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Barukh ben Yeḥi’el of Mezhbizh

(ca. 1756–1811), Hasidic leader in Podolia. Barukh was the younger son of Odl, the Ba‘al Shem Tov’s daughter, and the brother of Mosheh Ḥayim Efrayim of Sudilkov. As a child Barukh knew his famous grandfather, and after the Ba‘al Shem Tov’s death Barukh continued to be raised among the Hasidic leader’s most important disciples, among them Pinḥas of Korets, Ya‘akov Yosef of Polnoye, and Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritsh.

Barukh considered himself a disciple of Menaḥem Mendel of Vitebsk. After Menaḥem Mendel immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1777, Barukh began to conduct himself in Tulchin as if he were a tsadik. In the beginning of the 1800s, he moved to Mezhbizh (Pol., Międzyboż; mod. Ukr., Medzhibizh), the Ba‘al Shem Tov’s place of burial.

Barukh was one of the first Hasidic leaders to behave in a “regal” fashion, demonstratively displaying material splendor. Despite his close ties to some of the important Hasidic leaders of his generation, they were probably not his disciples, and there is no evidence that he ever indeed led a Hasidic community. He was apparently haughty, quarrelsome, fickle, and bad tempered, qualities that led to his being portrayed very negatively by maskilim, historians, and some Hasidic leaders themselves. The popular badkhn (jester) Hershele Ostropolyer was employed in his court, seemingly to relieve Barukh ben Yeḥi’el’s depressive personality.

Barukh quarreled with many Hasidic leaders, including Levi Yitsḥak of Barditshev, Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Horowitz (the Seer of Lublin), Aryeh Leib of Shpole, and his nephew, Naḥman of Bratslav. Barukh’s most famous dispute was with Shneur Zalman of Liady, which developed when the latter began raising money for charity in Barukh’s province, Podolia, without asking his permission. Barukh perceived this as an invasion of his territorial domain and responded angrily; Shneur Zalman regarded Barukh’s reaction as resulting from the latter’s “madness.”

Many maintain that an important motive for Barukh’s many disputes, especially with the Magid’s disciples, was due to the high esteem in which he held himself, which led him to consider himself as the real heir and successor of the Ba‘al Shem Tov, and to believe that he was not receiving the recognition he deserved from contemporary Hasidic leaders. (He also tried to control the burial site of the Ba‘al Shem Tov and to prevent certain tsadikim from visiting it.)

The lack of reliable sources from and about Barukh makes it difficult to provide an unequivocal explanation of his motives and views. The book Butsina di-nehora (1897), a collection of his short sermons and stories about him, is unreliable. Barukh’s only children were daughters, which may explain why he left no Hasidic dynasty.

Suggested Reading

Efraim Kupfer, “Te‘udot ḥadashot be-davar ha-maḥloket ben Rashaz mi-La’di u-ven R. Avraham ha-Kohen mi-Kalisk ve-R. Barukh mi-Medz´iboz´,” Tarbits 47.3–4 (1978): 230–237; Re’uven Margaliyot, Mekor Barukh (Lwów, Pol., 1930/31); Avraham ha-Levi Shisha, “‘Al ha-sefer Butsina di-nehora,‘Ale sefer 8 (1980): 155–157.



Translated from Hebrew by I. Michael Aronson