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From the 17th to 19th centuries, European Judaism witnessed an eruption of ecstasy and eros in a series of heretical and quasi-heretical movements beginning with the failed messiahs Sabbetai Zevi (1626-76) and Jacob Frank (1726-1791), and continuing through the ‘domestication’ of Sabbateanism by the Hasidism of the Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) and his followers.

In various ways, these mystical movements offered intensified spiritual experiences, complete with sublimated and non-sublimated erotic expression.  They were also, again, in various ways, queer, including the ambiguously gendered Sabbetai, the liberation of sexuality as harbinger of the messianic age, the leadership and power of women in Sabbatean and Frankist communities, the female messiah in Frank’s imaginaire, and sexualized worship and homoerotic/homosocial bonds among the Hasidim.

Celebrating the publication The Heresy of Jacob Frank: From Jewish Messianism to Esoteric Myth (Oxford Univ. Press, 2022), the newest book by CLGS Visiting Fellow Dr. Jay Michaelson, this discussion will inquire into the queernesses of Jewish mystical messianism, which would later become known as “Jewish spirituality.”

Rabbi Dr. Jay Michaelson is a visiting scholar at CLGS, as well as an author (God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality), journalist (New York and The Daily Beast) and meditation teacher (Ten Percent Happier). He holds a PhD in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University, a JD from Yale, and nondenominational rabbinic ordination. Jay worked as a professional LGBTQ activist for ten years, founding two religious LGBTQ nonprofits, Nehirim and Eshel.

Professor Naomi Seidman was the Koret Professor of Jewish Culture at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and is the Jackman Humanities Professor at the University of Toronto, with a split appointment between the Department for the Study of Religion and the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies. Her first book, A Marriage Made in Heaven: The Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish, appeared in 1997; her second, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation, in 2006. A third, The Marriage Plot, Or, How Jews Fell in Love with Love, and with Literature, appeared in 2016. A 2016 Guggenheim Fellow, Professor Seidman is presently working on a study of the founding of Bais Yaakov in interwar Poland.