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Through The Smoked Glass

Frank sowed the seeds of the Jewish 19th century Hascalah (Enlightenment) movement, Zionism, Chasidic movement, modern secular thinking and of Feminism. He changed the way we perceive religion and our life. The famous 20th century philosopher, Martin Buber, imprinted the expression "The Secret History" referring to, outwardly "small" events that shaped the evolution of the human consciousness. Undoubtedly Frank's life story is a breathtaking example for such a human event. Jacob Frank was considered by his followers to be a Jewish Messiah. The main provocative idea exposed in the course of the plot is "redemption through the sewers", which creates uncertainty in Judeo-Christian morals, and poses penetrating questions as regards human nature and essence.

The plot begins in 1752 when three believers in the previous Jewish Messiah, Sabbatai Zvi, are sent to Saloniki by their congregations in Podolia Ukraine (then south Poland), hopefully to find a religious leader who will rescue their congregations from extinction. Ninety years previously, when Sabbatai Zvi was still living, the messianic movement was at the height of its powers and encompassed about half of Podolia's Jewish population, but in the middle of 18th century only a few hundred believers remained in Podolia. The secret delegation comprised of: Mordechai, the representative of the elders of the congregation; Nachman, a young Jewish Rabbi who belonged secretly to the congregation of Sabbatai Zvi's believers; and Nathan, a blind man, who was considered to be gifted with special powers, and was expected to identify the holy candidate.

 Lea, Nachman's young and attractive wife, stayed behind in anticipation of the outcome of the secret mission. She is the storyteller of this intriguing film. In voice over, she  comments (with words which are full of wisdom and irony) on the essence of her world, and on the aftermath of the scenes which she saw and participated in:

"For my dreams I was real.

For my time I was afraid.

For myself I was a riddle:

Who am I when I'm dead?

(Pause) Don't judge me. You may say that I am a sinful woman, but please bear with me and hear my chilling story; it's for the purity of my soul. I took part in horrendous acts. We shattered God's kingdom. For the first time since Babylon, there was a new belief and there was no flood. Nothing occurs without reason. There are no coincidences in God's Garden. In a few generations maybe they will discover completely new paths of belief. People will live, for the first time, in secular sacredness - not knowing whom to thank…"  

The delegation did not find a Messiah, but they encountered Jacob Laib Yakobovich, an eccentric young man who called himself Jacob Frank; a Jew from Polish origins who lived in Turkey. He was deeply immersed in Kabala learning, and in the course of the meeting Mordechai reveals to Frank that Sabbatai Zvi discovered that divinity could be found also in uncleanness. Arrival at the deity is achieved more easily through total sin, therefore all taboos and restrictions are abolished, everything is permissible. The one that recognizes this secret belief is beyond "Good and Evil". Human consciousness is like a ripening fruit. The extraction of holiness from the "outer skin of the fruit" is the rectification of human belief. With Sabbatai Zvi's coming to our world, the primal sin was erased, and the prohibitions of the Bible became commandments to be executed by daring and audacious believers. Suddenly Frank falls on the floor in a spasm. His mouth sheds white saliva. Immediately Nathan the blind proclaims that Frank is a great and holy person worthy to lead the congregation of followers of Sabbatai Zvi.  

A short time later Frank bursts into a synagogue, ascends the stage with an iron bar in his hands, and threatens to murder those who dare approach him. He rolls down his pants and puts his behind on the Bible. No one dares touch him. This is his first daring and provocative act and will be followed by many others.

In the city market Frank performs several small tricks and miracles: discovers a fake coin in the pocket of a peddler, catches a robber in the course of an attempt to pick his pocket. Later he becomes fatally ill. A godly voice commands him to respond to the delegation's appeal and travel to Podolia, or to die. Frank repents and the delegation departs on its way to Ukraine. On the way a gang of robbers attacks them. The gang's leader is startled by Frank's firm courage, and doesn't venture to search him, and so their money, hidden in Frank's boots, was saved.

