Who was Shabsai Tzvi and why was he considered evil?


Shabtai Tzvi was a Sefardic Jew who grew up in Turkey, became very learned, but eventually became a false Messiah. Whether he himself was bad or not is a matter of debate. In his biography/history of Shabtai Tzvi, Professor Gershon Scholem presents a very strong case that Shabtai suffered from Bi-polar disorder, a mental illness that produces extreme mood swings. It seems most likely that his "prophet", Natan of Gazza was evil and used him for his fantasies and honor.

It could be as an eminent Jewish Historian once said "Shabtai Tzvi was a Talmid Chochom who was Meshugah."

Even though he did horrible avairos, if he indeed was meshugah (mentally unstable) where is the evil in that? The fact that Natan and others helped him fool most of the Jewish Diaspora does not make Shabtai himself an evil person.

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    At most, he was sometimes a shoteh and other times normal. According to halachah, he would have been fully responsible for his actions during the times when he was normal (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha'ezer 121:3). And during those times, he could have repudiated his actions, and the "prophecies" of Natan and so forth; that he failed to do so makes him a rasha. Furthermore, what about his anti-halachic actions from long before he met Natan, such as pronouncing the Shem Hameforash? – Alex May 21 '10 at 23:37
  • Once again, it is not so simple to say that when one who has bipolar disorder is in his good mood, that is a time in which he is considered halachically normal. Scholem's descriptions of Shabtai, based on actual accounts give the impression that Shabtai had fits of insanity during his up moods as well. I am sure there is discussion about such issues in Halachic responsa, especially dealing with divorces. – Yahu May 23 '10 at 21:23
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    Somehow, Scholem will bend over backwards to exonerate Shabbesai Tzvi himself, but on the other hand will bend over backwards in the other direction to accuse Gedolei Yisroel of being secret Sabbateans, on the flimsiest of evidence, if any at all! I'm none too sure his opinions are worth much in this context, frankly. – Alex May 24 '10 at 2:18
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    I have to strongly disagree. Someone who is bi-polar who causes great harm to others, physically or spiritually, can be regarded as a bad person. The fact that he was used or the fact that he was (perhaps) mentally unstable does not mean that he deserves a pass. Perhaps any physical punishment can be weighed against his disability. But when history judges the damage he caused, he should be remembered as a false prophet (bad, per the Torah) and someone who led others to sin (bad), and publicly sinned himself (bad). – Seth J Dec 26 '12 at 20:54
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    (ping @ShmuelBrin i assume for the last comment) – Double AA Jan 22 '14 at 5:17

He was a false Messiah,he was Bad because mainly he said Certain mitzvos did not exist he was famous for making up the Bracha Mattir Haissurim and in the end he Converted to Islam

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  • He never said that certain mitzvos did not exist. He said that certain mitzvos were no longer applicable. – Yahu May 24 '10 at 20:44
  • Joseph, its amazing sometimes how you make such diyukim and other times not. – SimchasTorah May 24 '10 at 20:53
  • I was not trying to defend Shabtai, has veshalom, just commenting in the interest of historical accuracy. Please point out a diyuk I missed, I always want to improve. – Yahu May 25 '10 at 2:02
  • YS, I mean that sincerely. – Yahu May 25 '10 at 2:03
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    I wouldn't categorize him as a false messiah - he was a failed messiah. A false messiah is one who was never eligible to become messiah in the first place. A failed messiah is a sincere Jew who really thinks that he could be "it". Strictly speaking, since Islam is not avodah zarah, one could convert to Islam to save his life. The sultan, sensing a threat to his power, told Shabtai to convert or die. Therefore, Shabtai didn't necessarily do anything wrong in that regard. Perhaps he could have been moshiach, but the generation wasn't worthy of him. – user1095 Dec 27 '11 at 14:28

He was a Jew living in the 1600's who claimed to be Moshiach

To contrast with Yahu's answer.

He did many sins publicly including violating arayos (sexual sin) which is one of the 3 major sins which a person is supposed to martyr themselves for rather than transgress. Whatever his status mentally he was clearly in enough control to promote himself as the messiah even after he converted to Islam. This gigantic chillul Hashem (desecration of God's name) caused countless Jews to lose their faith and either convert or abandon Judaism.

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  • I addressed the issue of whether being in control of one's faculties is equted with sanity in the comments on my answer. In short: He had a history of mental illness and he had the strong encouragement, if not pressure, from Moslem officials and clerics to convert Jews. if he had started out normal then I would be in total agreement with you. Because he did not start out normal I leave whether Hashem judged him as a Rasha in Hashem's hands. – Yahu Dec 31 '12 at 21:34

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