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Introduction Despite more than half a century of serious interest and contributions to the field by many of the most illustrious scholars in the history of Jewish thought and religion, the study of Hasidism remains in its earliest stages. As yet, no satisfactory history of the movement has been written and only recently has the groundwork been laid for a historically based understanding of Hasidism's founder, the Ba'al Shem Tov.1 In general, phenomenologists of Hasidism, following Gershom Scholem, have spread a broad canvas in attempting to identify and clarify essential aspects of Hasidic teachings and piety.2 of particular note in this regard are the works of Scholem's students, Joseph Weiss and Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer, and the work of Isaiah Tishby and Joseph Dan.3 However, both the historians and phenomenologists mentioned above have approached Hasidism based on assumptions that are no longer tenable. Recent research has made it clear that the rise and success of Hasidism was neither a response to extreme social and economic deprivation among Jews in eastern Europe, nor a product of radical Sabbatian ideas and practices.4 In fact, even Scholem's theory that Hasidism constitutes the last major trend in the history of Jewish mysticism has fallen from grace. More recently, a new approach, situating Hasidism within a broader panoramic context of historical influences and types of mysticism and magic, has been offered by Moshe IdeI.5 On the other hand, detailed studies closely focused on specific figures, schools, and stages in the development of early Hasidism have been few. Although Abraham Joshua Heschel has written a number of essays on figures associated with early Hasidism, for the most part, the only schools that have received extensive attention are HaBaD and Bratslav Hasidism.6 However, both of these schools only began to flourish around the turn of the nineteenth century. Consequently, our knowledge of the activities, teachings, and functioning of seminal figures in the early decades during which Hasidism was developing and spreading, remains quite limited. Yet it is in this early period that the formative teachings and interests of Hasidism are articulated . Thus, if we are ever to construct an informed view concerning the nature of this extraordinarily successful mystical religious movement and comprehend its deepest, most essential motives, and the earliest collections of its teachings, then the movement's first influential interpreters must receive our closest attention. A particularly useful vantage point for examining Hasidism in its early stages of development can be found in the writings of Rabbi Meshullam Feibush Heller of Zbarazh. While Rabbi Meshullam Feibush never achieved 2 Introduction the kind of celebrity associated with the charismatic and powerful personalities around whom the Hasidic communities took form, he is precisely the kind of figure from whom much can be learned. Scion of a prominent eastern European rabbinic family, descended from the famous Mishnah commentator , Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, Meshullam Feibush is both an interesting example of the type of person attracted to Hasidism in its early stages as well as a figure well equipped to represent and interpret its teachings . Heller seems to have been introduced to the teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov by one of the founders of Hasidism's earliest disciples in eastern Galicia, the somewhat legendary Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Premishlan, who emigrated to the Land of Israel in 1764 with another close associate of the Ba'al Shem Tov, Rabbi Nahman of Horodenker. However, even more significant than R. Menahem Mendel's formative influence on R. Meshullam Feibush is the latter's relationship to Rabbi Yehiel Mikhel, the Maggid of Zlotchov, perhaps the prototype of the Hasidic Zaddiq in eastern Galicia. R. Yehiel Mikhel, himself a direct disciple of the Ba'al Shem Tov, seems to have begun to function as a charismatic and prophetic leader of a Hasidic conventicle centered in Brody in about 1772.7 His activities as a Zaddiq, or perhaps more correctly, proto-Zaddiq, apparently begin around the time of the death of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, who is generally viewed by the later Hasidic movement as the successor of the Ba'al Shem Tov.S R. Yehiel Mikhel's prophetic and redemptive, perhaps even messianic activities continued until his death in 1781, the year during which the first Hasidic book, by R. Jacob Joseph of Polnoy, Toledot Ya'aqov Yosef, appeared in print9 Although the Maggid of Zlotchov seems to have attracted a certain measure of popular recognition as a...


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