Founder of Hasidism

BookFounder of Hasidism

Founder of Hasidism

A Quest for the Historical Ba'al Shem Tov

Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

2013

June 20th, 2013

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The Ba'al Shem Tov is an elusive subject for historians because documentary evidence about his life is scanty and equivocal. Until now, much of what was known about him was based on stories compiled more than a generation after his death, many of which serve more to mythologize him than to describe him. The portrait Moshe Rosman provides is drawn from life instead of from myth. Based on innovative critical analysis of familiar and previously unexplored archival sources, and concentrating on accounts that can be attributed to the Besht or to contemporary eyewitnesses, this book goes further than any previous work in uncovering the historical Ba'al Shem Tov. Additionally, documents in Polish and Hebrew discovered by Professor Rosman during his research for the book enable him to give the first detailed description of the cultural, social, economic, and political context of the Besht's life. Founder of Hasidism supplies the history behind the legend. It presents the best, most convincing description that can be drawn from the existing documentary evidence, changing our understanding of the Besht and with it the master-narrative of hasidism. A substantial new introduction considers what has changed in the study of Hasidism since the influential first edition was published, these changes being in part due to the effect of the book. New approaches, new sources, and new interpretations have been introduced, and these are reviewed and critically assessed. Criticisms of the original edition are answered and key issues reconsidered, including the authenticity of the various versions of the Holy Epistle; the ways in which Jacob Joseph of Polonne's books can be utilized as historical sources; and the relationship to history of the stories about the Ba'al Shem Tov in the hagiographical collection Shivhei Ha-Besht.

'The only scholarly book, in any language, that deals with the figure of the Besht in a detailed, profound, and very documented manner. Dr Rosman has mapped the background of the life and activity of the Besht, using unknown material, penetrating analysis, and a broader perspective regarding Jewish history in Poland ... A very remarkable achievement.'
- Moshe Idel, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
'The subject is crucial; the approach is bold and brilliantly chosen. The result is a persuasive revision of a fundamental chapter in the Jewish experience.'
- Gershon Hundert, McGill University
FROM REVIEWS OF THE HARDBACK EDITION:
'In this quest for the historical Ba'al Shem Tov, Mr Rosman has brilliantly re-created a chapter of this alien world of our ancestors.'
- David Biale, Forward
'A model of sober scholarship that combines detective work and careful reasoning in quest of the man behind centuries of accumulated legends. Thanks to Rosman's careful historical analysis, we can now attach a recognizable biography to Israel ben Eliezer Miedzydoz and situate the man within his times.'
- Jewish Book World
'Rosman's painstakingly lucid investigation of the movement's putative founder ultimately and ironically deepens the movement's mystery ... Rosman's greatest innovation is his use of the kinds of archival materials - tax rolls, land registers, communal ordinances, and the like - usually overlooked by historians of theology. Through careful examination of the extant evidence, and a thorough investigation of the precise contours of the time and place of Besht's life and milieu, he arrives at the surprising, but compelling conclusion that the Besht, rather than being the rebel he is universally thought of, was in fact an established member of this community in Medzhibozh.'
- Jerusalem Report

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Author Information

Moshe Rosman is Professor of Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He has been a Fulbright-IREX fellow, a fellow of the Hebrew University's Institute for Advanced Studies and the University of Pennsylvania's Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, winner of the National Jewish Book Award (1996, 2009), the Zalman Shazar Prize (2000), the Jerzy Milewski Award (2000), and the Jordan Schnitzer Award (2010), and visiting professor at Yale and other universities. His books include The Lords' Jews: Jews and Magnates in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He is one of the principal authors of A New History of Hasidism.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Cover1
Contents12
Note to the Reader13
Introduction to the Paperback Edition14
Introduction64
PART I: CONTEXT72
1. Ba'al Shem Tov74
2. Hasidism before Hasidism90
3. A Country in Decline?105
4. Międzybóz: A Place in Time and Space126
5. The Contentions of Life146
PART II: TEXTS158
6. The Holy Epistle160
7. More Besht Correspondence177
8. Testimonies190
9. Life Stories206
10. Light from the Archives222
PART III: IMAGES234
11. A Person of His Time236
12. From the Historical Besht to the Usable Besht: The Image of the Ba'al Shem Tov in Early Habad250
Notes276
Bibliography342
Index360
A360
B360
C361
D362
E362
F362
G362
H363
I364
J364
K364
L365
M365
N366
O366
P366
R367
S367
T368
U369
V369
W369
Y369
Z369