to Shargorod in 1805. Both Kamenets-Podolsk and Shargorod had been known as Sabbatian centres. He made other secretive visits, incognito, to other Ukrainian centres as well. Kamenets-Podolsk was where the famous debate took place with the Frankists in 1757 and Jews were not allowed to inhabit the city. The Frankists, many of whom had converted to Christianity in 1759 and 1760, were expelled from that city (and other cities of Podolia) after the death of Bishop Dembowski who had given them protection. According to R. Natan, R. Nachman’s loyal student, this ban was lifted soon after R. Nachman visited the city. Chassidic lore has it that the Baal Shem Tov (R. Nachman’s great-grandfather) and R. Nachman of Horodenka (R. Nachman’s paternal grandfather) debated with the Frankists in that city (according to some accounts it was Lvov).

Green describes a very strange ceremony that took place during that visit by R. Nachman and an unnamed student who accompanied him:

“it is quite clear that Nahman’s visit to Kamenets-Podolsk had something to do with the former presence of Frankists in that city. After violating the local ordinance forbidding any Jew from spending a night within city limits, Nahman…had inquired, or by some means divined, which had been the houses occupied by the Frankists during the Kamenets debate. He then gained entry to those houses, and by means of his blessing and the glass of schnapps sought to perform some mysterious rite of purification. These houses had to be purified of the Frankist stain so that the Jews might dwell in them again. Indeed, Nathan tells us, shortly after Nahman’s visit the residence ban on Jews was lifted” (Green 1992:66).

Just after Passover 1805, R. Nachman made another of his mysterious journeys, this time to Shargorod where he remained for two weeks. He had no known followers in Shargorod but the journey was “great and exulted wonder,”[13] and was somehow related to the anticipated redemption.

On his return from Sharogrod, where fires apparently had raged after he left, R. Nachman remarked:

“If the people of Shargorod had only known how much good I did for them, etc.”

What R. Nachman meant by this is unsure but it may tie in with Liebes’ view that he wanted to create a ‘remedy’ or ‘fixing’ of Sabbatianism. This may also have some connection to the use of the term ‘etc.’ in the above quotation. Green (1992:209) describes this as the “censor’s etc.,” alluding to something being left out of the narrative. Then, along similar lines to Liebes, Green suggests:

“Perhaps Nahman had seen that the sparks of Sabbatian impurity had condemned Shargorod to undergo some terrible fate in the coming judgement, and he had sought to effect a tiqqun that would avoid this fate” (Green 1992:209).

In the final analysis, no one is sure as to the exact nature of these strange visits to these cities.

Green’s caution

Green is very careful not to taint R. Nachman with the accusation that he a brush with Sabbatianism or Frankism.  He makes this clear a number of times. But when Green describes R. Nachman’s detractors, some of whom did indeed charge him with some form of Sabbatian association, he makes the point that:

“While we have denied the allegation that Nahman’s detractors accused him of Sabbatianism, it seems too striking to be coincidental that the persecution of Bratslav was at its height in the period during and after this outbreak of messianic fever [of 1805][14]…and the general derision with which Bratslav was met in broader Hassidic circles may well stem from this period.” (Green 1992:221-222).

Green is ever cautious about jumping to any conclusions about R. Nachman and Sabbatianism but he does acknowledge the controversial nature of R. Nachman’s messianism:

“Any discussion of messianism as presented in the Bratslav sources is greatly complicated by the fact that here, more than in any other area, the hand of the censor has been particularly heavy” (Green 1992:185).

And he continues in a similar vein:

“The frequent and secretive references to the final redemption in Bratslav literature as well as the highly-charged mysterious mood of penitence and excitement at once leave no doubt that the deep stirrings of redemption-longing were aroused here…But was it out of the air that Nahman turned to messianism in the middle of his career?” (Green 1992:187).

