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Posted by on Jun 27, 2007 in At TMV | 5 comments

The Dönme: A Secret Jewish Sect Part II

The following, I thought, might be interesting to all of you: here are the commandments of the Sabbateans. They are, as you all will see, much like the 10 commandments, but they are quite clearly different at the same time. I will copy (literally, including it errors) what the document which was sent to me by before mentioned helpful person on this subject in its entirety:

These are the eighteen commandments of our master, our king, our Messiah, his majesty Shabbetai Zevi:

1. The first is that one be careful to keep the faith in God, Who is one and unique, and outside of Whom there is no god. Do not elevate anyone else, nor any judge outside of Him.

2. The second is that one believe in His Messiah, who is the true Messiah. There is no savior beside him, our master, our king, his majesty Shabbetai Zevi, who descends from the House of David.

3. The third is that one not swear falsely in the name of God and His Messiah, because His master’s name is in him; and that one not profane it.

4. The fourth is that one honor the name of God and that one honor also the name of Messiah, when one mentions it. Also, that one honor someone who is greater than his friend in knowledge.

5. The fifth is that they come together in reunions in order to discuss and study the secret of the Messiah.

6. The sixth is that there not be found among them (that is, the Sabbatians) murderers, even to kill people of other nations, even though they detest them (the Sabbatians).

7. The seventh is that the day of the sixteenth of Kislev all reunite in a home and each tell his companion that which he understood of the mystery of the faith of the Messiah.

8. The eighth is that zenut (fornication) not prevail among them. Even though it is a precept of the World of Beri’ah, one must nevertheless take precaution because of the ladrones (thieves).

9. The ninth is that one not give false testimony, that one not speak falsehood to his companion, and that one not intrigue, even against nonbelievers (that is, non-Sabbatians).

10. The tenth is that it is not permitted to introduce someone by force into the faith of the turban (that is Islam), even if that person believes, because he who belongs to the group of the masters of war (that is, Donme), enters therein with a full heart and by the will of the soul, without oness (constraint) of any fashion.

11. The eleventh is that there be among them no envious persons, that they not covet that which does not belong to them.

12. The twelfth is that one celebrate with great joy the holiday of the sixteenth of the month of Kislev.

13. The thirteenth is that they do hesed (mutual assistance) for one another and that one force oneself to do one’s companion’s will as one’s own will.

14. The fourteenth is that one secretly read Psalms every day.

15. The fifteenth is that one watch every month the birth of the (new) moon and that one pray that the moon turn its face to the sun, and that they (that is, sun and moon) look at one another face to face.

16. The sixteenth is that one pay attention to the customs of the Turks in order to “throw powder in their eyes.” And for the fast of Ramazan, that they (that is, the Donme) not be embarrassed to do it; the same goes for the sacrifice. Everything that the eye sees, must be done.

17. The seventeenth is that they not marry them (that is, Muslims).

18. The eighteenth is that they take care to circumcise their sons, to remove the opprobrium of the holy people (that is, the foreskin).

Pay special attention to numbers 8 (about adultery), 16 and 17. To say that the early Sabbateans did not think highly of Muslims would be quite an understatement. The sexual morality was, compared to Jewish and Muslim rules, quite loose, to say the least. According to some sources, the Sabbateans had special feasts, during which they had orgies: men were allowed to have sex with women who were not their wife. When children were born out of such an orgy, they were considered saints.

These are, however, not the only commandments for Sabbateans, there is also a list of extra commandments.

