Donmeh West - On the Limits of Antinomianism

Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain, Founder & Spiritual Director

In one of my hermeneutic commentaries on the Zohar I began addressing the issue of what is called "redemption through sin" in Sabbatian theology and Kabbalah. Here I want to expand upon that subject.

The ancient Talmudic dictum of mitzvah ha'bah ba'ahverah -- "fulfilling a Torah commandment by violating it" -- which, along with other hidden teachings in the Jewish Oral Scriptures, underlay the antinomian notion of "redemption through sin" is not to be taken as a license for promiscuous or illegal behavior -- or as a kind of sanctimonious "permission" for perpetuating one's pre-existing, self-indulgent, personal whims.

There is "sinning for the sake of sin" and "sinning for the sake of redeeming sin;" the former defines the actions of "sinners," the latter those of "Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalists." The two are mutually exclusive. In the words of the Ba'al Shem Tov:

"The indwelling Glory of God prevails from above to below unto the rim of all rungs. That is the mystery of the word, 'And you animate them all.' Even when a man does a sin, then too the Glory is clothed in it, for without it he would not have the strength to move a limb. And this is the exile of God's Glory".... In the exhortation of Moses it says, 'See, I have placed before you this day life and good, death and evil.' From where has evil come? Evil too is good, it is the lowest rung of perfect goodness. If one does good, then evil too becomes good; but if one sins, then it becomes really evil. ("Instructions in Intercourse with God," trans. in Martin Buber's Hasidism and Modern Man, Horizon Press, 1958, p. 207)

Now, notice several things here:

  1. Sin is not the "Glory of God" but the "husk" which, in the words of the Ba'al Shem Tov, "clothes" or surrounds it.
  2. The "Glory of God" is "exiled" (which is to say, "trapped") within that "clothing" of sin.
  3. If one sins for the sake of liberating the Glory of God from the evil surrounding it, then that evil becomes good. But if one sins for the sake of the sin itself, then that sin remains evil and furthermore contaminates the one performing it with itself.

Thus, the truly righteous man descends into the realm of sin, just as Abraham, according to the Zohar, "descended into Egypt," not to "enjoy" the sin but to break its hold over the Glory of God and thereby liberate from the evil husk of sin the Holy Sparks of God entrapped therein. Again, in the words of the Ba'al Shem Tov:

"In all that is in the world dwell Holy Sparks, no thing is empty of them. In the actions of men also, indeed, even in the sins that they do, dwell Holy Sparks of the Glory of God. And what is it that the Sparks await that dwell in the sins? It is the t'shuvah [literally "turning," or "repentance"] "In the hour when you turn [i.e., "repent"] on account of sin, you raise to the higher world the sparks that were in it." (ibid, p. 189)

Such teachings are also to be found among the early "Libertine" Christians who believed it was necessary to sin in order to be forgiven, and furthermore claimed they had learned this teaching directly from "Jesus" himself. (See Morton Smith's Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, Harvard University Press, 1973, e.g. p. 258) Much later, the "mad monk" of Imperial Russia, Rasputin (who was and is highly misunderstood), taught a similar doctrine (possibly influenced by Frankist Sabbatianism) that "a great sin was necessary to be granted a great redemption."

Sabbatian Kabbalah -- prior to its more extreme interpreters such as Osman Baba and Yakov Leib Frank -- was actually quite conservative (one might almost say "prudish") about these issues, as demonstrated in the "Eighteen Commandments" Sabbatai Zevi laid down for his followers shortly before his death. It appears that at no time did either he or his prophet, Nathan of Gaza, suggest that others emulate his ma'asim zarim (mystical "strange acts") -- such as converting to Islam, eating forbidden foods or engaging in antinomian sexual practices -- which were seen, instead, as having been performed by Sabbatai Zevi for his followers and not as examples for them to emulate. It was only later that such extreme antinomian behaviors (and particularly those which dealt with sexual practices forbidden in the Old Testament) were adopted by the more radical interpreters of Sabbatai Zevi's and Nathan of Gaza's Kabbalistic theosophy.

