Benjamin Franklin and Judaism

Though not always able to offer definitive evidence of a link between the two men, since the nineteenth century Jewish scholars have affirmed that Sefer Heshbon Ha-nefesh (The Book of Spiritual Accounting) — a Hebrew work published in 1808[1] by the early Eastern European maskil (Jewish enlightener)[2] Rabbi Menahem Mendel Lefin of Satanow (1749-1826)[3] — is based on the writings of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). Certain scholars have been more specific in their source-attribution, noting that the method for self-examination and character improvement presented at greater length by Lefin in Spiritual Accounting is similar to one the American founding father outlined earlier in his famous Autobiography.[4]

Both the Autobiography and Spiritual Accounting put forward year-long, quarterly-repeated self-reform programs that focus on thirteen character traits. Each trait is given a week of close attention, and daily journaling — in a grid chart that has the seven days of the week running horizontally and the thirteen desired traits running vertically — is used to monitor growth and progress. After thirteen weeks the cycle is begun again, so that over the course of a year each trait can be carefully worked on for four weeks.[5] Franklin focused on temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. The traits outlined for improvement in both texts, though not identical, largely overlap, as does the emphasis on acquiring positive habits and overcoming undesirable ones gradually and systematically.

The form of Franklin’s weekly chart in his Autobiography

Eat not to Dullness.
Drink not to Elevation.
S ** * * *
O * * * * * *
R * *
F * *
I *

Franklin devised his moral-improvement method when he was in his twenties and had originally intended to compose a book elaborating on it. In the Autobiography, he laments that due to his many other concerns, this task was never accomplished: “I should have called my BOOK the ART of Virtue … But it so happened that my Intention of writing & publishing this Comment was never fulfilled … the necessary close Attention to private Business in the earlier part of Life, and public Business since, have occasioned my postponing it … [and] it has hitherto remain’d unfinish’d.”[6]

Producing this book was integral to “a great and extensive Project[7] Franklin had envisioned: the formation of an international secret fraternity and mutual-aid society, “the Society of the Free and Easy,” whose initiates would profess a belief in a generic religious creed — so that people of all religions would be able to join it[8] — and follow “the Thirteen Weeks Examination and Practice of the Virtues.” Together, these men were to comprise a “united Party for Virtue”:[9]

My Ideas at that time were, that the Sect should be begun & spread at first among young and single Men onlythat the existence of such a Society should be kept a Secret till it was to become considerable, to prevent Solicitations for the Admission of improper Persons[and t]hat the Members should engage to afford their Advice Assistance and Support to each other in promoting one another’s Interest, Business and Advancement in Life [10]

As Norman S. Fiering notes in “Benjamin Franklin and the Way to Virtue” (1978), Franklin’s party for virtue easily calls the Masonic fraternity to mind: “One thinks of a quasi-religious society, like the Freemasons, perhaps—of which Franklin was a member—as the basis for this idea.”[11]  Franklin’s vigorous participation in the Masonic fraternity, which he joined before coming up with his party for virtue plan, may also have been a factor in the project’s prolonged postponement, since the existing fraternity already satisfied some of the same functions as the new society he had hoped to form. According to Franklin biographer Gordon S. Wood, Franklin “discovered just the organization he was looking for” in Freemasonry and had no pressing need to create a new one of his own:[12]

Freemasonry more than fulfilled Franklin’s Enlightenment dreams of establishing a party for virtue, and he became an enthusiastic and hard-working member of the fraternity … Eventually he became the grand master of all the lodges in the colony of Pennsylvania. No organization could have been more congenial to Franklin, and although he seldom mentioned the organization in his correspondence, he remained a Mason throughout his life. Not only was Masonry dedicated to the promotion of virtue throughout the world, but this Enlightenment fraternity gave Franklin contacts that helped him in his business.[13]

bfranklin2Whether Freemasonry initially inspired his vision of a party for virtue, as Fiering suggests it may have, or whether his Masonic involvement ultimately hindered the party’s formation, as Wood implies — both may be correct — in the end Franklin neither completed his book nor created his party. In the Autobiography he reconciles himself to the fact that he is unlikely to carry out his plan at his now more advanced age: “my multifarious Occupations public & private induc’d me to continue postponing, so that it has been omitted till I have no longer Strength or Activity left sufficient for such an Enterprise.”[14]

Nearly twenty years after Franklin’s death and half way across the world from Philadelphia, Rabbi Lefin of Satanow published his own book based on the Autobiography’s self-improvement method. However, instead of this being a work for the use of the “Virtuous and good Men of all Nations,”[15] whom Franklin had envisioned as the members of his party for virtue, Lefin’s Spiritual Accounting was written for the religious and moral edification of his fellow Jews.[16] As a maskil — a Jewish enlightener and a supporter of the Haskalah movement — Lefin “saw European governments and/or non-Jewish thinkers as having a positive role or potentially positive influence on the Jewish people.”[17] He seized the opportunity to reset Franklin’s self-improvement method within the framework of a Jewish religious tract in Hebrew.

