Messianist Crypto-Jews in the Ottoman Empire

Shabbetai Tsvi was one of Jewish history’s most notorious false messiahs. After the Ottoman sultan ordered him forcibly converted to Islam in 1666, a number of his followers, who came to be known as the Dönmeh, converted along with him, but clung to their heterodox Jewish faith in secret. Most of them lived either in Salonica or in what is now western Turkey; some have maintained their identity until today. William Armstrong reviews a recent book about their history:

[T]he Dönmeh became one of the most conspiracy-theory-prone subjects in modern Turkey. Some have painted the Dönmeh as a secret branch of world Jewry that undermined the Ottoman regime and played a central role in the demise of the empire in order to replace it with a secular Turkish republic. Some have even claimed that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, hailing from the Dönme heartland of Salonica, was himself a crypto-Jew.

The Burden of Silence, by the historian Cengiz Şişman, is a detailed study of the Dönmeh from the 17th century to today. Other volumes have focused on the historical and sociological development of the Dönmeh, but while Şişman does not ignore these aspects, he focuses on the theological and sectarian side of the subject.

Read more at Hurriyet

More about: History & Ideas, Messianism, Ottoman Empire, Shabbetai Tzvi

The Possible Death of Mohammad Deif, and What It Means

On Saturday, Israeli jets destroyed a building in southern Gaza, killing a Hamas brigade commander named Rafa Salameh. Salameh is one of the most important figures in the Hamas hierarchy, but he was not the primary target. Rather it was Mohammad Deif, who is Yahya Sinwar’s number-two and is thought to be the architect and planner of numerous terrorist attacks, of Hamas’s tunnel network, and of the October 7 invasion itself. Deif has survived at least five Israeli attempts on his life, and the IDF has consequently been especially reluctant to confirm that he had been killed. Yet it seems that it is possible, and perhaps likely, that he was.

Kobi Michael notes that Deif’s demise would have major symbolic value and, moreover, deprive Hamas of important operational know-how. But he also has some words of caution:

The elimination of Deif becomes even more significant given the current reality of severe damage to Hamas’s military wing and its transition to terrorism and guerrilla warfare. However, it is important to remember that organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah are more than the sum of their components or commanders. Israel has previously eliminated the leaders of these organizations and other very senior military figures, and yet the organizations continued to grow, develop, and become more significant security threats to Israel, while establishing their status as political players in the Palestinian and Lebanese arenas.

As for the possibility that Deif’s death will harden Hamas’s position in the hostage negotiations, Tamir Hayman writes:

In my opinion, even if there is a bump in the road now, it is not a strategic one. The reasons that Hamas decided to compromise its demands in the [hostage] deal stem from the operational pressure it is under [and] the fear that the pressure exerted by the IDF will increase.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas