web analytics
May 23, 2015 / 5 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Mussar Without Yelling


There are two types of people in the world – those who are inspired by Mussar and those who are turned off by it.

Mussar is a school of study that teaches religious self-improvement. Traditional Mussar, as practiced in many yeshivas to this day, has a rabbi exhorting his listeners, often yelling at them, to be more careful in their actions and attitudes. This is frequently accompanied with a Torah insight and maybe even a good parable. But it can be scary: fire, brimstone, judgment day – all the horrible implications of religious failure, in graphic detail.

For some people, this is just too much. It is too far detached from the joyous and uplifting religion with which they are familiar.

Additionally, Mussar can feel burdensome. It requires constant self-evaluation and self-criticism. Some people can find this too disruptive of their daily routine. The abnormally strict and antisocial behavior that Mussar can seem to require might be possible within the confines of a yeshiva atmosphere, but in the business world, or even in the midst of a busy family, it is quite difficult to sustain.

Others find Mussar to be depressing. As it is, it takes all of their effort to muster the self-confidence to face their daily challenges and now they have undermine it with biting self-criticism. Do they really want to hear, when they cannot meet the high standards set for them, that they are religious failures?

Not everyone feels this way. Some find Mussar enriching, in that it inspires them to think hard about their priorities in life. They enjoy the wake-up call from impassioned speakers and find the discipline and self-awareness that Mussar demands to be liberating. Recognizing this, some educators have asked how these benefits of Mussar can be transmitted to those who find the traditional Mussar approach to be off-putting.

If you can’t fit a square student into the circle of traditional Mussar, perhaps Mussar can be transformed so that the benefits can be enjoyed by different types of people. Two fairly recent books answer this question in different ways.

Musar for Moderns (Ktav, 2005), by Rabbi Elyakim Krumbein, tackles this issue straight on. Rabbi Krumbein, a rebbe at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel, presents a program for Mussar as it applies to Jews who are a part of today’s society. How can we teach Mussar effectively to people who are constantly bombarded with information, advertisements and diversions – people living in an age of individualism and instant gratification? The message of total withdrawal from society does not resonate with most people.

This is not a Mussar book in the sense that it does not teach Mussar. Rather, it is an exploration of techniques and attitudes to help the prospective Mussar student and teacher apply the teachings effectively. Rabbi Krumbein does not advocate total withdrawal from society; he understands that expectations must be realistic. On the other hand, he does not pretend that religious self-improvement is easy. Confronting your flaws is supposed to be difficult and overcoming them is supposed to be challenging.

What he does is address techniques of becoming a better Jew that are relevant to people exposed to contemporary society, which realistically is just about everyone. Deconstructing the approaches of Rav Yisrael Salanter, Rav Yosef Horowitz of Novardok, Rav Yosef Leib Bloch of Telz and others, Rabbi Krumbein creates a toolbox of techniques from which the contemporary student can select, as appropriate to the individual situation. He explores different attitudes to materialism and how it affects us both positively and negatively. And, recognizing the difficulties of withdrawal from our peers, he devotes three chapters to a discussion of appropriate attitudes to “being normal.”

In an entirely different way, Rabbi Yaakov Feldman shows us how to “do” Mussar more subtly in his translation of and commentary on The Eight Chapters of the Rambam (Targum, 2008).

Like his translations of other Mussar classics – such The Path of the Just (Mesillas Yesharim), Duties of the Heart (Chovos HaLevavos) and Gates of Repentance (Sha’arei Teshuvah) – this English rendition is very accessible to the average reader. You don’t need to read this with a dictionary next to you.

More important, each of the eight chapters is accompanied with an introduction and synopsis describing the goal of the chapter and how to apply it to your life. Additionally, the entire text has extensive footnotes in which, with great sensitivity and insight to human nature, Rabbi Feldman explains how the Rambam’s ethical theories from eight hundred years ago apply very much to people today.

About the Author: Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and serves as editor-in-chief of TorahMusings.com. Rabbi Student previously served as managing editor of OU Press and still maintains a connection to the publisher but did not work on this book in any way.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Mussar Without Yelling”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Tzipi Hotovely, new Deputy Foreign Minister.
Foreign Minister Hotovely: Tell the World ‘God Gave Israel to the Jews’
Latest Indepth Stories
Harris-052215

We take a whole person approach, giving our people assistance with whatever they need.

Shalev and Rabbi Levinger

During my spiritual journey I discovered G-d spoke to man only once, to the Jewish people at Sinai

MK Moshe-Feiglin

20 years after the great Ethiopian aliyah, we must treat them like everyone else; no better or worse

Sprecher-052215

Connecting Bamidbar&Shavuot is simple-A world without Torah is midbar; with Torah a blessed paradise

Many Black protesters compared Baltimore’s unrest to the Palestinian penchant of terrorism & rioting

She credited success to “mini” decisions-Small choices building on each other leading to big changes

Shavuot 1915, 200000 Jews were expelled; amongst the largest single expulsions since Roman times

Realizing there was no US military threat, Iran resumed, expanded & accelerated its nuclear program

“Enlightened Jews” who refuse to show chareidim the tolerance they insist we give to Arabs sicken me

Somewhat surprisingly, the Vatican’s unwelcome gesture was diametrically at odds with what President Obama signaled in an interview with the news outlet Al Arabiya.

The recent solid victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party produced something very different.

The reaction is so strong that nine times out of ten, parents engage in some form of coping mechanism before arriving at a level of acceptance of a special-needs diagnosis.

“…his neshamah reached out to us to have the zechus of Torah learning to take with him on his final journey.”

The gap isn’t between Israeli and American Jews-it’s between American Jews and the rest of the world

More Articles from Rabbi Gil Student
We are always in His presence

If we can learn to fear the surveillance of the Internet, we can learn to fear God’s constant watching.

Rabbi Gil Student

Traditional Jewish texts clearly discuss men and women as categories – as distinct groups – even though individual men and women vary.

There must be an Orthodox presence and an Orthodox refusal to attend Limmud NY.

I am from the generation that never saw or heard the Rav but lived in his shadow, feeling his recently departed presence in his students’ lectures. My poverty in this sense pales in comparison to that of the next generation, who have only a distant notion of who this great man was and his sprawling impact.

The Internet is a medium that has made its way in its short existence all the way to the center of contemporary life. Many of our daily tasks are now tied to it, and will be more so in the future.

In light of all the attention that the recent Internet Asifa garnered, we thought it wise to offer this analysis on the subject by Rabbi Gil Student, founder of TorahMusings.com and former managing editor of OU Publications.

Israel is a Jewish country – but can it continue to be so when Judaism threatens to destroy the state?

The unfair longstanding attacks on Israel’s legitimacy are a permanent stain on the international community. For over 60 years, Israel has valiantly grown under hostile conditions while fighting lies and half-truths in the international arena. Israel suffers doubly, however, when its very essence, its Jewish character, supports its opponents’ narrative.

There are two types of people in the world – those who are inspired by Mussar and those who are turned off by it.

Mussar is a school of study that teaches religious self-improvement. Traditional Mussar, as practiced in many yeshivas to this day, has a rabbi exhorting his listeners, often yelling at them, to be more careful in their actions and attitudes. This is frequently accompanied with a Torah insight and maybe even a good parable. But it can be scary: fire, brimstone, judgment day – all the horrible implications of religious failure, in graphic detail.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/mussar-without-yelling/2009/02/18/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: