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Baal Shem Tov And The Vilna Gaon -

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Tipo de recursos: Peula Idiomoa: Ingles

Edad 8 - 12

Cantidad de participantes en el grupo 10 - 50

Tiempo estimado: 45 minutos

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Objetivo del recurso

Goals: Teach about the Besht, the Vilna Gaon, Chasidut and Mitnagdut; Teach about the conflict between these two groups, and the main principles behind each.


Apoyo requerido y Materiales

Materials: Empty 2 liter bottle; Bic pen cap; Empty wine bottle + cork; button or other small object; playground ball


Contenidos de los recursos

Noseh: Acharonim

Topic: Baal Shem Tov and the Vilna Gaon

Written By: Josh Skarf

Goals: Teach about the Besht, the Vilna Gaon, Chasidut and Mitnagdut; Teach about the conflict between these two groups, and the main principles behind each.

Materials: Empty 2 liter bottle; Bic pen cap; Empty wine bottle + cork; button or other small object; playground ball

Background: In the 18th century, two separate but related movements arose in Eastern Europe Judaism: Chasidut and Mitnagdut. The founder of Chasidut was the Baal Shem Tov (Besht), who at age 36 began spreading his type of Judaism. He taught a number of basic tenets: Man plays a role in creation and the universe and can have a vast influence; Prayer with kavana is the key to Israels spiritual self-elevation; joy is the required background for Jewish life; and commandments must be performed with emotion. In addition, the tzaddik plays a key role, binding the Jewish people together and linking God and the masses. Although Kabala was frowned upon in the wake of Shabtai Zvi, Chasidut was strongly rooted in kabala and the Zohar. Through the Baal Shem Tov and his main disciple, The Magid of Mezeritch, this movement swept through Eastern Europe and gained tremendous popularity. Eventually many types of Chasidut arose in Europe, with occasional fighting between them. Leaders were chosen based on their abilities, and the many new leaders of Chasidut spread the teachings across Europe. Overall, Chasidut was a movement that attempted to bring Judaism to the people, allowing the simple man to play a large role.

At the same time as Chasidut was developing, another movement evolved in opposition: Mitnagdut (which means opposition in Hebrew.) It was led by Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, known as the GrA and more popularly, The Vilna Gaon. He was a genius by all accounts, and one of the finest scholars in hundreds of years. The Vilna Gaon never tried to be a leader, and didnt really act as one. Instead he tried to keep to himself and continue with his learning. Still, in doing so he became the ultimate leader of Mitnagdut and fought diligently against the spread of Chasidut. As a tremendous scholar, he brought credibility to the role of the Chacham. Eventually this led to the Yeshiva Movement, under which many of the premier European yeshivot were established and educated generations of scholars. Among his tremendous accomplishments, the Vilna Gaon went through all of Shas and corrected errors that had accumulated over generations, checking them against old manuscripts he gathered. Besides knowing all of Torah, he also studied sciences, math, philosophy, medicine, and other secular subjects. He felt all these were intimately tied with Torah. He was also the foremost student of Kabala of his time. When Chassidic communities began settling in Sefat, he took his followers and attempted to make Aliya. Although he did not make it, a large community of his followers ended up in Yerushalayim, forming the nucleus of the Old Yeshuv.

Although Chasidut swept through much of Poland, Galicia and the Ukraine, in Lithuania (where Vilna is) and White Russia, there was fierce opposition. Rabbis in those communities started issuing cherems on Chasidut in 1772, and continued to do so for over forty years. The Mitnagdim complained that Chassidim separated themselves from the community, changed tefila from Ashkenaz to Nusach Sefard, shouted and danced during tefila, didnt respect Chachamim, and used tobacco and alcohol to induce happiness. In addition, they didnt stick to Zmanim for tefila and changed sharpening laws for shechita. Primarily, the Mitnagdim were concerned that Chassidim were too lax about Torah study. Although Chassidic leaders tried to meet with the Vilna Gaon to reach an understanding, he refused to grant them an audience. Both sides tried to gain influence, eventually resorting to the government for assistance. A number of leaders were imprisoned on both sides after accusations or treachery were made. However, eventually both sides accepted the permanence of each other and opposition subsided a bit. Today both movements are integral parts of world Judaism.

Game 1: Monarch[1]

Set up a playing boundary large enough to give the chanichim some room to run around. Choose one chanich to be the Monarch. The monarch is armed only with a small nerf ball and can convert others to the monarchy by hitting them with the ball.

