Tag Archives: jew identity

The Burden of Jewing, Part 2 – “Conversion”

In Part 1 we examined “messianism”, in Part 2 we’ll discuss “conversion”.

As with “messianism”, “conversion” means something different to jews than it does to non-jews. What’s more, jews actively promote this difference in understanding, and use it to their advantage. To put it bluntly, jew “conversion” is a form of identity fraud – a fraud repeatedly and ubiquitously perpetrated by jews collectively, against non-jews collectively, for the benefit of jews collectively, at the expense of non-jews collectively. Cengiz Sisman’s book, The Burden of Silence: Sabbatai Sevi and the Evolution of the Ottoman-Turkish Dönmes, exposes a prominent historical example of this type of fraud.

Examining this particular example sheds light on the more general and recurring pattern. Sisman’s book is a celebration of such jewing, so he only inadvertently highlights the difference in perception between jews and non-jews, and never literally describes the exploitation of it as fraud. Yet there would be no book if “conversion” worked the way non-jews imagine, if it actually turned jews into non-jews. If that were true the descendents of the Sabbatean jews who “converted” into muslims would long ago have become indistinguishable from other Turks and there would be no Dönmes to write about. There would be no crypto-jews of any sort. In the process of explaining how the Dönmes not only exist but have exerted great influence, Sisman divulges the trick that made it possible: Convincing non-jews to imagine jew “converts” are defectors who have abandoned their jewing, even as jews themselves view “conversion” as a continuation of jewing by other means.

Sisman refers to the Dönmes “survival question”, asking how they continued to exist as a distinct people even centuries after their ancestors “converted” to Islam. He finds the answer in their deliberate creation of:

a parallel space and time zone in which they had their own cemeteries, prayer houses, ceremonies, charities, and even courts. In this world, women mostly stayed at home, carrying the culture and transmitting “the knowledge” to future generations, while the men acted in a sort of “go-between” role between the parallel worlds. In their parallel worlds, I argue, the Dönme subsects fashioned and refashioned themselves within a post-messianic and mystical Jewish world, and created their own version of Kabbala.

. . .

The fifth chapter carefully reconstructs the full development of “open secret” or “crypto-communities” in the so-called Dönme dark age in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in relation to similar phenomena such as those experienced by the Frankists in eastern and central Europe. I argue that the period was a very critical moment for the Dönmes since they “silently” developed their idiosyncratic theological arguments and social practices that enabled them to maintain their own parallel messianic self-government. In the meantime, the relationship between the Dönmes and crypto-Sabbateans in Europe never ceased.

Describing its rationale so plainly, in terms of evolution (in the title) and survival (in the text), is a matter-of-fact acknowledgement of the biological nature of crypto-jewing. The “parallel space” the Dönmes created is just as crucial to jewing generally. The main difference between open jewing and crypto-jewing is the degree of secrecy with which jews construct and maintain their own “space”. In any case, jewing exists and continues only because jews consciously distinguish themselves from the non-jews they insinuate themselves among and exploit. Sisman’s tale correctly conveys the impression that crypto-jewing isn’t “forced” upon jews any more than jewing is. It is just another way jews jew.

There are several notorious examples of jews shifting tactics collectively in this way – whereby large groups of jews “convert”, yet continue to operate as a covert group within some larger non-jew group, consciously preserving their genetic and memetic identity, sometimes for centuries, until at some point conditions favor “converting” back. Crypto-jewing is secretive by design, of course, so there are undoubtedly many more examples less known to non-jews. Outside Turkey, and especially outside the Islamic world, the Dönmes themselves are hardly known.

Recall that Sisman helpfully puts sneer quotes around terms with special significance. In the snippet above it denotes the fraud, the “open secret”, known to jews, but not non-jews. Sisman eventually lays bare the essence of this fraud, that jews understand jewness primarily as an immutable heritable trait, rather than merely a state of mind, as they encourage non-jews to imagine:

It is technically impossible for a Jew to change his or her Jewishness. As far as the Jewish law, halakha, is concerned, even though a Jew undergoes the rites of admission to another religious faith and formally renounces the Jewish religion she or he remains a Jew, albeit a sinner (Talmud: Sanhedrin, 44a).

