The Musar Movement

A move to introduce more study of piety into the Lithuanian Yeshivah curriculum.

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The Musarists claim that the Hasidic way is a form of escapism, a perpetual direction of the gaze outwards in fear of what is to be found within. Perhaps the most cogent description of the difference between the two movements is that while both Hasidism and Musar teach that this world is nothing and the next world everything, Musar dwells on the first part of the affirmation, Hasidism on the second.

Eventually, Hasidism had an influence on Musar, and the Musar teachers often used Hasidic material in their discourses. Even the main difference between the two movements, the doctrine of the Zaddik, became blurred when the more famous Musar personalities were given the kind of veneration hitherto reserved for the Hasidic masters.

There is only one full-scale history of the Musar movement, that of Dov Katz, in Hebrew, in five volumes with an additional volume on the polemics surrounding the movement. The Musarists themselves wrote very little but in recent years a number of collections of Musar teachings have been published. The novels of the Yiddish writer Hayyim Grade contain heroes and anti-heroes taken from the Musar movement.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.