Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer (~1698-1760), the founder of Hasidism, is a revered Jewish figure known as the “Ba’al Shem Tov” (“possessor of a good reputation”). The central tenet of Hasidism is that any person can connect to God immediately, personally and directly, particularly through prayer. Though he did not leave behind a book, his students collected stories about his life in the manuscript In Praise of the Ba’al Shem Tov (1814-1815). (Wikipedia)
The Ba’al Shem Tov was a wonder worker.
“Not alone a teacher or sage, an interpreter of the law, or a leader of his people, the Baal Shem Tov was also an adept of the secret names of God, the knowledge of which enabled him to perform wonders. He is thus clearly a figure out of theurgic Kabbalism.”https://archive.ph/ooFFR
Yet he was an inscrutable figure, one who could literally make himself “invisible at will” (In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov, p. 193) and figuratively one who directed all attention to the lessons he taught, rather than himself.
“When people asked him direct questions, he responded by telling stories about himself; he narrated history in the guise of tales; he made his own biography into a basis of instruction; his habits, his manner of speech, and his behavior became the surety of his teaching. The living man, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, disappeared behind the emblem of his work.”https://archive.ph/ooFFR
You can borrow the very readable 1970 translation of the book for free at the Internet Archive.
The Ba’al Shem Tov came of age during the direct aftermath of the Khmelnitsky massacre (1648-1657). It was a time of unbelievable tragedy.
“Within a few months almost all Polish nobles, officials and priests had been wiped out or driven from the lands of present-day Ukraine. The Commonwealth population losses in the uprising exceeded one million. In addition, Jews suffered substantial losses.” (Wikipedia)“Khmelnytsky Uprising,” Wikipedia
“The losses inflicted on the Jews of Poland during the fatal decade 1648–1658 were appalling. In the reports of the chroniclers, the number of Jewish victims varies between one hundred thousand and five hundred thousand. But even if we accept the lower figure, the number of victims still remains colossal, even exceeding the catastrophes of the Crusades and the Black Death in Western Europe. Some seven hundred Jewish communities in Poland had suffered massacre and pillage. In the Ukrainian cities situated on the left banks of the Dnieper, the region populated by Cossacks … the Jewish communities had disappeared almost completely. In the localities on the right shore of the Dneiper or in the Polish part of Ukraine as well as those of Volhynia and Podolia, wherever Cossacks had made their appearance, only about one tenth of the Jewish population survived.”Simon Dubnow, History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, trans. Israel Friedlander, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1916), 1:156–57. [Volume 1 is available on Kindle. Volume 2 is available in paperback. Volume 3 is also available in paperback. Quoted in Joseph P. Schultz, Judaism and the Gentile Faiths: Comparative Studies in Religion, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1981, ISBN 0-8386-1707-7, p. 268.
“Wherever they found the szlachta [Polish/Lithuanian nobility], royal officials or Jews, they [Cossacks] killed them all, sparing neither women nor children. They pillaged the estates of the Jews and nobles, burned churches and killed their priests, leaving nothing whole. It was a rare individual in those days who had not soaked his hands in blood.”Nathan ben Moses Hannover, “The Deep Mire” (“Yeven Mezulah”), cited in Borderland: A Journey Through The History of Ukraine, p. 35. [For more information about Yeven Mezulah, click here.]
The Ba’al Shem Tov [known by the acronym “the Besht”] saw the devastation of the people and he saw as well that they could not survive religiously under the strict leadership of the Talmudic scholars. They needed inspiration. They needed to connect with God. He fought to bring them closer, he prayed for them, he walked among them, and he fought the pernicious influence of the Sabbatean-Frankists mightily, even fighting to make sure that Sabbateans didn’t slaughter the meat.
“When they arrived at the holy community of that the Besht notified the rabbi of the holy community of Byshev that his shohet was from the sect of Shabbetai Xsevi, may his name be blotted out, and that he made the meat not kosher. After showing the rabbi his knife, the shohet would hit it with a heavy hammer in order to disqualify it. The rabbi watched the shohet and found it to be true.”https://archive.org/details/inpraiseofbaalsh0000dobb/page/192/mode/2up?q=shohet
The Evil Shabbetai Tsevi – A Sinner Even In Hell
The Ba’al Shem Tov was able to communicate with the souls of the dead, and according to In Praise Of The Ba’al Shem Tov, the soul of Shabbetai Tsevi came to him looking for redemption from the hell that was his afterlife. At first the rabbi started to help him, but then he fell asleep and Tsevi attacked him with temptation. The Ba’al Shem Tov casts him to hell. (Note: I can’t account for the mention of Jesus being there as well in the story; it could be a projection of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s anger at persecution of the Jews, since Jesus may not even have been mentioned in the Talmud at all, and there is a significant pro-Jesus line of thought in Orthodox thinking. See Rabbi Emden’s letter below – scroll down.)
