With Heaven’s help, as hoped, I quote and comment on text reproduced on the Daas Torah website from Rabbi Dov Katz in “Pulmus Hamussar” (page 337). I have not seen this in the Hebrew original. My remarks relate to the words as written. I write not solely of the author, rather to all those who would agree with his specific message as presented; too many.
What are you saying?
I’m asking you to be insulted for your own skins, not someone else.
Before we start, please bear in mind who bears the onus of proof. Mussar is the… let us be gracious: newcomer, to put things unduly neutrally.
There are two basic attitudes towards mitzvos. The first attitude is that Mitzvos are what G-d has commanded us and the only task is to know exactly what has been commanded. Therefore the sole concern is halacha and its most complete observance. The second attitude is that Mitzvos are the means that G-d has given us to self-perfection. Therefore it is critical that the Mitzvos be done in such a way that they increase perfection. This requires introspection and self understanding rather than a mechanical performance. The latter position is the foundation of the Mussar approach – the former is the foundation of the opponents of mussar.
“Only task”, “sole concern”, etc. yes. “Mechanical” performance no. The great task of knowing “exactly” what has been commanded stems from an inner devotion, “Lishma”, incommensurable with Mussar’s false passion. Yet delusional “introspection and self-understanding” are not a standalone Mitzva at all, so their Jewish, religious value is zero. Taken literally, “self-perfection” is impossible for us humans, Mussarized or not. Proper performance of the mitzva does not result in self-perfection, but maybe self-improvement is a happy by-product.
The halachasist position thus is that self-perfection is entirely the result of the proper performance of the mitzva. Therefore the only concern is study and clarification of the best way to perform the mitzva. It has no concern with investigation of the hidden aspect of man or concern with clarification of theological issues. It is not concerned with the separate focus on perfection of personality. In fact there are no specialized concerns. The only thing is doing the mitzvos according to their details in the most direct and simple way. … The concern is not on the goal of personality development or understanding of theology but to maximize Torah study and knowledge of halacha – without concern for introspection and worry about motivation. Perfection is a side consequence – not a conscious goal. In contrast the Mussar approach views mitzvos only as a means to perfection.
“Investigation of the hidden aspect of man or concern with clarification of theological issues“? Mussar theories of man’s innards are unsupported, emotionalist nonsense. “Theology” is either false or Aggadeta. Anything meaningful lifted from these Boodisht buzzwords is part and parcel of Torah study; which happens to be another… well, yes how did you guess?… Mitzva!
Thus they feel that the will of G‑d is not fulfilled by merely observing mitzvos as simply the command of G‑d. But rather there must be a conscious effort to elevate the image of man and attaching oneself to spiritual and personal elevation. The foundation point of this view is to see mitzvos not as an end but as a means. It is not sufficient to merely fulfill the mitzvos in a mechanical physical way. The concern is rather with the content and the motivation of the heart, thought and emotion. The main influence is not the physical activity of the limbs – even though they don’t ignore the importance of doing mitzvos – but the personal involvement and inner arousal.
Rabbi Katz appends to pre-Mussar Judaism altogether two “merelys” and three “onlys”. Then: In contrast the Mussar approach views mitzvos only as a means to perfection. Where mitzvos are “only” a means to perfection, they are no longer mitzvos. Like it or not, the definition of mitzva – all of them alike, is religious, not therapeutic. Yet, he immediately says, “the will of G‑d is not fulfilled by merely observing mitzvos as simply the command of G‑d“, a tight thorny thicket of throaty contradiction. Are we being “dialectical”? Has Mussar addled his brains? Oh, but this is only a “feeling“! Carry right on, then…
“Personal involvement and inner arousal“? How do you think any mitzvos ever get done?! You know about the disutility of labor? Everyone else knows Mussarite “spiritual and personal elevation” is vain. We are all laughing at you behind your back (sans Lashon Hara)!
Now the double-talk thankfully subsides, it is time for plainspoken truth:
Mussar not only bears no relation to Judaism, it rejects the yoke of Heaven and mitzvos, and subverts mitzvos for man’s puny pleasure, instead of Divine worship. Mussar is but another newfangled movement faking “added depth” for the sake of shifting priorities away from boring “physical” observance (like Torah study). There is a fine definition for this reeking refuse: Jewish antinomianism.