By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Rabbi Julian Sinclairs weekly dip into the dictionary

The maggidim were a fixture on the Jewish landscape in pre-War Europe. Itinerant preachers, parable-makers and story-tellers, they would wander from town to town, speaking and teaching in the marketplaces, educating, berating and inspiring their audiences.

The best were closely attuned to the spiritual needs of their public, yet fearless in criticising them. Occasionally they became communal leaders, like the 18th-century Maggid of Mezirich, the Baal Shem Tovs successor as head of the Chasidic movement. Usually without any official position, maggidim functioned as a sort of non-establishment intelligentsia. Bloggers are probably the closest contemporary equivalent.

Maggid, which simply means one who tells (related to the word hagadah), was also the name given to spirits who would appear to Jewish mystics and communicate secret teachings. These maggidim were a phenomenon among the Kabbalists who flourished in Sefat from the 16th century.

The most famous maggid was the one who spoke regularly to Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575) the author the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. As a rule, the maggid would appear to him early on Shabbat morning after Caro had studied several chapters of Mishnah.

The maggid would teach Caro kabbalistic secrets, berate him for eating and sleeping more than warranted by his usual ascetic discipline, offer words of personal support, and occasionally comfort him for the tribulations Caro suffered through the synagogue politics of Sefat. One can read Caros account of the maggids visitations in his book, Maggid Mesharim.

Last updated: 12:31pm, March 6 2009