The Shpole Zeida

On his return from the Land of Israel, R. Nachman visited R. Aryeh Leib of Shpola, known as the Shpola Zeida (grandfather). Soon the two were to become bitter enemies after R. Nachman suddenly decided to settle in Zlotopolye, a strange choice considering that he had no followers in that city. It seems that this was a move to provoke the seventy-five-year-old Shpole Zeida as it was just two miles away from Shpola. R. Nachman remained in Zlotopolye for two years despite the ever-increasing hostility (Green 1992:102).

No one is quite sure why such great animosity developed between R. Nachman and the Shpole Zeida. This is strange because so many other details of R. Nachman’s life are so well documented. Was this just a matter of hassagat gevul, a turf war, or was something else going on?

One Breslover source claims the Shpole Zeida was upset that R. Nachman had endorsed the consumption of alcohol before the morning prayers to enhance the prayer experience.[15] Another source suggests that the Shpole Zeida may have accused R. Nachman of plagiarism in that he is alleged to have copied the secret writings of his grandfather, R. Nachman Horodenka.[16]

“Aside from these two somewhat far-fetched matters, no explanation is found in the highly censored printed sources of Bratslav literature” (Green 1992:102).[17]

Yehuda Liebes on the charge of Sabbatianism:

Yehuda Liebes takes a more forthright approach to the matter of the Shpole Zeida’s alleged charge of Sabbatianism. Besides suggesting that R. Nachman’s Tikkun haKelali was a ‘remedy’ for Sabbatianism (Liebes 1995:90) - and a better ‘remedy’ than the Baal Shem Tov’s mission to ‘sweetening’ the words of the Sabbatians (המתקת דברי השבתאים) (Liebes 1995:92) - Liebes also maintains that the Shpole Zeida accused R. Nachman of Frankism.

Liebes suggests that R. Nachman considered his Tikkun haKelali to be a Shiryon (שריון) or ‘armour’ to theurgically protect those who recite it.[18] Liebes (1995:91), citing Mendel Piekarz,[19] connects this to the battle against the Frankists. R. Nachman also referred to himself in a similar term, namely, as Maginei Eretz (מגיני ארץ), or ‘protector(s) of the land[20] from those who perpetuate immorality in the world.

However, R. Nachman’s known expression Maginei Eretz as a positive reference to himself, was used sarcastically as an insult against him by the Shpole Zeida. Considering the nuances of language and religious politics at that time, the term Maginei Eretz carried a strong connotation of Sabbatianism and Frankism. It was used by the Frankists who accused the Jews of using Christian blood in their wine on Passover. The Frankists opened their argument for their blood libel with a quote from the Halachic work “Maginei Eretz,[21] which deals with wine on Passover. This way, those in that era and milieu would have immediately recognised the Shpole Zeida’s innuendo linking R. Nachman to the Frankists and Sabbatians (Liebes 1995:94).

The question of the ban (Cherem)

By 1802, the Shpole Zeida tried to rally other important rabbis to act against R. Nachman. According to Green (1992:110), it is unclear whether the Shpole Zeida was looking for an outright ex-communication or just a denunciation:

“If we are to believe Bratslav sources, the attempt was an utter failure” (Green 1992:110).

The Breslov sources claim the plan backfired and instead of support for the ban, the Shpole Zeida received only praise and support for R. Nachman. Then R. Nachman decided to use the same tactics of the Shpole Zeida, but against him – and R. Nachman tried to excommunicate the Shpole Zeida.

R. Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev got involved and refused to issue a ban against the Shpole Zeida in his city. Apparently, R. Levi Yitzchak’s wife received large amounts of money from the Shpole Zeida to support the poor of Berdichev.[22]

Liebes dramatically develops the would-be ban that R. Nachman wanted to impose on the Shpole Zeida into more than just a ban. The battle between both parties was so fundamental (touching, in Liebes’ view, on the accusation of Sabbatianism), that it went beyond the domains of the rabbinic world and involved the government authorities. Liebes suggests that R. Nachman bribed the authorities! This led the Shpole Zeida to view the attack on him by R. Nachman as equivalent to the ‘Frankist blood libel.’ (Liebes 1995:94).

Liebes goes even further and takes the view that R. Nachman also attempted to quieten the Shpole Zeida by involving extra-governmental assistance, by invoking the theurgic use of the Tikkun haKelali as the ‘armour’ for the battle against the Shpole Zeida and his role in preventing the redemption (Liebes 1995:95).

It is significant to note that as Green (1992:207) points out, in around 1805/6 when R. Nachman’s messianic activity peaked, he simultaneously instituted his three-stage strategy of recitation of Tikkun Chatzot, the observance of private penitential fasts, and the recitation of his Tikkun haKelali. It was also around this time that the quarrel with the Shpole Zeida grew most intense (Green 1992:112). Could these events, as Liebes suggests, somehow be related?

It must be noted that Liebes (1995:96) does acknowledge that there is no hard evidence for this notion of R. Nachman paying a bribe to the authorities to harm the Shpole Zeida. However, the following extract in R. Nachman’s own words is significant:

“[T]he Land of Israel [=messianic redemption] is one of the three things which are acquired through suffering. And the main suffering is the detractors, the wicked people, those “who had given a bad report about the land” (Numbers 14:37).

The first thing that has to be done is to subdue these wicked people, and to punish them with the sword and with death…Yet, it is impossible [to acquire] the power to punish the wicked except when this power is received from Edom [=Christian authorities]

This is how it now is in [this bitter] exile. We do not have the power to punish the wicked on our own; only through [gentile law]…For the wicked man surrounds the tzaddik, and we on our own do not have the power to repel him except through [gentile courts]—to have him judged according to their laws and to receive from them the power to oppress the wicked…

Through the strength of the judgment, the judgment of holiness, which had fallen between the forces of evil, emerges. [And] the tzaddik takes it out from between the evil forces, so that the judgment goes out from its crookedness…

[The verse] ‘I will pay the full price’ [Numbers 20:19] — Onkelos translates this as, “their money.” It refers to the bribes [which must be doled out in the gentile courts] in order to have them willingly allow the [judgment of holiness] to be taken from the crookedness.[23]

Liebes interprets these passages as follows (translation mine):

“It is difficult for me to explain how one can develop a theory like this and justify such actions as pure Torah, unless one had to justify such action in actuality. This is why I believe such an event [the paying of a bribe] did occur” (Liebes 1995:96).

Alleged Sabbatian parallels

Tikkun haKeli by Moharan

The messianic fervour inspired by Shabbatai Tzvi just prior to 1666, was rooted in the penitential and repentance movement created by Nathan of Gaza (Shabbatai Tvi’s ‘prophet’). While this movement did include personal repentance, it focused more on the repentance of the Jewish nation as a whole. It was not just a private enterprise but rather a ‘general tikkun’ (rectification).

Nathan of Gaza wrote:

ולפי זה אין לעשות התיקון [של קבלת האר"י] ולבכות על גלות השכינה כאשר היינו עושים, אלא התיקון שתיקן אמיר"ה [=שבתי צבי] כאשר הוא מפורסם לך

“Accordingly, one should no longer perform the tikkun [‘remedy’ of the Ari Zal] and cry over the exile of the Shechina as we used to do, but rather [we must now perform] the tikkun of Amirah [=Shabbatai Tzvi] as you know it” (translation mine).[24]

Nathan of Gaza called this tikkun, the Tikkun haKelali. Liebes (1995:100) points out that the expression ‘Tikkun haKelali’ was not used before the time of Nathan of Gaza.[25]

But the symmetry of nomenclature between Nathan of Gaza’s Sabbatian Tikkun haKelali and R. Nachman’s Tikkun haKelali was not the only commonality shared between the two. The essential idea behind both these books was that sexual sins include all other sins in their orbit – and by ‘fixing’ sexual sins, one can ‘fix’ all other sins as well.

