Misnagdim

Misnagdim

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Misnagdim or Mitnagdim is a Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 word (מתנגדים) meaning "opponents". It is the plural of misnaged or mitnaged. Most prominent among the Misnagdim was Rabbi Elijah (Eliyahu) ben Shlomo Zalman (1720–1797), commonly known as the Vilna Gaon
Vilna Gaon
Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon or Elijah of Vilna and simply by his Hebrew acronym Gra or Elijah Ben Solomon, , was a Talmudist, halachist, kabbalist, and the foremost leader of non-hasidic Jewry of the past few centuries...

 or the Gra. The term "Misnagdim" gained a common usage among European Jews as the term that referred to Ashkenazi
Ashkenazi Jews
Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazic Jews or Ashkenazim , are the Jews descended from the medieval Jewish communities along the Rhine in Germany from Alsace in the south to the Rhineland in the north. Ashkenaz is the medieval Hebrew name for this region and thus for Germany...

 Jews who opposed the rise and spread of early Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism or Hasidism, from the Hebrew —Ḥasidut in Sephardi, Chasidus in Ashkenazi, meaning "piety" , is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through the popularisation and internalisation of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspects of the Jewish faith...

, particularly as embodied by Hasidism's founder, Rabbi Yisroel (Israel) ben Eliezer (1698–1760), who was known as the Baal Shem Tov or BESHT.

Rabbi Chaim Volozhin
Chaim Volozhin
Chaim Volozhin was an Orthodox rabbi, Talmudist, and ethicist. Popularly known as "Reb Chaim Volozhiner" or simply as "Reb Chaim", he was born in Volozhin when it was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

 was the chief follower and disciple of the Vilna Gaon and founded a yeshiva in Volozhin
Volozhin yeshiva
The Volozhin Yeshiva, also known as Etz Chaim Yeshiva, was a prestigious Lithuanian yeshiva located in the town of Volozhin, Russia, . It was founded by Rabbi Chaim Itzkovitz, a student of the famed Vilna Gaon, and trained several generations of scholars, rabbis, and leaders...

 - often referred to as the "Mother of the Yeshiva
Yeshiva
Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim and in study pairs called chavrutas...

s" - to which most Litvish
Lithuanian Jews
Lithuanian Jews or Litvaks are Jews with roots in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania:...

 ("Lithuanian") yeshiva
Yeshiva
Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim and in study pairs called chavrutas...

s can be traced.

A large group of Misnagdim and their families, numbering over 500, were inspired by the Vilna Gaon to settle in Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 between 1809 and 1812. They are known as Perushim
Perushim
The Perushim were disciples of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, who left Lithuania at the beginning of the 19th century to settle in the Land of Israel, then under Ottoman rule...

.

Origins



The rapid spread of Hasidism in the second half of the 18th century greatly troubled many traditional rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

s; many saw it as a potentially dangerous enemy. They felt that it was another manifestation of the recent messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi
Sabbatai Zevi
Sabbatai Zevi, , was a Sephardic Rabbi and kabbalist who claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He was the founder of the Jewish Sabbatean movement...

 (1626–1676) that had led many Jews away from mainstream Judaism.

Hasidism's founder was Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov ("master of a good name" usually applied to a saintly Jew who was also a wonder-worker), or simply "the Besht"; he taught that man's relationship with God
Names of God in Judaism
In Judaism, the name of God is more than a distinguishing title; it represents the Jewish conception of the divine nature, and of the relationship of God to the Jewish people and to the world. To demonstrate the sacredness of the names of God, and as a means of showing respect and reverence for...

 depended on immediate religious experience, in addition to knowledge and observance of the details of the Torah and Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

.

Much of Judaism was still fearful of the messianic movements of the Sabbateans
Sabbatai Zevi
Sabbatai Zevi, , was a Sephardic Rabbi and kabbalist who claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He was the founder of the Jewish Sabbatean movement...

 and the Frankists
Jacob Frank
Jacob Frank was an 18th century Jewish religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi and also of the biblical patriarch Jacob...

 (followers of the messianic claimant Jacob Frank
Jacob Frank
Jacob Frank was an 18th century Jewish religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi and also of the biblical patriarch Jacob...

 (1726–1791)). Many rabbis suspected Hasidism of an intimate connection with these movements.

The characteristically "Lithuanian" approach to Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 was marked by a concentration on highly intellectual Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 study. Lithuania became the heartland of the traditionalist opposition to Hasidism, to the extent that in popular perception "Lithuanian" and "misnaged" became virtually interchangeable terms. In fact, however, a sizable minority of Lithuanian Jews belong(ed) to Hasidic groups, including Chabad
Chabad
Chabad or Chabad-Lubavitch is a major branch of Hasidic Judaism.Chabad may also refer to:*Chabad-Strashelye, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism*Chabad-Kapust or Kapust, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism...

, Slonim
Slonim
Slonim is a city in Hrodna Voblast, Belarus, capital of the Slonim District. It is located at the junction of the Shchara and Isa rivers, 143 km southeast of Hrodna. The population in 2008 was 50,800.-Etymology and historical names:...