“Rabbi Joel told me, in addition, that Shabbetai Tsevi came to the Besht to ask for redemption. Rabbi Joel said in these words: ‘The tikkun is done through the connection of soul with soul, spirit with spirit, and breath with breath.’ The Besht began to establish the connection moderately. He was afraid as Shabbetai Tsevi was a terribly wicked man. Once the Besht was asleep, Shabbetai Tsevi, may his name be blotted out, came and attempted to tempt him again, God forbid. With a mighty thrust the Besht hurled him to the bottom of hell. The Besht peered down and saw that he landed on the same pallet with Jesus. Rabbi Joel said that the Besht said that Shabbetai Tsevi had a spark of holiness in him, but that Satan caught him in his snare, God forbid. The Besht heard that his fall came through pride and anger. I was reluctant to write it down, but nevertheless I did so to show to what extent pride can be dangerous.”In Praise Of The Ba’al Shem Tov, p. 87
Frankist Excommunication and Mass Conversion
Meanwhile, the evil Jacob Frank (1726-1791) was hard at work recruiting Jews to desecrate Judaism, until finally the rabbis excommunicated the sect and they sought refuge by converting to Catholicism in 1759. (Frank promoted himself as the heir to Sabbatianism.)
“Upon learning of the Frankist gatherings, Podolia’s rabbis forced Frank to leave the region and tried his followers in rabbinical courts, where many confessed to breaking marriage vows and engaging in sexually promiscuous behavior.
“A herem (excommunication) was proclaimed against members of the group, provoking a wave of persecution against them.
“In the face of persecution from the organized Jewish community, group members sought protection from the Catholic church, telling the local Catholic bishop that they rejected the Talmud and recognized only the Zohar, a Jewish mystical text.
“They also told Catholic authorities that they recognized the messiah as part of the Trinity, although they did not clarify that they considered Zevi, rather than Jesus, to be the messiah.”https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jacob-frank-and-his-followers/
We Must Stop The Sabbatean-Frankist Influence
The problem for Judaism is the Sabbatian-Frankists who have surreptitiously embedded themselves into the mainstream and gradually taken over. (At this point I doubt that most of them even know what a “Sabbatian-Frankist” is.)
In fact, Jesus never actually committed the sin of blasphemy in the Jewish sense, e.g. he never cursed God. If anything he called on the rabbis to be more moral human beings.
Rabbi Jacob Emden (1697-1776) was a Jewish leader respected by all and intent on combating the Sabbatians. He vociferously did so. Yet community leaders wanted all sides to pipe down so as not to draw undue negative attention to the community.
Over the course of his life and his many writings, Rabbi Emden wrote the letter below, which in my view offers the most authentic Jewish approach to Christianity available. Essentially Rabbi Emden argued that Jesus never wanted Jews to abandon Judaism; that the purpose of establishing Christianity later on was to bring morality to the non-Jewish peoples of the world.
“For it is recognized that also the Nazarene and his disciples, especially Paul, warned concerning the Torah of the Israelites, to which all the circumcised are tied. And if they are truly Christians, they will observe their faith with truth, and not allow within their boundary this new unfit Messiah Shabbetai Zevi* who came to destroy the earth.
“But truly even according to the writers of the Gospels, a Jew is not permitted to leave his Torah, for Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 5) “I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, the Messiah will do you no good at all. You can take it from me that every man who receives circumcision is under obligation to keep the entire Torah.” Again because of this he admonished in a letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 7) that the circumcised should not remove the marks of circumcision, nor should the uncircumcised circumcise themselves.
