The Boston Rabbi Who Blamed Judaism’s Troubles on an Elaborate Jewish Conspiracy

February 3, 2020 | Zvi Leshem
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The baroque theories of anti-Semites often link Jews to the Illuminati, the Freemasons, and other favorite subjects of conspiracists. The Boston rabbi Marvin Antelman was not the first Jew to promulgate such ideas, but he may have been the only one to use them to detect a plot to undermine Orthodox Judaism from within. Zvi Leshem writes:

In his work Antelman, who also held a PhD in chemistry, painted a detailed conspiracy theory incorporating the Jewish Enlightenment, Reform Judaism, and Communism, tracing their origins back to the [17th-century] false messianic movement of Shabbtai Zvi, his Polish successor Jacob Frank, the Illuminati, and the Jacobins [of Revolutionary France].

Here is where Gershom Scholem, the preeminent scholar of the Sabbatean movement, enters our story. Antelman [cites] him regarding the possible influence of Sabbateanism on the development of the Jewish Enlightenment and Reform Judaism, but goes well beyond Scholem’s suggestion of a possible cultural influence; Antelman lunges into a . . . conspiracy theory so complex as to be beyond the scope of this article.

Antelman eventually went on to serve as “chief justice” of the “Supreme Rabbinical Court of America” that he founded. Among the more dramatic acts of the court was the excommunication of the American secretary of state Henry Kissinger in 1976.

Among Scholem’s papers are several letters from Antelman along with his 1974 book, To Eliminate the Opiate: The Frightening Inside Story of Communist and Conspiratorial Group Efforts to Destroy Jews, Judaism, and Israel—in which Scholem wrote, in English, “Nonsense based on me!!!”

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