Hurvitz, Joseph Yozel

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HURVITZ, JOSEPH YOZEL (c. 1850–1919), known as Reb Yozel and Der Alter fun Nowardok ("The Elder of Novogrudok"); founder of the Novogrudok school of the *Musar movement. Hurvitz was born in Plunge (Plungyany) Lithuania, where his father was a dayyan. He was precocious as a child, and at the age of 16 delivered public lectures in Talmud. He went into business, however, and operated a profitable trade in textiles through frequent, dangerous crossings of the Prussian border. In Prussia, about 1875, he encountered Israel *Lipkin (Salanter), founder of the Musar movement, and his disciple Isaac *Blaser, who is said to have urged him to devote more time to study and less to business affairs.

Greatly influenced by Blaser, Hurvitz agreed to attend Salanter's public addresses on musar and shortly thereafter he sold his business, turned the proceeds over to his wife, and with her approval left her and the children to enter Kolel Perushim, a school for advanced Talmud study then administered by Salanter's disciples in Kovno. Hurvitz occasionally returned to his family, but most of the time he studied and even repaired to a forest where he prayed, meditated and studied in isolation. After the death of his wife in childbirth, in 1881 or 1882, he severed all ties with the Kolel and sealed himself in a cabin for a year and a half, studying Talmud and musar, and was given food through two holes (one for meat and one for milk products). He spent the next 12 years in solitary study in forests, though he remarried. In 1894 his orientation shifted. He initiated an educational network called "Nowardok," after the city in which he established his first yeshivah, and by 1914 had founded 13 yeshivot. During World War i, when most East European yeshivot closed, Hurvitz and his disciples founded an additional 25 institutions despite widespread starvation, population transfers, and warring Red, White and German armies. Throughout, Hurvitz periodically repaired to a "house of isolation" hidden in a forest. He died in Kiev, 1919, while ministering to students stricken with typhus.

Shortly before his death Hurvitz delivered 12 lengthy lectures which were first published separately and subsequently in book form with the title Madregat ha-Adam ("The Stature of Man," New York 1948). Hurvitz advocated self-transcendence so that the self is not obliterated but purified. Naked impulses are neither subjugated nor annihilated, but transmuted. One should aspire to whole-hearted internal devotion to, and external observance of, Jewish law (Halakhah), which embraces not only concrete norms, but ideal character traits (middot). Through intermittent isolation from society one learns to conquer negative character traits, such as vainglory, jealousy, material need, and dependence on family, in order to be able to return to society and refashion it. Having transcended material and social needs one is filled with joy and capable of leadership. A key to self-transcendence is bitaḥon (trust in God), conceived not as acceptance of personal destiny – whether favorable or unfavorable – but as assurance that personal destiny will be favorable, notwithstanding famine, war, poverty or other hardships.

Hurvitz used to sign himself B.B. (Ba'al Bitaḥon – Master of Trust). His own dialectical lifestyle – isolation and social activism – is the foundation of both Madregat ha-Adam and the educational techniques utilized in his academies. The relative popularity – if not the origin – of Hurvitz's extreme doctrines may, however, be connected with the parallel rise of an extreme, irreligious doctrine of self-transcendence – Marxism. The last chapter of Madregat ha-Adam was translated by Silverstein in To Turn the Many to Righteousness (1970).


Musar Anthology, articles by H. Goldberg and Y.Y. Perr (1972); Dov Katz, Tenu'at ha-Musar, vol. 4, part 2 (1963); Y.L. Nekritz, Yeshivot Nowardok; Mosedot Torah be-Europa, ed. Samuel K. Mirsky (1956); Zalman Shazar, Morning Stars (1967), 80, 86–87; D. Zaritsky, Gesher Ẓar, 2 vols. (1968), a biographical novel.

[Hillel Goldberg]