1- God is One and Sabbatai is his Prophet. Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Ester and others are only part of Sabbatai’s soul. This way, the maaminim that Sabbatai came to this world 18 times under the name of Adam, Abraham, etc.
2- The world is created for the maaminim. The Muslims have the purpose to/of only protecting this. From that the saying of Maminim [follows]: There is no egg without a shell.
3- The non-Israelites are called Kelipas.
4- A believer is not allowed to marry to a Kelipa or a Jewess, until the Israelites recognise that Sabbatai is the Messiah.
5- Paradise is created for Maminim and the Israelites.
6- The souls of the Kelipas sink to the lower world with the body.
7- The Israelites are not manimim, but they will, one day, arrive at the truth and will confess that Jacob, Moses, etc., are only part of Sabbatai’s soul.
8- “What concerns your rights, duties and business; subject yourself to the law of Moses!”
9- “Hate the Israelites not, for they will be your brothers shortly.”
10- You will be punished if you speak about your religion to a Kelipa or an Israelite. The Israelites will be inspired by the Creator (will be led on the right path); it is obliged not to show the way to paradise to them.
11- “Your first duty is to simulate the quality of being Muslims, and to stay entirely Jewish in your innermost [world].”
12- “It is not a sin in the eyes of God to kill a Maimin, who reveals the secrets of his religion. Hate these traitors. Even kill him, if he is dangerous to the Maiminim.”
13- The Maiminim must obey the government of Islam. The Muslims will protect, even wage war for you. Always assert that you are of Islam. Defend Islam, simulate Qur’an and Namaz (lay brother) etc. But never take refuge in the Islamic court; on the contrary, the law of Moses may serve as your rule in all of your quarrels. You shall always have your Beth-din. Remain obedient to the Muslims, do not seek to substitute them (?)
14- God forbids the Maminim from drinking spirits [intoxicating drinks].
15- “You shall have two names, one for the world, the other for paradise.”
16- Once must being the name of the Creator to mind twice everyday.

It is also interesting to spend more attention to the religious customs of the Sabbateans. As said, although they “observed all the tenets of Islam, and occasionally joined the caravans of Haj pilgrims to the Moslem shrines” in public, they continued to observe religious customs in private. Those customs include “several Jewish ritual customs and much of the Jewish liturgy, including the reading of psalms, the Zohar and other cabalistic works.” They also kept (keep?) “kept the Jewish holidays according to the rules laid down for them by their messiah.”[18]

In this regard, it is of interest to also take a closer look at the Sabbatean Credo and their religious festivals.
Sabbatean Credo:

I believe with perfect faith in the faith of the God of truth, the God of Israel who dwells in (the sefirah) tiferet, the “glory of Israel,” the three knots of faith which are one.

I believe with perfect faith that Sabbatai Zevi is the true King Messiah.

I believe with perfect faith that the Torah, which was given through our teacher Moses, is the Torah of truth, as it is written: And this is the Torah which Moses placed before Israel, as ordered by God through Moses. It is a Tree of Life to them that hold fast to it and its supporters will be happy… (here follow several biblical verses extolling the Torah)

I believe with perfect faith that this Torah cannot be exchanged and that there will be no other Torah; only the commandments have been abolished, but the Torah remains binding forever and to all eternities.

I believe with perfect faith that Sabbatai Zevi, may his majesty be exalted, is the true Messiah and that he will gather together the dispersed of Israel from the four corners of the earth.

I believe with perfect faith in the resurrection of the dead, that the dead shall live and shall arise from the dust of the earth.

I believe with perfect faith that the God of truth, the God of Israel, will send the rebuilt sanctuary from above down to us (on the earth) beneath, as it is said: Unless God build the house, those that build it labor in vain. May our eyes see and our heart rejoice and our soul sing for joy, speedily in our days. Amen.

I believe with perfect faith that the God of truth, the God of Israel will reveal Himself in this (earthly) world (called) tevel, as it is said: For they shall see, eye to eye, the Lord returning to Zion. And it is said: And the glory of God will be revealed and all flesh shall see it, for the mouth of the Lord has promised it.

