Israel Salanter

Founder of the Musar Movement stressed the ethical demands of the Torah.

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It appears that Salanter did not originally intend that his Musar approach should be elitist but that it should promote greater inwardness in the lives of Jewish artisans and businessmen. However, eventually Salanter's ideas were appreciated only by Yeshivah students, and Salanter's disciples, encouraged by him, established Musar Yeshivot of their own.

At first there was determined opposition by traditional Rabbis to the introduction of Musar into the Yeshivah curriculum. The Torah itself, these Rabbis argued, was balm for the soul and there was no need to supplement study of the Torah with Musar. But Salanter's ideas prevailed, so that the majority of the Lithuanian-type Yeshivot became Musar Yeshivot.

Spreading the Word

Salanter travelled to Germany and to Paris in order to increase awareness of traditional Judaism among German and French Jews. At one time he had the novel idea of translating the Talmud into German and wished to see the Talmud occupying an honored place in Semitic studies at European universities.

Towards the end of his life Salanter resided in Konigsberg. Typical of his approach is the story told of his last moments in Konigsberg. The community had arranged for a retainer to stay with him and Salanter, realizing that his death was nigh and that the retainer was terrified at the prospect of being left alone with a dead body, instead of spending the precious moments left to him in reflection on his end, devoted himself to reassuring the man that there is nothing to fear from a lifeless corpse.

Salanter's biographers have noted that he had a morbid fear of fire. It is said that in order to remind himself of the terrors of Gehinnom he would put his little finger into the flame of a candle and say: 'You see it hurts to be burned.' As Salanter himself would have said, every man has a darker side to his personality.

Salanter remains one of the great spiritual figures of Lithuanian, and world, Jewry.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.