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Deciphering the Ba‘al Shem Ṭov’s Legacy as Crafted by his Disciple Jacob Joseph Using Distant Reading Digital Tools

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-02-19, 13:36 authored by Leore Sachs-Shmueli

This article aims to decipher distinctive conceptual characteristics attributed to the legendary founder of Ḥasidism, Israel Ba‘al Shem Ṭov, as documented by his faithful disciple, Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye (1710–1784). I endeavor to demonstrate how a quantitative analysis of the earliest testimonies of Beshtian teachings can improve our understanding of the interplay between major concepts within these teachings. To achieve this objective, I apply a combination of statistical tools of distant reading with textual analysis of close reading. It will reveal singular characteristics of the reported teachings of the Beshṭ, while distinguishing them from the textual corpus into which they were integrated, Jacob Joseph’s writings: Sefer Toldot Ya‘aqov Yosef (1780), Ben Porat Yosef (1781), and Ṣafnat Pa‘neaḥ (1782). The results indicate a significant focus on negativity—moral, emotional, and conditional—as well as verbs that offer followers guidance regarding how to overcome these negative aspects of the human experience.

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