Author Shai Afsai will discuss the historical development of Benjamin Franklin’s self-improvement method incorporated into the Jewish ethical tradition of mussar. As a young man in his twenties, Franklin resolved to perfect his character and devised a unique method to aid him in the challenging task of becoming virtuous. In 1808 Rabbi Mendel Lefin of Satanów, an adherent of the European Jewish Enlightenment movement, published The Book of Spiritual Accounting, re-contextualized Franklin's approach and made it available to Hebrew-reading audiences. Though Rabbi Lefin's Franklin-based work continues to be studied in Jewish religious academies and underpins Jewish ideals of character-development and Jewish self-improvement programs, Judaic scholars have often been confused by or uncomfortable acknowledging this surprising historical development, while Franklin specialists and enthusiasts have remained largely unaware of it. Afsai's work on Franklin and Judaism has been supported by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.
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