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Question - I thought that nowadays there is no difference between hassidim and misnagdim.

Answer - While the lines between the groups may not be as sharply drawn for most  as compared to some periods in the past, there are still differences between hassidim and misnagdim / non-hassidim. An absence of loud, high profile conflict and disputation doesn't mean that no differences exist. Due to various factors these differences are often de-emphasized today - but they are still with us.

Question - I am not from a Litvish family background - can I still be a misnaged?

Answer - Misnagdim can be from any background. Often the terms Litvak and Misnaged are used interchangeably because Lita was the biggest center of concentrated hisnagdus over the years. Nowadays, however, the term Litvak represents more a state of mind than an ethnic derivation.

Question - Why should we continue a machlokes - shouldn't we just forget about it?

Answer - Just as we study other differences of opinion in Jewish history - whether Hillel and Shammai, Rava and Abaye, Rambam and Raavad, Rav Kook and the Satmar Rebbe, so too, this disagreement is worthy of study. Also, let us remember the statement in Pirkei Ovos, 'kol machlokes shehi lishem shomayim, sofoh lihiskayeim'.

Question - Why haven't I heard more spoken about hisnagdus ?

Answer - Some people may not be knowledgable on the topic. Other people may prefer not to speak about differences with other Jewish groups - at least not in a very public manner. They may be wary of controversy.

Also, while Hassidim are often very aggressive and vocal in working to disseminate their ideas, Misnagdim are usually more low key and quieter. Let us remember that 'lo biraash Hashem.....' (Hashem is not in the whirlwind...........rather in the small still voice......) - the voice of Hashem, Torah and truth is not always the loudest voice around - it is often drowned out by other voices.

Question - Why has little (relatively) been written about hisnagdus ?

Answer - See above.

Also, some of the teachings / philosophies of hisnagdus have been treated as a sort of 'Torah shebaal peh' (oral Torah). Sometimes Torah shebaal peh is in danger of being forgotten, however, and in such case, as in the cases of the Mishnah and Talmud, it was allowed to write it down, as a case of 'eis laasos'.

Question - Is the Hassidism of today the same as the Hassidism of 200-250 years ago ?

Answer - In the early years of the Hassidic movement there were some pretty radical things that (at least some) Hassidim did, which raised the ire of others. For example, some Hassidim would engage in somersaults during davening, scorn Torah scholars, etc. Much of the radicalism of those days died down over the years as Hassidim moved from being a revolutionary new sect to a more accepted part of the Jewish community. It is even reported that the third Lubavitcher Rebbe stated that the Hassidim owe a great debt of gratitude to the Vilna Gaon for his Hisnagdus (opposition to Hassidism), because it forced the Hassidim to curb some of their excesses (Schochet p.208, Mekor Boruch 2:619).

Also interesting is a a statement of The Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (niftar 5739 - 1979), who stated that 'the derech haBesht (way of the Ba'al Shem Tov) has been forgotten (in our [already in his] time)'.

Conclusion - Hassidism has changed / moderated over the years.

Perhaps that is another reason why Hisnagdus today is less overt than in the past - along with the feeling among some that since most Jews today are far from tradition, differences between Hassidim and Misngadim are a 'luxury' the traditional 'frum' community cannot afford to overly dwell on.

Question - How are Hassidim of today to be viewed by Misnagdim ?

Answer - While hisnagdus to Hassidism continues to this day, there is, nevertheless, significant reason to view (at least some) Hassidim of today more leniently than in the past, for the following reasons -

1) Unlike the founders of the movement, who broke off from Kehillos, changed minhogim and caused various severe splits and divisions, most or a large number of Hassidim today are not guilty of such, as they were born into the movement and are only 'ochazin minhag avoseihem biyedeihem' (they only follow the customs they were brought up with, not having been taught otherwise).

2) Some (though not all) departures from tradition of the movement have been curbed (lessened or even eliminated in some cases) over the years.

Question - Are you advocating antagonism towards Hassidim ?

Answer - As above, many hassidim today are like 'tinokos shenishbu' - they were brought up with hassidic beliefs and were not taught otherwise - so they don't know better basically. They may sincerely believe that their way is the proper way. As Rav Chaim of Volozhin stated, they may be 'anoshim asher kirvas Elokim yeichofeiztun' (people who desire to be close to Hashem, kivayochol). Those who do know better can have pity on them and try to be mikareiv them to return to the way of their Ashkenazic ancestors - by example and teaching (when appropriate and proper, with appropriate caution), with love.