Adam Baʾal Shem

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ADAM BA'AL SHEM , a legendary figure about whom various tales have been collected in small Yiddish pamphlets published in Prague and in Amsterdam in the 17th century. They relate the miracles performed before Emperor Maximilian ii by a kabbalist, whose historical existence has not been verified. According to these tales, Adam Ba'al Shem was born and was buried in Bingen near Worms; however his permanent place of residence was Prague. The stories about him were popular and used by the compiler of Shivḥei ha-Besht (Berdichev, 1815) who transformed Adam Ba'al Shem into an esoteric kabbalist in Poland who died close to the birth or in the childhood of *Israel b. Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of Ḥasidism. Ḥasidic legend attributed to him writings on the mystery of Kabbalah which he commanded his son to give to Israel Ba'al Shem Tov. Apparently, the earlier figure of a German Jewish folktale (Adam Ba'al Shem) was combined in ḥasidic legend with that of the Shabbatean prophet Heshel Ẓoref, who died in Cracow around the time of Israel Ba'al Shem Tov's birth. Heshel's work, Sefer ha-Ẓoref, on the mysteries of Shabbatean Kabbalah, undoubtedly reached the Ba'al Shem Tov who ordered them to be copied by his disciple Shabbetai of Raschkow. Copies of the copy were preserved in the courts of several ẓaddikim. The Ḥasidim were not aware of the Shabbatean character of these works, but several legends spread about their contents. The author of Shivḥei ha-Besht or the creators of the legends about the Ba'al Shem Tov modified the character of these writings and attributed them to Adam Ba'al Shem. An unfounded assumption seeks to identify Adam Ba'al Shem with a Russian Christian of German origin, called Adam Zerneikov, who supposedly had contact with the father of Israel Ba'al Shem Tov.


W. Rabinowicz, in: Ẓion, 5 (1940), 125–32; G. Scholem, ibid., 6 (1941), 89–93; 7 (1942), 28; idem, in: I. Halpern, Beit Yisrael be-Folin, 2 (1954), 48-53; R. Margaliot, Ba-Mishor (1941), 14–15; Ch. Shmeruk, in: Zion, 28 (1963), 86–105; Y. Elhiach, in: paajr, 36 (1968), 66–70.

[Gershom Scholem]