Lefin’s work received the approbation of prominent rabbis, was embraced by Judaism’s Mussar movement,[18] and continues to be studied and put to practical use. As such, Franklin may well be said to have had an impact on Jewish thought and practice by way of his Autobiography. However, given Spiritual Accounting’s relative obscurity in comparison to Franklin’s widely popular Autobiography, it is not surprising that many of Franklin’s admirers, as well as many students of Judaism, remain unaware that in addition to being an author, editor, inventor, natural philosopher, scientist, Grand Master, businessman, musical-innovator, abolitionist, diplomat, statesman and American founding father, Franklin also managed to posthumously impact Jewish religious thought and practice.

Nonetheless, rabbis and Jewish scholars have noted the connection between Franklin and Spiritual Accounting, often commenting approvingly on its source and content. In a Hebrew letter written to a colleague in 1815, for instance, the prominent maskil Jacob Samuel Bick described the self-improvement method of Spiritual Accounting as

a wonderful technique invented by the sage Benjamin Franklin from the city of Philadelphia in North America.  This scholar is renowned in all corners of the earth . . . Thus Rabbi Mendel [Lefin] has prepared a delicacy for his nation … and taught a simple and clear solution for the broken but still precious soul to speedily return from the bad to the good. In their approbation, the rabbis of the generation said that this thing is beneficial and new.  And the nation replied in turn: Sanctified! Sanctified![19]

Another early example of such recognition is found in Meir Halevi Letteris’s 1863 Hebrew biography of Rabbi Nahman Krochmal,[20] a disciple of Lefin. Letteris mentions “the famous, illustrious sage, our teacher and rabbi, Menahem Mendel Levin,” and provides a lengthy footnote listing and describing some of his works, including Spiritual Accounting: “The book Heshbon Ha-nefesh teaches mussar and good conduct according to the way of the English sage Mister Franklin, whose approach [Lefin] often embraced in his manner of inquiry and acquisition of wisdom.”[21]

While the fact of Franklin’s influence on Lefin has been known among rabbis and Jewish scholars, there has been much confusion about which of Franklin’s texts Lefin utilized, and about whether Lefin had translated that text, adapted it, or more loosely based his book on its self-improvement method. For example, in his masterful five-volume Hebrew history of the Mussar movement, Tenuat Ha-mussar (first published in 1945), Rabbi Dov Katz mentions Spiritual Accounting and then adds in a footnote: “By the way, it must be noted that the book ‘Heshbon Ha-nefesh’ was written according to the gentile scholar Benjamin Franklin’s book for perfecting character traits.”[22] As we have seen, however, despite his intention to do so, no such book by Franklin was ever written.

Much of the misunderstanding and uncertainty that has persisted in this matter has been the result of Lefin’s decision not to include Franklin’s name or to mention the Autobiography within Spiritual Accounting. Lefin never claims that the moral technique presented in Spiritual Accounting is his own invention and actually informs his readers that the method preceded him and originated elsewhere, but he does not cite its source:

Indeed, a few years ago a new technique was discovered, which is a wonderful innovation in this task [of overcoming one’s animal nature], and it seems its mark will spread as quickly, God willing, as that of the innovation of the printing press, which has brought its light to the world.[23]

This raises the question of why, having already acknowledged that the “new technique” and “wonderful innovation” was not his own, Lefin did not simply mention Franklin or the Autobiography. With a particularly traditional Jewish readership in mind, Lefin appears to have settled on a compromise: he never inaccurately implies that the book’s method is of Jewish origin, and he steers clear of plagiarism by affirming that he is not its inventor, but he does not cite Franklin or the Autobiography as its source, and thereby avoids possibly alienating or perplexing some of his intended audience. If this was his motivation, he may have felt confident that the enlightened portion of his readers would be able to recognize the method as Franklin’s even without explicit mention of his name. The rest, for their part, could remain happily unaware of its precise source.