“Many have asked that Paul appears to contradict himself here. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 16), it is mentioned that Paul circumcised his disciple Timothy. And they found this very puzzling, for this act seems to contradict the later text which seems to indicate that he considered circumcision a temporary commandment until the Messiahs arrival; but this took place after the time of the Nazarene! Therefore you must realize–and accept the truth from him who speaks it– that we see clearly here that the Nazarene and his Apostles did not wish to destroy the Torah from Israel, God forbid; for it is written so in Matthew (Mt. 5), the Nazarene having said, “Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Torah. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. I tell you this: So long as heaven and earth endure, not a letter, not a stroke, will disappear from the Torah until it is achieved. If any man therefore sets aside even the least of the Torahs demands, and teaches others to do the same, he will have the lowest place in the Kingdom of Heaven, whereas anyone who keeps the Torah, and teaches others so, will stand high in the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is also recorded in Luke (Lk. 16). It is therefore exceedingly clear that the Nazarene never dreamed of destroying the Torah.
“We similarly find Paul, his disciple, in a letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5), accusing them of fornication, and condemning one who had lived with his fathers wife. You may therefore understand that Paul doesnt contradict himself because of his circumcision of Timothy, for the latter was the son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father (Acts 16), and Paul was a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, well-versed in the laws of the Torah. He knew that the child of a Jewish mother is considered a full Jew, even if the father should be a Gentile, as is written in the Talmud and Codes. He therefore acted entirely in accordance with the Halakha by circumcising Timothy. This would be in line with his position that all should remain within their own faith (1 Cor. 7). Timothy, born of a Jewish mother, had the law of a Jew, and had to be circumcised, just as he was enjoined to observe all commandments of the Torah (Pauls condemnation of the man who lived with his stepmother is similarly understandable, as such an act is also forbidden to Noahides), for all who are circumcised are bound by all the commandments. This provides a satisfactory reply to the question.
“This will also solve the apparent contradictions in the Nazarenes own statements. Christian scholars have assumed from certain passages in the Gospels that he wished to give a new Torah to take the place of the Torah of Moses. How could he then have said explicitly that he comes only to fulfill it? But it is as I have said earlier–that the writers of the Gospels never meant to say that the Nazarene came to abolish Judaism, but only that he came to establish a religion for the Gentiles from that time onward. Nor was it new, but actually ancient; they being the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah, which were forgotten. The Apostles of the Nazarene then established them anew. However, those born as Jews, or circumcised as converts to Judaism (Ex. 12:49; one law shall be to him that is home-born, and unto the stranger) are obligated to observe all commandments of the Torah without exception.
“But for the Gentiles he reserved the Seven Commandments which they have always been obligated to fulfill. It is for that reason that they were forbidden pollutions of idols, fornication, blood, and things strangled (Acts 15). They also forbade them circumcision and the Sabbath. All of this was in accord with the law and custom of our Torah, as expounded by our Sages, the true transmitters from Moses at Sinai. It was they who sat upon his seat (as the Nazarene himself attested [Mt. 23]). It was they (the Sages or Pharisees) who said that it is forbidden to circumcise a Gentile who does not accept upon himself the yoke of (all) the commandments. The Sages likewise said that the Gentile is enjoined not (fully) to observe the Sabbath. The Apostles of the Nazarene therefore chose for those Gentiles who do not enter the Jewish faith that instead of circumcision they should practice immersion (for truly immersion is also a condition of full conversion), and a commemoration of the Sabbath was made for them on Sunday. — But the Nazarene and his Apostles observed the Sabbath and circumcision as mentioned earlier, for they were born as Jews. They observed the Torah fully, until after a period of time a few of them decided to give up the Torah among themselves completely. They said that its observance was too difficult for them and agreed to remove its yoke from their necks (Acts 15).
“But even here they did correctly as far as the Gentiles were concerned, for they were not commanded to observe it. Nor is it proper to make it difficult for them, since they did not receive (accept?) the Torah and are not enjoined to observe the 613 commandments. However, it is completely different as far as the Jews are concerned, for they became obligated to fulfill the Torah because God delivered them from the iron furnace (Egypt) to be the people of His possession. Therefore they and their children became subject to it forever. This, their covenant, will not be forgotten from their mouths, nor be discontinued from their children. For it they have given their lives throughout the generations, as the Psalmist has recorded (Ps. 44:18): All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten Thee, neither have we been false to Thy covenant.
“Certainly, therefore, there is no doubt that one who seeks truth will agree with our thesis, that the Nazarene and his Apostles never meant to abolish the Torah of Moses from one who was born a Jew. Likewise did Paul write in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 7) that each should adhere to the faith in which each was called. They therefore acted in accordance with the Torah by forbidding circumcision to Gentiles, according to the Halakha, as it is forbidden to one who does not accept the yoke of the commandments. They knew that it would be too difficult for the Gentiles to observe the Torah of Moses. They therefore forbade them to circumcise, and it would suffice that they observe the Seven Noahide Commandments, as commanded upon them through the Halakha from Moses at Sinai.
