Rabbi Israel Lipkin (Salanter) and the Musar Movement
Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883)
Main Elements of the Musar Ideology
Though Salanter was not a systematic or theoretical thinker, there are a number of important points that figure strongly in his teachings:
- Talmudic study is not an end in itself. It must be accompanied by ethical study and conduct.
- It is not proper to withdraw from daily life. Religious Jews should be fully involved in the affairs of their community. (This was in contrast to precedents such as that of the "Ga'on" of Vilna).
- Salanter strove to create a new spiritual leadership for Jewish communities, which expressed emotional as well as intellectual qualities.
- Moralistic passages from the Bible, Rabbinic literature and medieval literature should be regularly recited in an atmosphere and tone that would affect the student emotionally.
- The student should constantly subject himself to self-examination, recording his personal shortcomings.
- Musar would inject relevance and vitality into traditional Judaism that would provide a more attractive alternative to Reform and secularism.
The Influence of the Musar Movement
Following Salanter's death the movement was directed by Rabbi Isaac Blaser (known as "Rabbi Itze'le Peterburger," 1837-1907)
With considerable resistance, Musar study became a part of the curriculum of the important Lithuanian yeshivot, initially at Slobodka under Rabbi Nathan Zvi Finkel (1849-1927). The influence of Musar teaching was more deeply felt there perhaps than among the businessmen and traders, as Salanter had hoped.
The yeshivah would appoint a moral supervisor (mashgiah ruhani) who would hold a weekly musar lesson.
Particular strains of Musar developed. The most notable was that of Novaradok, known for its extremes: The young adherents of this school would go out of their way to place themselves in situations of public humiliation, by wearing rags and acting oddly, in order to overcome any sense of pride, which they viewed as the gravest of sins.
Return to Orthodoxy Image Map