This article aims at deciphering distinctive theological characteristics attributed to the legendary founder of Hasidism, Israel Baal Shem Tov (the BeShT), as documented by his Grandson, Moshe Haim Ephraim of Sudylkow. To achieve this objective, I will apply a combination of statistical tools of distant reading with textual analysis of close reading; a first attempt of such a kind in the research of Jewish Mysticism. It will reveal singular characteristics of the reported teachings of the BeShT, while distinguishing them from the textual corpus into which they were integrated, Sefer Degel Mahaneh Ephraim. Contrary to the common portrait of the BeSht as an optimistic preacher focusing mainly on joy and positive appraisal of human sinful conditions, fear of sin is a dominant emotional component in his ethos as documented by his Grandson. Fear and awe function as formative catalyzers of personal religious change. Indeed, he does focus on the mental aspects of divine service and the revelatory character of man’s thoughts, but a sense of trembling and anxiety of sin stands at the core of these discussions. This study demonstrates how the study of Jewish textual traditions may benefit from applying statistical analysis when intertwined with classical methods of close reading.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
I would like to thank Shai Shahar for conducting the chi-square statistical analysis in this article.
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