Mitnaggedim (Heb. מִתְנַגְּדִים; lit. "opponents"), a designation for the opponents of the Hasidim.
The name originally arose from the bitter opposition evinced to the rise, way of life, and leadership of the ḥasidic movement founded by Israel b. Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov, but in the course of time lost its connotation of actual strife, and became a positive description, representative of a way of life. Since it was the personality and genius of Elijah b. Solomon Zalman the Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797) which gave the powerful impetus to the rise of the Mitnaggedim, this way of life became especially characteristic of Lithuanian Jewry (except for the Lithuanian Hasidim, particularly the Karlin dynasty and the Habad trend). His iron will and intellectual perseverance shaped, through an elect circle of pupils, both adamant opposition to Hasidism, as well as the patterning of institutions, tendencies of thought and expression, and a way of life which formed a specific culture. One of its characteristics, which derived from the opposition to the charismatic, miracleworking leadership of the ḥasidic rabbis, was a pronounced skepticism and a severe criticism of credulity and authoritarianism.
After the death of Elijah the Gaon of Vilna the struggle between the Hasidim and the Mitnaggedim assumed even more bitter proportions than during his lifetime, with mutual recrimination, but by the second half of the 19th century the hostility began to subside. One of the causes of the cessation of hostilities was the common front which both formed against the Haskalah. The main differences between them today are in matters of rite, the Hasidim having adopted the prayer book of Isaac Luria (largely the Sephardi minhag), while the Mitnaggedim retained the Polish form of the Ashkenazi minhag, and in the greater stress laid by the Mitnaggedim on study of the Talmud, while the Hasidim emphasize the emotional side of Judaism.
There are large groups of Mitnaggedim, most of Lithuanian origin, in the State of Israel, the United States, England, and South Africa. The term Mitnagged, however, is not confined to Jews of Lithuanian origin.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
M. Wilensky, Hasidim u-Mitnaggedim (1970).