The rest of the chanichim are Anarchists and are free to roam the kingdom at will. They try to escape being tagged by the royal nerf ball. Once being hit by the royal nerf, the anarchist must announce his conversion by stopping, raising his hand, and announcing monarch!

When a monarch has the ball, s/he is confined to his or her throne and cannot move. The only options are to either try and hit someone with the ball or pass it to another monarch in better position to get someone. By keeping the ball moving, the monarchs should be able to increase their numbers fairly quickly. Whoever is the last anarchist to hold out gets to be the first monarch of the next round.

Madrichim should move about and retrieve any balls that are thrown and return them to the monarchs. In addition, they should make sure that no one leaves the playing area.

Discussion: In this game we begin with one person who is a monarch. This person tries to spread the monarchy around as quickly as possible, and does so by getting other monarchs to help out. In the 18th century, a new movement in Judaism arose called Chasidut. Chasidut was always centered around certain Tzaddikim who gathered communities around them and helped to spread the ideas. It began with one man, the Baal Shem Tov, who did just that. The people he trained spread out and formed new communities. In this way Chasidut spread very quickly across Eastern Europe.

Game 2: Human Pinball[2]

All players except one stand in a circle facing outwards. Chanichim spread their legs as wide as comfortable until their feet are touching their neighbors on either side. Everyone bends down and looks through their legs towards the middle of the circle. They are now human flippers in a game of human pinball.

The one non-flipper enters the circle as the movable target. The flippers try to hit him by knocking a rubber ball back and forth across the circle. For added action, introduce more than one ball. Whoever hits the target gets one point and also gets to be the new target. Every time the ball goes out of the circle, the target scores a point. However, the target is never allowed to touch the ball, but simply tries to avoid it.

Discussion: This game illustrates the power of one person among a crowd of many. Every ordinary person in this game can have a profound effect on the events of the game. Chasidut taught that every person, no matter how great, can have a tremendous impact on the world. Simply having proper kavana was enough to accomplish a great deal, even if you were a simple person. This made Chasidut very attractive to many Jewish peasants in Eastern Europe as it made them feel important and significant in the cosmic events of the world. It was one of the factors that allowed Chasidut to spread so quickly.

Game 3: Lateral Thinking

3a: Bottleneck[3]

Take a large, empty plastic soda bottle and put a plastic pen caps inside it. Set the bottle upright and leave the bottle cap off. Pose the following challenge: How can you get the pen cap out of the bottle without knocking the bottle over, turning it upside down, or touching it in any way? The answer is to pour water into the bottle until the plastic cap floats out.

3b: A Corker[4]

Place a button inside an empty glass bottle, then replace the cork firmly. Set the bottle in front of the group and ask: Without pulling out the cork, breaking the bottle, cutting the glass, melting the glass or burning the cork, how can the button be removed from inside the bottle? The answer is to push the cork into the bottle.

Discussion: In these two games, we played a number of thinking challenges. At the same time as Chasidut was developing, another movement was being formed in opposition: Mitnagdut. In fact, this word itself means opposition. (root: Neged). It was led by a man named Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, the Vilna Gaon. The Vilna Gaon was one of the smartest and scholarly men in recent history he even appears in Ripleys Believe it Or Not for his tremendous intellect. Mitnagdut put a large emphasis on scholarship and study. They felt that Chasidut was abandoning this scholarship and not valuing torah study enough. The Mitnagdim did their best to stop the spread of Chasidut, and in White Russia and Lithuania they were very successful.

Game 4: Chain Tag[5]

One person is designated as IT, and his or her job is to tag people. When s/he tags someone, the two of them join hands and continue tagging people as a unit. Once eight people are in the group, they must break apart and become two groups of four. As the game continues, several groups of four end up chasing the free single players. The game is played until everyone is caught.

Discussion: The two movements, Chasidut and Mitnagdut, ended up engaging in a race to recruit members, a competition to keep each other from expanding, much like in this game. Eventually, Chasidim established communities in Tzefat in Israel. Mitnagdim followed and set up a community in Yerushalayim (which, as a side point, is the reason why minhag Eretz Yisrael often follows the Vilna Gaon.) Therefore, two strong communities ended up in Israel partially as a result of this conflict.



[1] More New Games p. 115

[2] New Games Book p. 51

[3] Rohnke, Karl. On the Edge Games for Youth Ministry. P. 40

[4] ibid, p. 41

[5] Rice, Wayne and Yaconelli, Mike. Creative Resources for Youth Ministry, p. 51


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