[Ashk. Heb., Eng. mah-gid; Seph. Heb. mah-geed]

Maggid (מַגִּיד), sometimes spelled as magid) is traditional Eastern European Jewish religious itinerant preacher, skilled as a narrator of Torah and religious stories. A preacher of the more scholarly sort was called "darshan" and usually occupied the official position of rabbi. The title of "maggid mesharim" (= "a preacher of uprightness"; abbreviated) probably dates from the sixteenth century.

There always have been two distinct classes of leaders in Israel—the scholar and rabbi, and the preacher or maggid. That the popular prophet was sometimes called "maggid" is maintained by those who translate "maggid mishneh" Zech. ix. 12, by "the maggid repeats" (Löwy, "Beqoret ha-Talmud," p. 50). Like the Greek sophists, the early maggidim based their preaching on questions addressed to them by the multitude. Thus the Pesiqta, the first collection of set speeches, usually begins with "yelammedenu rabbenu" (= "let our master teach us"). An excellent example is the Passover Haggadah, which is introduced by four questions; the reciter of the answer is called "maggid." When there were no questions the maggid chose a Biblical text, which was called the "petichah" (opening).

Popularity of the Maggid

The greater popularity of the maggid as compared with the darshan is instanced by the fact that the people left the lecture-room of R. Chiyya, the darshan, and flocked to hear R. Abbahu, the maggid. To appease the sensitive Chiyya, Abbahu modestly declared, "We are like two merchants, one selling diamonds and the other selling trinkets, which are more in demand" (Sotah 40a).Talmudists like R. Meïr combined the functions of a darshan and a maggid (Sanh. 38b). When R. Isaac Nappacha was requested by one in his audience to preach a popular haggadah, and by another a halakic discourse, he answered, "I am like the man who had two wives, one young and one old, and each wishing her husband to resemble her in appearance; the younger pulled out his gray hair while the older pulled out his black hair, with the result that he became entirely bald." R. Isaac thereupon delivered a lecture that embraced both halakah and haggadah (B. Q. 60b).

In Geonic times

Levi ben Sisi, his son Joshua, and others were at the head of a regular school of rabbinical maggidim. R. Ze'era was opposed to their methods of twisting and distorting the Biblical verses to suit their momentary fancy. In Ze'era's estimation their works were of no more value than books on magic (Yer. Ma'as. iii. 9). In the geonic period and in the Middle Ages the principal of the yeshibah, or the rabbi, delivered a lecture before each festival, giving instructions in the laws governing the days of the festival. The maggid's function was to preach to the common people in the vernacular whenever occasion required, usually on Sabbath afternoon, basing his sermon on the sidra of the week. The wandering, or traveling, maggid then began to appear, and subsequently became a power in Jewry. His mission was to preach morality, to awaken the dormant spirit of Judaism, and to keep alive the Messianic hope in the hearts of the people. The maggidim's deliverances were generally lacking in literary merit, and were composed largely of current phrases, old quotations, and Biblical interpretations which were designed merely for temporary effect; therefore none of the sermons which were delivered by them have been preserved.

Maggidism reached a period of high literary activity in the sixteenth century. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 revealed a master maggid in Isaac Abravanel. His homiletic commentary on the Bible became an inexhaustible source of suggestion for future maggidim. In his method of explaining every chapter, preceded by a number of questions, he followed the early maggidim and sophists. His long argumentations in an easy and fluent style were admirably suited to the purposes of a maggid. Moses Alshech, a maggid in Safed, Palestine, preached every Sabbath before large audiences. In his commentaries he followed closely the method of Abravanel. Alshech also became an authority for the maggidim, who quoted him frequently.

Relation to Messianism

The persecutions of the Jews brought forth a number of maggidim who endeavored to excite the Messianic hope as a balm to the troubled and oppressed Jewry. Asher Lemmlein preached in Germany and Austria, announcing the coming of the Messiah in 1502, and found credence everywhere. Solomon Molko preached, without declaring the date of the advent, in both Italy and Turkey, and as a result was burned at the stake in Mantua in 1533. R. Höschel of Cracow (d. 1663) delighted in the elucidation of difficult passages in the midrash known as the "Midrash Peli'ah" (= "wonderful" or "obscure" midrash). H. Ersohn's biography of Höschel, in his "Chanukkat ha-Torah" (Pietrkov, 1900), gives a collection of 227 "sayings" gathered from 227 books by various writers, mostly Höschel's pupils. These sayings became current among the maggidim, who repeated them on every occasion. Some maggidim copied his methods and even created a pseudo-Midrash Peli'ah for the purpose of explaining the original ingeniously in the manner initiated by R. Höschel.

The "Shebet' Musar"

Elijah b. Solomon Abraham of Smyrna, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, published his "Shebet' Musar", which he divided into fifty-two chapters, one for each week. This book caused him to be known as the "Terror Maggid"; he preached moral and religious conduct as a safeguard against the terrible punishments of the day of judgment. Dante could not picture the horrors of hell and the punishments awaiting the wicked more minutely than did the author of the "Shebet' Musar". It established a new "fire and brimstone" school of maggidim. Judah Rosanes of Constantinople (d. 1727), in his "Parashat Derakim," combined the darshan with the maggid. He adopted a new method of harmonizing the acts of Biblical personages with the legal views of Talmudic scholars. For instance, Pharaoh, in refusing to release Israel from bondage, acted according to the contention of Abaye, while Moses insisted on Israel's release in accordance with the decision of Rabba. This farfetched pilpulism had many followers, some of whom asserted that Ahasuerus concurred in the decision of Maimonides, and that Vashti coincided with the opinion of RaBaD.

