Founder of HasidismA Quest for the Historical Ba'al Shem Tov

Founder of HasidismA Quest for the Historical Ba'al Shem Tov

Moshe Rosman

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9781906764449

Publisher: Liverpool University Press


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 that this book provides is drawn from life instead of from myth. The book goes further than any previous work in uncovering the historical Ba’al Shem Tov. Additionally, documents in Polish and Hebrew discovered by the author during research for the book enable a detailed description of the cultural, social, economic, and political context of the Besht’s life to be given.The book supplies the history behind the legend. It presents the 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 new introduction considers what has changed in the study of hasidism since the influential first edition was published. New approaches, new sources, and new interpretations have been introduced, and these are 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.