Nathan of Gaza wrote:

מי שירצה לעשות תיקון כללי על כל עוונותיו

והאדם שרוצה לתקן עצמו קודם כל צריך לתקן הפגם שפגם באות ברית קודש שענשו חמור מאוד

הוא תיקון גמור

“If one wishes to perform a complete remedy [Tikkun haKelali]…

And if a person wants to fix (letaken=tikkun) himself, he first has to fix the blemish [he caused] with the sign of the covenant [brit], which is most severe…

This is a total remedy [tikkun gamur]” (translation mine).[26]

These ideas were very much mirrored in R. Nachman’s Tikkun haKelali.

R. Nachman established the recitation of ten specific psalms in his Tikkun haKelali. On the other hand, Nathan of Gaza established thirty unspecified psalms. But Nathan of Gaza’s thirty psalms comprised three sections of ten psalms (ten, corresponding to the mystical world of Asiya, ten corresponding to Yetzira, and another ten corresponding to both of them as they rise into Beriya). The unit of ten psalms thus featured in both systems. While Nathan of Gaza did not specify which particular psalms to recite, R. Nachman also did not specify which particular psalms to recite until four years into the project (Liebes 1995:103).

The notion of reciting multiple psalms for purposes of spiritual rectification was not always an accepted practice. This practice was started by Shabbatai Tzvi and his students, and it was considered an improvement of the Lurianic Kabbalistic notion that many Mishnaot should be recited for purposes of such rectification.

The Sabbatians, as mentioned, emphasised the general ‘fixing’ of the nation [tikkun gamur] over individual attempts as individual rectification. This was because they taught that the souls of the entire nation were contained within the soul of Shabbatai Tzvi who represented a spiritual synthesis of the entire nation. Liebes (1995:104) points out that a similar idea was presented by R. Nachman who constantly emphasised that he was the Tzadik haDor (the greatest tzadkik of the generation) if not the greatest tzadik ever, and that the tikkun of the nation depended on the personal tikkun of the Tzadik haDor.

During the earlier era of Shabbatai Tzvi, R. Yisrael Hazan wrote a Sabbatian commentary on the Book of Psalms. His commentary is replete with alluded references to Shabbatai Tzvi within the Psalms. However, he was against the fairly common practice of apostasy that was practised by Jews in the aftermath of Shabbatai Tzvi’s conversion to Islam. He believed that Nathan of Gaza - who, interestingly, is referred to as ‘Moharan’,[27] - essentially effected a tikkun for Shabbatai Tzvi. R. Yisrael Hazan writes:

ומכאן תבין גדולת מוהר"ן [=נתן העזתי] שהחזיר את יש[ראל] לאביהם שבשמים בתשובה שלימה 

ועתה הסכלים האלה [=אלה שהמירו דתם בעקבות שבתי צבי, והמחבר מתנגד לדרכם][28]  הם מרעים לנפשותם לבד כי לא יוכלו עוד להתקרב בתיקון הכללי הגדול שנתקן


“From here we see the greatness of Moharan [=Nathan of Gaza] who brought Israel back to their father in heaven, through an all-encompassing repentance…But these fools [who converted out of Judaism as a result of Shabbatai Tzvi’s apostacy] have only damaged themselves because they can no longer be included in the general remedy [i.e., the Tikkun haKelali] established [by Nathan of Gaza]" (translation mine).[29]

Tikkun haKelali as Shiryon

The earlier reference by R. Nachman to his Tikkun haKelali as a Shiryon (armour) also has its origins in Nathan of Gaza (Liebes 1995:105). In a letter produced during the peak of the Sabbatian movement describing how Nathan of Gaza is busy with the work of repentance, there is a reference to Shiryon:

ומי שלא יהיה לבוש בשריון התשו[בה] כהוגן יעבור צרות ב"ם [=בר מינן]

“And one who does not wear the Shiryon haTeshuva [armour of repentance] appropriately, will certainly endure travail, heaven forefend [bar minan] (translation mine).”[30]

Liebes (1995:106) notes that he had not found any other reference to the unusual concept of teshuva (repentance) described as a Shiryon (armour), except those in the writings of both Nathan of Gaza and R. Nachman.

