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Naḥman of Kosov


NAḤMAN OF KOSOV (d. 1746), kabbalist and one of the early Ḥasidim. A wealthy land contractor and grain dealer, he lived for a time in Ludomir (Vladimir *Volynsky) where he built a bet midrash with adjoining bathhouse; Naḥman was associated with a group of Ḥasidim in Kutow (Kuty) which was active even before the appearance of *Israel b. Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov and possibly remained independent of him even later. At first Naḥman was opposed to the Ba'al Shem Tov, refusing to accept him as a religious leader. Even after recognizing the latter's authority Naḥman preserved his spiritual independence, and his connections with the Ba'al Shem Tov were apparently weak. It is known that among the Kutow group "there was a condition that none of them should prophesy" (Shivḥei ha-Besht) but Nahman did not always observe this condition. He was considered a "man of the spirit," possessing contemplative power and known for his ecstatic manner of praying; he was one of the first to introduce into public prayer the Nosaḥ ha-Ari (prayer rite of Isaac *Luria).

Naḥman was among the foremost teachers of devotion (*devekut), emphasizing constant contemplation of God; devekut, according to him, does not contradict the requirements of social life and is not confined to moments of spiritual concentration or a propitious occasion. It is carried out by a visual technique, the letters of the Tetragrammaton and the other names of God appearing before the eyes of the person meditating (the visual method of seeing letters). Naḥman recognized the importance of the dialectical fabric of a society composed of "men of matter" (the masses) and "men of form" (i.e., of the spirit), holding that man's spiritual elevation from his lowliness will take place by his association with the great and pious. Everyone should aim at progress toward perfection day by day and a gradual ascent through completeness and unity of will and intention (kavvanah). Naḥman admitted the struggle in man's soul between the powers which are his good and evil inclinations. Life is like a "running and returning" (Ezek. 1:14), with ascents and descents; sometimes what seems to be an ascent is actually a descent, but the descents are prerequisites of the ascents and are not absolutely evil, for "intellect proceeds from instinct and spiritual desire from physical desire" (Ẓafenat Pa'ne'aḥ, 38a).

Naḥman was suspected of Shabbateanism and since he supported Jonathan *Eybeschuetz, Jacob *Emden publicly censured him as "Naḥman Kosover, the ignoramus of the Shabbatean sect" (Emden, Petaḥ Einayim, 14b; Sefer Hitabbekut (1862), 20b). However there is no real proof that Naḥman was a Shabbatean. His teachings are cited in Toledot Ya'akov Yosef by Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, in Shivḥei ha-Besht (Horodezky ed. (1922), 56–57), etc.


A.J. Heschel, in: H.A. Wolfson Jubilee Volume (Heb., 1965), 113–41; J.G. Weiss, in: jjs, 8 (1957), 199–213; G. Scholem, in: Tarbiz, 20 (1949), 234, 239.

[Esther (Zweig) Liebes]

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