Ba’al Shem Tov

June 14, 2006

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, also known by the acronym the Besht, was the founder of the Chassidic movement. Although little first-hand knowledge is known about the Besht, one source states that he spent much of his early years outside the traditional structure of Talmudic education, but did gain much knowledge of Jewish mysticism. He went on to serve as a teacher’s assistant, elementary school instructor, and ritual slaughterer.

After spending time in the Carpathian mountains, he went through a spiritual metamorphosis, and became an itinerant healer, and after experiencing profound spiritual illuminations from heavenly teachers, went on to become a charismatic leader that attracted many of the greatest scholars of the period. This close following are the only recorders of his teachings, the Besht himself never authoring a text. His new mystical philosophy placed Kabbalah and prayer as the center of Jewish observance, through which one could come to an ecstatic awareness of the Divine Spirit in every aspect of the world. As the Besht and his followers came soon after the episode of Shabtai Zvi, they met harsh opposition from traditionalists who feared another false messianic movement.