FRANK, JACOB (Jankiev Lebowitz): Jewish adventurer, founder of the sect of Frankists; b. in Podolia c.1720; d. at Offenbach (4 m. e. of Frankfort) Dec. 10, 1791. He was the son of a rabbi and originally a distiller, but afterward traveled as a merchant in Turkey, where he received the surname of Frank, the usual designation for Occidentals among the Turks. In Turkey he lived chiefly in Salonica and Smyrna, the centers of Shabbethaianism, and himself became a prominent member of the sect of Shabbethai Zebi. On his return to Poland he became famous as a cabalist. In 1755 he settled in Podolia, gathered about him a group of local sectaries and began to preach to them a new gospel. The essence of his teaching seems to have been a negation of moral and religious laws, his mission, in his own words, being "to free the world from the laws and regulations which have hitherto existed." When it leaked out that at his meetings orgies were celebrated similar to those of the Adamites (q.v.), the Roman Catholics joined the orthodox Jews in the suppression of the Frankist sect. At the rabbinical court held at Sovanta many of the sectaries told of immorality practised under the guise of religious symbolism. As Frank was a Turkish subject he was allowed to leave the country, but many of his followers were imprisoned, and a congress of rabbis at Brody proclaimed excommunication against all the impenitent heretics. Acting on the advice of Frank, his followers, as being anti-Talmudists, now enlisted the sympathies of the Roman Catholics. They claimed to find in the Zohar (see CABALA), which they substituted for the Talmud, the doctrine of the Trinity, and expressed their belief in the Messiah, but without saying that they meant Shabbethai Zebi. The bishop of Kamenetz took up their cause, freed those who were in prison, and compelled the Talmudists to pay a fine to their opponents and deliver up all copies of the Talmud, which were then publicly burned at Kamenetz.
To escape the persecution to which they were again subjected after the death of their patron, the bishop, the Frankists joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1759, Augustus III. of Poland acting as godfather to Frank. The insincerity of the Frankists, however, soon became apparent, and early in the following year Frank was arrested, convicted as a teacher of heresy, and imprisoned in the fortress at Czenstochova. He was liberated by the Russians in 1773 and then became a secret agent of the Russian government. Frank's imprisonment only increased his influence, and the contributions of his numerous followers, together with the large sums received from the Russian court, now enabled him to live in princely splendor. He resided successively at Brünn, Vienna, and Offenbach, whither he repaired in 1788, when his hypocrisy had brought him into disfavor at the Austrian court. To his followers he pretended to be the Messiah, and they thought their "holy master" immortal. On his death his daughter Eve succeeded him as the "holy mistress." The contributions now fell off, and Eve died in obscurity in 1816. The Frankists still survive in Poland, Moldavia, and Turkey. They are nominally Roman Catholics, but maintain their Jewish nationality by marrying only among themselves.