Tinok Shenishba - The Common Jewish Folk in Hasidic Mysticism

The Common Jewish Folk in Hasidic Mysticism

The Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760), founder of the revivalist Hasidic movement, brought a mystical soul-dimension to the traditional Talmudic notions of the Tinuk Shenishba, and the Am ha-aretz (uneducated-boorish-rustic Jews). While the former terms derive from the pre-eminent status of Torah study in Rabbinic Jewish culture, their downside was that in the 17-18th century Eastern Europe in which Hasidism emerged, their elitist notions contributed to the physical and spiritual hardship and dissenfranchisement of the common Jewish folk from deeper Jewish affiliation.

Adjusting the former hierarchy of values, the Baal Shem Tov taught that the simple, sincere common Jewish folk could be closer to God than the scholars, for whom pride may affect their scholarly achievements, and the elite scholars could envy and learn lessons in devotion from the uneducateded community. The Baal Shem Tov and later Hasidic masters made deveikut the central principle in Jewish spirituality, teaching that the sincere Divine soul essence of the artless Jew reflects the essential Divine simplicity. In contemporary Hasidic views of outreach to unobservant Jews, this mystical emphasis implies that the value of a small deed of observance by unaffiliated Jews would be able to set aside one's own spiritual development, as the Baal Shem Tov taught, "a soul may come into the World for 70 years in order to do a single deed of kindness to another person".

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