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Can We Change Our Character? Perspectives from the Bavli to the Musar Movement

Sarah Zager / August 25, 2020

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In this series, we'll investigate whether and how we might be able to change our characters. Using sources ranging from the Talmud to Maimonides's Mishneh Torah, to the Musar movement, we'll explore how our characters are formed, and what tools we might have when we decided that we need to change our dispositions and tendencies for the better.

We'll pay particular attention to the role that interpersonal interactions between students and teachers and between friends can play in this process.

Part 1: Is Teshuvah a Miracle?
In this session, we'll explore two rabbinic perspectives on teshuvah: One which sees it as a miraculous divine intervention on our behalf, and one which sees it as the product of character change that we work on ourselves. What does it mean to view teshuvah in these two different ways? How might these two apparently opposed views be connected?
Part 2: Are the Gates of Teshuvah ever Locked?
Through a close reading of the 4th chapter of the Rambam's Hilkhot Teshuvah, we'll explore what kinds of behaviors and situations make tesuvah impossible. We'll see that, for the Rambam, teshuvah requires a community that is both supportive, and willing to give moral rebuke.
Part 3: Using the thought of two early leaders in the Musar movement, R. Israel Salanter and R Simhah Zissel Ziv, we'll explore how Talmud Torah and Limmud Musar can work together to help us improve our character.


Sarah Zager

Sarah Zager is a doctoral candidate in Religious Studies and Philosophy at Yale University, where her research focuses on the influence of Judaism and Christianity on moral philosophy. Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Sarah earned an MA in Religion from the University of Chicago Divinity School and a BA from Williams College. She was awarded the Leo Baeck Fellowship for the study of German Jewry, and was a David Hartman Center Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. She has also learned at Yeshivat Hadar. She has written for The LehrhausJewSchoolThe Journal of Jewish Ethics, and Nashim.


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