Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sharing the Burden: Rabbi Simhah Zissel Ziv and the Path of Musar

Geoffrey Claussen, Sharing the Burden: Rabbi Simhah Zissel Ziv and the Path of Musar (Albany: SUNY Press, 2015).
Here is the publisher's description of the book:
Sharing the Burden analyzes the rich moral traditions of the nineteenth-century Musar movement, an Eastern European Jewish movement focused on the development of moral character. Geoffrey D. Claussen focuses on that movement’s leading moral theorist, Rabbi Simḥah Zissel Ziv (1824–1898), the founder of the first Musar movement yeshiva and the first traditionalist institution in Eastern Europe that included general studies in its curriculum. Simḥah Zissel offered a unique and compelling voice within the Musar movement, joining traditionalism with a program for contemplative practice and an interest in non-Jewish philosophy. His thought was also distinguished by its demanding moral vision, oriented around an ideal of compassionately loving one’s fellow as oneself and an acknowledgment of the difficulties of moral change. Drawing on Simḥah Zissel’s writings and bringing his approach into dialogue with other models of ethics, Claussen explores Simḥah Zissel’s Jewish virtue ethics and evaluates its strengths and weaknesses. The result is a volume that will expose readers to a fascinating and important voice in the history of modern Jewish ethics and spirituality.
The book is available on the SUNY Press website here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The American Jewish Revival of Musar

Geoffrey Claussen, “The American Jewish Revival of Musar.” The Hedgehog Review 12, no. 2 (2010), 63-72.
Awoman writes in her journal every night, focusing on her struggles with anger. Two friends sit down over coffee and discuss their recent efforts to perform at least three acts of generosity every day. A man posts on an online forum about how easily he is distracted by needless concerns but how daily Jewish prayer has helped him to focus his mind. A group studies Jewish teachings on greed, and they commit themselves to taking concrete steps to limit their consumption. Another group pores over a medieval Hebrew text about pride, and they conclude their weekly study session by chanting some of its words out loud to a haunting Jewish melody.
These American Jews display a good deal of moral seriousness, a tendency towards introspection, and a concern with the virtues to a degree that is somewhat uncommon in mainstream American Jewish culture. In describing their behavior, they might refer to the Jewish tradition of “Musar” (“moral discipline”) and explain that they are carrying on the legacy of a nineteenth-century, Lithuania-based movement known as the “Musar movement.” Most American Jews have not heard of the Musar movement, and many, upon learning about it, would write it off as requiring too much self-criticism, too much moralizing, and too much work. And yet interest in Musar has been steadily growing in contemporary America, in part as a counter-cultural phenomenon....
Full article here.  PDF here.

UPDATE: The Wilson Quarterly discusses the article here (available with paid access only).