Ba’al Shem Tov: “The Holy Epistle”

(1752)

“The Holy Epistle” of Ba’al Shem Tov is one of the signature texts of the founder of Hasidism. Hasidism originated in the late eighteenth century and soon developed into a particularly rich movement of spiritual awakening within Judaism. It has adherents to this day. The founder, whose title literally means “master of the good [holy] name,” was also known as the Besht (derived from a shortening of the title Ba’al Shem Tov) or simply as Ba’al Shem. In light of the fact that the vast majority of our knowledge of the movement’s first teacher and exemplary saint is at second hand, the modern significance of “The Holy Epistle” to no small degree lies in its authenticity. This lack of firsthand documents stems from the nature of Hasidism at the time of its inception, wherein many of the homilies, discourses, and other manner of teachings were the responsibility of a charismatic teacher’s disciples to document and possibly publish. Since the stories surrounding the founder of the...

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David, one of the ”seven shepherds“ (Yale Center for British Art)

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