Yakir Englander says that he “grew up in the closed world of an ultra-orthodox Hassidic court, removed his head covering, but still defines himself as a secular Vishnitzer Chassid.” He is finishing a PHD at Hebrew Unviersity.
Englander just published an article on the Hazon Ish which differs with the extensive PHD thesis of Binyamin Brown on the Hazon Ish. I assume that everyone has read benny Brown by now. The new article views the Hazon Ish as driven by his anthropology in which people are sinful and depraved. Body, will, and imagination are all corrupted; even the intellect is not free of the effects of the evil inclination.
Humans do not have any naturally good state or inner goodness. Mussar wanted the person to cultivate their inner emotions and volition. In Englander’s presentation of the Hazon Ish, that would be like talking to an anorexic about her body. The goal of the anorexic is to beat up on the body, then paradoxically an anorexic spends all of her day on her body. The cure is a therapy that changes thinking or social dynamic. So too if the goal of baal mussar is to destroy their evil inclination, then spending all one’s day talking and thinking about it wont work. One has to entirely break one’s body and volition by submitting to Torah.
The Hazon Ish was against anything personal or existential because there is not any inwardness of value.
One arranges one’s life so as to avoid impurity to one’s soul. Englamder explains this concern with impurity using the categories of Mary Douglas in which impurity is based on fear of things outside one’s boundaries Most of society follows the evil inclination and lives a shallow life. One overcomes it by submission to halakhah.
Englander disagrees with Benny Brown over the role of mussr to the Hazon Ish. Brown considered hazn ish’s difference with mussar as an in-house debate. Englander thinks that the Hazon Ish held that the baalei musssar were naively running headlong into a bear hug with the yetzer hara
Engelard shows how mussar reasoning is rejected by the Hazon Ish and that the latter also lacks any ethic outside of halakhah. Musar definitions of theft like “stealing sleep of another” do not exist for him. And his view of learning does not give the credence to the intellect that Lithuanian learning does.
Mussar and Lumdut are both about cultivation of the self. The anthropology of the hazon Ish is to bypass the self entirely.
All the voluntary acts of piety in the Talmud and rishonim are not needed because they reflect the volunteerism and offering of the heart of piety The value is in the effort and the subjective. He also rejects them because of devolution of the generations- we don’t have pure volition any more.
I am not sure that every line is exact but his documentation is extensive. Some of the later mussar masters already had similar positions. But the article is definitely worth reading for its ideas and also for the extensive bibliography of the unpublished dissertations and articles on Mitnagdut of the last decade.
The question that I have now is how does the Centrist Orthodox idea of submission differ? On one hand it is the same submission and rejection of autonomy, values outside the halakhah, and distrust of the intellect. Yet, in Centrism one gets to live a life of the body, personal choice, emotions, and imagination so long as one does not apply it to Torah. Whereas the Hazon Ish expects one to reject the evil inclination every day of one’s life, Centrism identifies the evil inclination with the secular world, liberal Judaism, and individuality. As long as one buys into the Centrist version of halakhah, accepts the system a whole, and enters a Centrist enclave then one is free to spend one’s life on one’s body and imagination, one’s desires and inner life are good as long as they don’t effect Torah. Any thoughts?