Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mussar Without Yelling II

I'm not sure how I missed this letter in response to my recent article in the Jewish Press (link):

Timeless Mussar

Rabbi Gil Student ("Mussar Without Yelling," op-ed, Feb. 20) implies that those who practice Mussar terrorize their flocks into submission. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt"l, arguably the previous generation's outstanding practitioner of Mussar, enthralled audiences on Thursday nights for almost two decades with his signature combination of wit and wisdom.

Is there a place for Mussar seforim of the sort Rabbi Student advocates, with a more modern bent? Absolutely - but with a caveat. While we want as many people as possible exposed to the truth and beauty of Mussar, we should be wary of updating it simply to appeal to current sensibilities.

When I study the Mussar classics - Chovos Halevavos, Mesilas Yesharim and Michtav M'Eliyahu are my personal favorites - I find them totally relevant. I believe Rabbi Student's message is that we need to change Mussar to make it more appealing to the masses. I disagree. It's not we who should change Mussar but Mussar that should change us.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY
He evidently didn't read my article carefully. I clearly wrote -- repeatedly -- that Mussar can seem to some people to be offputting. I didn't say that it is or that it seems that way to everyone. As to his idea of being "wary of updating it", I address that at the end of the article.

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