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The Mussar Movement

The Haskala benefits by vilifying traditional Judaism and Jews. They seek to characterize the observant Jew as being unclean, uncultured, and lacking common courtesy.

While exaggerated, there are some shortcomings. They are mostly based upon the cultural difference between the starkly backward Eastern Europe society and the West.

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter establishes the Mussar Movement that emphasizes the study and practice Jewish values and ethics. It also stresses courtesy and neatness.

Greatness achieved through the building of character becomes more recognized, providing the oppressed masses of Eastern Europe who are not able to achieve greatness through Torah scholarship with an alternative source of self-worth. This lightens their load.

Rabbi Salanter attempts to introduce Mussar into the Yeshiva curriculum and this is resisted because it is an innovation. Between the Reform and the Haskala, leadership is resistant to changes of any kind. Rabbi Salanter responds by emphasizing the difference between his movement and the Reform. The Reform is out to change Judaism. He is merely out to change Jews.

Due to his sincerity, personal great scholarship, and the truth of his words, Mussar eventually wins out and its study is incorporated into the curriculum of major Yeshivas.

Vignettes about Rabbi Salanter as a role model are legendary.

He was absent during Kol Nidre, the most solemn Yom Kippur prayer. When he finally showed up at the synagogue he explained that he stopped to take care of a crying infant that he found left alone in a house. The mother went to synagogue for the prayer, supposing that the child would not wake up.

He spent his last moments of life on his death bed calming his attendant, who was afraid of being alone together with a corpse.

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