Printer Friendly

The beginnings of beshtian hasidism in Poland.

Polish Hasidism emerged in Poland in the second half of the seventeenth century on a wave of messianic hopes. Its ideology was elitist par excellence. It could be pursued only by a chosen few who focused in their life on Hasidic ideas. After several splits and transformations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth it eventually developed into a mass movement in the late eighteenth century with unique characteristics unimaginable in any other historical or geographical context. The pivotal moment in the shaping of ascetic Polish Hasidism was the messianic campaign of the year 5500 (1740). The messianic fever lasted several years, and the pilgrimages and discussions caused many Hasidim to abandon the ascetic paradigm, which had been understood as the road to holiness and salvation. This gave rise to new, anti-ascetic trends in Hasidism, from which there emerged the Hasidism known as Beshtian Hasidism.

Hasidism, which emerged in Poland in the second half of the seventeenth century, was related to a wave of messianic hopes, and after several splits and transformations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth evolved in the mid-eighteenth century into Beshtian Hasidism, alive to this very day Notwithstanding random groups of seventeenth-century Hasids who were active in non-Polish Ashkenazi areas, such as German and Czech lands, Beshtian Hasidism, differing from earlier Hasidic movements, was born in Poland. All its major metamorphoses also occurred there, and it was in Poland that it eventually developed into a mass movement in the late eighteenth century with unique characteristics and tones which were unimaginable in any other historical or geographical context.

For a long time a widespread assumption, derived from early Hasidic hagiography, has had it that Baal Shem Tov was the actual founder of Hasidism, which was thought of as a popular, folk movement from its very beginning. Those scholars who supported this view were undoubtedly inspired by the personality of Baal Shem Tov himself, a plebeian mystic, healer and miracle worker. (1) Even Gershom Scholem affirmed that "Hasidism was founded shortly before the middle of the eighteenth century by the famous saint and mystic Israel Baal Shem" (2) It seems implausible that he could have been a religious authority in the Kabbalist elite circles. As a common wandering healer and enchanter he was thought to attract mainly ordinary and uneducated folk. Highlighting the folk mien of Hasidism helped to explain its rapid expansion, all the more so as in the late eighteenth century it in fact acquired many features of a mass folk movement. Yet the premises of such an image of Hasidism are hardly satisfactory, while the image itself, thus ideologically tinted, misses some crucial elements and inspirations of the emerging Hasidism. (3)

This picture was questioned for the first time by Gershom Scholems student, Joseph Weiss, in the essay Some Notes on the Social Background of Early Hasidism, which was published posthumously and after the death of his master Gershom Scholem in 1985, in a collection of his works, Studies in Eastern European Jewish Mysticism: (4) "For too long research has been concentrated mainly on the legendary biography, or occasionally also on the personality, of Israel Baal Shem (1700-1760), often called in both scholarly and popular literature the founder of Hasidism." (5) And he added: "Research could be focused more on the historical and sociological setting of scattered small marginal groups of religious enthusiasts that existed within the Eastern European Jewish communities during the first half of the eighteen century" (6) His call made no impression on scholars.

Early Hasidism and Its Development

The earliest groups of Hasidim emerged in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late seventeenth century in the wake of Shabbatai Zevi's rise. The following decades were marked by the growth of the Hasidic movement, which was in fact elitist though increasingly appreciated and supported among the Jews.

Polish Hasids owed their popularity to their connection to the traditional ideas of the eleventh- through the thirteenth-century Hasidei Ashkenaz [The Pious of Germany], which were still widely cherished in various Jewish milieus under the cover of official Talmudic Judaism. Even their self-identification indicated such a connection: in contrast to other followers of Shabbatai Zevi, who simply called themselves ma'aminim [the faithful ones], his Polish followers called themselves the pious ones. Moreover, their manifesto Tikunei teshuva, with the invocation to all Hasidim to aid the messiah by correct repentance practices, was published in Krakow in 1666 in Yiddish, an unprecedented event in the case of strictly religious texts.

