Friday, May 8, 2015

Two Aspects of Orthodox Judaism: Chabad Hasidic Jews and Mitnaggedim

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                   
Shneour Zalman (September 4, 1745-December 15, 1812)

Our teachers of Judaism are called rabbis.  Some rabbis have developed followings of many people due to their wise teachings.  We have had but one way of worshipping in Judaism, and that was the Orthodox way.  It wasn't until Germany's enlightment period of reacting to the Napoleonic emancipation  that Reform Judaism came into being.  It introduced a shorter service and the organ and a sermon.  It was in the USA by 1875. That broke a lot of the traditions of Orthodoxy.   After swinging to this extreme, Judaism developed Conservative Judaism which was in the middle of the two by allowing men and women to sit together.  One synagogue in Portland was the Neveh Zedek Synagogue that was Conservative.

I might add that sermons were introduced because the Jews attending there no longer spent their time studying Torah and Talmud in groups where discussion was going on as in yeshivote (Jewish schools).  To enlighten them, they had to be told what was the expected lesson to be learned by the Rabbi himself.
Israel Ben Eliezer or  Baal Shem Tov (1700 Podolia, Ukraine-1760)  student of Kabbalah.  In 1735 he was known for miraculous cures.  Lived in Medzibozh, Podolia, Ukraine; 10,000 followers came to his funeral.

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) He taught that man's relationship with God depended on immediate religious experience, in addition to knowledge and observance of the details of the Torah and Talmud.

Rabbi Shneour Zalman of Lyady/Liadi, Belarus,  also known as White Russia-- under Polish rule until 1772,   was such a rabbi.  He started a movement of Hasidism different from that of rabbis of Volhynia such as Baruch of Medzibozh and Abraham of Kalish  which were simple unlearned Hasidism that had spread throughout Volhynia and the Ukraine.  It also differed from  the Vilna Gaon.  " Chabad is today one of the world's best known Chasidic movements and is well known for its outreach. Organizationally, it is the largest Jewish religious organization in the world."  It's also known as Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic.
 The Vilna Gaon, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797) was the son of  Rabbi Shlomo-Zalman who died in 1758 . His father , Rabbi Shlomo Zalmen Vilna (1695-1758) married Treina of Seltz.  She was born in 1700.  He came from a prominent family in Vilna and his mother came from the town of Seltz(Selets) near Grodno, Lithuania.  Rabbi Shlomo Zalman was the son of Yissakhar Ber . The Gaon's great great grandfather was Eliyahu Khassid who married into another prominent rabbinic family.  His wife was a daughter of Rabbi Petakhiah who died in 1672.  
His teachings  were quite different from the popular rabbi  Eliyahu, known as the Vilna Gaon of Vilna, Lithuania.   So here we have two well-known rabbis from different countries, both in what was known as the Pale of Settlement.  This was land belonging to Russia, as Jews weren't allowed to live in Russia proper.  They were only allowed to live in the Pale, an area where the story of Fiddler on the Roof took place.

The Vilna Gaon's teachings were called Mitnaggedim/Misnagdim  Judaism.  "This developed by  Jews living in Europe as the term that referred to Ashkenazi Jews who opposed the rise and spread of early Hasidic Judaism.  The rapid spread of Hasidism in the second half of the 18th century greatly troubled many traditional rabbis; many saw it as a potentially dangerous enemy. They thought that it was another manifestation of the recent messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi(1626–1676) that had led many Jews away from mainstream Judaism.

 The Vilna Gaon, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, a prominent rabbi, galvanized opposition to Hasidic Judaism. He believed that the claims of miracles and visions made by Hasidic Jews were lies and delusions.  He must have been a genius.  He had delivered an advanced discourse on the Talmud when he was only seven years old, and  he had studied Jewish texts eighteen hours a day.

 Gaon is a word from the Babylonian Jewish community meaning an intellectual leader, often with temporal power in post-talmudic period from 6th to 11th centuries.  They headed the 2 leading academies of Sura and Pumbedita.  Gaon means eminence, pride, meaning head of the academy which is the pride of Jacob.  Academies were ancient institutions dating from days of Rav and Samuel from early amoraic days.   Being we were told by Moses that we were to be a nation of Priests, teaching what he had brought to us from G-d, it is understandable that Jews have strived in intellectual pursuits, especially in our own religion.  It was not stressed that we were to be a nation of warriors.

Judaism has had many who interpret much from what Moses brought to us.  Zalman's Chabad stands for the words:  Hokhmah Binah va-Daat, which is Hebrew for WISDOM, UNDERSTANDING AND KNOWLEDGE.  Chabad's attraction to people was that it was intellectual.

Zalman was persecuted and was twice imprisoned due to the Mitnaggedim.  When he was released, his movement of Chabad grew rapidly.  People had questions that needed answers, and the rabbis tried to answer that which was not written outright by Moses.  He wrote his opinions called a Tanya which were essays on the subjects of the soul, moral conduct, creation and the Deity.  All this was in his discourse Shaar ha-Yihud veha-Emunah. This amounted to being a pantheistic philosophy of Judaism.  He taught people that "there is no vacuum in which G-d is not present."  The world was created by divine power ex nihilo  which continues to sustain it.  If this active force (Divinity) remove itself from the object acted upon (creation), all would return to nothingness.

He taught that MAN must gain mastery over his evil desire, which is the product of his animal soul, by means of wisdom, understanding and knowledge.  The emphasis is on Torah study and intellectual contemplations, not emotional ecstasy.

