Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rabbi Hertz on the Mesilas Yesharim, the emerging mussar movement, and Rabbi Leone da Modena

I came upon this interesting passage in an appendix to the Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Convention of the Jewish Theological (1898) by Rabbi J. H. Hertz (1872-1946). Hertz, as you'll recall, would go on to become the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, but at the time he was the first rabbinical graduate of the JTS and about to begin a position as rabbi in Johannesburg.

The appendix is called "Bachya, the Jewish Thomas À Kempis." (All spelling a formatting preserved accurately.)
מסלת ישרים (Mesillath Yesharim), a short ethico-ascetic book of rare beauty. It is more interesting to-day than it ever was, as it is fast assuming a semi-canonical character in the eyes of the "Men of Morals," (בעלי מוסר) Baale Mussar, a sect-in-the-making in Russia, founded twenty years ago by R. Israel Salanter.
From pg. 31, n. 20.

Note 21 is not nearly so interesting, but worth quoting as well:
"Geographical Judaism" is more or less a reality. It would, however, require a great deal of scholarship, coupled with ethnic psychological training, to explain why Spanish Judaism has found its ethical expression in the Chaboth Ha-lebaboth, German Judaism in the Sefer Chassidim and Italian Judaism in the Messilath Yesharim (or would Leo Modena's Tzemach Tzaddik better typify a synagog which two hundred years ago allowed a rabbi to speak of the "divine Diana" in the pulpit?). We doubt not but some day it will be done.

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