, Karlin
Karlin (Hasidic Dynasty)
Karlin-Stolin is a Hasidic dynasty originating with Rebbe Aaron the Great of Karlin in present-day Belarus. Karlin was one of the first centres of Hasidim to be set up in Lithuania....

 (Pinsk
Pinsk
Pinsk , a town in Belarus, in the Polesia region, traversed by the river Pripyat, at the confluence of the Strumen and Pina rivers. The region was known as the Marsh of Pinsk. It is a fertile agricultural center. It lies south-west of Minsk. The population is about 130,000...

) and Koidanov.

Opposition of the Vilna Gaon



The first attacks on Hasidic Judaism came during the times of the founder of Hasidic thought. Two bans of excommunication against Hasidic Jews first appeared in 1772, accompanied by the public ripping up of several early Hasidic pamphlets. The Vilna Gaon
Vilna Gaon
Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon or Elijah of Vilna and simply by his Hebrew acronym Gra or Elijah Ben Solomon, , was a Talmudist, halachist, kabbalist, and the foremost leader of non-hasidic Jewry of the past few centuries...

, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, galvanized opposition to Hasidic Judaism. He believed that the claims of miracles and visions made by Hasidic Jews were lies and delusions. A key point of opposition was that the Vilna Gaon maintained that greatness in Torah and observance must come through natural human efforts at Torah study
Torah study
Torah study is the study by Jewish people of the Torah, Hebrew Bible, Talmud, responsa, rabbinic literature and similar works, all of which are Judaism's religious texts...

 without relying on any external "miracles" and "wonders", whereas the Ba'al Shem Tov was more focused on bringing encouragement and raising the morale of the Jewish people, especially following the Chmelnitzki pogroms
Khmelnytsky Uprising
The Khmelnytsky Uprising, was a Cossack rebellion in the Ukraine between the years 1648–1657 which turned into a Ukrainian war of liberation from Poland...

 (1648–1654) and the aftermath of disillusionment in the Jewish masses following the millennial excitement heightened by the failed messianic claims of Sabbatai Zevi
Sabbatai Zevi
Sabbatai Zevi, , was a Sephardic Rabbi and kabbalist who claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. He was the founder of the Jewish Sabbatean movement...

 and Jacob Frank
Jacob Frank
Jacob Frank was an 18th century Jewish religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi and also of the biblical patriarch Jacob...

. Opponents of Hasidim held that Hasidim viewed their rebbe
Rebbe
Rebbe , which means master, teacher, or mentor, is a Yiddish word derived from the Hebrew word Rabbi. It often refers to the leader of a Hasidic Jewish movement...

s in an idolatrous fashion.

Hasidism's changes and challenges


Most of the changes made by the Hasidim were the product of the Hasidic approach to Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

, particularly as expressed by Rabbi Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

 (1534–1572), known as "the ARI" and his disciples, particularly Rabbi Chaim Vital
Hayyim ben Joseph Vital
Hayyim ben Joseph Vital was a rabbi in Safed and the foremost disciple of Isaac Luria. He recorded much of his master's teachings...

 (1543–1620). Both Misnagdim and chassidim were greatly influenced by the ARI, but the legalistic Misnagdim feared in chassidism what they perceived as disturbing parallels to the Sabatean movement. An example of such an idea was the concept that the entire universe is completely nullified to God. Depending on how this idea was preached and interpreted, it could give rise to pantheism
Pantheism
Pantheism is the view that the Universe and God are identical. Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal, anthropomorphic or creator god. The word derives from the Greek meaning "all" and the Greek meaning "God". As such, Pantheism denotes the idea that "God" is best seen as a process of...

, universally acknowledged as a heresy, or lead to immoral behavior, since elements of Kabbalah can be misconstrued to de-emphasize ritual by rote and glorifies sexual metaphors as a deeper means of grasping some inner hidden notions in the Torah based on the Jews' intimate relationship with God.

The stress of prayer
Jewish services
Jewish prayer are the prayer recitations that form part of the observance of Judaism. These prayers, often with instructions and commentary, are found in the siddur, the traditional Jewish prayer book....

 over study
Torah study
Torah study is the study by Jewish people of the Torah, Hebrew Bible, Talmud, responsa, rabbinic literature and similar works, all of which are Judaism's religious texts...

, and the Hasidic reinterpretation of Torah l'shma (Torah study for its own sake), was seen as a rejection of the traditional Jewish views.

Hasidim did not follow the traditional Ashkenazi prayer rite, and instead used a rite which is a combination of Ashkenazi and Sephardi rites (Nusach Sefard
Nusach Sefard
Nusach Sefard is the name for various forms of the Jewish siddur, designed to reconcile Ashkenazi customs with the kabbalistic customs of the Ari. To this end it has incorporated the wording of Nusach Edot Mizrach, the prayer book of Sefardi Jews, into certain prayers...

