Sarah Zvi and Adoption


Sarah was a Jewish girl and the daughter of a rabbi from Podolia (then in Poland, now in Ukraine) whose parents were murdered in a pogrom in 1648.

She was then, according to one version of her life, forcibly converted to Catholicism and raised by nuns in a Polish convent (or by a Polish nobleman, according to other sources). (Edgardo Mortara is another example of the forcible conversion of Jewish children by Christians.)

Another souce says she was adopted by a rabbi.

She spent time living in Amsterdam and Mantua, but eventually became a prostitute in Livorno (Leghorn), Italy, before going to Cairo, where she met and married Sabbatai Zvi (1626-76) in 1664. She was his third wife. He had heard stories of a beautiful woman who claimed she was going to marry "the Messiah." Sabbatai Zvi was the most successful and influential post-Christian false messiah of the Jewish people, and at one time over half the Jews of Europe were his followers, so Sarah's power as his wife would have been considerable, although, as a woman, she was never prominent in the movement.

In 1666, after the failure of his prophecy that the millennium would begin that year, and under threat of death, they both converted to Islam (she took the name Fatma Kadin), but even then some of their followers remained faithful. In 1671 they were divorced, but remarried almost immediately, and remained together until her death. A contemporary account states that Sabbatai married her specifically because she had been a prostitute, in fulfillment of the words: "And the Lord said to Hosea, go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord" (Hosea I:2).

Sarah bore Sabbatai a son, Ishmael Mordecai Zvi, and possibly also a daughter.

Sabbatai's adherents gave rise to the tiny and covert but long influential Dönmeh sect of Islam who are ostensibly Muslims but in secret practice a form of Judaism, and who survived into the late 20th century; and later also to the Frankists, most of whom who eventually transformed into a covert but also influential group of mainly Polish and German Roman Catholics (some remained Jews), secretly revering Jacob Frank (1726-91) as Sabbatai's reincarnation and successor, surviving at least into the 20th century.


Encyclopaedia Judaica, edited by Cecil Roth. (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1971) Scholem, Gerschom. Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, 1626-1676. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973) New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, editor-in-chief Geoffrey Wigoder. 7th edition. (New York: Facts On File, 1992) ("Shabbetai Tzevi") Freely, John. The Lost Messiah: In Search of Sabbatai Sevi. (London: Viking, 2001)