(born July 23, 1626, Smyrna, Ottoman Tur.—died 1676, Dulcingo, Alb.) False Jewish messiah. He studied the mystical learning of the Kabbala and at age 22 proclaimed himself the messiah. He traveled around the Levant, gaining both followers and enemies. With the support of powerful religious and political figures, his movement spread to parts of Europe and North Africa. In 1666, the year he was prophesied to bring about the restoration of Israel, he was imprisoned by the Ottoman sultan and, under threat of torture, converted to Islam. His following largely fell away, though some remained faithful to him and strove to reconcile his claims with his seeming betrayal of Judaism.
Learn more about Shabbetai Tzevi with a free trial on Britannica.com.