ONCE UPON A TIME, the Troubadours wandered through medieval Europe, singing songs, telling tales, mingling with people of all social classes. These poets and minstrels elevated storytelling as an art, often entertaining huge crowds at fairs, weddings and other celebrations. They offered a sharp contrast to, and welcome diversion from, the medieval monks and their chronicles and treatises penned in Latin.
Similarly, the Jewish Maggidim of 18th century eastern Europe traveled town to town, telling stories and preaching to the Jewish peasants in language they could easily understand – the language of story and song. Though the maggidim themselves were often highly educated, their way of connecting with the masses stood in sharp contrast to the Torah scholars and rabbis, who lived in a rarefied yeshiva world of all-day study and (often) disdain for those who did not devote their lives likewise.
Before the term Rebbe caught on, the early chassidic rabbis were mostly known by the title of Maggid. If they had had access to a guitar or lute, they might well have been called troubadours.