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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

< Q2.16 TOC Q2.18 >

Question 2.17:
How does a Chassid differ from Misnagid?


Chassidism comes in many forms. However, all chassidic leadership is characterized by an extraordinary magnetism, given expression through various activities and symbols. The zaddik (chassidic leader) is believed in, devoutly admired, and obediently followed. There is a dynastic style of leadership often developed, with generation after generation of a certain dynasty of zaddikim following in the main its own specific interpretation of the chassidic way of life and communal cohesion (which has resulted in the various sects of Chassidism). The zaddik provides the spiritual illumination for the individual Chasssid and the Chassidic community from his own all-pervasive radiance, attained through his mystic union with G-d. In the eyes of his followers, the zaddik is a combination of confessor, moral instructor, practical adviser, theoretical teacher, and exegetical preacher. Some specific distinguishing characteristics of Chassidism is an emphasis on the importance of a personal/ emotional/ ecstatic touch to the doing of the mitzvos, the reliance on a Rebbe (especially for any important life decisions), and the telling of tales.

Misnagidim/Mitnagedim, on the other hand, is a designation for the opponents of the Chassidim. Although they have some common characteristics, Misnagidim tend to have a pronounced skepticism and a severe criticism of credulity and authoritarianism. Although originally the name arose from the bitter opposition to the Chassidic movement, in the course of time it lost its connotation of actual strife, and became a positive description. Elijah b. Solomon Zalman, the Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797), gave impetus to the rise of the Misnaggedim, and the way of life became characteristic of Lithuanian Jewry. After the death of Elijah the Gaon of Vilna, the struggle between the Chassidim and the Misnaggedim assumed even more bitter proportions, with mutual recrimination, but by the second half of the 19th century the hostility began to subside. One of the causes of the cessation of hostilities was the common front that both formed against the Haskalah [enlightenment and emancipation].

Here's another way to look at it. Chassidim see the point of Judaism in terms of being close to G-d (deveiqus, attachment). Misnagdim see it in terms of self-perfection (temimus, wholeness and perfection). This is why a chassid would be more concerned about being able to have proper concentration and focus (kavanah) for prayer, while a misnagid would be more concerned about the proper time (zerizus and zehirus, promptness and care for detail). In reality, these are two aspects of the same idea, but stressing different aspects leads to differences in practice and mindset.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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