Baal Shem in Hebrew translates as "Master of the Name", and is almost always used in reference to Israel ben Eliezer, the Rabbi who founded Hasidic Judaism and was called the Baal Shem Tov.

More generally, it refers to a rabbi who, due to his ability to perform super- and supra-good deeds that benefit others, is "given" the title by those who recognize or have benefited from his powers. It is a name that was given in the Middle Ages to a Jewish rabbi miracle worker who could bring about cures and healing, as well having mystical powers to foresee or interpret events and personalities. They were considered to have a "direct line" to Heaven evoking God's mercies and compassion on suffering human beings.

The "Name" referred to in "Master of the Name" is the most holy Four-Letter Name of God or Tetragrammaton. In Jewish tradition, this Name was pronounced only by the High Priest on Yom Kippur. With the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in the year 70 C.E., the true pronunciation was presumably lost. (Jews today do not pronounce the Name out loud, and substitute another Hebrew word, usually Adonai, in prayers and texts.) In some accounts, a Baal Shem was believed to have re-discovered the true pronunciation, perhaps during deep meditation, and could use it in magical ways to work miracles. Some stories say he pronounced it out loud, others say he visualized the Name in his mind. He also used the names of angels in this way.

Not many people with this title have been recorded (outside of the Baal Shem Tov, the Baal Shem of Michelstadt was one example) and none have it today. The very first person to receive the title was Eliyahu of Chelm. Other Baalei Shem include Rabbi Eliyahu of Worms (the founder of the movement variously known as "Macheneh Yisrael", the "Nistarim", and the "Holy Brotherhood"), Rabbi Joel of Ropshitz (a student of Rabbi Yoel Sirkis), Rabbi Adam Baal Shem, and Hayyim Samuel Jacob Falk (known as the Baal Shem of London).

It mainly survives in Jewish surnames of people descending from Ba'ale Shem such as Balshem, Balshemnik and Bolshemennikov.

In recent years, some new age Jewish groups have revived the term as referring to the Jewish equivalent of a shaman or folk healer.[1]

See also


  1. Ba'al Shem from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Baal Shem. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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