The messianic movement of Polish Jews had an ascetic and repentant aspect, alien to Shabbatai Zevi's circle and followers in the Muslim world and in Sephardic communities. Many atonement practices of the ancient Ashkenazi Hasidism were reactivated, including tshuvat ha-tnishkal a pious one's penance of suffering for his sins to balance the joy of sinning. The importance of prayers, recited with a proper intention, was more emphasized than in traditional halakha. They were ascribed soteriological significance. New Hasids shared also the sceptical attitude of Kakbmei Ashkenaz towards the Talmud and other written codes of Jewish religious law. This mistrust was manifested as early as about 1000, when Rabbenu Gershom Me'Or ha-Golah, at the head of the Khakhmei Ashkenaz congregation, apparendy prohibited (under the threat of excommunication, herem) complying with Talmudic laws if they violated Ashkenazi customs. His rulings (takanot) were concerned mainly with family life and included a ban on polygamy, which had been accepted and regulated by the Talmud, and on giving a divorce without the consent of both sides. These regulations were cited and discussed as late as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by leading Jewish scholars in Poland, such as Moshe Isserles, Shlomo Luria, and Mordekhai Yaffe.

Seventeenth-century Hasids also referred to another old-Hasidic institution of Din Shamayim, the heavenly (revelation) tribunal, clearly formulated as an alternative to the Oral Torah. Din Shamayim, represented in the medieval Hasidic movement of Hakhmei Ashkenaz and in the new Hasidism by prophets and later by tzadiks, took prevalence over the Talmudic halakha. The presumption of the continuity of actual revelation demanded much more from Hasids than ordinary Talmudic halakha. Nevertheless, in the case of disparities or discrepancies halakha had to give way to the rulings of those who acted as agents of revelation, and thus their status rose above that of Talmudic scholarship. Ashkenazi tradition needed a higher status to win its battle against Talmudic teaching; hence it claimed to achieve superior religious ideals, which were beyond the reach of the ordinary men. Thus Hasids could evade judgment by the standards set up for all Jews. Representatives and promoters of these traditions claimed to be sent on a special mission, with a special role in the redemption process.

The ideology of the new Hasidism in seventeenth-century Poland was elitist par excellence. It could be pursued only by a chosen few who focused in their life on Hasidic ideas. The elitist character of the then Hasidic movement was also determined by sectarian tendencies in many Hasidic groups accused, not groundlessly, of Sabbataian heresy. (7) Their members could declare their views openly only in their own confined circle.

The pivotal moment in the shaping of ascetic Polish Hasidism was the messianic campaign of the year 5500 (1739-40). The prophecies of a messianic breakthrough appeared almost immediately after the fiasco of the prophecies about the return of Shabbatai Zevi from the beyond, scheduled for 1706. The first proponent of the new date known to us was Hayim Kohen, also known as Doctor Kantarini, who published his speculations in the book 'Et kets (The Time of the End), written in 1707 and published in 1710 in Amsterdam. Haskamot to the book were written by two Amsterdam rabbis: the Sepharadi Salomon Ayilon and the Ashkenazi Arie Leib. The author did not identify himself as an outright follower of Shabbatai Zevi, but he did not dissociate himself from him either. The name of Shabbatai Zevi was mentioned only once, where he wrote that "Shabbatai Zevi disappeared without bringing about any good." (8) Kantarini claimed that people should expect three "ends" (ketzim), that is, messianic breakthroughs. The first one, with which the messianic period began, occurred in 5408 (1648)--and at this point it concurred with the calculations of Sefer ha-Zohar and also with the convictions of the followers of Shabbatai Zevi. Kantarini analyzed the contexts in which the word "zot" (this)--being the basis for the calculations of Zohar--occurs in the Bible, In his opinion, these sentences pointed more to destruction than to salvation, from which he drew the conclusion that this prophecy concerned "Messiah's birth pangs," confirmed ultimately by the Cossack pogroms of that year. The second breakthrough was to be the year 5470 (1709-10), in which the Messiah was to be born. That was also the year in which Kantarini published his book. The third and final breakthrough was to take place in the year 5500 (1740). This was the year to which many passages of the Book pointed in an encrypted way, and which was also referred to in later traditions, e.g., Sanhedrin 97b treatise.

