The Mussar Shmooze

Shmuel Sofer writes: The Mussar Movement made famous by R. Yisroel Salanter and his students held that pure Torah study might not adequately train students and adults to perfect their lives and align them with the ethical principles and worldview that is befitting of a “Ben Torah”. Its proponents argued that the Talmud is replete with ethical instruction but, like many of the legal passages, those texts are often distributed throughout the Talmud and rabbinic literature in a manner which makes a programmed study difficult. The classic “mussar texts” such as Mesilas Yesharim, Orchos Tzadikim and Shaarei Teshuva culled through the sea of the Talmud and organized the material into an organized text. Mussarniks advocated regular study of these classic works. An additional component that the mussarniks innovated was the role of the mashgiach ruchani, a spiritual/ethical counselor who would oversee students ethical development. One of the mashgiach‘s key tasks was to deliver a mussar shmuz or inspirational lecture designed to motivate students. Often topical or arranged according to the weekly parsha, the shmuz became a means of taking the lessons of the mussar works and bringing them to the students in a very practical format.

The mussar program of R. Yisrael Salanter took root in many yeshivos and has survived today in a somewhat modified form. Some yeshivos minimize the study of mussar while others place a greater emphasis on it. The weekly “shmuz,” though, has become a mainstay feature in virtually all yeshivos, in part because of the practical lessons which students can integrate into their daily lives. In recent years, shmuzen from some of the great mashgichim of the “yeshiva world,“ such as R. Chaim Schmulevitz of Mir and Rabbi Eliahu Dessler of Gateshead, have been published and in some cases translated into English.

RAFAEL COMMENTS: You mean that you have never heard of the movement known as "The Shmuz"? It is an organization that gives chizuk to baalei baatim like me who are out working and have lost touch with the learning and focus they had in their yeshivah years. Its sort of the like the Men’s Movement of the 1990’s for frummies (do you remember the one I’m referring to – they had massive stadium gatherings to try and bring out a man’s more tender, emotional side?)

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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