The Complicated Legacy of Eva Frank, Perhaps the Only Jewish, Female Messianic Figure

May 19, 2022 | Shira Telushkin
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Five years before Eva Frank was born in 1756 in what is now Ukraine, her father Jacob had declared himself the successor of the 17th-century false messiah Shabbetai Tzvi. As Shira Telushkin writes, the elder Frank amassed thousands of followers before being excommunicated by Jewish authorities in 1756. He responded by converting to Catholicism, along with 3,000 of his disciples. Eva, raised in this strange religious atmosphere, followed in her father’s footsteps to become a radical spiritual leader.

Eva, who had been named Rachel at birth in honor of Jacob’s mother, was baptized with her new name. At this point, Jacob began to integrate Jewish and Christian beliefs more boldly into his theology. Soon after, however, local Catholic authorities imprisoned Jacob on charges of false conversion, noting that his followers continued to worship him as a divine presence and refused to marry outside their own community. Jacob was kept in a monastery in Częstochowa, where he continued to receive visits from admirers and develop his own ideas about mysticism, redemption, and feminine sexual power. Eva stayed with her father throughout the thirteen years of his imprisonment, along with her mother Hannah, and grew close to him. Their bond was reinforced when, later, Eva refused to leave during a Russian siege of the city, which kept even his staunchest followers outside the gates.

Jacob established Eva as a central figure of worship among his followers and encouraged her to hear confessions and administer punishments for sins. When Jacob died in 1791, Eva moved to Offenbach, Germany, with two of her brothers, where they strived to continue their father’s work and continue her role as the messianic divine figurehead of the movement. There, she continued to receive visitors, offer confession, and maintain support.

What do we make of Eva Frank? Her strange legacy is often caught between those eager to embrace her as a trailblazing icon of female religious authority, and those convinced she was a tragic victim in her father’s abusive schemes.

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