Jewish Studies Jacob Frank
Pawel Maciejko
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0183


Ya‘akov (Jakub) ben Yehudah Leib Frank (b. 1726–d. 1791) was the founder of Frankism, a Jewish religious movement that spread in East-Central Europe in the second half of the 18th century. Ya‘akov ben Leyb, later known as Frank or Frenk, was born in Podolia, the east-southernmost Palatinate of the Polish-Lihuanian Commonwealth in a family of known Sabbatians. When he was only a few months old, his family left Poland and moved to the Ottoman Empire. In Salonika, he established contacts with the most radical branch of the Dönmeh, founded by Berukhiah Russo (d. 1720), who was considered by his followers to be the next manifestation of the soul of Shabetai Tsevi. In 1755, Frank returned to Poland where he presented himself as an emissary of the Dönmeh and a famous kabbalist. He managed to unify splintered Sabbatian groups and attracted many followers throughout Podolia. Arrested by the rabbinic authorities, Frank and his followers demanded permission to hold a public disputation against the rabbis. Two disputations were held, the first one in Kamieniec Podolski in 1757 and the other one in Lviv in 1759. It the wake of the second disputation Frank and several thousands of his followers converted to Roman Catholicism. Shortly after the conversion, Frank was arrested again, this time by the Christians. He spent thirteen years in the prison-monastery in Częstowchowa. Therein, he developed a set of highly original theological doctrines focusing on the concept of the female messiah. Freed in 1772 by the Russians, he settled in Brno in Moravia. Frank died in 1791 in Offenbach am Main. The movement founded by him continued, in various forms, at least till the mid-19th century.

General Overviews

Graetz 1868 and Kraushar 2011 are standard monographs of Frankism during Frank’s lifetime. Although dated in some respects, they are still valuable, especially the latter. Bałaban 1935 is the most comprehensive discussion of the early stage of Frankism (up to conversion to Christianity) but does not contain any analysis of the later stage or of Frank’s doctrines. Mandel 1979 utilizes sources not known to earlier scholars. Maciejko 2011 is based on archival sources and argues that after the conversion Frankism developed its own original theology, which has little to do with Sabbatianism.

  • Bałaban, Majer. Le-toledot ha-tenu’ah ha-Frankit. 2 vols. Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1935.

    The first scholarly account of Frankism that takes into account both Jewish and Christian sources. Covers the period up to conversion of Frank’s group to Catholicism in 1759. The most extensive account of the blood libel accusation launched by the Frankists against their rabbinic opponents.

  • Graetz, Heinrich. Frank und die Frankisten: Eine Sekten-Geschichte aus dem letzten Hälfte des vorigen Jahrhunderts. Breslau, 1868.

    The first scholarly account of Frankism, based mainly on printed Hebrew and German sources. A bit dated, but containing many original insights into Frank’s relationship with the Jewish world.

  • Kraushar, Alexandr. Jacob Frank: The End of the Sabbataian Heresy. Edited Herbert Levy. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2011.

    An English translation of the classic Polish monograph by Aleksander Kraushar, Frank i frankiści polscy, 1726–1816: Monografia historyczna osnuta na źródłach archiwalnych i rękopiśmiennych (Kraków: Geberhner i Wolf, 1895). The translation is untrustworthy, and Levy’s introduction is preposterous. Kraushar monograph makes no use of Hebrew sources but is still valuable for its use of many Polish sources that were destroyed during the Second World War. Annotated with an introductory essay by Herbert Levy.

  • Mandel, Arthur. Militant Messiah: Or, the Flight from the Ghetto: The Story of Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement. New York: Humanities, 1979.

    Based on some original research, the book surveys the history of the Frankist movement from its inception until the early 19th century. An interesting account of the interplay between Frankism and the revolutionary trends in the late 18th century.

  • Maciejko, Paweł. The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement 1755–1816. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

    The only monograph of Frankism that takes into account all available sources. It juxtaposes Jewish, Christian, and internal Frankist documents, arguing that Frank’s movement emerged as a response to the combined pressure of the Jewish and Christian religious establishments. Also available in Hebrew, Russian, and Polish.

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