The Dubner Maggid

Jacob Kranz of Dubno, the Dubner Maggid (d. 1804), author of "Ohel Ya'aqob", adopted the Midrash's method of explaining by parables and the incidents of daily life, such as the relations between the man of the city and the "yeshubnik" (village man), between the bride, the bridegroom, and the "mechuttanim" (contracting parents), and compared their relations to those between Israel and God. He drew also moral lessons from the "Arabian Nights" and from other secular stories in illustrating explanations of a midrash or a Biblical text. Moses Mendelssohn named Kranz the "Jewish Æsop".

His most famous parable is about how he finds appropriate parables: Walking in the woods a man sees many trees with targets drawn on them. Each target with an arrow in the center, and a little boy with a bow. the little boy acknowledges that he had shot all the arrows. When further questioned he answers: 'First I shoot the arrow, then I draw the target'.

Kranz's pupil Abraham Dov Bär Flahm edited and published the Dubner Maggid's writings, and a host of other maggidim adopted this method. In the same period there were Jacob Israel of Kremnitz, author of "Shebet' mi-Yisrael," a commentary on the Psalms (Zolkiev, 1772); Judah Löw Edel of Slonim, author of "Afiqe Yehudah," sermons (Lemberg, 1802); Chayyim Abraham Katz of Moghilef, author of "Milchama ve-Shalom" (Shklov, 1797); Ezekiel Feiwel of Deretschin, author of "Toledot Adam" (Dyhernfurth, 1809) and maggid in Wilna (Levinsohn, "Bet Yehudah," ii. 149).

In modern times, a descendent of the Dubner Maggid, Moshe Kranc wrote down several parables of his, along with modern interpretations, in a book about business and Jewish stories: "The Hasidic Masters' Guide to Management".

Philosophical Maggidim

The most celebrated maggid during the nineteenth century was Moses Isaac ben Noah Darshan, the "Kelmer Maggid" (b. 1828; d. 1900, in Lida). He was among the "terror" maggidim of the "Shebet' Musar" school and preached to crowded synagogues for over fifty years in almost every city of Russian Poland. Another prominent maggid was Chayyim Tzedeq, known as the "Rumsheshker" (Gersoni, "Sketches of Jewish Life and History," pp. 62-74, New York, 1873). The "philosophical" maggid is one who preaches from Arama's "Aqedat" and Bachya's "Chobot ha-Lebabot." Enoch Sundl Luria, the author of "Kenaf Renanim", on "Pirqe Shirah" (Krotoschin, 1842), was a noted philosophical maggid.

Meïr Leibush Malbim (d. 1880), in his voluminous commentaries on the Bible, followed to some extent Abravanel and Alshech, and his conclusions are pointed and logical. Malbim's commentaries are considered to offer the best material for the use of maggidim.

From the "terror", or "Musar", maggid developed the "penitential" maggid, who, especially during the month of Elul and the ten days of penitence between New-Year's Day and Yom Kippur, urged the wicked to repent of their sins and seek God's forgiveness. Jacob Joseph, chief rabbi of the Russian Jews in New York (d. 1902), formerly maggid of Wilna, was one of these. In the middle of his preaching he would pause to recite with the people the "Shema koleinu", and the "Ashamnu," raising the audience to a high pitch of religious emotion. The maggid usually ends his preaching with the words. "u-ba le-Tziyyon goel," etc. (a redeemer shall come to Zion speedily in our days; let us say "Amen"). Some of the wandering maggidim act also as meshullaḥim. The yeshibot in Russia and the charitable institutions of Jerusalem, especially the Wa'ad ha-Kelali, send abroad meshullaḥ-maggidim. The resident maggid who preaches at different synagogues in one city is called the "Stadt Maggid", as in Wilna and other large cities in Russia. The modern, or "maskil", maggid is called "Volksredner" (people's orator), and closely follows the German "Prediger" in his method of preaching. Tzebi Hirsch Dainow (d. 1877) was the first of the modern type of maggid, which soon developed into that of the "national," or "Zionistic," maggid. Tzvi Hirsch Masliansky and Joseph Zeff, both of New York, are representatives of the latter class. See Homiletics.

Hasidic Maggidim

Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch (דוב בער ממזריטש‎) (1704/1710 (?) – 1772-12-04 OS) was known as the Maggid — "Preacher" or literally "Sayer," one who rebukes and admonishes to go in God's ways — of Mezritsh after being the Maggid of the town of Rovne. He was a disciple of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism, and largely seen as his successor. Rabbi Dov Ber is regarded as the first proponent and exponent of Hasidism and one of its most important propagators.

His teachings appear in the volume, Magid Devarav L'Yaakov. He had an inner circle of disciples known as the Chevra Kadisha ("Holy Brotherhood") that included Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, Rabbi Aharon (HaGadol) of Karlin, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi.

Notable Maggidim

Kozhnitser (Kozienizer)Magid : Yisroel Hopsztajn (c. 1733 - 1814), author of the classic Avodas Yisroel.

Rebbe Yisroel Hopsztajn, the founder of the Kozhnitz dynasty, and one of the three "patriarchs" of Polish Hasidism, was a disciple of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk (Rabbi Elimelech Weisblum of Lizhensk), author of Noam Elimelech. The Rebbe Elimelech was a disciple of the Rebbe Dovber, the Maggid ("preacher") of Mezeritch, the primary disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism.

Maggid of Dubno Project


  • Bibliography: G. Deutsch, The Decline of the Pulpit, in American Hebrew, 1899, No. 17;
  • Dor Dor u-Darshanim, in Ha-Yom, 1887, No. 213
  • JE

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