Rabbi, Mystic, or Impostor?

BookRabbi, Mystic, or Impostor?

Rabbi, Mystic, or Impostor?

The Eighteenth-Century Ba'al Shem of London

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


March 4th, 2020

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The enigmatic kabbalist Samuel Falk, known as the Ba’al Shem of London, has piqued the curiosity of scholars for generations. Eighteenth-century London was fascinated by Jews, and as a miracle-worker and adventurer, well connected and well read, Falk had much to offer. Interest in the man was further aroused by rumours of his dealings with European aristocrats and other famous characters, as well as with scholars, Freemasons, and Shabbateans, but evidence was scanty. Michal Oron has now brought together all the known source material on the man, and her detailed annotations of his diary and that of his assistant give us rich insights into his activities over several years. We learn of his meetings and his travels; his finances; his disputes, his dreams, and his remedies; and lists of his books. We see London’s social life and commerce, its landed gentry and its prisons, and what people ate, wore, and possessed. The burgeoning Jewish community of London and its religious practices, as well as its communal divisiveness, is depicted especially colourfully. The scholarly introductions by Oron and by Todd Endelman and the informative appendices help contextualize the diaries and offer an intriguing glimpse of Jewish involvement in little-known aspects of London life at the threshold of the modern era.


‘The legend of Samuel Falk is tantalising… Dr. Oron examines Falk’s magisterial ‘successes’ in the line of self-isolation, survival and prophecy.’
Stephen Massil, editor of Jewish Book News and Reviews

'Oron’s translation and annotation of Falk’s diary is a fascinating window into the lives of both Falk and his associates... Falk’s diaries only add to the complexity of a figure who was undoubtedly anything but conventional.'
Joel S. Davidi Weisberger, Jewish Link & the Times of Israel

‘Will be welcomed by researchers and historians of eighteenth-century Jewish mysticism and esoteric freemasonry . . . the actual texts of the diaries make a valuable contribution to scholarship and open up many new avenues for future research . . . the final translation is excellent, and the raw material presented in the diaries (Hirsch’s covering 1747-51, Falk’s covering 1772-81) provides a remarkable account of kabbalistic magical practices and the survival of esoteric interests among a wide range of English and European Freemasons and ‘adventurers’ during the years of the so-called Enlightenment.’
Marsha Keith Schuchard, British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

'A glimpse into the kind of “superstitious,” bizarre, “irrational” beliefs and practices that the Enlightenment thought was part of a past that rational people had cast aside [...] Without [Oron’s] invaluable notes, much of this material would remain incomprehensible.'Achsah Guibbory, The North American Conference on British Studies

Author Information

Michal Oron is Professor Emerita of Jewish Mysticism, Department of Hebrew Literature, Tel Aviv University. Todd M. Endelman is the William Haber Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Michigan.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Plates11
Note on Transliteration and Conventions Used in the Text12
Translator’s Note14
Note on the Editing of the Diaries17
Introduction to the English Edition20
I A Brief History of Ba’alei Shem34
II A Biography of Samuel Falk47
III Falk’s Activities According to the Diary of Zevi Hirsch54
IV Samuel Falk as Seen by Jacob Emden63
V Samuel Falk and the Freemasons68
VI The Diaries and Their Research81
The Diary of Zevi Hirsch of Kalisz88
The Diary of Samuel Falk192
A. People Featuring Prominently in the Diaries270
B. Falk’s Dreams275
C. The Letter of Sussman Shesnowzi to His Son278
D. The Letter of Jacob Emden288
E. Falk’s Library292
F. Falk’s Will300