A more factual explanation for these prophecies was given by Nehemia Hia Hayon, a prominent follower of Shabbatai Zevi. In 1712, he published (again in Amsterdam and with the approval of Salomon Ayilon) the book Divrei Nehemia, in which he corroborated that prophecy as follows:
  "You know what the wise men had said ... the exile would last
  five thousand years, and in the sixth thousand, the wise men
  called the first five hundred years night, and the next five
  hundred--day ... because the attribute of severe judgement
  will prevail for the first five hundred years, with the
  attribute of grace reigning for the next five hundred years,
  which means that salvation is near!" (9)


Interestingly, the meaning of the year 5500 was presented in a similar manner by the Habad tradition: the sixth millennium is a messianic period, its first half is the night, and in 5500, at the start of the second half, the dawn and the period of preparations for heavenly sabbath, "Shehinah began to rise from dust." (10)

The pilgrimages to the Holy Land, however, were the most spectacular manifestation of the messianic fervor of the year 5500. Among the pilgrims there were people whom later Hasidic tradition came to recognize as the founding fathers of Hasidism: Nahman of Horodenka, Eleazar ben Samuel Rokeach, Gershon of Kuty, and last but not least, the Besht. The messianic inspiration of these pilgrimages is not to be doubted.

The messianic fever lasted several years, and the pilgrimages and discussions caused many Hasidim to abandon the religious paradigm observed so far, based on asceticism, understood as the road to holiness and salvation, This gave rise to new, anti-ascetic trends in Hasidism, from which emerged, on the one hand, the Hasidism known as Beshtian Hasidism, and on the other, the formation of the disciples and supporters of Elijahu Zalman (1720-1797), known as the Vilner Gaon or Vilner Hasid. (11)

During that period, although no exact date is known, Dov Ber of Mezrich (Miedzyrzecz) (1704-1772), who earned the nickname of Great Maggid, also abandoned the ascetic life which he had practiced in his youth. In the 1760s and early 1770s, he led a formation which, after Salomon Maimon, could be termed a "New Hasidim" or an ecstatic group within Hasidism, (12) From it emerged the Hasidism which is now called Beshtian Hasidism (in Maggid's time, however, nobody had yet regarded Besht as its founder). Later Hasidic lore attributed the rejection of asceticism to influence exerted by Besht, who was credited with curing Maggid from ailments caused by excessive fasting. This tale should, however, be taken with a grain of salt, if only because Dov Ber himself never claimed that he had been persuaded by Besht to do so, and he never considered himself to be Besht's disciple. This account appears to be an example of a general tendency encountered in the later tradition, which sought to present all the major Hasidic leaders of those times as Besht ' followers. Dov Ber himself also persuaded many of his disciples who were previously true to the ideal of ascetic and repentant life, such as Aaron of Karlin, Abraham ha-Kohen Katz of Kolyshki, and Hayim Heykel of Indura, to give up asceticism.

About the same time, Besht also abandoned the ascetic lifestyle. Little can be said about his reasons for such a change of religious outlook. One thing is certain, however: the turning point of his religious biography was a pilgrimage to the Middle East, which was related to the year 5500 prophecies of redemption. Also Habad tradition holds that Besht started to teach his (new) Torah precisely in 5500 and at the same year "the light of day started to shine." (13) The Habad adherents, who accepted the authority of both Besht and Dov Ber as its founders, represented the typical consciousness of the first generation of Beshtian Hasidism, who had no doubt that their movement emerged out of the messianic expectations concerning the year 1740 and that precisely in that year the messianic period began, the first "revelations of the Messiah." (14)

The inspirations behind the change of the hasidut formula remain unclear. Most likely they came from the Sephardic followers of Shabbatai Zevi. The change did not, however, put an immediate end to the elitist character of Hasidism. The new, non-ascetic Hasidim pursued their religious ideals in their secretive brotherhoods. Despite being often revered for their piety, holiness, or wisdom, none of them stood up openly as a religious leaden The system of religious institutions made it impossible. The turning point came as late as 1764, four years after the death of Besht, when the Polish Diet (Seym) dissolved any Jewish self-government institutions above the kehilla level. The new Hasidic faction made the most of this opportunity and soon developed into a mass movement.

The process was not entirely spontaneous. To a major extent it resulted from premeditated steps taken by a group of Hasids surrounding Dov Ber of Mezrich. The success of their actions was determined by certain conditions, both inner and outward. The major one, which occurred after 1740, was a transformation of the hasidut formula such that it could be practiced by common folk. Other conditions were the disintegration of the traditional mechanism of religious control, the working out of a new formula of Hasidic religious organization and a new type of leadership, and having a charismatic figure as the movements founder.