The context for this admission is the “conversion” of the jew “messiah” Sabbatai Sevi, the protagonist of Sisman’s book:

Toward the end of the trial, the interrogators asked Sabbatai to embrace Islam or to be prepared to die. He had come to the palace with the initial aim of converting the sultan but now found himself facing death. What should he have done? Coming from a Sephardic background, steeped in the rabbinic tradition, and familiar with the Marrano experience, he was no doubt well aware of the Jewish attitude to apostasy and martyrdom. When he had to choose between martyrdom and conversion, he chose life, for this act could be justified by the Sephardic tradition. Had he been of the Askenazi origin, his inner dilemma may well have been much more serious.

The issue of conversion and martyrdom in Judaism is very complex. It is technically impossible for a Jew to change his or her Jewishness. As far as the Jewish law, halakha, is concerned, even though a Jew undergoes the rites of admission to another religious faith and formally renounces the Jewish religion she or he remains a Jew, albeit a sinner (Talmud: Sanhedrin, 44a). One, of course, should make a distinction between a voluntary and a forced conversion. The voluntary converts are known as mumar (from the root meaning “to change”), or meshummad (from the root meaning “to persecute or force abandonment of faith”), or apikoros (“heretic”), or kofer (“denier”), or poshe’a Yisrael (“‘transgressor’ Jew”). The forced converts, as in the case of the Marranos, are called anusim. “What was to happen when an idolater forced an Israelite to transgress one of the commandments of the Torah on pain of death?” asks the Mishna Torah of Maimonides. The answer to that question is clear: “He transgressed and did not suffer death because it was said of the commandments that when a man performed them he must live and not die. (Leviticus 18:5). If he is killed and did not transgress, he is guilty of his own life.” However there are exceptions in transgression as is seen in Maimonides’s words: “To what does this word refer? To all commandments, except idolatry, immorality and bloodshed. Regarding these three, if one says ‘transgress one of them or die’ one must die and not transgress.” Since Islam is not an idolatrous religion in Maimonides’s view, it was acceptable to convert to Islam under duress, rather than choosing martyrdom.

Sevi’s original “messianic” plan, according to Sisman, was to “convert” the sultan and other Ottoman leaders, to manipulate them for the benefit of jews. It was only after that plan was thwarted that Sevi felt compelled to “convert” himself, to shift his “messianism” into an another form. Sisman makes it sound more complicated by citing jew pilpul on “conversion”, but this only demonstrates the depth of their familiarity with and ambivalence on the subject. Rather than simply forbidding the supposed “sin”, jews instead fetishize the degrees of trangression crypto-jews may by accused of by their tribemates. The key point is that they all continue to regard each other as tribemates. Obscured by their overheated disagreement over means, their shared “messianic” end, to save the jews, goes entirely unquestioned.

The similar case of Sephardic jewing/crypto-jewing in Iberia, which pre-dates the Ottoman jewing we’re reviewing here, is much better known to Europeans. Even in the Anglosphere the words converso and marrano have since become generic terms for crypto-jews. The terms exist because they describe a repeating pattern of behavior. Likewise, these terms also all have negative connotations, and for non-jews the specific implication is fraud.

The standard jew narrative on “conversion” (or financial fraud, or any other example of jewy malfeasance) inverts reality, portraying jews always as victims rather than as the perpetrators. Sisman’s tale is interesting to the extent it deviates from the standard apology. Sisman instead provides a narrative where jews do have some agency, even if only visible when he compares them to each other. As mentioned in Part 1, Sisman describes, for example, jews as fleeing from the oppression of non-jews elsewhere – primarily Spain and Poland – flocking to the Ottoman empire because there, in their own estimation, they could jew more freely. He cites a lesser known example of crypto-jewing among Persians specifically to contrast it with their situation among Turks:

In 1839, Mashadi Jews in Iran were forced to convert to Islam. While some managed to escape, the rest adopted Islam only outwardly. Most of their descendants emigrated to the West in the twentieth century and returned to Judaism.