“It is therefore a habitual saying of mine (not as a hypocritical flatterer, God forbid, for I am of the faithful believers of Israel, and I know well that the remnant of Israel will not speak falsehood, nor will their mouths contain a deceitful tongue) that the Nazarene brought about a double kindness in the world. On the one hand, he strengthened the Torah of Moses majestically, as mentioned earlier, and not one of our Sages spoke out more emphatically concerning the immutability of the Torah. And on the other hand, he did much good for the Gentiles (provided they do not turn about his intent as they please, as some foolish ones have done because they did not fully understand the intent of the authors of the Gospels. I have recently seen someone publish a book, and he had no idea about what he was writing. For if he had understood the subject, he would have kept his silence and not wasted the paper and ink. There are also found among us foolish scholars who know not their right from their left in the Written and Oral Torahs and cause the people to err with their pompous pronouncements. But there are true scholars among the Christians, just as there are the chosen few among Torah scholars; and there are few of the truly great) by doing away with idolatry and removing the images from their midst. He obligated them with the Seven Commandments so that they should not be as the beasts of the field. He also bestowed upon them ethical ways, and in this respect he was much more stringent with them than the Torah of Moses, as is well-known. This in itself was most proper, as it is the correct way to acquire ethical practices, as the philosopher (Maimonides) mentioned. We have written similarly in our Siddur. However, it is not necessary to impose upon Jews such extreme ethical practices, since they have been obligated to the yoke of Torah, which weakens the strength of the (evil) inclination without it. They have taken the oath at Sinai and are already trained in proper practice and nature. These are clear words that will not be rejected by a clear-thinking person.
“If certain Christians who consider themselves scholars would understand this secret, who believe that they are commanded to abolish the Torah of Moses from the seed of Israel, they would not engage in such foolishness. The people listen to their self-conceived words, something which was never intended by the writers of the Gospels. Quite the opposite, they have written clearly that they intended the contrary.
“Because of these errant scholars, hatred has increased toward the Jews who are blameless of any guilt and proceed innocently to observe their Torah with all their heart, imbued with the fear of God. They should instead bring their people to love the ancient Children of Israel who remain loyal to their God, as indeed commanded to Christians by their original teachers.
“They even said to love ones enemies. How much more so to us! In the name of heaven, we are your brothers! One God has created us all. Why should they abuse us because we are joined to the commandments of God, to which we are tied with the ropes of his love? We do this not to enjoy the pleasures of the (evil) inclination and emptiness of a passing world. For truly (Ps. 44) we have become a byword among the nations, and with all this (ibid.). In God have we gloried all the day, and we will give thanks unto Thy name for ever. We pray for the good of the entire world, and especially for the benefit of these lands in which we reside, protecting us and our observance of the Torah…
“You, members of the Christian faith, how good and pleasant it might be if you will observe that which was commanded to you by your first teachers; how wonderful is your share if you will assist the Jews in the observance of their Torah. You will truly receive reward as if you had fulfilled it yourselves-for the one who helps others to observe is greater than one who observes but does not help others to do so–even though you only observe the Seven Commandments. I have written similarly in my pleasant work Torat Ha-Kenaot– that the Jew who observes the Torah, but doesn’t support it, is considered among the cursed; and the Gentile who does not observe the 613 commandments, but supports it, is considered among the blessed.”From Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee, A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus (1985), Ch. 1. Retrieved from https://eweb.furman.edu/~ateipen/ReligionA45/Emden.html (https://archive.ph/sHtIe)
I believe that intentionally or unintentionally, there is an obsessive overfocus by Jewish religious leaders on combating Christianity and an underfocus on ridding our religion of the Sabbatean-Frankist influences that are truly blasphemous. The Sabbatean-Frankists, the depth of evil, cursed God by rebelling against Him, and the authority of the rabbis.
The blasphemer is the subject of this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23).
In 1759, the Frankists mass-converted to Catholicism. Within a year, the Ba’al Shem Tov died.
He grieved that they could not be kept within the fold of Judaism.
He grieved that the rabbis had handled the situation so badly.
By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal (Dossy). All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.