Sunday 30 October 2022

403) Hillel Baal Shem Ra: the Master of the Evil Name.


Petrovsky-Shtern discovers the Sefer haCheshek


Many are familiar with the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good name) but who was the Baal Shem Ra (Master of the Evil name)? I have drawn extensively from the research by Professor Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern,[1] who in 1993, whilst senior librarian at the Vernadsky Library in Kiev, discovered an unusual manuscript, entitled Sefer haCheshek.

Sunday 23 October 2022

402) Was R. Nachman’s Tikun haKelali a ‘fixing’ of Sabbatianism?




Years ago, when I was in yeshiva, Breslov was a rather unknown Chassidic sect. Today R. Nachman (1772-1810) and his Breslov movement need no introduction as it has become one of the most popular of the Chassidic movements. I spent about fifteen years in the movement and have always been fascinated by the personality of R. Nachman. According to Professor Yehuda Liebes (1995:109),[1] when it comes to machshvet Yisrael (Jewish theology), R. Nachman is certainly one of its key personalities. However, Liebes boldly maintains that R. Nachman was - at least in his early days (Liebes 1995:109 in the Appendix) - influenced by the secretive yet powerful and widespread Sabbatian and Frankist movements of Shabbatai Tzvi (1626-1676) and particularly Jacob Frank (1726-1791) respectively.[2] Liebes suggests that in his youth, R. Nachman may have had contact with Frankists who had remained Jewish and who were plentiful in Podolia at that time. Although, Liebes continues, these influencers may have been factors, nevertheless, R. Nachman indeed produced highly individualised and unique teachings (Liebes 1995:109).

Sunday 2 October 2022

401) Classical Sefaradic and Ashkenazic approaches to Talmud


al-Andalus (Muslim Spain)


This article is based extensively on the research by Professor Talya Fishman[1] on the differences between the classical approaches of Sefaradim and Ashkenazim to the Talmud. By ‘classical’ is meant the period prior to the thirteenth century, when there was a very distinct difference between how Sefarad (Spain) and Ashkenaz (Northern France and Germany) approached Talmud study.

Study differences between Ashkenaz and Sefarad

In Ashkenaz, the main focus of Torah study was centred primarily around Talmud study, while in North Africa and al-Andalus (Muslim-ruled Spain) they were more concerned with the study of practical Halacha as found in the locally produced eleventh-century codes of R. Nisim, R. Chananel, and R. Yitzchak Alfasi (1013–1103, ‘Alfasi’ implies ‘from Fez’, Morocco). Later in the twelfth century, the Sefaradim added the code of the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides to their study curriculum which thus continued to remain distinctly Halachic and non-Talmudic.