Benjamin Franklin’s Influence on Mussar Thought and Practice: a Chronicle of Misapprehension

In: Review of Rabbinic Judaism
Author: Shai Afsai1
View More View Less
  • 1 PO Box 603139, Providence, RI 02906

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):

€29.95$34.95

Abstract

Benjamin Franklin’s ideas and writings may be said to have had an impact on Jewish thought and practice. This influence occurred posthumously, primarily through his Autobiography and by way of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lefin’s Sefer Cheshbon ha-Nefesh (Book of Spiritual Accounting, 1808), which introduced Franklin’s method for moral perfection to a Hebrew-reading Jewish audience. This historical development has confused Judaic scholars, and Franklin specialists have been largely oblivious to it. Remedying the record on this matter illustrates how even within the presumably insular world of Eastern European rabbinic Judaism—far from the deism of the trans-Atlantic Enlightenment—pre-Reform, pre-Conservative Jewish religion was affected by broader currents of thought.

  • Afsai, Shai. “Benjamin Franklin and Judaism.” In Journal of the American Revolution, Annual Volume 2018, 291304. Yardley: Westholme, 2018.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bick, Ya’akov Shemuel. “Letter 28.” In Sefer Kerem Chemed 1 [Hebrew], edited by S.Y.L. Goldenberg, 97. Avien: Anton Schmid Buchdrucker und Buchhandler, 1833.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Borodiansky, Yitzchok. “Be-Ma’aloto shel ha-Sefer ‘Cheshbon ha-Nefesh’ ” (“On the Merit of the Book ‘Cheshbon ha-Nefesh”). In Kuntres Bo’u Cheshbon: be-Ma’alat ha-Sefer ha-Muflah be-Torat ha-Chinuch ha-Torati Cheshbon ha-Nefesh (Bo’u Cheshbon Booklet: On the Merit of the Marvelous Book on the Theory of Torah Education, Cheshbon ha-Nefesh), 113. Jerusalem: Foundation for the Advancement of Torah Study, 1998.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bruce, W.J.The Death and Funeral of Franklin.” American Historical Record 3, 25 (1874): 1316.

  • Chiel, Arthur. “Benjamin Franklin and Menachem Mendel Lefin.” Conservative Judaism 32, 3 (1979): 5055.

  • Chiel, Arthur. “Benjamin Franklin, His Genesis Text.” Judaism 25, 3 (1976): 353356.

  • Dunford, Katherine. “Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Bold and Arduous Project.’ ” A Review of General Semantics 19, 3 (1962): 335340.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Elitzur, Reuven. “Al Sefer ‘Cheshbon ha-Nefesh,’ ” “Od be-ha-NaL,” “He’arat ha-Gaon R. Dov Landau Shelita al ha-Sefer ha-Nal,” and “Achat le-Achat Limtzo Cheshbon.” In Sefer Zicaron Degel Machane Reuven [Hebrew], 329343. Bnei Brak: 2003.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Epstein, Baruch Halevi. Mekor Baruch 2 [Hebrew]. Vilna: Rom, 1928.

  • Etkes, Immanuel. “Haskalah” (2010). In The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Haskalah.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Etkes, Immanuel. Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement: Seeking the Torah of Truth. Translated by J. Chipman. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1993. (Originally published in Hebrew, 1982.)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fiering, Norman. “Benjamin Franklin and the Way to Virtue.” American Quarterly 30, 2 (1978): 199223.

  • Forde, Steven. “Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and the Education of America.” The American Political Science Review 86, 2 (1992): 357368.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fox, Bernie. “Parshat Korach: What Could Be Wrong With Mussar?,” Orthodox Union. https://www.ou.org/torah/parsha/rabbi-fox-on-parsha/parshat_korach_2/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Edited by L.W. Labaree, R.L. Ketcham, H.C. Boatfield, and H.H. Fineman. New Haven: Yale University, 2003.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Franklin, Benjamin. “From Benjamin Franklin to Lord Kames, 21 October 1761,” Founders Online, National Archives. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-09-02-0158.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Franklin, Benjamin. “From Benjamin Franklin to Lord Kames, 3 May 1760,” Founders Online, National Archives. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-09-02-0033.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Franklin, Benjamin. “A Parable against Persecution, [July 1755],” Founders Online, National Archives. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-06-02-0063.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Franklin, Benjamin. “To Ezra Stiles” (March 9, 1790). In The Works of Benjamin Franklin 12, edited by John Bigelow, 183187. New York: Knickerbocker, 1904.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Franklin, Benjamin. “To Benjamin Vaughan” (November 2, 1789). In The Works of Benjamin Franklin 12, edited by J. Bigelow, 145149. New York: Knickerbocker, 1904.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Glenn, Menahem. Israel Salanter: Religious-Ethical Thinker. (First published in 1953.) Brooklyn: Yashar, 2005.