Disintegration of the Traditional Mechanism of Religious Control

According to the decrees of the 1539 Diet, Polish gentry had all the Jews under their exclusive jurisdiction. Polish nobles could refuse to let Jews settle, or impose on them any conditions they pleased. They could also intervene in the internal affairs of a Jewish community, although for a long time they had hardly made use of all those rights. Jews were needed for organizing economic life and providing profits to the ruling class. If all went well, the gentry did not interfere in the internal affairs of a community or infringe on its quite considerable autonomy. The kehilla organs were usually all the more efficient as regards to keeping order and neutralizing any troublemakers who contested accepted rules.

The situation changed abruptly after Shabbatai Zevi's apostasy. The controversy over fundamental religious issues divided Jewish society, and the split manifested itself more dramatically during the ensuing messianic eruptions late in the seventeenth and in the eighteenth centuries.

Whenever the conflicts threatened the economic interests of the upper-class owners, e.g., when repressive measures against the heretics could result in the exile of good taxpayers, the upper class stepped in firmly. The most precious Jewish residents were granted a privilege excluding them from the jurisdiction of the rabbinical court. The ruling system of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth made the subduing of popular Jewish heresies very difficult or outright impossible. It was not a coincidence that Hasidism, which in the eighteenth century was present in all European countries inhabited by Ashkenazi Jews, developed into a mass movement in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and nowhere else.

Traditional Judaism could still count on the protection of the central Jewish organizations of self-government, their good relations with the state administration, and their fundraising skills when officials needed to be bribed or appeased with gifts. Without such abilities the messianic eruptions in the 1720s would not have been subdued, nor the Frankists exiled from the Jewish community in 1759. (15) Yet by 1764 no one was any longer able to quell the newly emerging religious trends, or even to control the dissemination of new ideas by publications. The Vaad (Jewish Council of Four Lands) was the only very restrictive censorship office for Jewish books. In 1593 it decreed that no Jewish book could be published without rabbis' and scholars' (alufim) approval under the threat of its confiscation and of shutting down the printing house. The control of the Jewish parliament actually reduced the number of licensed Jewish printing houses to two (one in Krakow and one in Lublin) by 1585, and to one only in Zhovkva (Zotkiew) for the next 80 years. Hardly any popular religious literature was published in Poland, and the publications were mainly rabbinical writings addressed to the Halakhic establishment. One can easily guess how tight this censor's grip was by the fact that upon the dissolution of the Vaad the number of Jewish printing houses in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth multiplied and almost immediately reached (30)!16 In the next decades there was no official or semi-official body imposing any control over Jewish publishing. This liberty was unprecedented in Europe, let alone in the world at the rime. Therefore writings which nobody had dared to print in any other state were printed in Poland. In Korets (Korzec) in 1784 the first edition of the major work of Lurianic Kabbalah, Etz Chayim by Chaim Vital, was published. (Less than 20 years earlier, in 1756, the Council of Four Lands at the session in Konstantynow prohibited printing any work of Lurianic Kab-balah or studying them in manuscript by anyone under the age of 40!). The same year two classical and admired treatises of pre-Lurianic Kabbalah were published: Sefer ha-Kana and Sefer ha-Pelya. The works of the great mystic and messianic visionary, Chaim Moshe Luzzatto, were amply published, including texts that had been banned in 1735 and never published. In Zholkva itself Luzzatto had five editions, not to mention a plethora of other kabbalistic writings which became literally regular reading for many. More important, despite the 1772 and 1781 berem against the Hasids, initiated by Gaon Eliyahu of Vilna, the publishing of the works of their ideological leaders, such as Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye (Polonne) and Dov Ber of Mezrich and others, went on undeterred.

Since the spread of Hasidism could not be stopped, by 1795, with the third partition putting an end to Polish statehood for over 100 years, the partitioning powers, though resorting again to restrictive censorship, had to conform to its presence.

TaLK: A New Hasidic Cultic Organization

As long as Hasidism was an elitist trend, their congregations met in small brotherhoods, often in a quite democratic style. By the 1760s, with the onset of public propaganda, new believers started to gather around chosen Hasids whose spiritual leadership seemed only natural. At the time Dov Ber was the unquestioned leader of all new Hasids. At the peak of his fame, in 5530 (1769-70), he and his disciples decided to replace the dissolved institutions of Jewish self-government in Poland and Lithuania with the TaLK brotherhood (TaLK hevrat) he set up in Mezrich. (17)