May it be pleasing before Thee, God of truth, God of Israel who dwells in the “glory of Israel,” in the three knots of faith which are one, to send us the just Messiah, our Redeemer Sabbatai Zevi, speedily and in our days. Amen.[19]

The Calendar of Festivals:
14 Sivan Festival of the Growth (Zemah, is also a name of the Messiah)

21 Sivan Anointed by Elijah

24 Sivan Commanded to Commemorate This Day

9 Tammuz Beginning of the Clothing of the Soul

17 Tammuz The First of His Illumination

23 Tammuz The Festival of Luminaries

24 Tammuz Holy Sabbath

3 Av Beginning of the Crown of Glory

9 Av Festival of Rejoicing

16 Av Circumcised

16 Kislev Purim

21 Adar The Day He Was Born

18 Adar The Day He Was Circumcised

Finally, Meir Benayahu published a Ladino calendar from the Donme Siddur (Prayerbook), Ben Zvi Institute Ms. 2276. This calendar combines those dates sacred to the sect, together with those embraced by all Jews…

1 Tishri Rosh ha-Shanah (New Year)

3 Tishri Zom Gedaliah (Fast of Gedaliah)

10 Tishri Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)

21 Tishri Hoshannah Rabbah

15 Kislev Ta’anit de Adonenu (Fast of Our Master)

16 Kislev Se’udah de Adonenu (Feast of Our Master)

10 Tevet Assarah be-Tevet (Tenth of Tevet)

15 Shevat Rosh ha-Shanah Ilan (New Year of Trees, Tu bi Shevat, “Arbor Day”)

15 Adar Purim of Queen Esther

22 Adar Cordero (Spanish, Lamb)

21 Nissan Shevi’i shel Pessah (Seventh Day of Passover)

17 Sivan Beginning of the Growth of His Kingdom

26 Sivan Yom Tov (Holiday)

9 Tammuz Begiining of the Clothing of His Soul

17 Tammuz Shiv’ah Assar be-Tammuz (Seventeenth of Tammuz)

23 Tammuz Festival of Luminaries

24 Tammuz Holy Sabbath

9 Av Our Master Was Born

16 Av Berit Milah (Circumcision of Our Master)

By the twentieth century, all that remained of this unique Sabbatean calendar were the two most important dates, The Sixteenth of Kislev and the Ninth of Av. All the other observances had fallen into desuetude. Especially the latter date, the Ninth of Av- as feast not fast- was scrupulously maintained…[20]

The Sabbateans are subdivided into three sects. These sects – and their customs / differences are:
A The Jacobeans:
“The Jacobeans are the oldest established sub-sect; it is named after its founder, Jacob Querido, who was Sabbatai’s first successor. In Ladino they are also known as Arapados (the clean-shaven) because of their custom of shaving their scalps clean, like the devout Moslems of other days.” These Sabbateans “are also known as ‘wearers of Tarbush, because they adopted this Turkish headgear (Fez). Of all the Sabbateans, they are perhaps closest to the Turkish way of life and have a much better command of the Turkish language than all the others.”[21] Furthermore, they outwardly “observed rigidly all the laws of Islam and obeyed literally all the orders and injunctions of their spiritual head. They concentrated particularly on charity, communal and individual.”

B The Coniozos or Karakashlars (Karakashis): “Karakashlars (Karakashis) are dissidents who seceded from the Querido group under the leadership of Mustapha Chelebi. The first to disavow Querido professed themselves faithful disciples of Sabbatai Zvi only, and called themselves Smyrnaites, after the native city of their messiah.”

For over twenty years Mustapha led the community of Smyrnaites, but still did not proclaim himself a messiah, anointing to that succession the son of a staunch follower who came to be known in course of time as Othman Baba or Othman Agha. Othman was an ignoramus and an epileptic. Barukhia Konio defended his ascendancy on the ground that he had been born nine months after the messiah’s death. His followers acquiesced, and organized themselves into a second community within the Sabbatean sect, designating themselves, after their new leader, as Othman Babalars, Karakashlars or Coniozos.

The members of this sub-sect are scattered all over Turkey. What truly distinguishes this sub-sect from the other sub-sects is that “in their prayers they mention in the same breath both Sabbatai, the founder of the sect, and Barukhia, the spiritual leader of their sub-sect, their prayers being addressed simultaneously to the two messiahs.”[22]

C – The Capanjis: this third sub-sect “grew out of a rift within the ranks of the Coniozos in the twenties of the eighteenth century (and not, as Graetz believed, in Napoleon’s days) shortly after the death of Othman Baba. Insisting that they alone were the faithful disciples of Sabbatai Zvi, the Capanjis rejected Querido and denied the messianic character of Othman Baba.”