Gershom Scholem suggests that Shiryon, in the context of Nathan of Gaza, relates to the tzitzit (fringed garment) worn by Jewish males. Nathan of Gaza was extremely insistent that the followers of Shabbatai Tzvi, known as Ma’aminim (the Believers – the opponents of Shabbatai Tzvi were known as Deniers, or Kofrim),[31] wear the tzitzit. Liebes (1995:106) mentions that in the writings of both Nathan of Gaza and R. Nachman, the notion of wearing the tzitzit is related to their respective rituals concerning both their works of Tikkun haKelali.

The hypothesis that R. Nachman may have based his Tikkun haKelali on the Tikun haKelali of Nathan of Gaza, is further bolstered by the fact that R. Nachman acknowledges that his Tikkun haKelali is only completing the work started by others before him. R. Nachman states:

וקצתם התחילו ליידע קצת בעניין תיקון זה ונסתלקו לעולמם באמצע עסקם בזה ולא גמרו. ולי עזר השי"ת שזכיתי לעמוד על זה בשלימות

“Some had tried to understand this matter of the Tikkun, but they departed this world in the middle of their work and did not complete the task. But God, blessed be He, assisted me to merit and achieve this task with perfection” (my translation).[32]

In the same section quoted above, R. Nachman refers to תיקון גמור (tikkun gamur, an all-encompassing rectification). This same unusual expression, תיקון גמור, was used by Nathan of Gaza in an abovementioned quotation.[33] 

Despite R. Nachman admitting that he had completed the work of the tikkun that was started by those before him, Liebes (1995:108) points to the strong insistence by R. Nachman’s followers that this tikun was an absolutely original work. This leads Liebes to conclude that, in his view, there must have been people during the time of R. Nachman who knew about the Tikkun haKelali of Nathan of Gaza, and who must have raised their concerns and suspicions of Sabbatianism. This would have prompted a vehement defence by the followers to declare the work a novel and original idea without any precedent:

כי הם תיקון חדש לגמרי ולא ידע מזה שום נברא מימות עולם

“For they are a new tikun, and no human knew about it since the beginning of time” (translation mine).[34]

Yet R. Nachman himself admitted it was not original. 

Besides the Tikun haKelali, Nathan of Gaza also wrote another work, titled Likutei Moharan. Both these titles, surprisingly, were later to be replicated by R. Nachman.

Parallels to Divrei haAdon of Jacob Frank

Liebes (1995:109) shows numerous surprising parallels between R. Nachman’s famous stories and similar stories to be found in the work by Jacob Frank, titled Divrei haAdon.

The motifs of exchanged children, and the separation of the boy and girl who were destined for each other, are plentiful in the writings of Jacob Frank:

היו שני אלים שם האחד דונץ והוא כולו חסד ושם השני זליג והוא עושה רע. וקרה שהיו שני מלכים רחוקים זה מזה מאתיים מילין, לאחד נולד בן ולשני בת. האל הרע החליף את הילדים והוא בעצמו הפך לחתול שחור ואמר למניקות שיגדלו את הנערה בבגדי גבר ואת הנער כאשה, ציווה ללמד את הנסיכה רכיבה על סוס, קליעה והרבה לשונות. כשגדלו הילדים נמשכה הנסיכה לגבר על אף לבושה הגברי והנסיך בבגדי אשה לא שינה את טבעו ובסופו של דבר התחתנו זה בזו. כן גם אתם, מוחלפים ומבולבלים בראשיכם מה שלמעלה הוא למטה אצלכם ומה שלמטה למעלה[35]

R. Nachman is well known for his story of the prince who lost his mind and thought he was a turkey. He sat under the table. The prince was finally healed by a man who pretended he was also a turkey and who joined him under the table. Slowly the man influenced the prince to behave more like a human, pretending that turkeys also adopt human-like behaviours, and eventually the turkey/prince rose from under the table.[36]

