The Origins of Hasidic Judaism: The Ba’al Shem Tov


In the midst of the 18th century, a new movement began that hugely impacted Judaism to this very day. Who was its founder? What was his inspiration? Yisroel ben Eliezer, better known as the Baal Shem Tov, was a Jewish mystic who is considered to be the father of the Chassidut. The 1700’s were a time of murderous pogroms and crushing poverty in the Ukraine, and the Baal Shem Tov sought to rescue his downtrodden community and revitalize Judaism. While his  joyous spiritual approach revolutionized Judaism, it also nearly tore it in half.  In this lesson, learners will explore the origins of the Chassidic movement, learn about why it became wildly popular, and analyze the viewpoint of the Mitnagdim, who strongly opposed it. Students will bring the topic to life by participating in a role playing debate that will allow them to consider opposing viewpoints and cultivate  a deeper understanding of the issues at play.

Lesson Attachments​

The learner will:

  1. understand the complexities that accompany divergent approaches to Jewish spirituality 

  2. know about the origins of the Chassidic movement and why the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings were simultaneously beloved and vehemently opposed

  3. be able to articulate nuanced viewpoints regarding the merits of Chassidut and its impact on Judaism

Unpacked for Educators materials include:

  1. An educator’s guide that  contains many rich components. These are organized under the following titles: 

  • review (questions that relate to the video)

  • discussion

  • activities

  • reflection

  • further learning

  1. A video designed to spark interest in the topic.

  2. A lesson plan (link in the attachment above) that incorporates additional building blocks for the construction of an engaging and interactive lesson.

Student handouts, computer, projector

The website link includes a “further learning” section in the educator’s guide.

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