Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba'al Shem Tov

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University of California Press, 1996 - Religion - 303 pages
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This book goes farther than any previous work in uncovering the historical Israel ben Eliezer--known as the Ba'al Shem Tov, or the Besht--the eighteenth-century Polish-Jewish mystic who profoundly influenced the shape of modern Judaism. As the progenitor of Hasidism, the Ba'al Shem Tov is one of the key figures in Jewish history; to understand him is to understand an essential element of modern Jewish life and religion.

Because evidence about his life is scanty and equivocal, the Besht has long eluded historians and biographers. Much of what is believed about him is based on stories compiled more than a generation after his death, many of which serve to mythologize rather than describe their subject. Rosman's study casts a bright new light on the traditional stories about the Besht, confirming and augmenting some, challenging others. By concentrating on accounts attributable directly to the Besht or to contemporary eyewitnesses, Rosman provides a portrait drawn from life rather than myth. In addition, documents in Polish and Hebrew discovered by Rosman during the research for this book enable him to give the first detailed description of the cultural, social, economic, and political context of the Ba'al Shem Tov's life.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
CONTEXT
9
Baal Shem Tov
11
Hasidism before Hasidism
27
A Country in Decline?
42
Miedzyboz A Place in Time and Space
63
The Contentions of Life
83
TEXTS
95
More Besht Correspondence
114
Testimonies
127
Life Stories
143
Light from the Archives
159
IMAGES
171
A Person of His Time
173
From the Historical Besht to the Usable Besht The Image of the Baal Shem Tov in Early Habad
187
Copyright

The Holy Epistle
97

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About the author (1996)

Moshe Rosman teaches Jewish History at Bar Ilan University and is the author of The Lords' Jews: Magnate-Jewish Relations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1990), among other works.

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