(1698-May 22, 1760)
Born in Okopy, Ukraine
Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer
Founder of Hasidic Judaism ('Chassidism')
Widely regarded as a spiritual mystic
Called 'The Holy Baal Shem' and 'Besht' by sects of the Jewish faith
Name, Baal Shem Tov, would translate to 'Master of the Good Name'
Based his teaching in the shtetl of Medzhybizh, starting around 1740 and continuing until his death
Gained a reputation from the performing of miracles either to help his community or to teach his students lessons
Why he might be annoying
Much of the information regarding his life is based off of oral and written legend.
He is usually represented with variations of the same portrait which doesn't even depict his likeness (it actually depicts Rabbi Falk, the Baal Shem of London).
He also left behind no written works, further complicating attempts to fairly analyze his beliefs and impact on Judaism.
The one Kabbalistic commentary ascribed to him, is strongly believed to have been written by someone else, likely after the Baal Shem Tov's death.
The Encyclopaedia Judaica went so far as to argue that the number of myths and legends surrounding his life have 'distorted his historical character.'
One such legend involved his being kidnapped, sold into slavery to a prince, becoming a general and then a prime minister, being gifted in marriage to a princess, and then escaping to his home country.
He took the side of the Talmudists' in their dispute with the Frankists when they converted en mass to Christianity.
He criticized the Frankists for their converting by reasoning that 'as long as a diseased limb is connected with the body, there is hope that it may be saved; but, once amputated, it is gone, and there is no hope.'
He made for an odd Hasidic proverb reading: 'Someone who believes in all the stories of the Baal Shem Tov and the other mystics and holy men is a fool; someone who looks at any single story and says That one could not be true is a heretic.'
Why he might not be annoying
The confusing hagiography was the result of the Hasidic sect splitting following his death.
He has been likened to Maimonides and Theodore Herzl in terms of his importance to Jewish history.
His teachings comprised the bulk of Hasidic doctrinal thought.
He was said to have the ability to affect miraculous cures and protect his community from the threat of the plague.
By the end of the 19th-century, nearly 300 stories and legends had been recorded documenting his amazing healing abilities and spiritual power.
According to legend, he was orphaned at an early age after his (elderly) parents died off.
He was adopted/educated by the local community, but was deemed a non-conformist because he preferred walking in the woods to 'commune with God.'
He lived in the woods with peasants for years on end, learning how to use plants for healing purposes and amulets.
His shtetl in Medzhybizh was said to have been the center of Tamudist activity and Rabbinic discourse throughout Eastern Europe in a hitherto unprecedented fashion.
He was credited with uniting the people of the Jewish faith following the brutal Chmielnitzki massacres and the disastrous false prophet Sabbatai Zevi, less than a century earlier.
Actually, part of his dismay at the mass conversion of the Frankist Jews was that they were doing so to join a 'religious cult' similar to that of Zevi's, this one started by false Messiah, Jacob Frank (he died shortly after the schism occurred).
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