A very similar story about a man who lost his mind and behaved like a turkey is also to be found in Jacob Frank’s Divrei haAdon:

היה סוחר אחד ולו כ־7 אניות בלב ים. בדרך כלל חוזרות האניות רק כעבור 7 שנים. חיכה אותו סוחר אחרי שבע השנים עוד שמונה שנים ולא שמע על אניותיו דבר. אף על פי שעשיר היה האיש, לא יכול היה לעמוד באבדה הגדולה ויצא מדעתו. הפשיט את בגדיו והתחיל נוהג כתרנגול: היה אוכל ושותה כתרנגול, וכשהגיע זמן קריאת התרנגול היה מכה בידיו על אחוריו כפי שעושה תרנגול בכנפיו וקרא. לא היה אף רופא שיצליח להעלות לו ארוכה עד שבא חכם אחד שהשתמש בתחבולה: התפשט מבגדיו ונכנס לאותו חדר אשר בו שהה הסוחר המטורף וגם הוא עשה את עצמו תרנגול אכל גרגירים כמו תרנגול. שאל אותו הסוחר התרנגולי מי אתה? ענה לו: אתה, תרנגול פשוט אתה, אבל אני תרנגול בר וזקן כל התרנגולים. בחצות העיר התרנגול החדש את הותיק כי הגיע זמן לקריאה. וכך קרא איתו כל פעם עד שהתרגלו זה לזה. אחר כך אמר אנו יכולים לעשות את הלחם פרורים פרורים ולאו דווקא לאכול גרגירים ובכל זאת נשאר תרנגולים, אחר כך אמר להביא מרק ואמר: אפשר להשרות את הלחם במרק ולאוכלו, ובכל זאת נהייה תרנגולים. אחר כך אמר: נוכל גם לאכול בשר ובכל זאת נשאר תרנגולים. השכיל לכל. אחר כך אמר: נוכל לישון במיטות ולהישאר תרנגולים, אך בחצות העיר אותו לקריאה אחר כך אמר אפשר לשתות גם יין טוב ולשכב במיטה ותרנגול יישאר תרנגול. שתו והסוחר נרדם שיכור. בחצות העיר אותו לקריאה והנה חזר אלי והשכל ואמר: תניח לי, תהיה אתה לבדך תרנגול אני איני רוצה עוד[37]

R. Nachman used his story to allude to a Tzadik going down to the level of lowly people and then elevating them by means of דרך ההידמות, or mimicry and parallelism. Jacob Frank, however, has a different intention: He was forced to abide by the Torah so as to fit in with his society who ‘had lost their minds.’ If R. Nachman did take this story from him, he certainly inverted this message for a more positive outcome.


Green refuses to admit to a Sabbatian or Frankist influence on R. Nachman, although he does acknowledge the difficulty of maintaining such a stance in light of the complicated and sometimes strange dialectics of R. Nachman's history. This, coupled with the heavy-handed censorship of important sources and the allegations of secret books hidden but still extant, only adds to the complexity.

Liebes is far more open to the idea of Sabbatian influence, as we have seen, and he seems to regard this as an obvious conclusion. However, Liebes only says that the Shpole Zeide accused R. Nachman of being a Sabbatian, but he doesn’t seem to say that himself. Rather, if I understand him correctly, he adopts the view that R. Nachman believed he had found a tikkun for Sabbatianism (whether his own or not remains unclear). And, if this is the case - that the Tikkun haKelali was a general tikkun for Sabbatianism - this then ties in with R. Nachman’s own words:

“Sabbatai Tzvi - cursed be his name – led astray a number of the greatest man of the generation and outstanding scholars . . . they left the fold and spoke evil regarding the Oral Law…but when a Tsadik [righteous man] sweetens their words, he transforms their sayings back into Torah.”[38]

[1] Liebes, Y., 1995, ‘התיקון הכללי של ר' נחמן מברסלב ויחסו לשבתאות’, in סוד האמונה השבתאית, Edited by Yehuda Liebes, Kovetz Maamarim, Mosad Bialik, Jerusalem, 238-261(1-111).

