I’m halfway through The Burden of Silence: Sabbatai Sevi and the Evolution of the Ottoman-Turkish Dönmes, written by Cengiz Sisman and published in 2015. This is a good place to pause and summarize my impressions so far. I wanted to learn more about the secretive crypto-jews of Turkey, the Donmeh or Dönmes, and it seems that the earlier, screechier phase of their “silent” jewing is worthy of special attention.
The first half of the book focuses on the origin of the Dönmes in the Ottoman empire circa the 1660s. It is essentially a biography of the rabbi Sabbatai Sevi, and also sketches out the Sabattean movement, the fanatic sect of jews Sevi inspired. At the time, jewing was relatively open and widespread, and it was relatively well recognized and documented as jewing even by non-jews. Of course, the extent and depth of this jewing was not well known and not properly understood, even by most contemporary non-jew observers.
The story unfolds on the margin of Europe, and remains on the margin of White minds, but the consequences run deep and continue to reverberate. The subject is promising – an exposé of centuries worth of secretive jewing – but what the author delivers is more tribute than revelation. The book is advertised as the “first monograph on Sabbateanism” because it represents the first attempt to integrate contemporary non-jew sources with the jealously guarded jew narrative. Non-jew sources are cited, but primarily to bolster those aspects of the story which are least interesting to non-jews – the speculative, nit-picking digressions concerning who said or did what and where, based on still scant evidence.
Thankfully, there are only a few sections where Sisman takes for granted that his reader is familiar with (or cares about) some point of jewy orthodoxy. His prose is lucid and not larded with the histrionics usually found in jew versions of history. And it is not difficult to see in this tale concerning one obscure sect of jews, in one particular place, the outlines of more general patterns and the far broader impact jewing has had across space and time. On the surface Sisman describes how the jewiest jews jewed the Turks. But he is also, though sometimes between the lines, describing jewing more generally.
The dual nature of his tale starts with the title, The Burden of Silence. This might seem to refer only to the Dönmes and their fraud, but it applies just as much to The Tribe as a whole. This is just one of many frauds their tribalist criminal code of silence has abetted.
A more honest title would have been Such a Burden to Trick the Goyim, Time and Again, Without Gloating. As with any apology for jew crypsis, you must imagine the “burden” of the jew, “forced” to lie and disguise themselves. Imagine the “silence” of not being able to screech freely, as a jew, and having to screech at the filthy goyim while posing as a fellow goy. Imagine the “trauma” of having to manipulate the goyim you are feeding upon.
Imagine Sisman’s burden, having to jewsplain how jews are the victims, even while describing their success in duping their marks. Here’s how he lays out his task in his introduction:
In this book, in a set of connected arguments, I show how Sabbatean messianism found receptive religio-socio-political conditions throughout much of the early modern world at an astonishing speed. In response, the Ottoman authorities devised various measures to contain the movement, but they were confronted by crypto-Jewish Dönmes using flexible identities to evade external interference.
. . .
Even “emancipated” Dönmes in the twentieth century continued to carry a somewhat traumatic and secularized form of the burden of silence with them as do many Dönmes today who hold on to this silence about their past to safeguard their positions in Muslim society.
Although the Dönmes maintained an impenetrable and “forced” silence concerning their private practices and beliefs, their existence had always been an “open secret.” Repressed feelings due to the practice of a burden of silence, added yet another layer to the complexity of Dönme history and created a form of cognitive dissonance, a trauma, or, as Houman Sarshar has characterized it in another context, “the anxiety of remembrance” of the past. For some, there is no greater torment than bearing an untold story inside.
Throughout the book Sisman makes liberal use of sneer quotes, as I do, to highlight terms of special significance, especially terms which mean different things to jews and non-jews.
Secret and semi-secret societies such as the Dönmes are inherently fascinating but pose numerous challenges as a subject of academic inquiry. Not only is there a paucity of sources because of their silence, but writing on the silence itself raises a moral dilemma about disclosing the society’s “secrets.” The contemporary existence of the Dönme community makes writing about it or its members even harder. To overcome such challenges, a researcher needs to develop new methodological approaches, particularly because nothing is simple or can be taken at face value in the Dönme histories. One needs to remain constantly aware of the capricious nature of right and wrong in this context. Everything has multiple layers of meaning.
Is Sisman a Dönme? He doesn’t say, but his account of Dönme beliefs and history is told from an entirely sympathetic insider’s perspective. He rejects certain negative aspects of the mainstream jew narrative on Sabbatai and the Sabbateans. He admits to purposefully withholding some information to protect the still active, still secret jews.
