Sharing the Burden

Rabbi Simḥah Zissel Ziv and the Path of Musar

By Geoffrey D. Claussen

Subjects: Jewish Religious Studies, Jewish Philosophy, Jewish Studies, Judaica, Religion
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Thought
Paperback : 9781438458342, 260 pages, July 2016
Hardcover : 9781438458359, 260 pages, September 2015

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Table of contents

1. Rabbi Simḥah Zissel  Ziv and the Talmud Torah
2. Virtue and the Path of Happiness
3. Simḥah Zissel Among the Philosophers
4. The Great Effort of Musar
5. Learning to Love

Examines a fascinating and important figure in the history of modern Jewish ethics.


Sharing the Burden analyzes the rich moral traditions of the nineteenth-century Musar movement, an Eastern European Jewish movement focused on the development of moral character. Geoffrey D. Claussen focuses on that movement's leading moral theorist, Rabbi Simḥah Zissel Ziv (1824–1898), the founder of the first Musar movement yeshiva and the first traditionalist institution in Eastern Europe that included general studies in its curriculum. Simḥah Zissel offered a unique and compelling voice within the Musar movement, joining traditionalism with a program for contemplative practice and an interest in non-Jewish philosophy. His thought was also distinguished by its demanding moral vision, oriented around an ideal of compassionately loving one's fellow as oneself and an acknowledgment of the difficulties of moral change. Drawing on Simḥah Zissel's writings and bringing his approach into dialogue with other models of ethics, Claussen explores Simḥah Zissel's Jewish virtue ethics and evaluates its strengths and weaknesses. The result is a volume that will expose readers to a fascinating and important voice in the history of modern Jewish ethics and spirituality.

Geoffrey D. Claussen is Lori and Eric Sklut Emerging Scholar in Jewish Studies and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University.


"…a thorough study of the life and work of one of the most influential figures in the history of Musar … This book is a welcome and needed addition to the study of the Musar movement and its seminal figures. " — New Books Network

"This is an important contribution not only to understanding modern East European Jewish thought but also to general issues of ethics and religious modernization. " — Religious Studies Review

"Claussen's writing style is clear, accessible, and engaging. He greatly succeeds in making Simḥah Zissel's work understandable to a wide audience … an essential background to both contemporary Jewish thought and the growing field of Jewish studies today. " — Journal of Jewish Ethics

"Highly edifying, this book exposes the reader to a diverse spectrum of Torah thought. Recommended for academic libraries with Jewish studies collections. " — AJL Reviews