  • Glenn, Menahem. “Ha-Chinuch ha-Mishma’ati be-Shitato shel R. Yisrael me-Salant” (“The Disciplinary Education in the Method of Rabbi Israel of Salant”). In Sefer ha-Yovel, edited by Y.L. Hacohen Maimon, 165172. Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1960.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Goldberg, Hillel. Israel Salanter: Text, Structure, Idea. New York: KTAV, 1982.

  • Gruenewald, Max. “Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Parable on Brotherly Love.’ ” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 37 (1947): 147152.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Heber, Reginald. The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D. 1. London: Ogle, Duncan, and Co., 1822.

  • Heinze, Andrew. Jews and the American Soul. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

  • Holmes, David. The Faiths of the Founding Fathers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

  • Huang, Nian-Sheng. Benjamin Franklin in American Thought and Culture, 1790–1990. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1994.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Katz, Dov. Tenuat ha-Mussar: Toledoteha, Isheha, ve-Shitoteha (The Mussar Movement: Its History, Men, and Methods) 1. Tel-Aviv: Betan ha-Sefer, 1952.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kidd, Thomas. Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017.

  • Klausner, Yosef. “Menachem Lefin (Mendel Levin) me-Satanov (1749–1826).” In Historia shel ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Chadasha (History of the New Hebrew Literature) 1, 224253 Jerusalem: Achiasaf, 1952.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Klausner, Yosef. “ ‘Mashal Mussari’ shel R. Nachman Krochmal” (“ ‘A Moral Parable’ of Rabbi Nachman Krochmal”). Tarbiz [Hebrew] 1 (1929): 131135.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kohut, George. “Abraham’s Lesson in Tolerance.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 15, 1 (1902): 104111.

  • Krochmal, Nachman. “Mashal Mussari” (“Moral Parable”). Yerushalayim ha-Benuyah 1 (1844): 7273.

  • Lachover, Fishel. Toledot ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Chadasha (History of Modern Hebrew Literature) 1 (2nd edition). Tel Aviv: Devir, 1929.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lapin, David. “Chochma Bagoyim—Using Secular Methodology for Personal Development,” October 7, 2014. http://rabbilapin.com/index.php?route=module/kbm/article&kbm_article_id=47.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Larson, David. “Franklin on the Nature of Man and the Possibility of Virtue.” Early American Literature 10, 2 (1975): 111120.

  • Lefin, Mendel. Sefer Cheshbon ha-Nefesh [Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Merkaz ha-Sefer, 1988.

  • Lemay, Leo. The Life of Benjamin Franklin 2. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2006.

  • Lemay, Leo. The Life of Benjamin Franklin 3. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2009.

  • Letteris, Meir Halevi. “Toledot Nachman Hacohen Krochmal” (“Biography of Nachman Hacohen Krochmal).” Introduction to the posthumous 2nd edition of Krochmal’s Moreh Nevuche ha-Zeman, 1129. Lemberg, 1863.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Levin of Satanov, Mendel. Cheshbon ha-Nenefesh [Hebrew-English]. Translated by D. Landesman and S. Silverstein. Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1995.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Levine, Hillel. “Ben Chasidut le-Haskalah: Al Pulmus Anti-Chasidi Musveh” (“Between Chasidism and Haskalah: On a Disguised Anti-Chasidic Polemic.” In Perakim be-Toledot ha-Chevra ha-Yehudit bi-Yeme-ha-Benayim u-Va’et ha-Chadasha, edited by I. Etkes and J. Salmon, 182191. Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1980.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Maimon, Moshe. “Uncovering Mussar’s and Chassidus’ Divergent Approaches toward Enlightenment.” Hakirah 17 (2014): 205220.

  • Maimonides, Moses. The 8 Chapters of the Rambam. Translated by Yakov Feldman. Southfield: Targum, 2008.

  • Malachi, Eliezer. “Binyamin Franklin ve-ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit” (“Benjamin Franklin and Hebrew Literature”). Ha-Do’ar 35, 13 (1956): 238239.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miller, Yisroel. In Search of the Jewish Woman. Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1984.

  • Morais, Herbert. “Deism in Revolutionary America (1763–89).” International Journal of Ethics 42, 4 (1932): 434453.

  • Morgan, David. “Benjamin Franklin: Champion of Generic Religion.” The Historian 62, 4 (2000): 723730.

  • Morinis, Alan. Every Day, Holy Day: 365 Teachings and Practices from the Jewish Tradition of Mussar. Boston: Trumpeter, 2010.

  • Morinis, Alan. Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar. Boston: Trumpeter, 2007.

  • Morinis, Alan. Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: One Man’s Journey to Rediscover a Jewish Spiritual Tradition. New York: Broadway Books, 2002.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • New York Times. “Ben Franklin and Judaism.” September 9, 1889, 2.

  • “Our History,” at website of Congregation Mikveh Israel: Synagogue of the American Revolution, mikvehisrael.org/e2_cms_display.php?p=past_our_history.

  • Palmer, N.S.Ben Franklin’s Jewish Values.” Jewish Journal. November 7, 2016. https://the-1000-year-view.com/2016/11/06/ben-franklins-jewish-values/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rubinstein, Avraham. “Levin (Lefin), Menahem Mendel,” Encyclopedia Judaica 11. Jerusalem: Keter, 1971.

