Presentation Abstract -
Love of learning may be the raison d’etre of academia, but as we all know, erudition does not necessarily translate into moral excellence. Within the Jewish tradition, nobody in modern times pointed to the gap between love of learning and self-regulation more clearly than Israel Salanter, regarded as the founder of the Musar (ethics) movement. We will walk through some traditional Jewish concepts, highlighting Salanter’s novel understanding of these tenets, and his controversial view that human behavior could be improved through a prescribed path of introspection, fear of divine punishment, and a course of ‘directed reading’ on one’s moral shortcomings. This historical presentation of Musar posits that one can benefit from its method without sharing its religious presuppositions or cultural starting point. Neither the Eastern European Yeshiva world nor the Hasidic movement endorsed Salanter’s methods, but Musar admirers insist its practitioners often achieved the very virtues promoted by this Institute.