In a recent book, Edith Brotman seeks to combine yoga with musar, a Jewish pietistic movement founded in 19th-century Russia that focused on rigorous introspection and the ethical perfection of the individual. Pairing spiritual improvement through exercise as promised by yoga with spiritual improvement through strict self-discipline as promised by musar sounds appealing as far as it goes, writes Abe Socher, but how far does it go? Among much else, it misses something of the original message of Israel Salanter, founder of the musar movement:
Brotman may be correct in diluting [musar] for her readers now (though when one sees a headline like “I love me,” one may wonder how much is left), but it did produce some truly saintly personalities. The main stories about Rabbi Salanter are not about his talmudic genius or his ritual piety but rather the extraordinary care he took in ordinary interactions: the time he missed kol nidrei to take care of a stranger’s crying baby, the lengths he took to avoid embarrassing recipients of charity, the afternoon he spent trying to lead a lost cow back to its farm, and so on.