[2] Although there are significant differences between the two sister movements, the terms Sabbatianism and Frankism are here used interchangeably.

[3] Avraham Hazan, Avaneha Barzel, Jerusalem, 1961, 17.

[4] Natan Sternharz, Chayei Moharan, New York, 1965, 1:6. See also Parpera’ot le Chochma (a commentary on Likkutim by Nachman of Cheryn)

[5] Green, A., 1992, Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav, Jewish Lights, Woodstock

[6] Natan Sternharz, Chayei Moharan, New York, 1965, II 11:45.

[7] Scholem, G., 1971, The Messianic Idea in Judaism, New York, 99f.

[8] See R. Natan’s introduction to Sippurei Ma’asiot.

[9] Parenthesis is mine.

[10] Likkutim 29; Chayei Moharan, New York, 1965, 1:2.

[11] Natan Sternharz, Chayei Moharan, New York, 1965, 4:3.

[12] Natan Sternharz, Chayei Moharan, New York, 1965, 1:28.

[13] Natan Sternharz,Yemei MaHarnat, Bnei Brak,1956, p.15.

[14] Parenthesis is mine.

[15] Avraham Hazan, Yemey haToledot, Jerusalem 1968, p. 174.

[16] Nachman of Breslov, Sichot haRan, Jerusalem 1961, 211.

[17] Green (1992:103) acknowledges the ‘circumstantial evidence’ allowing one to assume that the Shpole Zeida accused R. Nachman of Sabbatianism or Frankism. This would account for the bitterness of the conflict, and this is also the view of some modern scholars, including Liebes, which we shall soon explore. However, Green once again cautions that:

“hard evidence to support this claim that Nahman was accused of Sabbatianism is lacking” (Green 1992:103).

The known internal Breslover sources “as is to be expected, tell us almost nothing” (Green 1992:103) as to the nature of the conflict. However, there are two sources that purport to provide external ‘documentary evidence’ of possible reasons for the bitter conflict between the Shpole Zeida and R. Nachman:

1) The first external source was produced in the twentieth century by Yehuda Rosenberg (1859-1935) who claimed that R. Nachman was too modern and secular (allegedly knowing languages and geography) compared to the older, more traditional and conservative Shpole Zeida. However, Green rejects this picture of a modern R. Nachman as a champion of secular knowledge because it is far from the more insular image projected by his actual writings (Green 1992:103).  

2) The second external source is a document, entitled Megilat Chasidei Bratslav, was published by Menachem Nachum Litinsky who claimed he received it personally in 1878 by none other than the brother of R. Natan Sternharz (the latter was R. Nachman’s closest disciple). It purports to be the writing of R. Natan Sternharz himself and mentions what he calls a ‘rumour’ that before R. Nachman was born, Jacob Frank had married a girl from Breslov (in 1757) who came from the ancestral family of R. Nachman, and that Breslov had been a centre of Sabbatianism and Frankism. Thus:

"there were many [Frankists] there [in Breslov] who held to the way of Shabbatai Tzvi…” (Sternharz in Litinsky, Megilat Chasidei Bratslav, 1895:62f).

It was also rumoured − recorded the author of the document (allegedly R. Natan Sternharz) − that he himself had come from the family of the false messiah and Sabbatian, R. Yehuda Lieb Prossnitz (see Kotzk Blog: 131) R. YEHUDAH LEIB PROSSNITZ - ANOTHER FALSE MESSIAH:). However, the author defends both his own, and his teacher R. Nachman’s, untainted image:

“When the path of my teacher and master [R. Nachman] spread forth…other Chassidim, led by the old one [the Shpole Zeida] accused him of being a follower of that sect and a Sabbatian, though our master was innocent of that sin of which they accused him, as am I, his disciple” (Sternharz in Litinsky, Megilat Chassidei Bratslav, 1895:62f).