TaLK was a hierarchic organization with the Maggid at its head and an executive body consisting of the closest disciples of Dov Ber and his regional representatives. These plenipotentiaries, such as Aaron of Karlin, Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, and Levi Icchak of Berdichev, had their own representa tives too. Some of them lacked the personal charisma to win enough reverence to establish their own courts. They covered their territory as wandering preachers. But all of them presented themselves to the common Jewish folk as leaders and teachers anointed by Dov Ber, the chief religious authority for all Jews in Poland, They considered themselves to be the spiritual elite, naturally predestined to take the lead, (18) The TaLK brotherhood fell apart in 1772 when Dov Ber died because its members could not agree on electing a new leader. Short-lived as it was, TaLK did, nonetheless, contribute much to developing Hasidism as a mass religious movement and establishing its organizational structure. But the practical models required doctrinal support. It was necessary to describe and define theoretically a new religious leader (tzadik), the characteristics which distinguished him from ordinary men, actions and privileges which belonged to him alone, and the profits for those who would join his court. In other words, what was needed were the theoretical foundations of a new religious movement and its religious structure based on the relation between the tzadik and his Hasids.

The foundations were laid by Meshulam Feibush Heller of Zbarazh and Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye. Both generally assumed that an ordinary Hasid could not fully comprehend, let alone, imitate the hasidic elite--the tzadikim. The tzadik was on close terms with God and His will; hence he did not have to comply with traditional commandments or religious law, while his hasidim had just to believe in his redeeming power and cling to him in full trust. Me-shulam and Yaakov Yosef referred to the long familiar differentiation between people of the form (anshei ha-tzura) and people of the matter, or--literally--of the multitude (anshei hamon), applying this terms to tzadikim and common hasidim. They used this classification to present the vision of a new religious community congregated around a tzadik.

The latter was predestined to leadership not by his learning but by his holiness deriving from his intimate association with God (devekut) and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He could bring divine energy down to the world and bestow it upon those who lacked the capability to relate to the divine by themselves. The tzadik was an intermediary between heaven and earth, a channel to transfer God's blessing, wisdom, and energy to the world. Yaakov Yosef criticized orthodox religious leaders for aspiring to be spiritual authorities and yet at the same time isolating themselves from ordinary people, ignoring their everyday and spiritual needs, in order to devote all their time to studying for the sake of studying. Yaakov Yosef demanded that the gap dividing the spiritual elite from the masses be closed by introducing such leaders who were able and willing to help common people climb to a higher spiritual level.

The ideology of tzadikism, worked out by Meshulam and Yaakov Yosef and further developed by Elimelech of Lizhensk, became the core of the doctrine of mature Hasidism. The tzadik is the absolute leader: a teacher, judge, and intermediary between heaven and his congregation. He takes over the role of a kehilla by accepting money donations and taking care of the life problems of his followers. (19)

The fundamental organizational structure of Hasidism was the tzadik's court, open to anybody wishing to listen to his teachings. The model court was that of Dov Ber in Mezrich, by no coincidence established when the central institutions of Jewish self-government were disbanded. Dove Ber and his disciples avoided cities with strong kehilla institutions. Instead they usually settled in towns, but located not far from big cities. In this way they avoided internal quarrels and conflicts within a community, as well as any pressure from the kehilla authorities. Hasids did not want to be identified with any particular kehilla or group of interests. In small towns kehilla structures were usually weak. With the support of the local population it was easy to neutralize the official influences, win their sympathy, or overtake them. In towns it was also easier to cultivate a local owner who would be interested in advancing the economy of a town that was visited by the tzadik's followers. In case of a conflict the owner would usually take the side of the tzadik and stop any foreign elements from interfering with "his" Jews. Big communities in neighborhoods were, in contrast, resource pools for new followers and guaranteed their pilgrimages to the tzadikim. Therefore Haim Heykel set up his court in Indura by Grodno, Aron in Karlin by Pinsk, Nahum Tverski in Chernobyl by Kiev, Zusya in Annopol by Ostrog, Yaakov Icchak Horovitz (The Seer) in Czechow near Lublin, Icchak Alter in Kalwaria by Warsaw, Menachem Mendel in Horodok by Vitebsk, etc.

Baal Shem Tov, the Founder of Hasidism

In order to acquire full group identity, Hasidism, decentralized in its organizational structures and doctrinally varied, needed a common, unifying image of its beginning. The best foundation for such image would be a figure of the founder and first teacher. And Israel ben Eliezer, nicknamed Baal Shem Tov (Besht), was declared such a figure.

