One of the basic beliefs of Judaism is in the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate salvation. Although it is not clear exactly when the belief started, it has been, since the Second Temple period, a constant theme in Jewish life. The apocalyptic books written prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, as well as the beliefs of many of the sectarian groups at that time, are all based on the imminent coming of the Messiah. There were actual messianic movements as early as the 7th century.
Every major wave of persecution, such as in Christian Spain in 1391, aroused messianic expectations. In the early 16th century, the oppressed Jews of Asia Minor and Europe were attracted by the charismatic problems of David Reuveni and Solomon Molcho. Some of these hopes were connected with the supposed descendants of the captive Ten Lost Tribes of Israel who had been exiled by the Assyrians in 720 bce.
The suffering caused by the Chmielnicki massacres (1648 - 49) explains the fervour with which much of the Jewish world embraced the movements inaugurated by the pseudo-messiah Shabbetai Zevi. Many non Jews too, accepted his claim when he declared himself the Messiah and announced that he was to lead the Jews back to their land. In 1665 and 1666 he made such an impression that whole communities, both in the Orient and in Europe, sold their homes, possessions and businesses to prepare to follow him, The dream collapsed when the 'messiah' converted to Islam, although some of his followers still believed that the 'descent into conversion' was a necessary stage in the process of redemption. A tragic disappointment was also felt at the conversion to Christianity of another 'messiah' Jacob Frank (1726 - 91).
When, at the beginning of the 18th century, the popular movement known as Hasidim began in Eastern Europe, the fierce opposition it aroused stemmed largely from a fear that the Shabbatean heresy was repeating itself. This anxiety proved unfounded, and Hasidim has since been a vibrant and important ingredient in Jewish life. Hassidic leaders, as well as non and anti Hasidic rabbis, saw the ascent to the Holy Land as the highest aspiration of the Jew. Israel Ba'al Shem (c 1700 - 60) the founder of Hasidism, tried to accomplish this as did Hasidim's great adversary, Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna (1720 - 1797). Neither succeeded. Others however did, and important disciples of both of them established communities in the Holy Land.
In 1654 the first Jews arrived in New Amsterdam (later: New York) and established a congregation. Two years later the Jews were re-admitted to Cromwell's England.
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