One of the most fascinating and important records of the Autobiography’s influence on Lefin’s thought is found in a serialized biographical essay on him written by Israel Weinlos, which appeared in installments in the World Zionist Organization’s weekly Hebrew newspaper, Haolam (The World), during 1925. In the course of this biography, Weinlos describes his discovery of two unpublished and forgotten copies of a German work by Lefin:

This book Nachlass eines Sonderlings zu Abdera (The Estate of a Loner from Abdera) includes R[abbi] Mendel Lefin’s views on life and the world, and is the fruit of his examination and study of philosophy and the sciences.  But he was unable to publish it and it remains stored until this day in Joseph Perl’s[24] library in Tarnopol, which is where I found it among his other stored writings [25]

According to Weinlos, this book represents the author’s life work: Lefin labored on it over the course of twenty nine years, completing two editions. (The first was completed in 1806, followed by a corrected edition in 1823.) Weinlos transcribes the table of contents of this previously unknown work, which includes this section:  “Sittenverbesserungskunst, oder Kunst die menschliche Animalitaet nach der franklinischen vierteljaehrlich wiederkehrender Uebungsmethode abzurichten” — “Art of moral improvement, or the art of adjusting human animalness according to Franklin’s cyclical, quarterly scheduled method of practice.” In addition, Weinlos transcribes part of a German letter written by Lefin, in which the rabbi lists his published works, including his Hebrew book of “Franklin’s art of character improvement,” i.e., Heshbon Ha-nefesh.[26]  Thus, since the 1920’s, evidence that Lefin himself gave Franklin credit has been publically available.

Nonetheless, at present, editions of Spiritual Accounting make no mention at all of Franklin. The 1995 Feldheim Hebrew-English edition[27] is not only silent about Franklin’s influence, but its back cover offers a rather misleading depiction of Spiritual Accounting’s character-improvement method, suggesting — contrary to Lefin’s own words in the book, which acknowledge that the method preceded him — that it is unique to Spiritual Accounting, was formulated by Lefin, and was designed specifically for Jews:

CHESHBON HA-NEFESH, first published in Lemberg in 1812, presents a unique system for self-improvement and the development of positive character traits. Employing sophisticated psychological techniques and charts to monitor one’s progress, this method was designed specifically for bnei Torah [i.e., those engaged in the study of Torah] and is as applicable today as it was when it was first formulated, nearly 200 years ago.

That and other editions of Spiritual Accounting also contain very little biographical information on Lefin, who has ceased to be a widely known rabbinic figure. Today, even those Orthodox yeshiva students and learned-laymen who have heard of Heshbon Ha-nefesh, and possibly studied portions of it, are not certain to recognize its author’s name, let alone be familiar with details of his life and the sources of his writings. To a different degree, this trend can also be seen in Ira F. Stone’s A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar (2007) and Alan Morinis’s Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar (2007), neither of which cites the connection between Franklin and Lefin. Responding to a review of these books in The Forward,[28] Nancy Sinkoff tries to call attention to such lacunae, emphasizing the fact that one of the mussar methods described in Everyday Holiness originated in Franklin’s writing:

Detailed explicitly – with a chart! – in Franklin’s French Memoirs, this guide to individual moral self-improvement found its way to Jewish Eastern Europe via an enlightened Polish aristocrat and freemason, Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski, who financially supported a Jewish enlightener (maskil), Mendel Lefin of Satanow, in his efforts to reform traditional Jewish society.

… To this day, [Rabbi Israel] Salanter’s reprinting of Lefin’s book has found a home among traditionalist Jewish circles … Work on Franklin, Lefin, and Salanter is readily available in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.[29]

Sinkoff’s response asserts that the conduit between Franklin’s Autobiography and Lefin’s book was a Freemason: Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski (1734-1823). Elsewhere, she addresses this Masonic role in greater detail, describing Czartoryski as “the connective tissue between the American and the East European Jew.”[30] Not only did Czartoryski hire Lefin to tutor his sons, but he later assisted Lefin in publishing his books:[31]

While Mendel Lefin may have encountered Benjamin Franklin’s writings when he was still in Berlin, Czartoryski’s esteem for the American natural philosopher no doubt sealed Lefin’s interest … Czartoryski knew Franklin personally; both men were freemasons, belonging to the Parisian Lodge, “Les Neuf Soeurs,” which, established in 1776, elected Franklin as “Venerable” in 1781.[32]

Fiering argues in “Benjamin Franklin and the Way to Virtue” that when it comes to his self-improvement method, Franklin should not be given too much credit for originality, nor should the method be situated too specifically within the context of the American Enlightenment:

Franklin’s method, insofar as it was a system for achieving perfection through reiterated small acts, was part of a general enthusiasm at the time for applying a technique of great antiquity [i.e., the ancient idea of acquiring virtue through habit] that had only recently come into its own. It is tempting to believe that conditions in Franklin’s America were peculiarly conducive to practicality and meliorism, but the trend was much grander than any mere American phenomenon. Franklin’s thinking was simply representative of developments found elsewhere at the same time, particularly among the British associationists.[33]