Green (1992:127, note 26) completely discredits the authenticity of Litinsky’s document for a number of reasons: the writing style is not the style of R. Natan Sternharz that we are familiar with; there is no typical malediction (like ‘cursed be his name’) after referring to Shabbatai Tzvi; and ‘Bratzlav’ is referenced instead of the more common ‘Breslov’ which would most likely have been used by R. Natan Sternharz.

[18] This is based on the story R. Nachman told which begins with the statement: “When one goes into battle one wears a Shiryon (armour).”

[19] Liebes reinforces the observation of Piekarz by pointing out the parallel between the theurgic protection of both concepts of Shiryon (in his view a reference to Tikkun haKelali as a ‘antidote’ to Sabbatnism) and Maginei Eretz. Liebes (1995:94) claims R. Nachman well understood this innuendo and specifically referred to himself as one of the Maginei Eretz who was using the common mystical strategy of parallelism in Frankist language to ‘fix’ their very blemish. This ‘parallelism’ is known as דרך ההידמות.

[20] R. Nachman of Breslov, Likutei Moharan, Jerusalem, 1969, II, 5:7.

[21] Maginei Eretz, Siman 472, Seif, 12. Maginei Eretz is a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, containing the work of two commentators, Magen Avraham and Magen David (hence Maginei, in the plural).

[22] Avraham Hazan, Avaneha Barzel, Jerusalem, 1961, # 28.

[23] R. Nachman of Breslov, Likutei Moharan, Jerusalem, 1969, I, 20:1-19.

[24] Derush haTaninim leNatan haAzati, in beIkvot Mashiach, published by Gershom Scholem, Jerusalem 5464, 15.

[25] Liebes (1995:100, note 136) writes that he did find the expression Tikkun haKelali used with reference to the tikkun established by the Ari, but he points out that this was referenced in the words of Nathan of Gaza and not the Ari himself. According to Moshe Idel: 

"On this phrase, see Liebes, On Sabbateaism, 253–61; Liebes, Studies in Jewish Myth and Jewish Messianism (Albany, N.Y., 1993), 115–50, who assumes that this term occurs for the first time in Nathan of Gaza’s writings, and that this Sabbatean tikun had an impact on R. Nahman of Bratslav. See, however, the occurrence of this phrase in several Lurianic texts authored by kabbalists like R. Immanuel Hay Richi, in the context of the reparation of the Ze‘iyr anpin, and in two manuscripts of the pre-Sabbatean famous kabbalist R. Nathan Shapira of Jerusalem’s sermons he delivered in European Jewish communities." (See: The_Tsadik_and_His_Soul_s_Sparks_From_K.pdf).

[26] The National Library of Israel, Manuscript 150 80, p.120b.

[27] Incidentally, the same title that is applied to R. Nachman.

[28] Parentheses are by Liebes.

[29] See Appendix to The Commentary on Psalms by R. Yisrael Hazan, פירוש מזמורי תהילים של שבתי צבי, in עלי עין – מנחת דברים לשלמה זלמן שוקן, Jerusalem 5708-5712, 157-211.

[30] לקט מכתבים בעניין התנועה השבתאית, A.M. Habermann (Editor), in קובץ על-יד, 3 (13), 5701, 211.

[31] There is a Talmudic reference to tzitzit as a safeguard against sexual sins (b. Menachot 44a).

[32] Nachman of Breslov, Sichot haRan, Jerusalem 1961, 141.

[33] The National Library of Israel, Manuscript 150 80, p.120b.

[34] Nachman of Breslov, Sichot haRan, Jerusalem 1961, 141. (From a reading of this text, however, it appears as if R. Nachman is the writer). The choice of the particular Ten Psalms is certainly a novel contribution.

[36] See ר׳ אברהם חזן, כוכבי אור, חלק ׳מעשיות ומשלים מרבינו ז"ל׳ , Jerusalem 5732, 26-27.

[38] R. Nachman of Breslov, Likutei Moharan, Warsaw, 1934, I, 207.

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