Yet, is this hasidic tradition grounded historically? Can we consider Besht the founder of the Beshtian Hasidism? Doubts arise from the fact that in his lifetime and directly following his death such a prominent role was never attributed to him. Neither in the berem texts and other polemical writings against Hasidism, nor in Hasidic writings themselves, was his name ever mentioned. (20)

How did it happen, then, that later Hasidic tradition regarded him as the founder and key teacher of Hasidism, when the memory of their pre-Besh-tian beginnings remained alive among the Hasids even late in the eighteenth century? Yaakov Yosef of Polonne was, for example, a disciple of Nachman of Kosov, and associated himself with Besht when the latter was already dead! It seems indisputable that Hasids had been active in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth long before Besht started to teach, as Sefer Shivkbei haSesht openly implied. The argument about their belonging to a different, ascetic, and repentant group does not hold up to criticism, since both Besht and other major leaders, including Dov Ber, Aaron of Karlin, and Nachman of Horodenka, used to practice asceticism. Why then, and how, was Besht elevated to the position of the founder of Hasidism?

When the process of the consolidation of Hasidism began in the 1770s and its historical foundations were sought, it was impossible to declare any living person its founder. It was out of the question because they were entangled in controversies, which would inevitably have resulted in a schism.

Besht, already dead, was a good candidate at the time of conflicts growing in the Hasidic camp. Moreover his esoteric and unknown teachings could be easily and freely adapted to the needs of the emerging mass movement. What was also important, he had never been accused of Sabbataian heresy, while being revered as a ba'al shem. For many new adherents to Hasidism in the 1760s and 1770s he was the most famous personality recognizable as a hasid. The legendary figure of Besht met best the expectations of the new followers of this trend in Hasidism which would soon be called Beshtian Hasidism.

Besht did not emerge in the role of the founder of Hasidism before the death of Dov Ber (1772), who would never have accepted such a usurpation. Besht owed his posthumous elevation to two great ideologists of the new movement, who seemed to act independently in this respect: Meshulam Feibush Heller of Zbarazh and Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye. Meshulam spoke openly about being given the task (we can only guess that it was by his teacher, Yechiel Michel, a disciple of Besht (21)) of presenting a synthesis of the Hasidic doctrine which would please all Hasids. In his preface to Yosher Divrei 'Emet (Straightforward Words of Truth) which he began to write in 1777, Meshu-lam introduced himself as a disciple of three renowned Hasid authorities, referred also in Sbivkbei: Menachem Mendel of Premishlan (Przemyslany), Dov Ber of Mezrich, and Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov (Zloczow). He never mentioned any other famous Hasids by name, as if their role in the development of Hasidism had not been significant. His point was to derive the doctrine of Hasidism from a single source, which was the Besht's teaching. Since all his mentors had met Besht, he presented them as his major disciples, thus making the synthesis of their teachings easier and more plausible.
  "I was summoned to write down the words of truth and faith which
  I heard from the enlightened of our generation, the great miracle
  workers filled with Holy Spirit, the ones I had met in person.
  Their piety was like the piety of angels, and they all were
  drinking from the sole source, that was the holy Reb Israel
  Baal Shem Tov ... Although my merits took me only to see the
  face of his disciple Dov Ber, but later I was given the sacred
  writings of his holy words rising up the hearts of those who
  wanted to serve the Lord in truth. I spent much time in the
  company of the holy Reb Menachem Mendel of Premishlan. But
  primarily to mark the difference between the dead and the
  living, [I wrote down] what I heard form the blessed mouth of
  the holy one, the son of the holy Tzadik son of Tzadik, the
  only Reb, our holy teacher Reb Yechiel Michel." (22)


We do not know whether Yaakov Yosef read Yosher Divrei 'Emet, which for many decades was circulated in handwritten copies. In any case, his work completed and corroborated the efforts of Meshulam. Yaakov Yosef was the first to call Besht his teacher--and consequently the teacher of all Hasidim--in a printed text. He also maintained that Besht himself had not had any earthly teacher and his knowledge had come to him directly from heaven--from Ahi yah of Shilo, the teacher of Prophet Elijah. (23) From this book the opponents of Hasidism learned who had been its initiator and first teacher, and they spread the news about him.

The mentions in Yaakov Yosef's book sufficed to recognize Besht as the founder of Hasidism at least by its adversaries. Moreover, the success of the book, which was reprinted many times in the eighteenth century grounded the leading and founding role of Besht more firmly in the Hasidic consciousness and in historiography as well.

