Thursday, July 16, 2015

Hirsch verses the Musar Movement

Interesting post on about the modern battle against assimilation with a special reference to R' Hirsch:

"Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch took a different tack for his place and time. His approach was to beat the opposition at its own game. Rav Hirsch went out to the assimilated youth to challenge their adherence to the ways of non-Jewish society. Whereas in the past non-observant Jews tried to diminish Torah observance by attempting to poke holes in the logic of Torah observance, Rav Hirsch poked holes in the logic of assimilation. Rav Hirsch armed Jews with rhetorical weapons to fend off the assimilationists. Jews could now venture into fields of employment that brought them into contact with the world at large, without severing their ties to the Torah."

I often mull over the differences and similarities between R' Hirsch and R' Miller, two influences in my life. A paragraph on the Musar movement captures some of the differences:

"Rav Yisrael Salanter had another approach. He taught that one's goal is not to be superior to the next man by diminishing him. One's goal is to be better than oneself. The message of the Mussar movement was self-perfection."

I think that this quote captures another one of the differences which is that German Orthodoxy is more outwardly focused in some respects, more community minded like the Chassidim. Musar is individualistic, which could be dangerous to Americans for even as it tries to fix our decadence it could play into our selfishness.

As we know, R' Salanter and R' Hirsch had great respect for each other so we needn't see the differences as requiring a choice and right verses wrong.


  1. While these two philosophies do not really strike me as being particularly different in their internal workings, it is interesting to see the two of them when removed from their particularistic historic locales, and put head-to-head in the same sort of modern Western society. The proponents of one side wish to engage with society armed with Torah, and use the light of Torah to illuminate the emes within chochmas goyim. The other side attempts to ignore that such an option exists, and turns itself inward, which is to say, away from the broader society.

    1. What do you mean by internal workings?

    2. Both are based upon working on oneself, bettering oneself, and achieving one's own God-appointed potential. Rav Hirsch is clear about this throughout his writings. So I find it a bit disingenuous for the writer to have said "Rav Yisrael Salanter had another approach." Perhaps Rav Yisrael Salanter's approach was different, but I'd say only inasmuch as his approach didn't take the extra step to say, "Okay, now that you're involved in working on yourself, what do you use the results for?"