Hasidim stressed the observance of the commandments but opposed excessive ascetic practices and fasts.  They admire and work to attain humility, saintliness, joy and melody.  The tzaddik (a righteous man known for his outstanding knowledge of his faith and piety)  was a spiritual leader but not a miracle worker.  Chabad Hasidim have a special rite and follow the legal code laid down by Shneour Zalman.

The characteristically "Lithuanian" approach to Judaism of Mitnaggedim was marked by a concentration on highly intellectual Talmud 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. 

Our Talmud states that the merits of at least 36 tzaddikim in each generation keep the world in existence.  This idea of tzaddikim is of special significance in Hasidism where it was developed by Dov Ber of Mezhirich and Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye.

Jacob Joseph was a student of the Baal Shem Tov who published his works for him.  The Baal Shem Tov's doctrines were largely based on kabbalistic teachings of Isaac Luria and his school but with innovations.  Isaac Ben Solomon Luria was (1534-1572), known as the Ashkenazi, was a Palestinian Kabbalist born in Jerusalem and educated in Egypt but lived in Safed, Israel, well known there today by his synagogue which still stands.
7th in line: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of beloved memory 
Their leaders have been  descendants of Schneersohn:

Founder of Chabad: Rabbi Schneur Zalman 1745-1812 of Liadi.
  His daughter was Devorah Leah who became the wife of  Dov Ber and Menahem Mendel's mother.  She died when Menahem was 3 years old.  
1. Dov Ber Schneuri/ Schneerson 1773-1828;  2nd Rebbe of Chabad, lived in  town of Lyubavichi (now in present-day Russia).  
2. Menahem Mendel  Schneerson of Liubavich , Tzemach Tzedek, b: 1789  d: 1866
3. Shalom Dov Ber  Schneerson d: 1920
4. Joseph Isaac Schneerson  d: 1952  who was imprisoned for a time in Soviet Russia and released in 1927.  He eventually settled in New York, which was also  the home of Menahem Mendel.  
5. Baruch Schneur Schneerson 
6. Levi Yitzchak Shneerson, renowned Kabbalist, talmudic scholar and leader
7. Menachem Mendel Schneerson 1902-June 12, 1994, lived in  Nikolayev and Dnieperptrosk (Ukraine), Leningrad, Berlin, Warsaw, Paris and New York; built upon and expanded his predecessors’ work to revolutionize Jewish life across the globe; known simply as “the Rebbe.”

 "Today, more than 4,000 full-time husband-and-wife teams direct Lubavitch institutions across the globe, from inner-city pre-schools to rural synagogues. An average 1.5 Lubavitch institutions open each week across the globe."
The founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, "in response to renewed persecutions against the chassidic community in Vilna, Rabbi Schneur Zalman rearticulated his non-confrontational stance, writing, “We are obliged to remain silent, to tolerate and accept the torment with love . . .” He promised his followers that if they kept the peace, the chassidic path would ultimately emerge triumphant."

Hasidim regarded the tzaddikim as the intermediary between G-d and man.    Originally one of his pupils was chosen to succeed him, but the title eventually became hereditary.  According to Hasidic doctrine, the tzaddik is the foundation--the soul--of the world who brings down divine blessings.  HIs words are regared as miraculous and prophetic.  Many of the tzaddikim, the dynasties of Rozhin and Chernobyl, adopted a very comfortable way of life..  Others, especially in Poland and Galicia, lived simply and charitably, opposing rich living.

"Hasidism's opponents charged that the Tzaddikim (plural) often enriched themselves at the expense of their followers. In the generation after Dov Baer, numerous new Hasidic groups were formed, each with its own Tzaddik, referred to as a rebbe. These rebbes became a kind of Jewish royalty. When one died, he was succeeded by either his son or son­ in­law. Those Hasidic groups that established eminent family dynasties became successful. Many Hasidic groups, however, went into decline when their rebbe died and left behind less capable successors."

The difference today between Chabad and Orthodox Judaism is more that " Hasidism generally places a much greater stress on simcha shel mitzvah — the joy of performing a commandment."  Chabad has grown and are now found in most parts of the world including the USA, Canada, Australia and North Africa as well as in Israel.  There, they have founded the agricultural settlements of Kephar Chabad and Shaphrir.

The reason that rabbis could be so learned comes from marrying very young, sometimes even at 14 in the old country, and the fact that the wife worked in her own shop.  Her working allowed her husband to study.  Every Friday night, her helpfulness is remembered in a beautiful rendition of a prayer, thanking her.  Rabbis worked, too, in a skill or profession, even raising grapes in France as RASHI had done.  Women selected mates according to their standing in the synagogue.  The more intelligent, the better the husband, usually.  Rabbinic dynasties tended to marry into other rabbinic dynasties.  Of course, men never tire of beauty.  Rachel caught Jacob's eye because of her great beauty and kindness to him.

Resource:  The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia p. 394 Habad.
Eliyahu's Branches by Chaim Freedman


  1. where is "my" nadene? ;)

    looking forward to the next post :)

  2. Oh, I've written another one on giants for and I wrote one for with pictures of my family in it. Did I let you know about that? I'm getting frustrated with the news and just haven't picked a subject-there are so many happening today; don't know where to begin.

  3. i would have the same issue if it were me posting too nadene. but always glad to read what you write. thanks.

  4. I wrote one today updating the problem of Iran and their upcoming nuclear power. I'm just glad you can find my articles and do read them!