The sixty or so Mussar students are mostly members of the congregation, but we have more and more students from unaffiliated or non-Jewish backgrounds who have been drawn to the work, as well. Rabbi Boettiger leads the majority of the courses, and now fifth-year students Sheila Canal, Harriet Saturen, and Daniel Murphy are helping co-teach the new first year class. Rabbi Ira Stone, Rabbi Boettiger’s teacher, was in Ashland this November 10-12 for his second Mussar Shabbaton here in Ashland.
Our current definition of Mussar is “Embodied Jewish Ethics.” Mussar is a mindfulness practice and rigorous spiritual discipline that asks us to seriously engage the question – “If everyone knows what it means to be good, why is it so hard to be good?” We do this through tracking our own lives as lived in all our relationships and encounters, and through working with middot
– precepts like equanimity, patience, humility, silence, etc. – in our class/cohort, on our own, and with study partners (chavruta
). We’ve found Mussar to be a practice that can bring the reality of Torah to everyday life, and it has truly become a central lens for so many in our community in terms of active Jewish spiritual work and a way of engaging with the world. We would probably all agree that “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the central cornerstone for a human life lived with integrity, but if we don’t have a path through which we can learn to actually walk this walk, it will often not bear the fruit we would like it to. Mussar, which is an ancient Jewish tradition, teaches a spirituality that is compassionate, moral, and generous.
Mussar, an ancient Jewish ethical-spiritual path, gives us a practice–a philosophy and method–for doing good in our relationships, in our work, and in our world, more consistently and intentionally. At Temple Emek Shalom, we have been the base for a community of Mussar practitioners in the Rogue Valley for the past five years, and currently we have four ongoing, weekly cohorts.