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Eva Frank

(1754 – 1816)

Eva Frank was the daughter of the charismatic Shabbatean leader Jacob *Frank (1726–1791) and Hannah Kohen, his wife. Eva was born in Nikopol, Bulgaria, then part of the *Ottoman Empire, into the Jewish-Muslim community of the *Doenmeh. Jacob Frank was a proponent of an antinomian anarchist approach that rejected all the prohibitions and restrictions of Jewish law, including the laws of incest. This annulment was inspired by medieval mystical traditions that the foremost expression of the messianic future would be the establishment of a new code, "the era of mercy," replacing the halakhah and the "era of harsh judgment." Frank, who brought his family to Poland in December 1755, was charged by the Jewish community of Brody, Galicia, with instigating illicit practices. He was tried, imprisoned, and excommunicated along with his followers in June 1756. Originally named Rachel, after Jacob Frank's mother, Rachel Herschel of Reischa, Eva is referred to in Frankist writings as the Lady, the Virgin, or Matronita, the Aramaic name of the mystical female entity Shekhinah. She became known as Eva following the conversion of her family to Christianity c. 1760. This conversion protected the Shabbatean group, which was being persecuted by Jewish communities in Galicia and Podolia for heretical views and unacceptable sexual behavior, and enabled the members to preserve their secret rituals based on messianism and anarchy in all aspects of life. The historian Peter *Beer knew Eva Frank and discussed the evolution of her names and her family's conversion in his work on Jewish sects (1823).

Jacob Frank's autobiographical writings, preserved in Frankist circles, included a Polish text entitled "The Sayings of the Master." This document set forth a mystical-mythical new reality in which Frank portrayed himself as a messianic figure, related to the biblical patriarch Jacob and associated with the kabbalistic entity of the divine male, Tiferet (divine glory). In this formulation, Frank's consort is portrayed as the biblical matriarch Rachel and is also associated with the mystical entity of the divine female, Shekhinah. Frank's wife Hannah, who was forced by her husband to play the public role of his mystical partner, the Matronita, died in great dismay at the beginning of 1770 when their daughter Eva was 16 years old. Frank did not allow his daughter to leave him or to marry, a prohibition he enforced on all his followers; they constituted a messianic community based on a communal sexual life with no incest restrictions or respect for marriage vows. He also demanded that Eva remain with him in prison when he was incarcerated between 1760 and 1772. Until his death in 1791, Eva played the roles of Rachel, the beloved of Jacob, and the Shekhinah-Matronita, the spouse of Tiferet-Ya'akov. Her father referred to his daughter with a citation from the Zohar describing the agonized Shekhinah who responds to her lover as "a beautiful maiden who has no eyes" (Zohar, Mishpatim).

Jacob Frank saw himself as the eternal messiah and told his followers that Eva-Rachel should be recognized as the mystical royal figure of the Shekhinah who would lead them as a messianic redeemer while he was temporarily absent. Ultimately, Frank claimed, he would be reborn and united with his daughter in "the unity of Messiah and Shekhinah." In the last decade of his life, Frank lived in Brno (Bruenn, then Austria) and in Offenbach in Germany with his daughter; he discussed Eva's messianic nature in inner Frankist circles while spreading the rumor in public that she was an illegitimate child of the Russian Empress Catherine of the house of Romanov. In 1777 Frank took Eva to Vienna where both were received at the royal palace. In that year he had portraits of his daughter sent to Frankist communities in Hamburg and Altona together with pronouncements of her messianic nature. After Jacob Frank's death in 1791, understood by his followers as a temporary disappearance, Eva led the Frankist court in Offenbach with her two younger brothers. In 1800 Eva sent letters to hundreds of Jewish communities encouraging conversion to Christianity and enlistment in the Frankist movement (see Brawer, Galicia, pp. 270–75). Her request for financial help was supported by quotations from her father's teachings and promises of approaching messianic redemption. In 1803 the Offenbach court dismantled and the Frankists returned to Poland, where Eva conducted herself as a Romanov princess and lived as the Shabbatean-Frankist leader until her death in 1816. The anarchic aspect of the Frankist community, liberated from all restrictions imposed by tradition and taboo, did not survive her death. However, many Frankist families continued to keep a miniature of Eva Frank and honored her as a saintly woman who was falsely reviled.


A. Kraushaar, Frank i Frankisci polscy I–II (1895); G. Scholem, "Jacob Frank," in: Encyclopaedia Judaica (1st ed., 1971); "Doenmeh," in: ibid; idem, Mehkarim u-Mekorot le-Toledot ha-Shabbeta'ut ve-Gilguleiha (1974): A. Brawer, Galicia ve-Yehudeiha (1965) 197–275; R. Elior, "Sefer Divrei ha-Adon le-Ya'akov Frank," in: Ha-Ḥalom ve-Shivero: The Sabbatean Movement and its Aftermath: Messianism Sabbatianism and Frankism (ed. R. Elior), vol. 2 (2001) (Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, vol. XVII, 471–548); H. Levin (ed.), Ha-Kronikah, On Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement (1984); A. Rapoport-Albert, "On the Position of Women in Sabbatianism," in: Ha-Ḥalom ve-Shivero: The Sabbatean Movement and its Aftermath: Messianism Sabbatianism and Frankism (ed. Rachel Elior), vol. 1 (2001 (Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought, vol. 16, 168–69, 268–9. 279–94.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.