This is the more typical and complete sequence of “conversion”. The jews who transformed themselves into Sabbateans and eventually into Dönmes have just not yet shape-shifted back into jews.

Sisman notes that the Sabbateans were not the only jew “converts” among the Turks. For example:

The Catholic priest and historian Henri Gregoire, writing in 1829, claimed that there was another crypto-Jewish community in Salonica whose members were frequently confused with the followers of Sevi. A number of Jewish bankers of this city having been condemned to death by the pasha “some century and a half ago” managed to save their lives and property by undergoing a nominal conversion and embracing Islam—perhaps thirty families.

In trying to distinguish the Sabbateans from other crypto-jews Sisman highlights the overall pattern. Supposedly threatened for jewing openly, the jews switch to crypto-jewing, and thus carry on. Even a sympathetic account can’t help but imply that the jewing is key. As soon as the jews disguise their jewing, taking the “burden of silence” tack, the resistance abates. The jewing doesn’t stop. The harm it causes non-jews is just less likely to be associated with jews.

Sevi was not the first or only would-be “messiah” to “convert”. Maimonides, mentioned above, was “among the foremost rabbinical decisors and philosophers in jewish history, and his copious work comprises a cornerstone of Jewish scholarship”. Sisman cites Maimonides, who is regarded by jews as the authority on “conversion”, specifically because he performed the same disingenuous dance Sevi did, before Sevi did. Maimonides ultimately reverted to open orthodox jewing, inspiring other jews to do the same. Sevi, in contrast, inspired a subset of jews to jew differently, becoming an example for crypto-jews. These jews both personify the complementary tactics – now overt, now covert – by which jews ruthlessly pursue their own jewy interests.

In Sisman’s opinion, “Maimonides’s placement of Christianity closer to idolatry and Islam to monotheism must have been one of the other reasons Jewish conversion to Islam rather than to Christianity was easier in pre-modern times.” Sure. Or Mainonides simply dealt more with Islam than Christianity, and a jew confronted with the reverse circumstance might just as well claim the reverse.

Ethnocentric Europeans tend to believe that their own kind are most easily duped by jews. Some think that Christianity debilitates non-jews, but Islam strengthens them. They’re wrong. For one thing, jews are genetically closer to Turks and Arabs than they are to Europeans. This allows jews to pass more easily among the former than the latter. Also, Islam is not inherently any more antithetical to jewing than Christianity. Both ideologies actually enable jewing, specifically via “conversion”.

Sisman cites another indication that, in Sevi’s day at least, Turks were just as thoroughly jewed as Europeans:

As [Paul] Rycaut notes, the seventeenth-century Ottoman world was very open to converts:

No people in the world have ever been more open to receive all sorts of Nations to them, than they, nor have used more arts to increase the number of those that are called Turks; and it is stranger to consider that from all parts of the world, some of the most dissolute and desperate in wickedness, should flock to these Dominions, to become members and professors of the Mahometan superstition, in that manner that at present, the blood of the Turks is so mixed with that of all sorts of languages, and Nations . . . the English called it Naturalization, the French Enfranchisement; and the Turks call it becoming a Believer.

Sevi was born in the Ottoman empire and lived 40 of his 50 years openly as a jew. Remarkably, even after Sevi presented himself as a straightforward “messiah”, trying to influence others for explicitly jewy reasons, Ottoman authorities did not of their own volition arrest or otherwise threaten him. After Sevi’s “conversion” the sultan only expected him to help “convert” more jews. Sevi, who saw this as the best way forward for jews, did so enthusiastically.

Sisman indicates that the harrassment Sevi and his Sabbateans faced was mainly instigated by other jews. Their primary concern was that the fanfare around Sevi’s new form of subversive jewing might be bad for the jews who were perfectly comfortable jewing more openly. Sisman alludes to this in many places, detailing how influential jews repeatedly sicced the Ottoman authorities on Sevi:

After few years in Salonica, Sabbatai’s “intolerable” and “strange” activities created displeasure among the Jewish authorities, and he was expelled from the city in 1658. Sabbatai went to Istanbul, hoping to find a more “tolerant” Jewish audience.