), based upon Kabbalistic concepts from Rabbi Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria
Isaac Luria , also called Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi acronym "The Ari" "Ari-Hakadosh", or "Arizal", meaning "The Lion", was a foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine...

 of Safed. This was seen as a rejection of the traditional Ashkenazi liturgy and, due to the resulting need for separate synagogues, a breach of communal unity.

Hasidic Jews also added some halakhic stringencies
Chumra
A khumra is a prohibition or obligation in Jewish practice that exceeds the bare requirements of Jewish law. One who imposes a khumra on him- or herself in a given instance is said to be מחמיר makhmir...

 on Kashrus, the laws of keeping kosher. They made certain changes in how livestock were slaughtered and in who was considered a reliable mashgiach
Mashgiach
In Judaism, a Mashgiach is a person who supervises the kashrut status of a kosher establishment.A mashgiah may supervise any type of food service establishment, including slaughterhouses, food manufacturers, hotels, caterers, nursing homes, restaurants, butchers, groceries, or cooperatives...

 (supervisor of kashrut). The end result was that they essentially considered some kosher food as less stringent. This was seen as a change of traditional Judaism, and an over stringency of halakha (Jewish law), and, again, a breach of communal unity.

Struggles and persecutions


A bitter struggle soon arose between traditional observant Jews and the newer Hasidim. At the head of the Orthodox party stood the Vilna Gaon. In 1772, when the first secret circles of Hasidim appeared in Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

, the rabbinic kahal ("council") of Vilna
Vilnius
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

, with the approval of Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon, arrested the local leaders of the sect, and excommunicated its adherents. Letters were sent from Vilna to the rabbis of other communities calling upon them to make war upon the "godless sect."

In many places persecutions were instituted against the Hasidim. The appearance in 1780 of the first works of Hasidic literature created alarm among the Orthodox. At the council of rabbis held in the village of Zelva, Trakai Voivodeship
Trakai Voivodeship
Trakai Voivodeship, Trakai Palatinate, or Troki Voivodeship , was a unit of administrative division and local government in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from 1413 until 1795.-History:...

, in 1781, it was resolved to uproot Hasidism. In the official letters issued by the council, the faithful were ordered to expel the Hasidim from every Jewish community, to regard them as members of another faith, to hold no social intercourse with them, not to intermarry with them, and not to bury their dead.

Hasidism in the south of eastern Europe had established itself so firmly in the various communities that it had no fear of persecution. The main sufferers were the northern Hasidim. Their leader, Hasidic Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi
Shneur Zalman of Liadi
Shneur Zalman of Liadi , also known as the Baal HaTanya, , was an Orthodox Rabbi, and the founder and first Rebbe of Chabad, a branch of Hasidic Judaism, then based in Liadi, Imperial Russia...

 (1745–1812), the founder of Chabad
Chabad
Chabad or Chabad-Lubavitch is a major branch of Hasidic Judaism.Chabad may also refer to:*Chabad-Strashelye, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism*Chabad-Kapust or Kapust, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism...

 Hasidism, attempted to allay the anger of the Misnagdim and of Elijah Gaon.

On the death of the latter in 1797 the exasperation of the Misnagdim became so great that they resolved to libel and denounce the leaders of the Hasidim to the Russian government as dangerous agitators and teachers of heresy. In consequence twenty-two Hasidic Jews were arrested in Vilna and other places. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi was arrested at his court in Liozna and brought to St. Petersburg (1798). Chabad Hasidim still celebrate the day of his liberation from prison.

The struggle of Misnagdim with Hasidism in Lithuania and White Russia led to the formation of the latter sect in those regions into separate religious organizations; these existing in many towns alongside of those of the Misnagdim. In the south-western region the Hasidim almost completely crowded out the Misnagdim. Lithuania remained strongly Misnagdic. Another group of non-Hasidic Jews were the Oberlander Jews
Oberlander Jews
Oberlander Jews are Ashkenazi, Yiddish- and German-speaking Jews originating in the Oberland or higher land western region of Hungary and the district surrounding Pozsony...

 of Hungary and Slovakia, who were not Misnagdim.

Winding down the battles


By the mid-19th century most of non-Hasidic Judaism had discontinued its struggle with Hasidism and had reconciled itself to the establishment of the latter as a fact.

See also

  • Schisms among the Jews
    Schisms among the Jews
    Schisms among the Jews are cultural as well as religious. They have happened as a product of historical accident, geography, and theology.-First Temple era:...

  • Hasidic Judaism
    Hasidic Judaism
    Hasidic Judaism or Hasidism, from the Hebrew —Ḥasidut in Sephardi, Chasidus in Ashkenazi, meaning "piety" , is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and joy through the popularisation and internalisation of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspects of the Jewish faith...

  • Lithuanian Jews
    Lithuanian Jews
    Lithuanian Jews or Litvaks are Jews with roots in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania:...

  • History of the Jews in Lithuania
    History of the Jews in Lithuania
    The history of the Jews in Lithuania spans the period from the eighth century to the present day. There is still a small community in that country, as well as an extensive Lithuanian Jewish diaspora in Israel, the United States and other countries. For more detail, see Lithuanian Jews.-Early...


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