MUSARNIKES (lit. "Moralists");
Name colloquially applied in Russia to the followers of R. Israel Lipkin (Salanter) in the study of religio-ethical works and in the practise of severely strict morality. Although he was probably the keenest-minded pilpulist of his time, Lipkin early recognized the inadequacy of the intellectual exercise afforded by Talmudic studies; and he revolted against the apotheosis of dry learning which results in the neglect of the emotional side of religion. Soon after he settled in Wilna, about 1842, he established a society (Ḥebrat Musar) for the study of works on religious morals; and to its influence is attributed the republication in that city in 1844 of Ibn Gabirol's "Tiḳḳun Middot ha-Nefesh," Moses Ḥayyim Luzzatto's "Mesillat Yesharim," and Mendel Levin's "Ḥeshbon ha-Nefesh." The society soon had several branches.R. Israel Lipkin in Kovno.
When Lipkin removed to Kovno in 1848 he organized there a similar society on a larger scale, and the study of ethical works assumed the proportions of a regular movement which threatened to split the community like the Ḥasidic movement a century before. R. Sundel of Salant, R. Samuel Lubtser of Wilna, and R. Alexander Moses Lapides of Rossieny were the best-known of Lipkin's supporters. The strongest opponents of the movement were the rabbi of Kovno, Aryeh Löb Shapira, Joshua Heschel, rabbi of Yanova, and Isaiah, rabbi of Salant. But the commanding influence of Lipkin's personality overcame all opposition; and the "musar" movement gradually developed without producing the evil results which had been predicted by its earlier opponents. Meanwhile the more noted among Lipkin's pupils continued in various localities the work of their master. R. Jacob Joseph, later chief rabbi of the Russian Orthodox congregations of New York, instituted the practise of the Musarnikes in Vilon and later in Yurburg (Georgenberg); and Simḥah Süssel, who returned to his native city of Kelm in the government of Grodno in 1872, established there a "musar stübel," or separate house for the study of ethical works and for the peculiar and ecstatic forms of devotion practised by the Musarnikes. Süssel, who later went to Kovno and was considered one of the leaders of the movement, did not possess Lipkin's practical knowledge of the world, and did not interest himself, like the latter, in the spread of morality and integrity among the masses. He was almost a recluse; and under his influence moral studies began to degenerate into pilpulistic, i.e., hair-splitting, self-analysis, and into extreme forms of asceticism. Later he became the head of a yeshibah in Slobodka (Willempul), a suburb of Kovno.R. Isaac Blaser.
The leadership of the Musarnikes of Kovno then passed into the hands of R. Isaac Blaser, who went thither from St. Petersburg in 1879, and who took charge of the Lachman endowment for the education of rabbis. An attempt to induce the "perushim," or mature students and candidates for the rabbinate, who were the beneficiaries of that endowment, to join the Musarnikes, was resented by many influential rabbis, including Isaac Elhanan Spektor of Kovno; and it would seem that only the high character and great learning of Blaser shielded him from becoming involved in a public scandal. Blaser afterward established a yeshibah in Lubtch, in the government of Minsk, where "baḥurim," or younger students, who joined the Musarnikes in the yeshibah of Slobodka and similar institutions, would after marriage continue as perushim to prepare themselves to be "moralist" rabbis. The "Kolel Lubts," or collective center for receiving contributions for the support of such students, under whose jurisdiction moralist perushim were and still are assisted in Novogrudek, Lida, Shavel, Dwinsk, Setel, Slutsk, and various other communities in Lithuania, was established under the nominal leadership of Blaser. He was the undisputed head of the moralists after Süssel, who again retired to Kelm, where he died. Thereupon the Talmud Torah, as themoralists' center in that town was called, began to decline.
Blaser left Kovno in 1902, and, after residing for a time in Wilna, emigrated to Palestine in 1904, the management of the affairs of the Musarnikes passing into the hands of Rabbi Yeisel (Jusel), who had been the actual leader for many years. The latter spends most of his time in seclusion in a cabin which a wealthy admirer built for him in the heart of a forest several miles from Lubts. This recluse seems, however, to be a clever administrator; and his emissaries collect large sums to defray the cost of maintenance of the perushim and the yeshibot which are controlled by the moralists. Their largest institution is still the yeshibah of Slobodka, where in 1897 a riot between the Musarnikes and their opponents brought the moralist movement to the attention of the outside world and exposed many of the abuses which had in the course of time grown up within it.
- Benjamin, Rabbi Israel Lipkin Salant, Sein Leben und Wirken, Berlin, 1899;
- Friedman, Toledot Ba'ale ha-Musar, in Ha-Meliẓ, xxxvii., No. 36 et passim;
- Ginsberg, The Moralist Movement in Russia, in Menorah, April, 1904;
- Ha-Maggid, ii., No. 42.