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Mussar

2 hours per week

The Mussar movement was one of the many religious responses of Eastern European Jewry to the freedoms that came with emancipation and modernity. Founded by R. Israel Salanter, the movement reflected an alternative to the Talmud-centered yeshivah approach and the institutionalized authority of Hasidic Tzaddikism. Instead, it encouraged placing one’s ethical being at the center of the religious discussion in a rather ascetic and deeply reflective environment. The heart of the Mussar program is the shiur, or study group, and the va’ad, or personal growth group. These groups meet in tandem, one following the other for a combined two-hour-long period. The shiur is a text-based study group. The text for class will be Mesillat Yesharim by Rabbi Moses Hayyim Luzzato. In the second hour the group is reconstituted as a va’ad—a workshop for the exploration of students’ progress or lack of progress in aligning their behavior in the course of the preceding week with the demands of the particular middah, or character trait, on which the group has chosen to focus. The techniques that the group uses involve self-scrutiny facilitated by the keeping of a mussar/middot journal. Each member is required to choose a Mussar moment and a fixed time each day to do the work of introspection, and then to share, according to his or her comfort level, the results of this introspective work with the group. To extend the students’ connection to Mussar and their Mussar group during the course of the week, members agree to a weekly study appointment with a hevrutah, or study partner. This entails a 15- to 30-minute text study in which the members are expected to generate questions to be brought back to the shiur.