Israel ben-Eliezer Baal Shem Tov (Besht)

(c. 1700–60)
   Founder of Chassidism. The facts of the Baal Shem Tov’s life are overgrown with a dense thicket of legend. He left no writings of his own, except possibly some letters. The sources about him were the oral traditions of his followers and the 230 tales gathered in the book Shivchei ha-Besht (‘In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov’) first published in 1814. A number of these legends, and others that accrued later, were recounted by Martin Buber in his The Tales of the Chassidim (2 vols., 1947–8) and The Legend of the BaalShem (1955).
   Israel is believed to have been born of poor and elderly parents in Okop, a small town on the borders of Podolia and Moldavia, and to have been orphaned as a child. He worked as an assistant in a Jewish cheder (school), then as a watchman in the synagogue. At the same time he studied mysticism, especially the ideas of Isaac LURIA, the great Safad Cabbalist, who greatly influenced Israel’s own teachings. With his wife Hannah he withdrew to the Car-pathian mountains to meditate, and they supported themselves by digging and selling clay. Here he acquired a knowledge of the medicinal properties of herbs. Around 1735 he became known as a healer, able to work miracle cures, supply magic amulets and cast out evil spirits. The title he acquired, Baal Shem Tov (‘Master of the Good Name’), indicated that it was believed he had gained the secret of God’s hidden name, and with it supernatural powers. The stories of his faith-healing spread his fame among simple folk, but were played down by later leaders of the movement he founded.
   Be that as it may, Israel was undoubtedly one of the genuine holy men found in every religion - charismatic, experiencing moments of mystical ecstasy, and able to inspire faith. Poverty and persecution, and the esteem bestowed exclusively on learning, had drained Judaism of emotional fervour. The revivalist movement started by the Baal Shem Tov spread through the huddled Jewish masses of eastern Europe, despite the efforts of the rabbis to dam it. It became known as Chassidism from the Chassidim (pious ones) who were its followers. The movement provoked intense controversy and tension. Its opponents (Mitnagdim) - foremost of whom was ELIJAH BEN-SOLOMON ZALMAN, the great Vilna gaon - were fearful that it would revive the upheaval of the pseudo-messiah SHABBETAI ZEVI, and that it would undermine traditional scholarship. However, it became an established way of life, and injected fresh vitality into a faith that had become static. Later, talmudic erudition was restored to an honoured place in its practice.
   The Baal Shem Tov’s gospel stresses individual redemption. At its core is the concept of dvekut, the ‘adhesion’ of the soul to God. This adhesion must be sought in fervent prayer, and in every activity of life. Torah study is to be pursued not as an intellectual exercise but in order to achieve a mystic bond with the sacred letters, and so reveal their hidden essence. All actions must be infused with joy, and devotions are accompanied by ecstatic singing, dancing and clapping. The universe is the ‘garment’ of God, and reality is created out of God’s essence.
   For the Chassidim, the zaddik, the saintly rebbe, has a dominant role. He is close to God, and can raise up the community of his followers. In later chassidic practice he was the spiritual guide as well as the sole arbiter in the practical concerns of his Chassidim, who treated him with the utmost reverence and provided for his needs, sometimes in sumptuous style. The Baal Shem Tov himself became the idealized prototype of the zaddik.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • ISRAEL BEN ELIEZER BA'AL SHEM TOV — (known by the initials of Ba al Shem Tov as Besht; c. 1700–1760), charismatic founder and first leader of Ḥasidism in Eastern Europe. (See Chart: Ba al Shem Tov Family). Through oral traditions handed down by his pupils (jacob joseph of Polonnoye …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Baal Shem Tov — …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Israël ben Eliezer — Baal Shem Tov Ce portrait souvent considéré comme celui d Israël ben Eliezer, serait en réalité celui de Rabbi Falk, le Baal Shem de Londres. Rabbi Israël ben Eliezer (רבי ישראל בן אליעזר), né en 1698 à Okop (Podolie) mort le 22 mai 1760 à… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Israel ben Eliezer — Israel (Yisroel) Ben Eliezer (hebreo: רבי ישראל בן אליעזר) (c. 1698, Okopy, Ucrania – 22 de mayo de 1760, Medzhybizh, Ucrania), también conocido como Baal Shem Tov o Besht, fue un rabino judío considerado fundador del judaísmo jasídico. Besht… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Baal Shem Tov — Infobox Rebbe title = Israel Baal Shem Tov caption = term = full name =רבי ישראל בן אליעזר Yisroel ben Eliezer main work = Keser Shem Tov Shivchei HaBesht predecessor = successor =Dov Ber of Mezritsh (1704 1772) spouse1 =Chana issue1 =Tsvi of… …   Wikipedia

  • Baal Shem-Tov — Ashk. Heb. /bahl shem tohv , tohv /; Seph. Heb. /bahl shem tawv , tawv /, (Israel ben Eliezer) ( Besht ) c1700 60, Ukrainian teacher and religious leader: founder of the Hasidic movement of Judaism. Also, Baal Shem Tob. * * * …   Universalium

  • Baal Shem-Tov — Ashk. Heb. /bahl shem tohv , tohv /; Seph. Heb. /bahl shem tawv , tawv /, (Israel ben Eliezer) ( Besht ) c1700 60, Ukrainian teacher and religious leader: founder of the Hasidic movement of Judaism. Also, Baal Shem Tob …   Useful english dictionary

  • Baal-Shem-Tov — noun Literally master of the good name; Israel ben Eliezer, founder of the modern Hassidic movement of Judaism. Also known as the Besht …   Wiktionary

  • Baal Shem Tov, Israel ben Eliezer (Besht; Israel ben Eliezer) — (1700 60)    Polish spiritual leader, founder of Hasidism. He was born in Podolia and lived in the Carpathian mountains. He emerged as a healer and spiritual leader and travelled about curing the sick and expelling demons and evil spirits. In the …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • Israël ben Elizer — Baal Shem Tov Ce portrait souvent considéré comme celui d Israël ben Eliezer, serait en réalité celui de Rabbi Falk, le Baal Shem de Londres. Rabbi Israël ben Eliezer (רבי ישראל בן אליעזר), né en 1698 à Okop (Podolie) mort le 22 mai 1760 à… …   Wikipédia en Français

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