NAḤMAN B. SIMḤAH OF BRATZLAV:
Founder of the Ḥasidic sect known as "Bratzlaver Ḥasidim"; born at Miedzyboz (Medzhibozh), Podolia, Oct. 9, 1770; died at Uman 1811. His father was a grandson of Ba'al Shem-Ṭob and of R. Naḥman Horodenker. Naḥman b. Simḥah received his early education in Talmud, Cabala, and philosophy from his father. In his youth he led an ascetic life; and he is said to have followed it so rigorously as to swallow his food without masticating it in order that he might not enjoy it ("Maggid Siḥot," p. 3), and to roll naked in the snow (ib. p. 13). In 1798 he went to Palestine, where he was received with honor by the Ḥasidim, and where his influence brought about a reconciliation between the Lithuanian and the Volhynian Ḥasidim (ib. p. 30). Returning to Poland, he settled in Bratzlav, from which town he disseminated his teachings.
Naḥman was an independent and ardent thinker, as is discernible from his precepts as well as from his relation to the other Ẓaddiḳim of his time. His most important changes in the precepts and his reforms of the practises of Ḥasidism were the following: (1) he emphasized the importance of the ẓaddiḳ as a medium of communication between man and God, and as a sort of father confessor ("Liḳḳuṭe 'Eẓot," i., s.v. "Ẓaddiḳ" and "Teshubah"); (2) he laid stress on fasting and self-castigation as the most effective means of repentance (ib. ii., s.v. "Teshubah"); and (3) he held that the evil inclinations of man ("yeẓer ha-ra'") are necessary to the perfection of man and to his devotion to God ("Ḳorot Podolia," p. 33). Naḥman frequently recited extemporaneous prayers ("Maggid Siḥot," p. 6).
By his reforms and teachings Naḥman gained a great following among the Ḥasidim; but, unduly estimating the importance of his own mission, he assumed an attitude of superiority toward the Ẓaddiḳim of his time, and thus evoked much opposition from them. The Ẓaddiḳim, with "the Old Man of Shpola" at their head, waged war against Naḥman. They accused him of being a follower of Shabbethai Ẓebi and a Frankist, and persecuted and excommunicated his adherents. Although the number of the latter was rapidly increasing, Naḥman was compelled, on account of this opposition, to remove to Uman, where he lived for the rest of his life.
Naḥman's doctrines were published and disseminated mainly after his death, by his disciple Nathan ben Naphtali Herz of Nemirow. The latter built at Uman a synagogue in honor of his teacher, and composed a number of prayers to be recited at Naḥman's grave by his followers. Many of the latter flock there annually even to this day.
Nathan also arranged and published Naḥman's works, as follows: "Liḳḳuṭe Maharan" (vol. i., Ostrog, 1808; vol. ii., Moghilef, 1811; vol. iii., Ostrog, 1815), Ḥasidic interpretations of the Scriptures, the Midrashim, etc.; "Sefer ha-Middot" (Moghilef, 1821), treatises on morals, arranged alphabetically; "Alfa Beta" (ib. n.d.); "Sippure Ma'asiyyot" (n.p., 1815), fantastic tales in Hebrew and Yiddish; "Ma'gele Ẓedeḳ" (Jozefov, 1847), on good conduct. These works may be best described as a conglomeration of nonsense, philosophic truths, poetry, and masterful pictures of the life and customs of Naḥman's time. See Ḥasidim.
- Litinsky, Ḳorot Podolia, i. 32 et seq., Odessa, 1895;
- Deinard, Le-Ḳorot Yisrael be-Russia, pp. 6 et seq., in Ner ha-Ma'arabi, 1896, Nos. 9-10.