The mainstream jew narrative on Sabbatai and the Sabbateans is that they were heretics, bad jews. They claim the Dönmes were never real jews, never had any real influence, and exist today only in the minds of “conspiracy theorists”. In a short interview in 2017 Sisman staked out his two main differences with this mainstream narrative. First, he emphasized that the Dönme see themselves not as jews but as “messianic jews”. Second, he summarized his thesis, which is that these secret super-jews have had a profound influence.
In the interview Sisman also says he wanted to counter “conspiracists”. He spells out this desire in his book’s introduction:
The topic of the Dönmes is currently one of the most controversial conspiracy-prone subjects in modern Turkey and in some parts of the Middle East and has been the subject of several speculative and conspiratorial works (and seems likely to be the topic of several new studies in the future). Consequently, I always felt a need for nonsensational academic works about the Dönmes to counterbalance those controversial perspectives without externalizing, homogenizing, and stereotyping them. The conspiracy theories—mostly, but not entirely, emanating from the religious right—would have the Dönmes as a secret branch of world Jewry or, alternatively, Zionism, that undermined the Ottoman regime and played a central role in the empire’s final demise in order to replace it with a secular Turkish republic.
This is the main point on which Sisman agrees with the mainstream jew narrative. He sees Europeans and Turks, to the extent we exist at all, as the bad guys. His book is a celebration of jew conspiracy, a history of jews conspiring to outwit, outplay, and outlast the goyim. Naturally he dislikes “conspiracists” and their “conspiracy theories” taking a negative view of that same jewing. The “silent” subtext of his book is that the jews and their dupes are opposites, enemies! That jews should know and the goyim shouldn’t is the very key to how jewing works, how it survives, not some accident of history.
Sisman saves most of his argument concerning the outsized influence of jewing, and specifically the central role the Dönmes secretly played in the Ottoman empire’s demise and replacement with a secular “liberal” Turkish republic, for the latter half of his book. We’ll get to that later. His main point in the first half of the book is that the influence of the Sabbatean phase of this jewing “was felt even more strongly outside the empire borders”. In other words, felt more among Europeans than among Turks.
The following long snippet contains that argument, and conveys Sisman’s own speculative, conspiratorial style. It also illustrates one of the more general patterns of jewing he touches upon throughout the book. “Messianism.” When jews babble about “repairing the world” to suit “G-d”, what they’re talking about is manipulating the goyim to suit jews. Sabbatai’s “messianism” was a particularly acute display of this characteristic jew behavior, just one example of how their shameless jew-serving moralizing has repeatedly turned their host societies inside out and upside down.
Here Sisman dryly recounts the impact of Sabbateanism upon a world already profoundly shaped by prior jew-driven upheavals:
The common assumption about the magnitude and impact of the movement, mostly originating from narrative sources, was that the world Jewry, including the communities of both the Ottoman Empire and Europe, were overwhelmed by the Sabbatean euphoria during its heyday. Based on that assumption, many Ottomanists and Jewish scholars thought that the movement had a major destructive impact on the already declining Jewish communities.
Examining the Ottoman context of the movement forces us to revise some of these assumptions. First, the movement was not as big in the Ottoman Empire as it was in Europe. Second, the impact of the movement did not pose a major threat to the fate of Ottoman Jewry. Why was the Sabbatean movement perceived to have been as such in modern scholarship, then? Earlier responses to this question focused on Christian millenarian expectations, which calculated that the coming of the messiah and the end of time would occur in the year 1666. Such expectations, it was argued, built up a massive messianic expectation in Europe and, that coupled with Jewish messianic expectations, fueled the rapid dissemination of the Sabbatean movement in Europe.
