Rabbi Jacobs offers some historical and religious reflections, in this video, on the variety of religious movements which compose the contemporary Jewish world since the Enlightenment. He starts with the Sephardim, noting that their communities display far greater uniformity than their Ashkenazi peers (in spite of some influence from the European Haskalah movement). He then moves on to present certain familiar hasidic groups, in order of importance in contemporary Jewish society, and offers some explanations concerning their history, their practices, and beliefs.
He starts with Habad – which he refers to as a ‘separate branch of the hasidic movement – commenting on their dress codes, the distinct emphasis on messianism witnessed among the ranks of its adherents and surrounding its latest rebbe, and the movement’s remarkable organizational structure. Following Habad, he shifts to Satmar hasidim, with comments on the dynasty’s leadership, its staunch opposition to Zionism, and its characteristic parochialism. He subsequently offers some reflections on the Bobover, Belz, Gur, and Munkacz hasidic dynasties, each time drawing from his scholarship in order to demonstrate his familiarity with the subject.
Following his insights into hasidic movements, Rabbi Jacobs moves on to non-hasidic, ‘Litvak’ (Lithuanian) Jews, placing a particular emphasis on their unique style of learning, influenced by the leaders of the yeshivah of Volozhin, and more particularly, R. Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk. Alongside the Lithuanian scholarship produced by the students of Volozhin and Telz, he offers some comments on the musar movement, founded by R. Israel of Salanter. He notes that both phenomena – the analytical method of R. Chaim of Brisk and the musar movement – developed as barriers against parallel developments in late-19th century Eastern Europe, and explains as a conclusion that both remain popular in Jewish learning institutions to this day.