This past May 10-11, the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania Library and the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, presented:” The Ninth Annual Manfred R. Lehmann Memorial Master Workshop in the History of the Jewish Book”. The title of this year’s workshop was “Traditional Eastern European Jewish Book, 1500-1900”. The workshop was led by Prof. Moshe Rosman of Bar Ilan University in Israel.
One of the sessions focused on the work Shivhe ha-BeSHT (hereafter S.HB.) – Praises of the Baal Shem Tov. This work is a hagiography that collects approximately 200 stories relating to Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer Baal Shem Tov (ca. 1700-1760), the BeSHT, who is considered the founder of the Hasidic movement. S.HB. was first published in 5575 (1814) in Kapust (Kopys).
S.HB. became an important work for scholars of the Hasidic movement since it furnished biographical information about the BeSHT and other early Hasidim. Since the work was based on oral tales that were only written down many years after the BeSHT’s passing, scholars examine each story critically in order to determine what to accept as factual.
One factor contributing to the difficulty in properly appraising S.HB., is the collaborative nature of its production. The original manuscript was written by Dov Ber ben Shemuel of Linits based on stories he had heard from many sources, especially from Rabbi Gedalyahu of Linits (d.1788). Many copies of the original manuscript had been made by the time Yisrael Jaffe decided to print the work. We see from his introduction to the work that Jaffe had to set the text based on the manuscript(s) that he had access to, and fix mistakes that had crept in during the copying process. Also, Jaffe added approximately 17 stories, relating to the Besht’s early biography, to the beginning of the work. These stories were primarily heard in the name of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Even though these stories were added as one piece to the beginning of SH.B., other stories taken from Dov Ber of Linits’ original work seem to have been mixed with them. Furthermore, it seems that additions to Dov Ber of Linits’ work can also be found later in S.HB. Prof. Rosman, in his workshop, discussed how to differentiate between the various sources and thereby to gain a clearer understanding of S.HB.
Prof. Rosman also discussed some later editions of S.HB. that were published in Yiddish (especially the Ostraha/Korets editions of 5575/76). These editions contained some differences from the Hebrew version. Some scholars believed that these differences pointed to the use of a different, perhaps more accurate, manuscript than that used for the Hebrew version. Prof. Rosman, is of the opinion that it has been conclusively shown by Yehoshua Mondshine, among others, that this is not the case. The Yiddish version merely reflects a literary reworking of the stories in the Hebrew version and is not based on a different source.
A number of modern editions of S.HB. have been published and Prof. Rosman discussed the merits and deficits of each edition. Here is a descriptive list of some of these editions:
- Shivhe ha-BeSHT : arukh u-mesudar me-hadash be-tsiruf mevo ve-haarot / me-et Sh. A. Horodetsky [Berlin : Enot, 1922] BM755.I8 D6 1922
[Edited and annotated by Samuel A. Horodezky, this edition contains an extensive introduction and explanatory endnotes. Prof. Rosman noted that this edition has since been reprinted and, at one time, it enjoyed significant popularity. However, since Horodezky made changes in the arrangement and language of the original, this edition can not be used for scholarly purposes.]
- Shivhe ha- BeSHT : im hosafot ; mavo / me-et Binyamin Mints [Tel Aviv : Talpiyot, 721 (1960 or 1961)] BM755.I8 D6 1961
[contains introduction that outlines the history of the work and its various printings, and discusses various figures that the BeSHT had relationships with. In addition to the text of S.HB., also included are collections of material relating to the BeSHT based on the works Porat Yosef, Keter Shem Tov, Tsavaat ha-RIVaSH, and the Kuntres Meirat Enayim found in the Sefer Baal Shem Tov.]
- In praise of the Baal Shem Tov [Shivḥei ha-Besht] : the earliest collection of legends about the founder of Hasidism / translated and edited by Dan Ben-Amos & Jerome R. Mintz. [Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1970] BM755.I8 D613 1970
[this English translation has a number of helpful additions, including: explanatory notes; an index; a bibliography; a chart showing the source each story is attributed to, together with the page number the story is found on in the first edition and in the Horodezky edition; and an Index of Motifs for the stories based on the Stith Thompson Motif-Index of Folk-Literature.]
- Shivhe ha-BeSHT : faksimil mi- ketav ha-yad ha-yehidi ha-noda lanu ve-shinui nusahav le-umat nusah ha-defus / me-et Yehoshua Mondshayn [Yerushalayim : Y. Mondshayn, 742 (1981 or 1982)] OVERSIZE BM755.I8. D6 1982
[Mondshine’s edition contains a facsimile of an MS version of S.HB. that was obtained by the HaBaD- Lubavitch library in Brooklyn. In addition, Mondshine prints a synoptic apparatus. The apparatus contains a facsimile of the first edition of S.HB. shown opposite the variants found in the MS. The work also contains an introduction comprising many chapters. The introduction discusses many issues relating to the MS and to the S.HB. in general. At the end of the work are a number of additions, including the text of the BeSHT’s letter to his brother-in-law that was originally printed in Porat Yosef. Mondshine prints three versions of the letter’s text in synoptic columns.]
- Shivhe ha-BeSHT : mahadurah mueret u-mevueret / Avraham Rubinstin [Yerushalayim : Reuven Mas, 1991] BM755.I8 D6 1991
[Rubinstein attempts to give us a critical edition of S.HB. In his notes he makes comparisons between the textual variants found in various editions. Prof. Rosman noted, however, that Rubinstein subscribed to the theory that the Yiddish text found in the Ostraha/Korets editions of 5575/76 represents an urtext of S.HB. It is now commonly accepted, as mentioned above, that the Yiddish text is merely a later, literary, reworking of the Hebrew edition.]