Showing posts with label Musar Ethics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Musar Ethics. Show all posts


I want to start a Musar Movement II [Jewish Ethics].

This was to be a side topic today. The most important thing I wanted to discuss was that I found what I believe to be a possible answer for the Rambam concerning the Talmud Bava Kama page 19B. But I think I will have to put that on another blog because I think the idea of Musar for the general public is more of immediate concern.

So concerning the Musar Movement II let me first state why I think Musar Movement I is not sufficient.
The problem with  Musar Movement I as it exists today is that it became frum [religious]. The main issue are, "Be frum, learn Torah all day, don't go to university, be a good part of the chareidi world," and all that is somehow supposed to be related to fear of God or fixing of bad character traits. Musar today does not seem to have any connection with fixing of bad character or at all; and fear of God it seems to define as  frumkeit [being extra strict in ritual most of which are not from the Talmud and are not halacha]. This alone would have to put a damper on any enthusiasm for Musar for any reasonable person.

My suggestions are these. Musar first of all should be based on the original texts that R Israel Salanter wanted to be the basis of Musar Chovot Levavot, Orchot Tzadikim, MesilatYesharim, Sefer Hamidot,Sefer HaYasher of Rabbainu Tam (and a few other basic Ethical works from the Middle Ages).

But I also wanted to add a philosophical angle to this whole project.
My basic reasoning is that Musar depends a lot on metaphysics. Now most of the Metaphysics in Musar you don't see in the original set. [Notable exception the beginning of the Chovot Levavot ] But as you go on in time and kabalah gets more to be a part of the Musar books you see more and more metaphysics being thrown in. Yet we know from Kant that metaphysics is a problem.
Kant is not an issue that can be ignored. If you accept him then metaphysics is impossible. You can just choose some pre Kant approach like the Kabalah and go your merry way.

Musar II would also have to include books related to world view issues like the Emunot Vedeot of Saadia Geon. Because you can't separate character traits from world view. They are highly interconnected.

[There is a tendency that you find in the book of Job, "Is not your fear your stupidity?"Fear of God is often coupled with not very smart doctrines. Musar as it exist today is a good example. Most Musar books that are published in the Orthodox Jewish would today are incredibly stupid.
Musar has certainly decayed from the time of Israel Salanter. This has to be changed.]


Musar (learning mediaeval Ethics is great but need to be coupled with philosophy.)

The major--and I mean major-- problem with Musar is lack of philosophical sophistication--[i.e the movement started by R. Israel Salanter to influence everybody to learn the texts of Jewish Ethics written during the Middle Ages]. [That is the movement was founded on Ethics and almost ignored the thought behind the Ethics. That is: it needs to have the mediaeval philosophy of the Rambam and Saadia Gaon to back it up.]

The two essential works of Musar are the Obligations of the Heart (by Ibn Pakuda) and the Light of Israel (by Isaac Blazzer, a disciple of Israel Salanter).

This is not to imply  that the texts themselves lack philosophical sophistication, but that the whole movement morphed. Valid questions are ignored and by ignoring these questions we think we have answered them. Or we accept foreign ideologies and try to claim that they are what Musar says. And even worse,  the failure in the one thing it is supposed to be doing--character development.

The philosophy that backs it up  is in the Guide for the Perplexed, Joseph Albo and  Ibn Gavirol that people do not learn.
That is: the Musar of the Rishonim is highly linked with their philosophy. If you do not know this, then you can't even begin to understand their Musar.

What are you going to do? Just teach Musar and assume people will fill in the blanks with the basic philosophy behind it? Or you think people will not worry about justification for the ideas? Teaching Ethics from the Middle Ages is a great idea--but only if it is coupled with the philosophy of the Middle Ages. The Guide, Saadia Gaon, etc.

Maybe I am too ambitious here as to what people can reasonable be expected to learn.

So to make things simple get one book of authentic Musar [Obligations  of the Heart perhaps]. And one book of world view like the Guide of the Rambam.

Simcha Zissel from Kelm is one well known disciple of Reb Israel Salanter. In his yeshiva in Kelm people learned Musar most of the day.

There is another possible flaw that the movement was not coupled to practice. What better way to learn good character except by teamwork and outdoor skills. Self reliance, keeping your word, loyalty, working together a a team,- how better to learn these things except by camping and working on survival skills in a group? The general result of Musar without this outdoor component is that people that learning Musar seldom can be relied on to keep their word or help one in time of trouble.
Musar is just as important as Reb Israel Salanter said but it has to be coupled with outdoor skills and team work and also the philosophy of Torah


Ethics of Torah= Musar. Many aspects are contained in the Mediaeval Musar books.
The Sexual Ethics of Torah is not the same as Catholics understand it. Sex with one's girl friend is allowed. We find this with King David and Solomon and Calev Ben Yefuna in Chronicles where the list of his wives and girl friends is given.
See the Book of Chronicles, Volume One, chapter two [2:46] and four concerning Kalev ben Yefuna (כלב בן יפונה). He is the only person in the entire Bible that it says the unique phrase, וימלא אחרי השם "He walked completely after God." He had two girl friends.]