Ernest Bloch composed his Baal Shem, Three Pictures from Hassidic Life in 1923, the year in which he procured American citizenship. Along with his most familiar work, Schelomo, Rhapsody for cello and orchestra, his three pieces From Jewish Life, the Méditation hébraïque, and the Sacred Service of 1930, the triptych Baal Shem belongs to a distinctive and unmistakable genus of pieces, in which Bloch's personal voice was now powerfully established as being "Jewish" in utterance above all else. But as the critic Erik Levi suggests, it is important to remember that "Bloch's Jewishness derived from an inner impulse, not through a conscious absorption of Hebraic folk elements." To this we could also add Bloch's own assertion: "it is neither my purpose nor desire to attempt a reconstruction of Jewish music, nor to base my work on more or less authentic melodies...I am not an archaeologist; for me the most important thing is to write good and sincere music."
Baal Shem continues the process of thought. "What interests me," wrote Bloch, "is the Jewish soul, the enigmatic, ardent, turbulent soul that I feel vibrating throughout the Bible...it is all this that I endeavour to hear in myself and to transcribe into my music; the venerable emotion of the race that slumbers way down in our souls." Bloch's Baal Shem is made up of I. "Vidui" (Contrition) -- Un poco lento; II. "Nigun" (Improvisation) -- Adagio non troppo; III. "Simchas Torah" (Rejoicing) -- Allegro giocoso. As Erik Levi writes, "Nigun is the most extrovert composition. Here, Bloch attempts to recreate the feeling of ecstatic religious chanting through a highly charged and ornate melodic line that rises to a fever pitch of spiritual intensity before dying away to a gentle close. Before this comes Vidui in which the fervour of a sinner returning to God is evoked by cantilena writing of considerable nobility. The final section of Baal Shem, Simchas Torah, inspired by the moment when Moses handed down the torch to the children of Israel, is a lively, optimistic and exhilarating piece." The trilogy was originally intended for violin and piano; however, Bloch also produced an edition with orchestral accompaniment in 1939; Baal Shem is also occasionally performed by cellists, with either form of accompaniment.