Lipkin (Salanter) Israel ben Ze'ev Wolf

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LIPKIN (Salanter) ISRAEL BEN ZE'EV WOLF (1810–1883), founder and spiritual father of the *Musar movement. His father, author of the glosses Ben Aryeh on the Talmud and rishonim, served as rabbi in Goldingen, Latvia and Telz, Lithuania, and he was later appointed rabbi of Zhagare, where Israel was born. At the age of 12, Israel went to the yeshivah of Zevi Hirsch Broida in Salant, and his reputation there was such that his teacher referred to him as "the little *Alfasi"; other great contemporary scholars applied similar laudatory appellations to him. His chance meeting with R. Zundel of Salant – a great scholar and an unusually humble and modest man – had a decisive influence on him. Powerfully impressed by Zundel's personality, Israel attached himself to him, regarding him from then on as his principal teacher, and conducting himself according to Zundel's ethical principles. He refused to accept rabbinical office, even that of Brest-Litovsk – the major community in Lithuania.

During his whole life, Lipkin sought the best way in which to influence the community. Deciding to become a preacher or a mashgi'ah ("spiritual mentor") in a yeshivah, he accepted the position of head of a yeshivah in Vilna, where he was quickly renowned for his profound acumen. He soon resigned this post, however, and established his own yeshivah in Vilna. When his fame spread he began to preach sermons giving expression to the doctrine of musar, a moral movement based on the study of traditional ethical literature. These sermons attracted huge audiences. He proceeded to found groups for the study of musar on the lines of various ethical works. With the consolidation of these groups he established a special institution called a Bet Musar, in which he delivered his musar discourses and these became the pattern for similar discourses delivered in all the yeshivot which adopted the teaching of musar. These discourses were never recorded apart from several individual ones published by his pupil Shneur Zalman Hirschovitz in Even Yisrael (1883).

During the cholera epidemic which swept Vilna in 1848, Lipkin was in the forefront of all the most dangerous relief activities. He gave instructions that every kind of work was to be done on the Sabbath by Jews and was not to be relegated to non-Jews. On the Day of Atonement during the epidemic he ordered the congregation to partake of food, and set a personal example by mounting the pulpit and publicly eating. This dramatic action made a powerful impression both in contemporary and in later literature. His name was put forward to head the rabbinical seminary of Vilna, founded in 1848, but he refused to accept despite the attractive terms offered and the government pressure that was brought to bear upon him. As a result of this pressure he left Vilna and went to Kovno, where he founded a Musar yeshivah, which expanded greatly, attaining a roll of 150 students, many of whom were to become outstanding Lithuanian rabbis. His most important activity during this period was the improvement of the living conditions of the yeshivah students. He abolished the custom of the students being given daily hospitality in private homes, arranged suitable accommodation for them, and insisted that they be properly and neatly dressed. He also taught deportment and aesthetics. The period of study in his yeshivah was highly valued by the students, who saw themselves under "a new heaven and a new earth and an individual superior to all" (Tenu'at ha-Musar, p. 175). Lipkin obtained his livelihood from communal posts in Kovno. Opposition to his methods began during the period of his yeshivah in Kovno, and among his opponents were Joshua Hoeschel of Janow, Abraham Samuel of Rossiyeny, Mordecai Eliasberg of Bauska, and Isaiah of Salant.

In 1857, to the surprise of many, Lipkin moved to Germany – first to Halberstadt for medical attention and later to Koenigsberg, where he lectured to university students on Judaism. In 1860 he went to Memel near the German-Lithuanian border. There he published his periodical Tevunah, for the dissemination of Torah and musar, to which all the outstanding scholars of Lithuania and Galicia contributed; 12 numbers were published. In Memel he acquired German citizenship, adopted German dress, and even preached in German. He also mastered various secular subjects. He visited several German cities, including Tilsit, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Halberstadt. During this period he maintained contact with his pupils in Lithuania by correspondence. These letters constitute the main source for his system of musar. In 1877 he founded a *kolel for young married students in Kovno; similar institutions were also set up in various towns. Lipkin's pupils began to establish large yeshivot in Volozhin, Kelme, Telz, and Slobodka, in which musar teaching was predominant. In 1880 he went to France in order to disseminate Judaism. Although he suffered greatly there because of his straitened circumstances, he did not cease his activity. He stayed in Paris two years and succeeded in strengthening its Jewish institutions. From Paris he returned to Koenigsberg where he died.