Considering themselves the aristocracy of the Sabbatean community, they took the name Cavaglieros (knights). They were also the intelligentsia and enjoyed greater prosperity than all the rest, as teachers, doctors, engineers, veterinary surgeons and members of the liberal professions. For a long time the members of the two sects who seceded from the Smyrnaites lived in their own quarter, entirely separate from the Jacobean quarter. Relations between the two sub-sects were better than between them and the Jacobeans.[23]

The lithurgy of the Sabbateans is also quite interesting: Sabbatean “bears the character of hymns; but they are not merely Jewish hymns with a Sabbatean flavor.”

The hymns in this peculiar compendium are in a class apart. They were composed by believers in the Sabbatean cult and are based on Sabbatean doctrine. Here and there are interwoven passages from the scriptures and quotations from traditional Jewish religious poetry. But the authors of the rhymes took great liberties with established texts, and diverged sharply from acknowledged traditional versions. Most of the liturgy was composed for communal worship. This is clear from the eighth prayer in which the word “Amen” recurs twelve times and the sixth prayer in which the refrain “The Lord is God” recurs twenty-five times. Most of the hymns were probably intended for religious assemblies in their secret synagogues, or for community singing at the private parties in the homes of the faithful. Their reference to “the master of the community” (as in number eight) appears to indicate an organized congregation with a head or gabbai.[24]

There is also another important class of Sabbatean poetry: “the elegy and memorial prayer devoted to dead persons whose names are unknown to us, men and women who were held in veneration by the community as a whole or whose memory was dear to the members of their immediate families.” Special elegies were dedicated to these individuals by bards who were “commissioned to do so by the bereaved members of their families. Characteristically, most of their names recall those of the patriarchs or other heroes of biblical history.”[25]

According to most people, the far, far majority of Sabbateans do not practice their religion anymore. However, according to Dr. Gad Nasi – a Turkish-born psychiatrist residing in Herzliya – there is “a core of orthodox Shabbateans who maintain their faith.” Fascinatingly enough, “this faith may still involve the forbidden sexual practices their forebears indulged in during the spring equinox.”[26] Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, Israel’s second President, described the main sexual preference as follows:

“Once a year [during the Doenmes’ annual ‘Sheep holiday’] the candles are put out in the course of a dinner which is attended by orgies and the ceremony of the exchange of wives. … The rite is practiced on the night of Sabbetai Zevi’s traditional bithday. … It is believed that children born of such unions are regarded as saintly.”[27]

I hope that you all found this post to be greatly interesting, I know that I was fascinated by the Sabbateans and still am. Now, normally, you’d expect to see footnotes because, well, I used notes in the posts, however, I screwed up the numbers and do not have the time to find out what quotes came exactly from what articles, etc. I am working on many projects at one time I am afraid. Therefore, a ‘normal’ list of works cited:

Alpert, Reuven. “18 Sabbatean commandments” Caught in the Crack: Encounters with the Jewish Muslims of Turkey. Wandering Soul Press: New Yorks, 310-315.


Ben-Zvi, Itzhak. “The Exiled and the Redeemed.” Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1957

Birch, Nicolas. “Scratch a Turk, and you never know what you find”. Irish Times, 2002.

Halkin, Hillel. “When Kemal Ataturk Recited Shema Yisrael “It’s My Secret Prayer, Too,” He Confessed” January, 28, 1994.

Neyzi, Leyla. “Remembering to Forget Sabbateanism, National Identity, and Subjectivity in Turkey”. Society for Comparative Study of Society and History, 2002. 137- 158.


Scholem, Gershom. The Messianic Idea in Judaism and other Essays on Jewish Spirituality, New York: Schocken Books, 1971. 137.

Temkin, Moshe. “Shabbtai Tzvi Would Be Proud”. The Jerusalem Report, 1999.

Thank you to the anonymous source and to my girlfriend who went through all the articles with me, and who helped me select relevant information.

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