An overview of the history of the Musar movement in Judaism. Rabbi Jacobs reviews the history of musar literature starting in the Middle Ages. He then explains how Musar coalesced into a movement as a response to modernity and the rise of hasidism, under the leadership of the highly charismatic R. Israel Lipkin (Salanter, 1810-1883).
Jacobs then develops on certain themes of Musar literature through historical anecdotes. He delves into the world view of R. Israel Salanter which underpins his life work, and then illustrates the methods put forward to encourage students and adherents to improve their moral character. Salanter’s aim was to enable his followers to make these ethical virtues second nature. He achieved this by tearing the individual’s soul into pieces, and then sowing it back again.
Musar encountered a degree of opposition from traditionalist circles in Lithuania. By the end of the 19th century, however, it became an established part of the Lithuanian yeshiva curriculum. Following Salanter, two schools of Musar emerged, under the leadership of R. Nathan Hirsch Finkel in Slobodka and R. Yozel Horowitz in Novardok.