“As long as the Hasidim do not fully atone for their deviant behavior, they must be scattered and driven away so that not even two of these heretics remains together. The end of their groups and gatherings will be a blessing for the world.”
So wrote the Vilna Gaon in 1772, in a much-publicized letter that was cosigned by 17 other senior rabbis from Vilna.
The letter, which revealed the Vilna Gaon’s unrestrained animosity towards the Hasidim, launched one of the most prolonged campaigns of modern Jewish history to uproot and destroy a particular group within the Jewish world.
But despite the Vilna Gaon’s A-list status in the rabbinic world, his relentless campaign was ultimately ineffective and unsuccessful.
In this Jewish History lecture, Rabbi Dunner reveals the origins of the Hasidic movement, giving a fresh perspective on its founder, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, as well as his two main successors, Rabbi Dov Ber the Maggid of Mezritch, and Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Katz of Polonnoye.
Rabbi Dunner also explores the origins of the anti-Hasidism campaign by the Vilna Gaon and his supporters – known as Mitnaggedim – offering insights and clues as to why the Vilna Gaon had such negative feelings towards the Hasidic movement, and why he felt that they needed to be eliminated from Jewish life.