. . .

once again he was expelled, leaving Istanbul by the end of 1658

. . .

Wearied rabbis in Istanbul had been closely monitoring the news about the emerging messiah. They dispatched a letter to the rabbis of Izmir, stating “the man who spreads those innovations is a heretic, and whosoever kills him will be accounted as one who has saved many souls.”

That’s right. Some jews wanted Sevi, who was trying to save the jews, assassinated because they thought that would be the better way to save the jews.

As the [Sabbatean] movement gained strength, the social and economic life of Izmir was heavily affected by the messianic chaos engulfing it. European merchants expressed concern about the demise of economic life in the city. Reports from cities such as London and Amsterdam show that regular business dealings with the Jews became problematic because of their belief that the End of Days was at hand. Tens of male and female “prophets” were heralding the coming of the Messianic Age on the streets. People were abandoning their daily affairs, and many believers were engaging in penitential practices. Through a Christian lens, Hammer writes that Sabbatai, “the Antichrist,” wrote letters to Jews all around the world when he was in Izmir, and that he called himself the First Created, the only Son of God, the Messiah and Redeemer of Israel. It should be noted that Muslim and Christian observers of the movement differed on one major point: the Muslims perceived the movement mostly within a political framework and referred to it as a source of sedition, whereas the Christians tended to see it mostly from a religious point of view and frequently referred to the protagonist as the Antichrist, which was a very common theme in pre-modern Christian prophecy books.

As a response to the agitation in the city, and rabbinical and European complaints, Sabbatai was ordered to appear before the Ottoman authorities.

It isn’t difficult to grasp what was going on back then. The same thing is happening today with “messiah” Trump.

For the Ottomans, Sabbatai was a “false” Jewish prophet. Abdi refers to him as a Jewish rabbi (haham), and then prophet (peygamber). Silahtar and Raşid add the term cehud (a pejorative term for Jews) to his description. None of the Ottoman chroniclers mentioned that he was a messiah. Why the Ottoman observers called Sabbatai “prophet” and not “messiah” is still an unanswered question. Even Rycaut occasionally refers to him as a prophet. Kömürcüyan mentions that Sabbatai had a stamp that read “Sabbatai, the prophet of the Jews.

Just as few non-jews today comprehend what all the jews swarming and screeching about Trump means, Europeans and Turks did not understand what Sevi represented. Like cuckoo chicks, crying out in pain, the jews create confusion about who is harming whom. Yet there at the center of it all is “messianism” – an indelibly jewy word for an irrepressibly jewy fanaticism.

As sobering as this topic is I laughed out loud when Sisman recounted how another contemporary “messiah”, who totally grokked Sevi’s game, challenged him:

A rabbi from Poland by the name of Nehemiah Cohen came to visit Sabbatai in the fortress. In accordance with the theological argument of a “double messiah,” he argued that he was, in fact, the first messiah, coming as he did from the house of Joseph, who was assumed to have come before the messiah from the House of David, and urged Sabbatai to acknowledge him as such. Sabbatai was not convinced and rejected his offer. Perhaps out of revenge, Nehemya went to Edirne and there converted to Islam. While there he warned the Ottoman authorities about Sabbatai, complaining that he was causing a major social and religious upheaval among the Jews and the Muslims. He then disappeared from history.

Online discussions of the “double messiah” concept are vague. It appears to be an ancient term for their “two jews, three opinions about what’s best for jews” shtick, a “religious” wrapper for their constant sectarian bickering. Just as jews see a potential “anti-semite” in every non-jew, they see a potential “messiah” in every jew, especially themselves. Whether or not it actually happened, the argument between Sevi and Cohen reflects a disagreement not only about who will save the jews, but also the deeper question about who comprises “the jews”. Are jews who only secretly think of themselves as jews still jews? Does it matter if one sect of jews screech at and disavow another? From a non-jew point of view it comes across as nothing more than a two-faced jew charade.

