Sunday, June 10, 2007

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Book Review: The Baal Shem of Michelstadt

by Akiva at Mystical Paths

The Baal Shem of Michelstadt, by 'Judaeus' since known to be Rabbi Herz Naftali Ehrmann, is a most unusual book. It's a historical novel published by Jewish community presses in Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany, published in the days of the Kaisers (around 1880). And old yiddela named Manfred Kuttner warmly remembered the book from his childhood, tracked it down and translated it in 1971. It was published to English in 1972, and republished by Feldheim in 2006.

It tells the story of the tzaddik, Rabbi Seckel Loeb Wormser, zt"l (1768-1847), who was known as the Baal Shem of Michelstadt. Now, the title 'Baal Shem', literally Master of the Name, refers to those who use the hidden name(s) of G-d to perform blessings and miracles for people in need. I was under the impression that this title ceased to be given with the advent of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of chassidus. However, the book lists 6 "Baal Shem"'s after the Baal Shem Tov.

The book tells the wondrous story of Jewish life in small town Germany 200 years ago. Written for youth, it's an engaging story of the life and times of this wondrous tzaddik. Not just a life dedicated to Torah, but to the community and helping with the troubles of the times. People kidnapped for conversion, banditry on the roads and attacks on villages, the tzaddik brought great yeshua (salvation) to his people.

The book ends with some miraculous stories, some of which I'd heard before attributed to the Baal Shem Tov. While it's unclear to me since reading this to whom certain stories belong, it's certainly true that such miraculous assistance was well known throughout all distant parts of the European Jewish world, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, and Germany.

I strongly recommend this book for 10 years old and up.

Posted at Mystical Paths. Read it elsewhere? Stop by the source.


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