  When they arrive at Podolia, Frank succeeds in "driving away" the black plague, and no one from among his followers becomes sick. Nothing could stop the wave of admiration for Frank. More and more followers joined his flock.  He preaches to them of the burning need to cancel all old religions and customs. Frank starts to act as a cult leader and sleeps with the women in his entourage. He ceases to put on his Tefillin, and claims that he is exempt from religious obligations. He proclaims the establishment of a mutual fund, and exploits it for his own private and luxurious needs.  On a winter night in 1756, Frank organizes an orgy, in the course of which he ties the Tefillin on the arms of a naked young woman. Two kids passing by peek through the window and call the local Rabbi, who calls soldiers who brutally arrest the orgy participants.

 The prisoners are brought to Jewish court and claim that they did not prostitute but rather maintained their belief. The Jewish rabbis excommunicate them.  Nachman is invited to participate in a theological debate between Christians and Jews. He refuses to sign a declaration admitting the Jews butcher Christian children at Passover. On October 17, 1757 the debate's first session took place in Kaminitz. The Frankists proved that in the Talmud there are segments that curse Christians.  In the aftermath of the debate Talmud books are burnt in the town plaza.  

Frank, who fled to Dziurdziow in Bulgaria, orders his believers to convert their religion to Islam in the framework of his contempt for all religions. Inwardly they continue to stick to their beliefs. The religious conversion improves their economic situation, and Frank becomes increasingly wealthy.  He rents a big house and Turkish servants.  

Frank returns triumphant to Podolia and, demanding from his followers proof of the strength of their belief, insists they stand in a circle for three consecutive days. No one dares leave the circle. Lea reflects on those fateful days as the happiest days of her life. Frank gave her life meaning. …and after she spent an inspiring night in Frank's bed, Lea remarks:

"With FRANK I felt so safe that I allowed myself to lose control. I heard my throat utter sounds I had never heard before. I felt he freed the Shchinah from the shackles of centuries… I felt that he had an evergreen soul…  

Like that cucumber I used to cut into very tiny slices  

Nevertheless the green color still stuck To the tiniest slice of my soul…"

  Frank changes the names of his believers to Biblical names. He continues to sleep with the wives and to organize orgies, but is constantly harassed by Jews and Christian Priests. In an attempt to strike all evil forces, Frank conducts an imaginary duel with evil ghosts in a graveyard, and loses.  In the course of his journey of rectification and religious revival, Frank orders his believers to convert to Christianity, and the men are compelled to shave their beards.  The journey of rectification continuous: On Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement) 1759, Frank homosexually molests one of his male followers in front of all his believers.  Lea, who has also lost her baby, starts to awaken from her deep enchantment by Frank. She had a dramatic change of heart:

"I was surprised that in spite of all our sins, God didn't stop the rain... I couldn't stay there. Tears blurred my sight. I grabbed NACHMAN and started pushing him away.  NACHMAN is a sinner, and he led me to be a sinner. I felt as if my life was shattering into tiny splinters…" 

  The Christians did not believe that Frank sincerely converted to Christianity, and he is brought to court. The court exposes the cult secrets. Frank is found guilty and is jailed in a remote castle of Chenstochov. The believers continue to visit him there. He accuses them from his imprisonment and orders them to beat each other.  Frank copulates with his wife in front of his believers, and orders one of the visiting Frankists to do the same. He demands his followers obey him unconditionally.  In 1774 the journey of rectification continues. Frank proclaims his own sixteen years old daughter to be the inheriting Messiah, and takes her virginity in public in order to qualify her for her historic role.

In 1776 Frank is released from jail, settles in Offenbach, and becomes richer and prouder.  In 1791 at the age of 64 Frank falls sick and dies from a severe epileptic attack.  Eva his beloved daughter inherits the Frankists movement. Lea closes the film with this stirring poem:  

"Because man is visible to God

Unseen to his eyes

He can see the others

But they are exactly the same lies…"

 

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