Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mussar for the Masses

Alan Morinis, in his Climbing Jacob's Ladder, does us a service by presenting the little known movement within Judaism known as Mussar, which concentrats on ethical conduct and what we would now call “self-help.”

In a rabbinical Judaism dominated by study, ritual, and communal duties, Mussar often goes off the tracks, stressing internal development, meditation, withdrawing from public life, and actions that help the individual lessen negative traits.

Mussar is firmly connected to the world of Orthodox Judaism, and Morinis needed to travel to Far Rockaway to learn Mussar first hand from Rabbi Yechiel Yitzchok Perr, scion of a long line of Mussar rabbis. Morinis paints Rabbi Perr in very appealing shades, showing how Mussar is just as much, if not more, a movement of example rather than book learning (another way that it veers from traditional Jewish preoccupations).

Morinis does a good job showing what Mussar is, as well as providing practical examples of how to inject Mussar into the reader’s life.  He tries to show how one can use Mussar without being orthodox; it seems that Morinis wants Mussar to join Jewish Renewal and Neo-Hasidism: using elements of the original form of  religious or ethical movement, and fashioning it for a non-practicing (or semi-practicing) audience. 

This is born out by Morinis' founding of The Mussar Institute, which has the stated goal of teaching Mussar to the masses. 

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