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Jaffe, Israel ben Aaron. Sefer Or Yísraʼel. Frankfurt, 1702.

Israel ben Aaron Jaffe, 1640- ca. 1703.

This is the original edition of Sefer Or Yisra’el (“The Light of Israel”), a book of kabbalistic interpretations and commentaries on the Zohar and parts of the Shulkhan Aruch. It provoked controversy between Jews and even led to Talmud burnings.

Jaffe, a rabbi in Shklove (Belarus), thought the Kabbalah could uncover the deeper meaning behind recent pogroms which he also saw as fulfilling Biblical messianic prophecies.  When kabbalist Shabbetai Zevi (1626-1676) proclaimed himself the Messiah, his followers formed a correlation between this recent historical catastrophe and Biblical predictions, and Shabbateanism spread quickly across Europe, resulting in the mass conversions of mainstream Jews and even Christians.

By the time of Or’s publication, Zevi had been discredited but still had many adherents. Traditional Jewish community leaders banned the book, believing it covertly supported Shabbateanism.

In a later Polish Church-led inquiry, excommunicated Shabbateans petitioned for recognition as legitimate Jews. They stated Or reflected true Judaism better than the Talmud that they also called “anti-Christian”. The inquiry legitimized the Shabbateans , but also burned all Talmud copies.

The title page illustrations evoke Kabbalistic references to Psalm 92, Jacob’s ladder, and Moses. As well, one panel may depict Zevi himself.