RS604 Mussar: Then and Now

Instructor:  Rabbi Benjamin Ehrenfeld
Location: Orbund (
Dates: March 29-June 7, 2020

The contemporary American Jewish world since the late-20th/early-21st century has embraced the practice of Mussar across a variety of social and philosophical subsets of the population. This has been regarded by many as a return to the Mussar tradition as envisioned and implemented by Jewish leaders and communities in the 10th/11th and 19th centuries C.E. But to what extent is the contemporary practice of Mussar anchored in historical Mussar tradition, and to what extent does it draw from surrounding contemporary culture, including modern and post-modern beliefs about the world and human life? In this course we will compare classic Mussar texts with contemporary mussar texts and invite discussion about the differences and similarities between them and what that might mean for the future and present in Mussar thought and practice.

This course is an elective for students matriculated in either the Rabbinic Studies or School of Jewish Studies graduate tracks.

Mussar is a robustly engaging practice in Jewish life, and has been invited into the Messianic Jewish world’s practice through the efforts of leaders and communities in the community (i.e. the Riverton Mussar project founded by Rabbi Jason and Malka Forbes and their community, Beit HaShofar). Knowing more about its  history and variety of applications can only deepen holistic engagement with it, as well as provide a case study on some of the ways Jewish tradition interacts with the wider world in its development over history.


Students must have a computer and Internet access.

Listening to lectures, asynchronous blog discussion, two Zoom video call class discussions, and two papers

Listening to lectures, completing all assignments, participating in class discussion, reading materials, and completion of the final paper.


  • Etkes, Immanuel. “Rabbi Israel Salanter and his Psychology of Mussar.” Pages 206-244 in Jewish Spirituality from the Sixteenth Century Revival to the Present, Arthur Green, ed. New York: Herder & Herder, 1989. Reprint available here:
  • Heinze, Andrew R. “The Americanization of Mussar: Abraham Twerski’s twelve steps.” Judaism 48, no. 4 (1999): 450. PROVIDED BY INSTRUCTOR
  • Luzzatto, Moshe Hayyim. The Complete Mesillat Yesharim: Dialogue and Thematic Versions. Edited, translated and annotated by Abraham Shoshana. Cleveland: Ofeq Institute, 2007 (reprint 2010).
  • Morinis, Alan. Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar. Trumpeter, 2008.
  • Levin, Menaḥem Mendel.Cheshbon Ha-nefesh. Dovid Landesman, ed. Feldheim Publishers, 1996.
  • Marcus, Greg. “What Is Mussar?” My Jewish Learning. Accessed December 29, 2019.
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