Messianic Movements That Failed
A Translation of Rambam’s Historical Account of Some of the Movements -(See Igrote HaRambam of Mossad Harav Kook for the Hebrew Version)
English translation by Shlomo Moshe Scheinman
That which we shall speak of now, we know as a full truth and with exact detail, for the matter occurred recently, about 50 years ago.
There was a pious man of high standing, known by the name Mr. Moshe Deri that came from Dera (a city of Morocco) to Andalus (southern Spain) to learn Torah by Rabbi Yosef Halevi Z”L Ibn Migash, whose good reputation has reached you. Mr. Moshe returned afterwards to the center of the western land, that is to say to the city of Fes. The nation gathered around him because of his piety, his stature, and his Torah. He told them that Messiah has appeared and told them that G-d had notified him of this in a dream. However, he did not personally claim to be the Messiah in contrast to that maniac (that is to say, according to the commentary of Mossad Harav Hakook, Abu Isi from Asphahan, or perhaps Rambam is hinting about the false Messiah of Yemen). He just claimed that the Messiah already appeared. The people flowed to him and believed his words. Now my master, my father, of blessed memory, (that is to say, Rabbi Maimon, the Judge in Cordova) tried to prevent the people from going after him and tried to make a decree to separate him from them. However, just a few obeyed his words, while the majority, nearly all of them followed Mr. Moshe Z”L. Afterward he began to prophesize about things that were sustained as being correct. His custom was to inform the multitude, “gather here tomorrow and this thing will occur or that will occur; and in reality such did indeed occur. One time he said, that this week pouring rain together with blood would descend. For this was a sign of the Messiah, that G-d intended in the verse: “And I will put my supernatural signs in heaven and on the earth, fire and blood”, etc. (Yoel/Joel 3:3). This happened in the month of Cheshvan. A strong and abundant amount of rain descended in this week and the water had a muddy, reddish look, as if it was mixed with mud. This supernatural sign proved to the eyes of all, that he was a prophet, without a doubt. Howbeit, this matter is not impossible from the perspective of the Torah, as I have explained to you concerning prophecy that it will reappear (to Israel) before the advent of the Messiah. When in the opinion of the people his words were fulfilled, he said to them that the Messiah will appear on the night of Passover and he advised them to sell their property and to greaten their debts to the Moslems; to buy all that is worth one Dinar for ten Dinars (buying on credit), in order to fulfill the words of the Torah ( that is to say, in a similar way to the verse “And they drained Egypt [of their wealth]”, Exodus 12:36) – for after Passover, they would not see them again, forever. When Passover arrived and nothing happened, those men expired in famine, for they had sold their property and also their debts rose and were very big against them. This matter became known to the Gentiles and their servants and this man (Mr. Moshe) would have been killed by them had they found him. The land of Yishmael could no longer bear him, and therefore he went to the land of Israel and died there, let his memory be for a blessing. According to what they told me, namely those that saw him as he traveled (from the land of the west), he prophesized all that would occur afterwards to the Jews of the west, both big and small matters (that is to say, the decrees against the observance of Judaism of the Almohides).
My father also told me that approximately 15 or 20 years before this event, there were important men in Cordova, Capitol of Andalus, that believed heavily in astrology and agreed that the Messiah would come that year. One night they asked a sage to ascertain if the Messiah would come from their land (that is to say, Andalus). In the end they concluded that this man, namely, the pious and the honorable person, known as Ibn Aryeh that was the instructor of (Jewish Law) for the local populace is the one. He did miracles and told them future events exactly like the one named, Deri, did until he acquired the hearts of the people. However, when the matter became known to the elders and sages of our congregation (that is to say, Cordova, the city of Rambam’s birth), they gathered in the synagogue and they brought Ibn Aryeh. They gave him lashes and punished him and put a ban on him – because he remained quiet about this matter and he permitted these people to use his name without disturbing them and without rebuking them on this iniquity on a religious level. So too, did they do to those that flowed to him and so they were saved with very great difficulty from the Gentiles.
About forty years before this event with Ibn Aryeh, a man arose in France in a great center known as Linoan (Leeoan), where tens of thousands of Jewish families were present and he presumed himself to be the Messiah. The supernatural sign that he did before their eyes was that on a night that the moon glowed he climbed up to the top of the tall trees jumped into the air going from tree to tree as if he were flying threw the air – this in his opinion was the explanation of the verse, “And he shall appear with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13). Many men testified about this supernatural sign and flowed to him. However, the Franks intervened in the matter killed and robbed many of them, and among those killed was this man, too. A few of them believe that he is hidden to this very day.
These matters are what the prophets predicted and informed us of, as I have already explained to you, that in the footsteps of the true Messiah the liars and the cheaters will multiply. However, their lies will not be fulfilled and they will be destroyed and with them many that go after them.
Appendix: Shabbatai Tzvi -Clip #45 by Rabbi Berel Wein
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