In general Lipkin was revolutionary in his ideas. He proposed the compilation of an Aramaic-Hebrew dictionary for the better understanding of the Talmud, the translation of the Talmud into Hebrew, its printing in one volume, its translation into European languages, its teaching in universities, and the provision of religious books in Russian. Lipkin was also active in the communal and political spheres. He left no large works. He published an article in the Ez Peri (1881) and a number of articles from Tevunah were later collected in a special work called Imrei Binah (1878). His well-known Iggeret ha-Musar ("ethical letter") was first published in Koenigsberg in 1858 and repeatedly republished. Twenty-two letters were collected by Isaac *Blaser, who published them under the title Or Yisrael (1900; English translation, 2004). A collection of his discourses recorded by pupils was published under the title Even Yisrael (1883); letters and collections appeared in various organs such as Beit Yisrael, Hut ha-Meshullash, etc. The letters of Lipkin, Kitvei R. Israel Lipkin, edited by M. Pacter, appeared in 1973. All these deal with his system of musar which spread throughout Lithuania and was adopted by all the yeshivot.

Lipkin was foremost an educator and ethicist, writing and teaching in response to the historical, social, and religious problems of his time. He was keenly aware of the changes going on all around him in the Jewish community, thus his teachings and writings must be seen as reflecting his social and educational activity.

The central issue that concerned him was the gap between an individual's professed beliefs and his actions. Searching for the causes of this phenomenon, Lipkin discovered that there was no direct relationship between a person's piety and his knowledge of Torah. Knowledge attained through the standard yeshivah curriculum did not necessarily produce moral behavior, but knowledge of divine retribution, knowing that no one escapes the consequences of his actions, does affect behavior. This insight, coupled with another one, formed the basis for Lipkin's musar campaign. The second insight relates to the difference between a person's appetites and desires and knowledge. Contrary to one's desires, which are innate in a person, knowledge is acquired. For this reason, attaining even the right knowledge is rarely enough to control one's appetites. To solve this problem, Lipkin developed behavioral mechanisms, i.e., the habitual repetition of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral stimuli, "to fortify the intellectual fear of God that the latter eventually achieves the level of distinct instinct capable of combating less worthy desires or even uprooting them totally" (Ross, Immanuel, 1983/84, 70). Later on in his career, Lipkin proposed a different solution based on improving character traits, thus changing one's personality. All of these teachings were Lipkin's means to achieve a particular end: an improvement in piety and religious observance.

Lipkin dealt with a number of philosophical issues peripherally in his sermons and writings. These included the paradox of divine knowledge and free will, miracles vs. natural law, the relative ability or inability of the human intellect to grasp objective truth in general or Torah in particular, and emunat hakhamim (blind faith in rabbinic dicta). This aspect of his teachings was developed by his students into "yeshivah ideology" (ibid.). Thus, Lipkin's disciples abandoned his musar methods and began to emphasize his philosophical ideas. Ironically, their musar technique became the identification with a set of proper ideas and opinions. Nevertheless, Lipkin had an enormous impact on yeshivah study. To this day, almost every yeshivah student spends a portion of his day studying Jewish philosophy and ethics.

Among Lipkin's sons were Yom Tov Lipman *Lipkin, a scientist with an international reputation; aryeh leib horowitz, author of the Hayyei Aryeh (1907) and rabbi of Choroszcz, Janow, and Brezhin; and isaac lipkin, rabbi of Janow, Korets, and Prosnitsa.


S. Rosenfeld, R. Yisrael Salanter (Heb., 1911); L. Ginzberg, Students Scholars and Saints (1928), 145–94; K. Rosen, Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Musar Movement (1945); M.G. Glenn, Israel Salanter (1953); D. Katz, Tenu'at ha-Musar, 1 (19583), 137–38b; L. Jung (ed.), Jewish Leaders, 1 (1953), 197–211. Add. Bibliography: I. Salanter, Ohr Yisrael: The Classical Writings of Rav Yisrael Salanter and His Disciples (2004); I. Etkes, Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement: Seeking the Torah of Truth (1993); Z. Fendel, The Ethical Personality: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Torah Approach to Ethics (1986); H. Goldberg, Israel Salanter, Text, Structure, Idea: The Ethics and Theology of an Early Psychologist of the Unconscious (1982); idem, in: Immanuel, 17 (1983/84), 106–119; T. Ross, in: ibid., 68–76; N. Hen, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter: Mi-Toldotav, Hayyav u-Po'alo (1988); M. Pachter, in: Tarbiz (1984), 621–50; idem, in: The World of Rav Kook's Thought (1991), 322–48; S. Wolbe, in: Jewish Observer, 17:6 (1984), 4–6; L. Geldwerth, in: ibid., 9–17; H. Goldberg, in: Tradition, 22:3 (1986), 31–43; idem, in: ibid. 23:4 (1988), 14–46; L. Shalit, in: Identity and Ethos: A Festschift for Sol Liptzin (1986), 393–406.

[Itzhak Alfassi /

David Derovan (2nd ed.)]