Founder Of Hasidism

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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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Editorial Reviews

Jewish Book World
For more than 150 years, historians have tried to assemble documentary evidence of the life and work of the 18th century mystic, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer -- the Ba'al Shem Tov. Based upon midern research and newly discovered documents, Professor Rosman suceeds in presenting a fascinating and comprehensive description of the Ba'al Shem Tov, his time, and his culture. Beginning with a history of other ba'al Shem, the Hasidic Movement, Poland of the 18th century and the city in which the Besht achieved his greatest fame, Rosman not only succeeds where many others have failed, but also dispels many commonly accepted beliefs of the life and times of this important historical figure.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

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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Table of Contents

Note to the Reader
Introduction 1
1 Ba'al Shem Tov 11
2 Hasidism before Hasidism 27
3 A Country in Decline? 42
4 Miedzyboz: A Place in Time and Space 63
5 The Contentions of Life 83
6 The Holy Epistle 97
7 More Besht Correspondence 114
8 Testimonies 127
9 Life Stories 143
10 Light from the Archives 159
11 A Person of His Time 173
12 From the Historical Besht to the Usable Besht: The Image of the Ba'al Shem Tov in Early Habad 187
Notes 213
Bibliography 279
Index 297
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