  • S., Shimon. “Benjamin Franklin’s Parable on Tolerance, and its appearance in the unpublished writings of Nachman Krochmal.” On the Main Line, May 3, 2010. http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2010/05/benjamin-franklins-parable-on-tolerance.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • S., Shimon. “What’s a ‘maskil’?,” On the Main Line. September 3, 2009. http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2009/09/whats-maskil.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shahar, David. “Hashpa’aoto shel Binyamin Franklin al Tefisat Tikun ha-Midot be-Sefer Cheshbon ha-Nefesh le-R. Menachem Mendel Lefin” (“Benjamin Franklin’s Influence on the Approach to Character Improvement in Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lefin’s Sefer Cheshbon ha-Nefesh”). Zion: Rivon le-Cheker Toledot Yisrael 49, 2 (1984):185192.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Silberschlag, Eisig. “Ha-Gorem ha-Anglo-Saxi be-Sifrutenu ha-Chadasha: Maga’im Rishonim” (“Anglo-American and Hebrew Literature: Earliest Contacts and Relationships”). Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies [Hebrew] 4, 2 ‎(1965): 7175.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sinkoff, Nancy. “Lefin, Menaḥem Mendel” (2010). In The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews of Eastern Europe. http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Lefin_Menahem_Mendel.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sinkoff, Nancy. Out of the Shtetl: Making Jews Modern in the Polish Borderlands. Providence: Brown Judaic Studies, 2004.

  • Sinkoff, Nancy. “Strategy and Ruse in the Haskalah of Mendel Lefin of Satanow.” In New Perspectives on the Haskalah, edited by Shmuel Feiner and David Sorkin. London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2001.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sinkoff, Nancy. “Benjamin Franklin in Jewish Eastern Europe: Cultural Appropriation in the Age of the Enlightenment.” Journal of the History of Ideas 61, 1 (2000): 133152.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Spiller, Robert. “Franklin on the Art of Being Human.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 100, 4 (1956): 304315.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Subscription List for Congregation Mikveh Israel (unpublished),” April 30, 1788. Available online at The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (unpub. 1787–88), http://franklinpapers.org/framedVolumes.jsp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Taussig, Harold. “Deism in Philadelphia during the Age of Franklin.” Pennsylvania History 37, 3 (1970): 217236.

  • Waligore, Joseph. “The Christian Deist Writings of Benjamin Franklin.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 140, 1 (2016): 729.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Walters, Kerry. Revolutionary Deists: Early America’s Rational Infidels. New York: Prometheus Books, 2011.

  • Waxman, Meyer. A History of Jewish Literature from the Close of the Bible to Our Own Days 3. (First published in 1930.) New York: Bloch Publishing, 1945.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Waxman, Nissan. “Sefer Shenitalem min ha-Ayin (Al ‘Cheshbon ha-Nefesh’ u-Mechabero)” [“An Overlooked Book (on ‘Cheshbon ha-Nefesh’ and its Author)].” Shana be-Shana 1969: 305–315. (English translation by Aryeh Naftali available at https://www.scribd.com/document/267191284/Benjamin-Franklin-and-Heshbon-Hanefesh-Rav-Nissan-Waxman.)

  • Waxman, Nissan. “R. Simcha Zissel Broida,” ha-Darom 10 (1959): 5565.

  • Wein, Berel. The Triumph of Survival: The Story of the Jews in the Modern Era 1650–1990. Brooklyn: Shaar Press, 2014.

  • Wein, Berel. “The Mussar Movement History.” Travels through Jewish History. The Destiny Foundation, tape 60. July 9, 1986.

  • Weinlos, Israel. “R. Menachem Mendel Lefin me-Satanov.” Haolam 13, 40 (1925): 799800; 13, 41 (1925): 819–820.

  • Weiss, Ya’akov. “Al Mechaber Sefer Cheshbon ha-Nefesh,” (“On the Author of Sefer Cheshbon ha-Nefesh”). In Kuntres Bo’u Cheshbon: be-Ma’alat ha-Sefer ha-Muflah be-Torat ha-Chinuch ha-Torati Cheshbon ha-Nefesh (Bo’u Cheshbon Booklet: On the Merit of the Marvelous Book on the Theory of Torah Education, Cheshbon ha-Nefesh), 1473. Jerusalem: Foundation for the Advancement of Torah Study, 1998.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yavetz, Ze’ev. Sefer Toledot Yisrael (Book of the History of Israel) 14. Tel-Aviv: Achiever, 1940.

  • Zitter, Emmy. “Accounting For Differences: Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and Rav Mendel Levin’s Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh.” Michlol 26 (2009): 137152.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zuckerman, Michael W. “Anatomy of an Autobiography.” Lecture delivered on April 5, 2006 at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, Philadelphia. Edited transcript available at http://www.benfranklin300.org/_etc_pdf/AnatomyofAnAutobiography.pdf.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1003 693 100
Full Text Views 26 10 3
PDF Views & Downloads 29 15 4