Baal Shem Tov
Israel ben Eliezer (ca. 1700–1760), the founder of the Hasidic movement, was born in Ukraine at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Among devotees, he is most commonly referred to as “the Besht” – an acronym of his Hebrew title, Baal Shem Tov, literally “Master of the Good Name.” His purported ability to perform miracles accounts for the moniker as he was able to harness the power of the “good name” – that is, God’s name – for healing. In his 30s, he emerged as a charismatic leader, storyteller, and traveling healer who quickly amassed a wide following among the impoverished Jews of Galicia. The Baal Shem Tov functioned mostly outside of the established communal structure. The stories told by his followers usually depict him as speaking in small groups or with individuals instead of preaching in the synagog.
The Baal Shem Tov preached an antiestablishment message, downplaying the importance of traditional text study as an act of piety in favor of narrative,...
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