From an objective point of view it is an adaptive biological behavior. The jews assess and argue every issue in the starkest terms, seeing the portent for destruction or salvation of the jews in everything. Subdividing to pursue seemingly opposed tactics helps the jews survive. It enables them to sow division and confusion among non-jews while they remain conscious of themselves as a single collective. Sabbateanism is but one prominent example of this behavior.

The paradoxical impact of the messiah’s conversion was not settled swiftly in Jewish communities. Even a year after the conversion, one could see that the Jews were still accusing each other of harboring false beliefs. Wanting to keep everything under control, nine leading Constantinople rabbis sent a letter to Izmir and other cities, asking the Jewish authorities to suppress all remnants of Sabbateanism and to praise the sultan, since he had rescued Judaism from a great calamity.

. . .

Against this general rabbinical ban, Sabbateans continued their activities clandestinely. In later centuries Ottoman rabbis developed a more neutral attitude toward the Sabbateans in comparison to the European rabbis such as Jacob Sasportas (1610–1698), Naphtali Cohen (1649–1718), Moses Hagiz (1676–1750), and Jacob Emden (1697–1776), who condemned the Sabbateans and pronounced the name of Sabbatai with the addition of “may his name and memory be blotted out.”

Indeed, this is what happened. The “open secret”, the crypto-jewing of the Turks, continued clandestinely. Meanwhile, Sevi and the memory of the Sabbateans was also “blotted out”, effectively disappearing them from history, or at least from the minds of Europeans. The jewing and crypto-jewing continue unabated. Likewise the jew screeching that the sky is always falling on the jews.

It is mistaking jewness for mere religion that makes jew “conversion” seem plausible to non-jews. Jews themselves understand that jewness is a heritable trait. This is the “open secret”. This deception is what angers non-jews whenever it is revealed. The fact that jews do not cease in perpetrating this fraud, even after it has been repeatedly exposed as such, is mute testimony to its intrinsic value to jews. In Chapter 2 Sisman provides an example of this value, arguing that:

the Ottoman authorities perceived [Sabbateanism] as a heretical religious movement (fitne), not as a political revolt with possible military backing (huruc). As a result, they did not feel any urgent need to violently suppress it or kill its leader. The Ottoman accounts are in agreement with the European and Jewish sources in outlining the general trajectory of the movement, but they differ from them in some crucial points. It is the examination of these details that allows us to explore how Sabbatai Sevi b. Mordechai the Messiah became Aziz Mehmet Efendi b. Abdullah the Chief Gatekeeper.

It is good to not be recognized as a threat by your enemy. Better if your enemy doesn’t even see you as an enemy, and allows you to live among them. Better still if your enemy regards you as a potential ally and eagerly seeks to “convert” you in the hope you will provide financing, good press, helpful advice, capable offspring, etc.

Where do non-jews get the ridiculous idea to solicit “converts” from rival tribes? From Abrahamism, created by the tribe that most infamously rejects “converts”. Abrahamism paints jews as the oldest, highest moral authority, the inventors of “messianism”. Supercession gives non-jews a way to “convert” themselves into jews, a way to imagine they are the new jews, the inheritors or most truest interpreters of the oldest, highest moral authority.

In theory Christianity and Islam are rivals of Judaism. In practice they are alternate vehicles for jew “messianism”. Both ideologies were conceived or at least midwived by jews. Both have been cultivated for centuries by a constant stream of jew “converts”, like Sevi and the Sabbateans, who saw their task as indoctrinators, and shamelessly set about training non-jews how to properly save the jews. This same animus is less obvious, but thus all the more insidious, in recent progressive/post-religious ideologies like liberalism and marxism.

