footnote on Messianism

These days it is easy for a person with any scholarly inclination and an internet connection to almost instantly clarify shaky memory and insert a citation, as here:

The readiness of the Jews to believe the messianic claims of Sabbatai Zevi may largely be explained by the desperate state of European Jewry in the mid-17th century. The bloody pogroms of Bohdan Khmelnytsky had wiped out one third of Europe’s Jewish population and destroyed many centers of Jewish learning and communal life (Cohen 1948). There is no doubt that for most of the Jews of Europe there could not have been a more propitious moment for the messiah to deliver salvation than the moment Sabbetai Zevi made his appearance.


If you click on the Khmelnytsky link above you will learn, among other things, that a town less than 100 miles from Vyshnivets, where the families of my maternal grandparents were shot and left in a ravine, is named after the famous Ukrainian nationalist.   I had previously known Khmelnytsky only as an infamous murderer of Jews, though it turns out he did many other notable things in his life.  The killing of Jews, in the larger account of his notable life, can be relegated to a footnote.

I was tickled, if I might say, by the deadpan, almost New York Times-like, objectivity of the beginning of this description of the dim Jewish view of Cossack hero Bodhan Khmelnytsky, situated at the very end of the Wikipedia account of his distinguished life and career: 

Jewish history[edit]

Jewish history‘s assessment of Khmelnytsky is overwhelmingly negative because he used Jews as scapegoats and sought to eradicate Jews from the Ukraine.  Between 1648–1656, Khmelnytsky’s rebels murdered tens of thousands of Jews.[29]  Atrocity stories about massacre victims who had been buried alive, cut to pieces or forced to kill one another spread throughout Europe and beyond.  The pogroms contributed to a revival of the ideas of Isaac Luria, who revered the Kabbalah, and the identification of Sabbatai Zevi as the Messiah.[30] Orest Subtelny writes:

Between 1648 and 1656, tens of thousands of Jews—given the lack of reliable data, it is impossible to establish more accurate figures—were killed by the rebels, and to this day the Khmelnytsky uprising is considered by Jews to be one of the most traumatic events in their history.[31]

 and, speaking of footnotes:  

  1. Whether Khmelnytsky was or wasn’t a noble is still uncertain. He himself claimed nobility when it suited him, and it wasn’t often disputed by his contemporaries. Chmielnicki himself once wrote in the letter to King Jan Kazimierz that he was “born Chmielnicki”–however, that surname was never associated with the Abdank Coat of Arms hesed. His father, a noble himself, was married to a Cossack woman and according to the Polish Statute of 1505 that might have put Bohdan’s szlachta status under scrutiny. There are other theories: that his father or grandfather were stripped of their noble status or–perhaps most controversial–the theory of 19th-century Polish historian Tomasz Padura, who claimed (without giving sources) that Chmielnicki’s father was a Jewish convert to Catholicism.



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