In challenging this argument, Richard Popkin, for example, claimed that seventeenth-century Europeans and, following them, many modern researchers were misled by the writings of contemporaneous Christian observers of the movement, such as English royalists Paul Rycaut and John Evelyn, who deliberately magnified the success and failure of the movement in order to both ridicule the Jews and to dash the expectations of home-grown non-conformist millenarians. Without refuting the validity of this explanation, I think that there was yet another factor behind the rapid dissemination of the movement in Europe, particularly among millenarian circles in the Reformed countries: the prophecies of “the doom of the Turkish empire.” According to an age-old Christian prophecy, there was an inherent connection between Christian millenarianism and Jewish messianic expectations. Jews were supposed to convert to Christianity and then return to the Holy Land before the Second Coming of Jesus. And the notorious date of 1666 was calculated as the date for the rise of the Antichrist—the Jewish Messiah. Ironically, the Christian Mary was seen as a supreme she-devil, demonic counterpart to the presence of God, the Shekhina, according to some Kabbalistic traditions in those times. There was one “stumbling block” to realizing this project in its entirety. The Holy Land was under Turkish rule in those days, and it was supposed to be redeemed from Turkish hands. A Jewish messiah, or Antichrist, arising from the East was seen as a sign on the way to the fulfillment of the prophecy. In other words, Sevi, coming from the East, would bring an end to the “Turkish menace,” which had posed a threat to European ambitions for centuries, leading to the redemption of the Holy Land and preparation of the Jews for conversion to Christianity. Seventeenth-century books of Christian prophecy are filled with this account of the connection between Turkish doom, Jewish conversion, and Christian salvation, as reflected in the following quotation.
Turks running over all nations, as a Plague (following Antichrist) upon the Christian world. God hath purposed to destroy [Turks] utterly; that the way of the kings of the EAST mighty be prepared. By the king of the East, we are to understand the Jews who are called Kings. . . . The way that is to be prepared for the Jews is two-fold. First, their conversion and, second, for their return unto their own Land, by taking the stumbling-block out of their way. The Papists are a very great stumbling block unto the conversion of the Jews; and the Turks are a great impediment unto their return unto their own Land, unto which God hath promised to bring them.
Influenced by these kinds of millenarian and royalist writings, most narrative sources agree that the movement brought chaos to the commerce and daily affairs of the empire.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Update “Turks” to “Islamists” and that 17th century quote still fits fundamentalist Christian thinking. It fits other, more secular forms of jewhadist thinking as well. What’s reflected in this “age-old Christian prophecy” is the power of jew moralizing and narrative.
The idea behind it all is “messianism” – a jewy word for a jewy idea whose origin long predates Christianity or Islam. Lots of non-jew dupes have adopted and lamely tried to adapt the idea for themselves, even to the point of imagining themselves as the “real” jews. However distorted that idea, the crux of it remains: Fight to save the jews, because the jews say so.
Sisman never draws a direct analogy, but in Sabbatai Sevi he describes a latter-day Jesus. No generic prophet, but an iconoclastic rabbi who specifically presented himself as a “messiah”, as a savior of jews. Sabbatai comes across as an anti-“messiah” to Christians exactly because they prefer a previous version of the story, they’ve already accepted another jew as their “messiah”.
What may appear to be a conflict between opposites is in fact just the usual clash of jew narratives. The disagreement over methods disguises the more fundamental agreement over who must benefit. Generally speaking, the game is: Two jews, three opinions about what’s best for the jews. In this case the game is: Two “messiahs”, three opinions about how to save the jews. This view of jew movements generally is borne out in Sisman’s tale about Sabbatai and the Sabbateans.
The first thing to understand about the jews who became Sabbateans, and eventually Dönmes, is that they were the descendants of jews who had long and successfully preyed upon a variety of goyim. This is the jew normal. However diverse their travels, however different their methods and modes of jewing, they see themselves as a collective, utterly distinct from and at odds with the people among whom they live:
The Ottoman Jews came from different parts of the world and over centuries became an integral part of this Ottoman economy and society and occupied important, if not unique, positions such as ambassadors, political advisors, tax collectors, private bankers, Ocakbezirganis (the merchant-banker of the Janissary corps), physicians, and court musicians.
. . .
At the end of the fifteenth century, Rabbi Tsarfati of Edirne, in his well-known letter to European Jewry, described the Ottoman Empire not merely as a place of refuge but also as a land of economic opportunity where, unlike anywhere else, Jews could live and practice their religion freely. This call caused a wave of Askhenazi migration to the empire. Then came the Sephardic Jews and Marranos, who had been chastised and expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Things then and there were much like they are here today. The jews are the original “refugees”, and it is their narrative, their “messianism” in one form or another, which empowers them to magically wander across the borders of states which are only ostensibly ruled by hostile non-jews. The Ottomans, for example, had their own President Kushner:
For example, Capsali, using a messianic vocabulary, likened Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to King Solomon, as an emancipator and protector of the Jews.
Sisman attributes the rise of Sabbateanism among jews inside the Ottoman empire to their collective consciousness and sense of common cause with jews elsewhere:
A massacre in neighboring Poland in 1648 connected the stories of Sabbatai, the Ottoman Empire, and Poland. In 1648, the Ukrainian officer Bogdan Chmielnicki (1594–1657), with the support of the Tatar Khan of Crimea, incited the local peasants to fight against their Polish overlords and brutally killed thousands of people, including Jews. On the assumption that the Jews were allied with the Polish nobility and served them as purveyors, tax collectors, and financial advisors, the Cossacks massacred them. It is estimated that 100,000–200,000 Jews were killed during the revolt in 1648–1649. This event introduced the Cossack term “pogrom” into our vocabulary.
Of course “holocaust” has been introduced into “our” vocabulary in the same way and for the same reason. Because the jewsmedia broadcasts “messianism”, it broadcasts jew fears and fictions as facts. What’s all-important, according to the jewsmedia, is that somebody somehow get the six million to safety.
When the news from the Chmielnicki massacres reached Izmir in the 1648s, Sevi was still enrapt in his own world, studying the Kabbalistic texts about the nature of the Jewish messiah. We do not know for sure whether he was influenced by this terrible news that put the Jewish world in such a state of shock, but possibly for the first time in 1648, Sabbatai proclaimed himself the long-awaited messiah and uttered in public the Tetragrammaton, the ineffable name of God, which Jews had been forbidden to pronounce since the destruction of the Second Temple. As contemporary Armenian historian Arakel (d. 1670) confirms, he said “I am that savior and I have come to save Israel.”
It is worth repeating that “messianism” is particularist, it specifically concerns saving the jews. It is complemented by jew atrocity hoaxing, which specifically concerns generating sympathy for jews. Both are characteristic expressions of jew tribalism, and the frequency and intensity with which they manifest is an indirect measure of the strength of that tribalism.
Making sense of Sabbateanism is not difficult. Sabbatai Sevi imagined a new way of saving the jews. The jews who more or less agreed with him became the Sabbateans. The jews who preferred the current way of going about it regarded them as heretics. Though the details were different, the thrust of this Sabbatean-flavored “messianism” was neither unique nor uncommon:
As amply demonstrated in studies on Hassidism, another widespread Jewish mystical-messianic movement in Eastern Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, studying the socioeconomic and cultural context of the religious movements provides us a deeper understanding of their developments and their connection to other histories. Ruderman, with the same concern in mind, demonstrates how Jew communities in the early modern period were linked to one another in fascinating ways. To him, especially two early modern figures, Sabbatai Sevi and Marrano-origin Baruch Spinoza, changed Jewish religious and cultural landscapes forever.
Whereas Europeans see Spinoza ambiguously, as a secular figure, jews see him more accurately as a “messiah” figure. As a key proponent of the Enlightenment, Spinoza’s “messianism” had a tremendous impact on Europeans. The “classical liberalism” which sprang from that upheaval is still being actively promoted by “right”-posing jews. It amounts to preaching that it is the height of reason is to renounce tribalism, because as individuals we can better protect “minorities”, like The Tribe. As Ben Tillman once pointedly put it:
So, we have a Jewish intellectual milieu (connected by the Jewish neural network to all other such milieux), out of which comes an intellectual movement of atomisation – the ultimate individualist strategy – the absolute worst strategy we could adopt if we were to face subsequent competition with the Jewish or any other competing group. Might this not be the ultimate in the “culture of critique”? The counterpoint to chapter 5 of Separation and Its Discontents?
Three possibilities come to mind. The first is that the Enlightenment ideals that were the “antithesis” of Judaism were conceptualized by the Jewish community and sold to the gullible goyim. The second is that these ideals were a spontaneous (though ultimately maladaptive) creation of the European intellect reacting to the Jewish presence. The third, which seems most likely, is some combination of the two. Each of these possibilities, however, is dependent on the presence of Jews and/or Jewish memes, the putative “germs”.
The pattern of behavior Kevin MacDonald identified and calls jewish intellectual movements can be better understood as a secularized expression of the jews’ propensity to spawn “mystical-messianic movements”. Indeed, Sisman’s The Burden of Silence is about one form of movement changing into the other. It traces how Sabbateanism, an overtly jewy movement aimed at saving the jews, transmuted into a crypto-jewy movement pursuing the same goal by a different path. The takeaway, for non-jews, is that crypsis, or “silent” jewing, is only the continuation of jewing by other means.