(1.) Emmanuel Etkes,"Darko shel rabbi Shneur Zalman me-Lady ke-manhig shel Hasidim," Cijon, Vol. 55 (1990): 321; Moshe Rosman, Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba al Shem Tov (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), passim; Ada Rapoport-Albert, ed., Hasidism Reappraised (London-Portland, 1997), passim.

(2.) Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York, 1965), p. 325.

(3.) Jan Doktor, Poczqtki chasydyzmu polskiego (The Beginnings of Polish Hasidism) (Wroclaw, 2G04),passim; Jan Doktor/'Baal SzemTow: Proba nowego spojrzenia (Baal Shem Tov-a New Perspective)? Jewish History Quarterly, Vol. 202 (2002): 447-470; Doktor, "Besht and the Messianic Year 5500,"Jewish History Quarterly, Vol. 215 (2005): 313-323.

(4.) Oxford, 1985. Second edition of this collection was published in 1997 as Studies in Eastern European Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism, edited by David Goldstein (London, Portland, Oregon, 1997).

(5.) Weiss, Studies in Eastern European Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism, p. 3.

(6.) Weiss, Studies in Eastern European Jewisb Mysticism and Hasidism, p, 4.

(7.) Hasidim were excommunicated in Poland for the first time as early as 1699, and then in 1722,1740,1772, and 1781; see Jan Doktor, Poczqtki, pp. 26-69.

(8.) Zalman Shazar, Ha-Tikva li-Shnat 5500: Beikvot "Et Kets" le-Rabbi Yitzhak Hayim Kohen min he-Hazanim ba-Mekhune dr Kantarini (Jerusalem, 1970), p. 25.

(9.) Quoted in Shazar, Ha-Tikva li-Shnat 5500, p. 29.

(10.) Jehoshua Mondschein, ed., Sefer Shivbei ba-Besbt: A Fascimile of a Unique Manuscript (Jerusalem, 1981), p. 244.

(11.) Emmanuel Etkes, The Gaon of Viln--the Man and His Image (Berkeley, California, 2002), passim.

(12.) Salomon Maimon, An Autobiography, ed. Moses Hadas (New York, 1991), p. 49.

(13.) Mondschein, Sefer Sbivhei ha-Besht, p. 244.

(l4.) Mondschein, Sefer Shivhei ha-Besht, p. 244.

(15.) Jan Doktor, "Conversions within Sabbatianism,"Jewish History Quarterly, Vol. 209 (2004): 40-46.

(16.) Krzysztof Pilarczyk, Leksykon drukarzy ksiqg hebrajskich w Polsce, (XVI-XVIII wiek) (The Lexicon of Hebrew Printers in Poland 16th-18th Century) (Krakow, 2004), passim.

(17.) The name TaLK (TaLK Hasids) comes from the year it was set up: in Hebrew alphabet the number 430 is written with letters TKL (taf, kof, lamed).

(18.) Mordekhai Wilenski, Hasidim u-mitnagdim: LeHoldot ha-pulmus she-beneihcm ba-sbanim 1772-1788 (Jerusalem, 1970), Vol. 1, p. 39; and Ada Rapoport-Albert/'Hasidism after 1772," in Rapoport-Albert, ed., Hasidism Reappraised (London, Portland, Oregon, 1997), pp. 95-96.

(19.) Samuel H. Dresner, The Zaddik: The Doctrine of the Zaddik According to the Writngs of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy (London, 1960), passim.

(20.) Doktor, Poczqtki, pp. 119-165; Moshe Rosman, Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Baal Shem Tov (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), passim.

(2l.) So presumed Miles Krassen, Uniter of Heaven and Earth: Rabbi Meshulam Feibush Heller ofZbarazh and the Rise of Hasidism in Eastern Galicia (New York, 1998), pp. 8-11

(22.) Quoted in Krassen, Uniter of Heaven and Earth, p. 9.

(23.) Yaakov Yosef, Toldot Yaakov Yosef (Korzec, Medzibozh, 1780), p. 156a.

Jan Doktor The Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute Warsaw
COPYRIGHT 2011 Purdue University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Doktor, Jan
Publication:Shofar
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EXPO
Date:Mar 22, 2011
Words:5513
Previous Article:Polish landscape with synagogues.
Next Article:The influence of progressive Judaism in Poland--an outline.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters