The Center for Contemporary Mussar was launched in August 2017, as an independent non-profit organization, after more than 15 years as a synagogue-based program (The Mussar Leadership Program), under the intellectual leadership of Rabbi Ira Stone and Dr. Beulah Trey, a psychologist and group dynamics expert.
From 2002-17, the CCM program took shape through the work of dedicated individuals who shared their unique gifts. We thank them for their extraordinary effort: Mindy Shapiro, who edited our first workbook and launched many vaads and madrichim; Miki Young z”l, who breathed spirit into our venture; Jim Culbertson who created the first website and newsletter; and Nancy Axelrod who served as our first executive director.
We offer introductory and continuing classes that focus on Mussar texts, theology and practice. Students commit for a semester at a time; a complete curriculum is offered over a period of four years.
CCM classes are offered to students world-wide through a distance-learning video platform. In-person classes are held in the greater Philadelphia area (Center City, Germantown, the Philadelphia suburbs, and South Jersey) and in various parts of the country, including California and Oregon. Each class is divided into a shi’ur or lesson, and a va’ad or group work.
Seeds of Mussar
For those who want an introduction to Mussar theology and practice, Seeds of Mussar is a two-session introduction that can be tailored for your synagogue or havurah. For more information, contact us.
Our Four-Year Curriculum
Nefesh: Developing a Mussar Consciousness and Practice
A course of study for students who wish to become familiar with the principles and practices of Mussar, and who are:
- New to the CCM program
- Not familiar with our approach to Mussar and to a daily discipline
- Ready to begin building a daily Mussar discipline into their lives.
At the Nefesh level, students identify their inclination to self-protection and self-absorption and to work on middot, character traits, to practice constraining this inclination.
Texts include Mesillat Yesharim by Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzatto (with commentary by Rabbi Ira Stone) and the The Soul Work of Mussar, a textbook developed by CCM.
Neshama: Taking Your Practice to the Next Level
The second year of the CCM program is for those students who want to deepen their practice in the company of other committed Mussar practitioners. Students increase their sense of responsibilities to their va’ad (study group) and chevruta (study partner). A focus in Year 2 is developing personal action plans that aim to transform a relationship to another person, allowing for an unfettered soul-to-soul connection, neshama-to-neshama, with that person. Aiding in that work is the development of a Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) statement, which represents the calling of their soul and is a reminder of their best selves.
Texts include Mesillat Yesharim by Rabbi Moses Chaim Luzzatto (with commentary by Rabbi Ira Stone) and the The Soul Work of Mussar, a textbook developed by CCM. In the second semester of Year 2, we introduce the first chapter of Rabbi Moses Cordovero’s Tomer Devorah, in a translation and commentary by Rabbi Stone and Dr. Beulah Trey.
Ruach: Immersing Yourself in Goodness
A course of study for those returning students who have:
- An established daily practice, which includes a focus on a middah, Torah study, weekly chevruta (partner study) and a chosen mitzvah observance
- The willingness to immerse themselves in middot that promote kindness and compassion.
The Ruach level begins with students having made the transition to tikkun or transformation through the integration of kabbalistic middot into their Mussar study. There is a strong focus on further refining the Ner Tamid statement to serve as a prism of the universal spirit of goodness, which permeates the universe.
Tomer Devorah is the core text for this phase of our Mussar work, which is also treated in the CCM textbook, The Soul Work of Mussar.
Kedusha: Making a Life of Holiness Your Goal
A course of study for advanced students who–
- Are ready to take the next step in their Mussar studies and practice
- Are willing to commit to embodying holiness in their lives
- May be considering future training as a madrich (teacher)
During this final year of the four-year curriculum, we return to the difficult final section of Luzzato’s Mesillat Yesharim, aided by the tools developed in our study and practice of the Tomer Devorah middot of Tikkun, or transformation. The year ends with a review of Tomer Devorah and a capstone sequence that allows students to harvest all that they have gained during the four-year immersive journey.
Advanced classes are for those students who have completed the four-year foundational curriculum. Monthly classes with a madrich/a will focus on advanced Mussar texts and practice.
Madrich Training is a one-year course of weekly study with other graduates of the four-year curriculum, in which the teacher candidates begin teaching the material to one another in a supervised practicum.
In my third year of Mussar study, we were asked to look at a challenging relationship in our life. For me it was a daughter-in-law of more than twenty years, who I always thought was angry with me. After a year of considering her wounds, I was able to initiate a non-defensive conversation with her. Hearing her, I told her how sorry I was for times I had hurt her and that I really do love her and appreciate the wife and mother she is. I told her I hoped we could start anew; it’s now been more than two years and all is well.
Our Mussar study is providing me a “mindfulness” alternative in a Jewish tradition. My desire to live an ever more meaningful life led me to search for a better understanding of God’s will for me. Mussar is satisfying my quest.
Mussar has proven to be a true life companion. I see changes occurring in long held patterns, particularly in the realm of patience. I see myself available to others, receiving feedback that this is true, and yet I understand when self-care is needed and appropriate. In other words, Mussar, as taught by CCM, provides a language and a framework for creating a healthy soul container while acting in our fragmented world.
In a challenging situation, I ask myself how I should respond from a “Mussar” perspective and that self-reflection helps me to react in a more caring and generous way. I have also been enriched by the relationships I have formed with my study partners and teachers – meaningful bonds with wonderful people.