The Origins of Hasidic Judaism: The Ba’al Shem Tov

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In the aftermath of historical events that impacted Jews of Eastern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, two groups rose up that inspired generations of Jews to revolutionize the way they practice Judaism.

The birth of Hasidic Judaism was inspired by the Baal Shem Tov and his successor, Dov Ber, who spread a more accessible form of Judaism focused on infusing joy into its practice. The movement began to spread across Eastern Europe until it reached the Vilna Gaon in Lithuania. The Vilna Gaon and his followers, the Mitnagdim, or “opponents of Hasidism,” outwardly rejected the movement and denounced it as heresy.

While these groups disagreed with each other’s teachings and continued to clash for decades, in the long run each of their movements was strengthened by the other. Hasidism gave rise to close knit communities that deepened their dedication to Torah study. Meanwhile, the Mitnagdim created the first yeshiva whose purpose was to make Jewish learning accessible; a central feature of Judaism to this day.

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