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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Executive Producers:
Melinda Goldrich
Shmuel Katz

Gold Level:
Goldrich Family Foundation
Melanie & Martin Glatt
Image and footage credits:
Nati Harnik/Israeli GPO
U.S. Embassy Jerusalem
Achim B’yachad-Chai Lifeline
Fundacja Chai
Francesca Pagani
Temple Emanu-El NYC
About The Jewish Story: Understand three thousand years of Jewish history in these short videos based on the book Letters to Auntie Fori: The 5,000-Year History of the Jewish People and Their Faith by the renowned historian Sir Martin Gilbert. Learn the Jewish story from the ancient Israelites of the Bible to Hellenization, the Jews of the Middle Ages to modern day, and more.

About Unpacked: We provide nuanced insights by unpacking all things Jewish. People are complex and complicated — yet we’re constantly being pushed to oversimplify our world. At Unpacked we know that being complex makes us more interesting. Because of this, we break the world down with nuance and insight to drive your curiosity and challenge your thinking.

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