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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q12.47 TOC Q12.49 >

Question 12.48:
What is Mussar?


Mussar is a Jewish tradition in which you work on refining the traits of your soul, for example, Truthfullness, Zeal, Patience, Awe... The work is done through study, exercises, chanting, meditation, journaling, and other such practices. If this sounds of interest, Dr Alan Morinis wrote two books that could help someone start to learn about Mussar; these books are good in that they are not aimed specifically at observant Orthodox Jews:

  1. Climbing Jacob's Ladder is an overview of Mussar and its worldview. The format is a reconstruction of discussions Dr Morinis, a modern Jew who until then explored Eastern Religion, and his mentor, Rabbi Yechiel Perr, an ultra-Orthodox head of a Mussar Yeshiva.

  2. Everyday Holiness is more of a handbook. It is v =ery useful in setting up a practice, but less useful for getting inspired enough to actually want to practice.

Both available on Amazon. Disclaimer: One of the SCJ FAQ advisors is a friend of Dr Morinis's and on the board of his charity, one of the proofreaders of Everyday Holiness, and a researcher on his forthcoming book.

There is a school of thought that draws from both Qabbalah and Mussar.

One such classic text is the Palm Tree of Devorah, written by Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, a student of R' Yitzchak Luria and our main source on Lurianic Qabbalah. In it he explores soul traits in the sense of our being in the "'image' of G-d" (as Genesis puts it), and therefore the perfection of those traits means emulating how G-d acts toward us. There is an on-line copy in English at There is an edition that is out of print but available on Amazon (with some search tricks) at $16 (without the tricks, you find prices of $98 and above). It's not much longer than a booklet, though.

A contemporary author, Rabbi Itamar Schwartz, also teaches a fusion, drawing from Mussar and Chassidic thought. Many of his books are also available in English, and his students also put copies on line. See or if your French is stronger, there are small samples of his thought at

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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