All jew-spawned jew-serving ideologies share the same primary directive: To combat “racism” and “anti-semitism”. It’s all about tearing down non-jew tribalism to make the world safe for jew tribalism. Whether this agenda is justified in the service of “god” or “the people”, jews understand it and thereby make it about serving the jews. Meanwhile most non-jews frankly do not understand. The religious call their willful ignorance “faith”. The secular call it “reason”. Either way most non-jews are content to feel righteous.

It’s impossible to overemphasize this point. Whatever jews preach to jews explicitly puts tribalism over ideology. The ideologies jews craft for non-jews encourage the opposite. These ideologies seek to override and replace tribalism. The gist of virtually all jew advice to non-jews is this: “You have no tribe! You have no enemies! You defeat your enemies by treating them like friends! Our enemies are your enemies! KILL THEM!” Jewing enables crypto-jewing which enables jewing. It’s a positive feedback loop.

Many White men have criticized Christianity’s role in this. Sisman’s book illustrates the similar role played by Islam.

Sisman speculates that Sevi’s miraculous transmutation, from rabble-rouser to Chief Gatekeeper, was aided by other jew “converts” already embedded in the sultan’s court. This and other anecdotes indicate that the Turks, under the influence of Islam, misunderstood and underestimated jewing:

During the trial, Sabbatai must have had a hard time explaining himself. He knew some Turkish, since he was smart and born in Ottoman society and lived in the empire for forty years. However, he may not have been sufficiently fluent to pursue a legal/political argument during the trial. One of the palace physicians, Hayatizade Mustafa Efendi, a Jewish convert originally known as Moshe ben Abravanel, would have been the obvious choice to serve as interpreter.

. . .

Sabbatai was not an exceptional convert who was granted an important, real, or honorary position at the palace. For instance, Hayatizade was a paramount
example of what one could get in return for conversion.

Can you guess what happened next?

It seems that Aziz Mehmet [Sevi’s new name], albeit very secretly, resumed his messianic activities after the initial shock of the conversion experience.

. . .

Backed by sultanic authority and his own messianic convictions, Aziz Mehmet undertook the double mission of converting the Jews to Islam and to his cause. He visited synagogues in Edirne, Istanbul, and Salonica, and preached his idiosyncratic doctrine to believers and non-believers alike, sharing his “mystery” with the trustworthy followers. These sermons are almost reminiscent of the forced sermons in Spain in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries, when the Jews were brought to the churches and forced to listen to proselytizing sermons. According to Tobias Cohen, he “sometimes prayed and behaved like a Jew, and sometimes like a Muslim, and he did queer things.” Since he was preaching in Ladino, the Ottoman escorts were not able to monitor his message in the synagogues.

. . .

Since his activities were sanctioned by the sultan and he was escorted by Ottoman officials, it was impossible to simply physically prevent him from fulfilling his mission. Angiroslo Cohen, the chief rabbi of Edirne, tried his best to avert the danger by alerting his people, but that did little to change the ultimate results. From the Ottoman perspective, Aziz Mehmet’s ability was proven in the following months and years, for many Jews converted to Islam.

. . .

The more new converts he gained, the more privileges he was granted by the Ottoman authorities.

. . .

The early converts considered themselves to be the elect of the “true Israel.”

Sisman’s narrative very plainly describes Sevi and the Sabbateans as “converting” because they considered that the best way to continue their “messianism”. Rather than an anomaly, critical readers will see the Sabbatean case as typical, and in turn see the standard jew narrative – that jews are always and everywhere oppressed – for the lie it is. Even when Sisman himself echoes the “forcing” and “escaping” of the standard jew narrative it rings hollow. In the context of his celebration of Sabbateanism we see that rhetoric all the more clearly as a reflection of jews’ own serial interloping, compulsively imposing themselves and inflicting their toxic save-the-jews ideologies (not to mention the incidental material depredations) upon one group of non-jews after another.

George Lincoln Rockwell insightfully caricatured the characteristically whiny hostility of jewing in The Fable of the Ducks and the Hens. The story jews tell their current hosts shifts all the blame onto their previous hosts, even as they repeat the same parasitic behavior – infiltrating, manipulating, exploiting, destroying, migrating – over and over again.