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Besht and the Messianic Year 5500
Besht and the Messianic Year 5500

Author(s): Jan Doktór
Subject(s): History
Published by: Żydowski Instytut Historyczny
Keywords: Baal Shem Tov; Chassidism; Messianism; Holy Land pilgrimages

Summary/Abstract: The prophecies of a Messianic breakthrough in the year 5500 (1740) appeared almost as soon as the prophecies of a 1706 return of Sabbatai Zvi from the beyond proved worthless. The most spectacular manifestation of the Messianic fever of 5500 were the pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Among the pilgrims there were people later credited by the Chassidic tradition with being the founding fathers of Chassidism: Baal Shem Tov, his brother-in-law Gershon Kutover, Nahman of Horodenka and Eleazar ben Samuel Rokeach. The pilgrimages and discussions made many Chassidim abandon the religious paradigm upheld so far, which was bases on ascetic life as the road to holiness and redemption. This gave rise to new, anti-ascetic currents in Chassidism, from which emerged a formation with an ecstatic approach, called Beshtian Chassidism, on the one hand, and the formation of students and supporters of Elijahu Zalman (1720-97), known as the Gaon of Vilnius, on the other. Besht set out for the Holy Land in 1738 or 1739 but never reached that destination. He stopped in Istanbul and, after spending nearly a year there, return to Podolya. That expedition caused a breakthrough in Besht’s spiritual life. Earlier, Besht shared the traditional Messianic images and expected the Messiah to appear in Jerusalem. After returning from Istanbul he no longer expected the Holy Land to produce redemptional developments, never planned to go there again and dissuaded others from taking such pilgrimages. The second important change was the abandoning of asceticism. The one spoil Besht brought back with him from—presumably—the Middle East that was valued the most by his contemporaries most, was the ability to go into a trance, in the course of which his soul went to heaven.

  • Issue Year: 215/2005
  • Issue No: 03
  • Page Range: 313-323
  • Page Count: 11
  • Language: English