Rabbi Yisroel (Israel) ben Eliezer August 27, 1698 (18 Elul) – May 22, 1760), often called Baal Shem Tov or Besht, was a Jewish mystical rabbi. He is considered to be the founder of Hasidic Judaism (see also Mezhbizh Hasidic dynasty).
The Besht was born to Eliezer and Sara in Okopy a small village that over the centuries has been part of Poland, Russia, and is now part of Ukraine, (located in the Borshchivskyi Raion (district) of the Ternopil Oblast). He died in Medzhybizh, which had once been part Poland and Russia, and is also now in Ukraine, in the Khmelnytskyi Oblast (not to be confused with other cities of the same name).
The Besht is better known to many religious Jews as "the holy Baal Shem" (der heyliger baal shem in Yiddish), or most commonly, the Baal Shem Tov . The title Baal Shem Tov is usually translated into English as "Master of the Good Name", with Tov ("Good") modifying Shem ("[Divine] Name"), although it is more correctly understood as a combination of Baal Shem ("Master of the [Divine] Name") and Tov (an honorific epithet to the man). The name Besht — the acronym from the words comprising that name, bet ayin shin tes—is typically used in print rather than speech. The appellation "Baal Shem" was not unique to Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer; however, it is Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer who is most closely identified as a "Baal Shem", as he was the founder of the spiritual movement of Hasidic Judaism.
The little biographical information that is known about Besht is so interwoven with legends of miracles that in many cases it is hard to arrive at the historical facts. From the numerous legends connected with his birth it appears that his parents were poor, upright, and pious. When he was orphaned, his community cared for him. At school, he distinguished himself only by his frequent disappearances, being always found in the lonely woods surrounding the place, rapturously enjoying the beauties of nature. Many of his disciples believed that he came from the Davidic line tracing its lineage to the royal house of King David, and by extension with the institution of the Jewish Messiah.