Mussar is Emasculating

Here’s a short story about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter:

One of Mussar’s foundation stories tells of a Yom Kippur when Rav Yisrael Salanter realized that his community needed a Mussar Movement. Rav Yisrael was away from home and didn’t have a machzor, a Yom Kippur prayer book. At one point he lost his place and needed to peer over another person’s shoulder. He got shoved in response to his efforts. How dare you interrupt my concentration! At that point Rav Yisrael realized that he couldn’t keep Mussar to himself and had to share it with the world. Rav Yisrael realized that when people value their own prayer more than helping someone else—and think that’s what is going to get them forgiven on Yom Kippur—Judaism got derailed somewhere.

Not that I believe and trust the Mussar Institute‘s storytellers, but, arguendo, this opens Rabbi Salanter’s Mussar movement to attack. I wasn’t there, but the way the story is presented both vindicates the Machzor owner’s conduct and shows the Mussar movement to be entirely unrelated, if not opposed, to Judaism. Whether or not the story even occurred, it is certainly revealing of Rabbi Salanter’s supposed followers and their perspective that they would see this story as kosher.

Please explain.

Concentration in prayer is part of the obligation of prayer. The Machzor belongs to its owner. Or are we socialists?

Did Rabbi Salanter fully explain his situation? Did he obtain prior permission? Perhaps the owner was impatient for any number of reasons? Some people are more readily perturbed than others. Was this particular man the best choice to shoulder-surf? And certainly, there is no obligation upon the owner to allow himself be disturbed as far as the Jewish obligation of “lending” goes.

You wish to allow others to read along with you? Fine. Doing so is neither folkway nor obligation. This should not need saying, but different people have different attitudes and personalities, and there is nothing wrong with that. The Gemara Bava Basra 145b says:

רבי יוחנן אמר כל ימי עני רעים זה רחמן וטוב לב משתה תמיד זה אכזרי

It should be obvious neither the ‘cruel’ man nor the ‘merciful’ one are being judged here.

Besides, what about judging Jews favorably? I will judge Rabbi Salanter favorably as regards Shulchan Aruch O.C. chapter 100:

תפלות של מועדות ושל ר”ה, צריך להסדיר תפלתו קודם שיתפלל, כדי שתהא שגורה בפיו: (הגה – וי”א דוקא כשמתפללים על פה, אבל כשמתפללין מתוך הסידור, מותר, דהא רואה מה שמתפלל וכן נוהגין), (ב”י בשם הר”ר מנוח):

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.