Illuminating the Generations: The Fire Within Vol. ll

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9780899068695: Illuminating the Generations: The Fire Within Vol. ll

"When you ask the Nawardoker, 'How do you do?' the meaning is 'How is Jewishness with you? Have you advanced in spirituality?' ... He who has studied musar will never enjoy his life further, Ḥayyim, you will remain a cripple your whole life. You write heresy... but is there any one of you really so strong that he does not desire public approval for himself? Which one of you is prepared to publish his book anonymously? ... Our spiritual calm you have exchanged for passions which you will never attain, for doubts which, even after much self-torture, you will not be able to explain away. Your writing will not improve a single person, and it will make you worse" (from his "My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner," in: I. Howe and E. Greenberg (eds.), Treasury of Yiddish Stories (1954), 579-606). Even after many years the musarnik remembered this naked prolonged cry, "O voices of ecstasy, O hoary voices, follow you - I follow the echo of my Elul nights seven years ago" (idem, Mussernikes (1969), 9). The Musar movement is thus a civic trend which, deflected from its original aim, gradually developed an entire educational system, based on, and aiming toward, integration and subjection of the youthful emotions to a deeply instilled emotional defense system of a rigoristic Jewish life according to halakhah. It promoted unity through pride in this fraternity of feelings and intentions and thus served as a social bond among those who emerged from the musar hothouse in the yeshivot. The Slobodka and Nawardok approaches differed in their degree of extremism and the emphasis on spiritual exercise, but were based on the same principle. By 1970 the main yeshivot of the Lithuanian type were musar oriented, the majority of Slobodka style, and a small minority Nawardok style. Despite the system, or to some extent because of it, many left the musar yeshivot for more secular trends of education.

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