Friday, March 09, 2007

[Fwd: Re: AishDas and Mussar]

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: AishDas and Mussar
Date: Fri, 09 Mar 2007 15:25:40 -0500
From: Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer <>
To: Micha Berger <>
References: <> <> <>

I have trained my 10th grade talmidim at MTA to think about everything along the Chassidish/Litvish divide, further subdividing Lita into Brisk vs. Mussar. They know my biases, in some cases share them, in some cases reject them (and, to be honest, some are apathetic). I wish someone had let me know about this kind of stuff when I was in 10th grade, and I hope that this "early start" will facilitate their growth in ways that our dor did not acquire when we were in HS.


Micha Berger wrote:

Mussar is the pursuit of meaning, not a particular answer to the question. This is why Kelm could have secular studies in their high school, while the Alter of Novhardok wrote about the collapse of the Jewish "city" and the need to retreat to the citadel of the Yeshiva. Or the famous distinction between N's "ich been gornisht" vs Slabodka's "gadlus ha'adam".  The only alternative to Mussar is chassidic ecstatic experience. IOW, either one pursues meaning that is based on thought and experience, or one that is based on experience for which thought is a second layer. I chose the former for AishDas. Not the least because the experiential route is already covered by others, but primarily because I'm too into philosophy to be engaged by the alternative.  But both RYBS and R' Yaakov Kaminecki independently discuss the loss of the "erev Shabbos Jew", using the same example (!) to describe the loss of emotional backing to observance.  I highly recommend reading R' Elyakim Krumbein's Musar for Moderns. He relies on sources that reflect the primarily "Anglo" MO community in Israel, ie his typical student in Gush -- RYBS, R' Kook, some Tanya and Likutei Maharan (think ChaBaKuK). The lifestyle he is giving a Mussar foundation to is MO.  Mussar is a broader concept than the one path taken by Tenu'as haMussar. One can use their tools to deepen pretty much any hashkafah. Exceptions might be Bretslov and Izbitch, which eschew any of the kind of thinking which could complicate experience. Probably also Brisk, and the belief that "der bester Mussar seifer iz a blatt gemara" -- no need to attacking Mussar's goals directly.  Just look at the huge gap between my philosophy and RYGB's. I'm into RSRH, REED, the Maharal, the Kuzari, the Aristotelian rishonim. RYGB is citing Qabbalah and Rav Tzadoq. Both of us agree, though, on the need for a head-on attack of the job of becoming the kind of person idealized  In short: I grabbed on Mussar as a tool to work on the heart. It doesn't conflict with the range of philosophies to which one aims that heart.   

1 comment:

  1. RYGB writes:

    "I have an ongoing debate with one of my colleagues at MTA. Were he not
    Jewish, he would be Catholic, and he believes that a la Catholicism,
    mitzvos are meant to have a salvational effect on us.. . . On this
    basis, he justifies the teaching of Gemara b'Iyun to lower-track
    students - viz., it has a salvific effect even if they gain little
    enlightenment from it."

    Jeez. RYGB's colleague loses me entirely. As I understand it, salvation
    under Catholicism comes, broadly speaking, from faith and acceptance
    (which includes the act of communion), baptism (which washes away sin),
    and confession and repentance (which cures post-baptismal sin). Ritual
    is organized by priests, not by laymen, for catechismal reasons that
    have little to do with salvation per se, although a Catholic cannot
    give confession or take communion from a priest who does not abide by
    the church's regimen.

    In Judaism, on the other hand, there is no "salvation," i.e., a
    guaranteed ticket to heaven. We have no mechanism to wash away our
    sins, especially our original sin, which doesn't exist. Ours is a
    notion of atonement, which is highly conditional and rests largely on
    our future conduct. Atonement doesn't assure a place in the world to
    come, as judgment (essentially on "righteousness" vs. "wickedness," as
    HaShem might define those terms) remains a Divine prerogative, not the
    magical effect of a few drops of water or words uttered by a priest. As
    for ritual, I imagine that Rambam (among many others, including
    especially RYBS) would recoil at the notion that Jews observe mitzvot
    primarily (or robotically) for the sake of atonement or eternal reward.

    This would be particularly true for the indiscriminate teaching of
    Gemara b'Iyun, especially if the teaching is done by RYGB, who (as I
    know from personal experience) expects a very high level of
    intellectual competence. Indeed, it would do more harm than good to
    force an unqualified bocher to attend such a class. The bocher would be
    left feeling lousy about himself, a wrong lesson taught for the wrong
    reasons. Perhaps RYGB might remember the words of Ian Anderson (of the
    rock group Jethro Tull) quoted to him in one of his classes eight years
    ago: "Your wise men don't know / How it feels / To be thick / As a

    David Finch