I submit that our own "Yalhakian" Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah is a course correction in the development of antinomian Sabbatian thought and practice. That is, we are replacing the extreme literal antinomianism of Osman Baba and Yakov Leib Frank with the virtual (or "spiritual") antinomianism of Sabbatai Zevi, from which it originated and, we believe, was intended to be transmitted.

  • "Redemption through sin" is not an excuse or rationalization for immoral, illicit or illegal behavior.
  • No Torah Commandment is to be "violated" if doing so also violates any civil law.
  • No Torah Commandment is to be "violated" if it violates, in any way whatsoever, the physical, spiritual or emotional well being of another person or of any other creature.
  • "Redemption through Sin" is, for the most part, a virtual and spiritual act, not a literal and physical one; that is, it is performed primarily in what the Zohar calls the "heart-mind" and not in "real" time and space.
  • Violating a Torah Commandment in order to fulfill it is done not for the personal pleasure or benefit of the one who does it, but only in order to release from whatever has been "broken" the Holy Sparks trapped within it and return them to God.
  • Having spiritually "violated" a Commandment, one must sincerely repent of having done so and (with the exception of "Shepherds" such as Sabbatai Zevi, Jacob Qerido, Osman Baba, Yakov Leib Frank and others) do t'shuvah for it, which means "to turn away" from and not commit it again.
  • Some ma'asim zarim ("strange acts" through which redemption is achieved by "sinning") are to be performed only by the "Shepherds" -- such as Sabbatai Zevi, Jacob Qerido, Osman Baba and Yakov Leib Frank -- on behalf of, and as a substitutionary act of repentance for, those whom they are shepherding. "Holy Apostasy" -- literally converting from one religion to another in order to "merge" and release the Holy Sparks from both -- is one such ma'aseh zar reserved for the Shepherds, such as Sabbatai Zevi, and not their flock.)

It is our belief that this position is in keeping with that of Sabbatai Zevi and Nathan of Gaza. I publish it here not as an interesting speculation but as a definition of what constitutes mystical antinomianism in "Yalhakian" Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah. Any other point of view does not represent what I have been teaching and practicing for the past 40 years, and should not be taken as doing so, regardless of who expresses it.


| Sabbatai Zevi | Jacob Frank | Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain |
| A Critical Re-Assessment of Sabbatai Zevi |
| Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain's Professions of a Holy Sinner |
| The Zohar |
| Knowing the Unknowable |
| A Brief Note on Enlightenment |
| A Neo-Sabbatian Discourse on the Son of God |
| A Primer of "Yalhakian" Neo-Sabbatian Kabbalah |
| Participating in the Continuing Incarnation of God |
| Sabbatai Zevi's 'God of the Faith' | Evolution of the Ego |
| Two Torahs of Kabbalah: Torah D'Atziluth & Torah D'Beriah |
| On the Limits of Antinomianism | The Transformation of God |
| Commentary on the 13th Century "Treatise on the Left Emanation" |
| A Selection of Neo-Sabbatian Quotations Culled from Various Sources |
| Commentaries on Rabbi Azriel of Gerona's 12th Century Text, "Explanation of the Ten Sefirot" |
| Kabbalistic Genetics of the Holy Seed & Reclaiming the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel |
| A Commentary on the Book of Job | Kabbalah and the Interpretation of Dreams |
| To Die for the People: A Kabbalistic Reinterpretation of the Crucifixion of Jesus |
| The Shemot Shel Katzar Tikkunim: Revealing the Concealed Names of God |
| The Christian Myth of Melchizedek vs. Hereditary Jewish Priesthood |
| The Apocrypha of Jacob Frank | The Tikkun of Raising Animals |
| Appointment in Smyrna: A Neo-Sabbatian Odyssey |
| Sabbatai Zevi and the Mystery of the Red Heifer |
| The Kabbalah of the Hindu Mantra "OM" |
| The Mystery of the Middle Column |
| The Hidden Structures of Water |
| Exegesis on the Rod of Aaron |
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