New book: The Burden of Silence -Cengiz Sisman-


Cengiz Sisman is Assistant Professor of History at Furman University.

Sabbatai Sevi and the Evolution of the Ottoman-Turkish Dönmes

*The first comprehensive social and religious history of the Ottoman and Turkish Sabbateans, aka, Dönmes from the seventeenth century until the modern times
*Discusses early modern and modern Ottoman crypto-religious identities
*Examines the much-contested history of the Judeo-Islamic sect, Dönmes and their contribution to the Jewish, *Ottoman and Turkish Republican Modernity
Incorporates Ottoman, Turkish, Hebrew and European written and oral sources

List of Tables and Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Notes on Transliteration

Chapter I: Remapping a Messianic Movement in the Early Modern World
Chapter II: The Rise and Fall of the Sabbatean Movement in the Eurasian World
Chapter III: From a Global Movement to an Ottoman Sect: The Birth of a Crypto-Messianic Community
Chapter IV: Authority, Authenticity, and Leadership: Failed Prophecy and the Emergence of Post-Messianic Sects in the Ottoman Empire and Eastern Europe
Chapter V: Politics of Crypto and Hybrid Identities among the Jews, Christians and Muslims
Chapter VI: Religious Beliefs and Practices in Parallel Space and Time
Chapter VII: The Experience of Modernity: The Emergence of Orthodox, Reformist and Liberal Dönmes
Chapter VIII: From Empire to Nation-State: Resettlement in Modern Turkey
Conclusion: Passion for the Waiting

The Burden of Silence is the first comprehensive social, intellectual, and religious history of an early modern Ottoman-Jewish messianic movement, Sabbateanism, from its beginnings during the seventeenth century to its spread throughout Christian Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. Initiated by a Jewish rabbi, Sabbatai Sevi, the movement combined Jewish, Islamic, and Christian religious and social elements. When Ottoman authorities forced Sevi to convert to Islam in 1666, his followers formed a messianic crypto-Judeo-Islamic sect, Donme, which played an important role in the transformation and modernization of Ottoman and Turkish society and survives to this day.

Using Ottoman, Jewish, and European sources, Sisman examines the dissemination of Sabbeateanism in engagement with broader topics such as messianism, conversion, Islamic and Jewish mysticism, crypto-identities, modernism, nationalism and memory. By using flexible identities to stymie external interference, the crypto-Jewish Donmes were able to survive despite persecution from Ottoman authorities, internalizing the Kabbalistic principle of a “burden of silence,” according to which believers keep their secret on pain of spiritual and material punishment, in order to sustain their overtly Muslim and covertly Jewish identities.

In the nineteenth century, some Donmes abandoned their religious identities and embraced secularism, individualism and other imported modern ideas as they became involved in modernization by developing Western-style economic and educational networks in the Ottoman and then the Turkish realms. Throughout this entire period, says Sisman, religious and cultural Donmes continued to adopt the “burden of silence” in order to cope with the challenges of messianism, modernity, nation-state, and memory.

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