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Comments on Why is it Baal Shem and not Baal HaShem?

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Why is it Baal Shem and not Baal HaShem?

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Forgive my ignorance; I am not Jewish but interested in Judaism, and know a bit of Biblical Hebrew.

I'm confused about the term Baal Shem. I'm assuming Shem refers to God's name, as in HaShem. But assuming standard Biblical Hebrew rules for construct chains, Baal Shem translates to 'a master of a name'. I would expect Baal HaShem to refer to someone who can work miracles by interacting with God. As far as I know (I may very well be mistaken) it is not common to refer to God by simply Shem, only HaShem. Similarly, I would expect Baal HaShem HaTov rather than Baal Shem Tov.

Alternatively, I can imagine that Shem does not refer to God's name but to 'reputation', so that a Baal Shem is a 'master of reputation', i.e. a 'master with reputation', and Baal Shem Tov would be the 'good master with reputation' or a 'master with good reputation' (depending on which noun Tov agrees with). But I have not found sources to corroborate this alternative etymology.

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1 comment thread

The Baal Shem Tov name is a reference to a shem tov or a "good name" or reputation and refers to a ph... (2 comments)
The Baal Shem Tov name is a reference to a shem tov or a "good name" or reputation and refers to a ph...
rosends‭ wrote about 1 year ago

The Baal Shem Tov name is a reference to a shem tov or a "good name" or reputation and refers to a phrase used in the oral law (ethics of the fathers chapts 2 and 4).

manassehkatz‭ wrote 12 months ago

@rosends 100% correct, and exactly what I was going to say. Write it up as an answer.