A new scholarly journal article from Shalom Hartman Institute Senior Fellow Moshe Idel suggests that Rabbi Yisroel (Israel) ben Eliezer, often called Baal Shem Tov ("Master of the Good Name") or by the acronym, Besht, considered to be the founder of Hasidic Judaism, was born in Bukovina, a highly contested region in the Carpathian Mountains now divided between Romania and Ukraine, and not in the Podolian village of Okopy, southwest of Kiev, as is generally reported.
This new article is part of a more comprehensive monograph on the Besht Idel is in the course of preparing as part of his participation in a group of scholars of Hasidism at the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University during 2007-2008.
Idel reports the hasidic legend that the Besht’s father was taken away to a far country by bandits where, in parallels to the biblical Joseph, he became a viceroy and was given a wife he did not touch. Then, the legend reports, he returned to his original place, where his wife was still alive and then, even though both were near 100, the Besht was born.
As Idel puts it: "This means that the parents of the Besht were inhabitants of a border region that has been described as part of Walachia (also known as Moldavia), a place they were not reported to have left."
Therefore, Idel concludes, "the founder of Hasidism was born to a poor family that inhabited an unknown place on the Romanian part of the border with the Kingdrom of Poland…there is no extant evidence whatsoever that the Besht was born in Okopy.
The full article in Eurolimes, Journal of the Institute for Euroregional Studies, is titled, "In the State of Walachia, Near the Border, or: Was the Besht Indeed Born in Okopy." The Institute for Euroregional Studies is affiliated with the University of Debrecen , Hungary and University of Oradea , Romania.