Fiering grants that Franklin may have been innovative in having his “ethical program … break down the virtues into relatively small units of behavior.”[34] This aspect of Franklin’s method was certainly significant to Lefin, as it turned the daunting task of self-transformation into a more manageable, step by step process. Sinkoff observes that Lefin was drawn to Franklin’s method for the very reason that Franklin had originally been compelled to devise it himself.  Both the American philosopher and the Eastern European rabbi had “come to the conclusion that a practical program of behavior modification was necessary to effect individual change … [and] that self-improvement required a structured plan of behavior modification.”[35]

Explaining why he had thought up his program, Franklin writes: “I concluded at length, that the mere speculative Conviction that it was in our Interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our Slipping, and that the contrary Habits must be broken and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any Dependence on a steady uniform Rectitude of Conduct.”[36]  Finding that no practical method for breaking bad habits and inculcating better ones had been formulated to his satisfaction, Franklin developed his own. Likewise, explaining his decision to embrace Franklin’s method, Lefin writes:

[T]he educational work that we are dealing with here [in Spiritual Accounting] is very valuable, because it is necessary for every person … [but] the wise men of preceding generations bequeathed us exceedingly little concerning it …

So too with the wisdom of mussar itself … even though [the sages of blessed memory] were themselves tremendously righteous and pious … they only addressed the intellectual soul [in their instruction]; but where will we take advice for controlling our animal soul, and subordinating it to our direction?[37]

Lefin wished that the rabbis of the past had provided more detailed explanations of the practical methods they had used in refining themselves: “Would that those admonishing righteous ones of blessed memory, or at least their students who served them, had also left us the details of their life stories [i.e., their autobiographies or biographies], and made us wise to those wonderful techniques that they invented for themselves.”[38] Whereas they hadn’t done so, Franklin’s Autobiography furnished just such an account, and Lefin believed that his method could benefit all who were interested in self-improvement.

However, Lefin modified Franklin’s method as he saw fit. Because Franklin had envisioned his program as universally applicable and as forming the basis of an international fraternity, he needed a set of traits that could be focused on by all its prospective members. Franklin compiled his fixed list of thirteen virtues deliberately, and arranged it cumulatively so that improved mastery of the first behavioral trait might make it easier to master the second, and so on, telling his readers: “And as the previous Acquisition of some might facilitate the Acquisition of certain others, I arrang’d them with that View as they stand above.”[39]  Lefin, on the other hand, had no such concerns. Disregarding these aspects of Franklin’s program, Lefin instead urged his readers to select and focus on behavioral traits relevant to their own unique circumstances and personalities, rather than on the specific ones he outlined as examples.[40]

Although Lefin still instructed his readers to select thirteen traits — so that they wouldn’t exhaust themselves by focusing too closely on a smaller number — the order of the traits could be shuffled as needed, and practitioners might dwell on a trait for more than one week of a thirteen-week cycle if they felt it required their special attention. Lefin also expected that as they mastered certain behaviors and became ready for new challenges, practitioners would amend the list of traits they focused on.[41] In general, Spiritual Accounting offered a more individualized and malleable method than the one Franklin had presented in his Autobiography.

David T. Morgan argues in “Benjamin Franklin: Champion of Generic Religion” that “no one to this very day is quite sure of Franklin’s religious beliefs.”[42] He surmises that “Franklin can best be described as a Deist, though with personally tailored modifications of the Deist creed.”[43] His personal creed notwithstanding, “all religions were essentially the same”[44] to Franklin, who was “a proponent of all religions and sects.”[45] Since he viewed any religion as potentially useful, he “treated all religions alike, making him in all probability the first American champion of generic religion.”[46] This championing can be seen in the Autobiography, where Franklin explains his original intention to make his system for self-betterment (as well as the international fraternity whose members would adhere to it) universally accessible:

It will be remark’d that, tho’ my Scheme was not wholly without Religion there was in it no Mark of any of the distinguishing Tenets of any particular Sect.  I had purposely avoided them; for being fully persuaded of the Utility and Excellency of my Method, and that it might be serviceable to People in all Religions, and intending some time or other to publish it, I would not have any thing in it that should prejudice any one of any Sect against it.[47]

Since Franklin assumed a generic religious approach for the Autobiography’s moral method, there were no philosophical or religious obstacles to prevent its development within a Jewish context. Lefin was able to adapt Franklin’s system, to expand upon it, and to publish it as a book — something Franklin had intended to do, but never carried out — for Jewish readers. Spiritual Accounting received the approbation of prominent rabbis, was embraced by the Mussar movement, and became one of the many Hebrew texts studied in yeshivot, furthering Franklin’s initial goal of making his system for self-examination and character improvement “serviceable to People in all Religions.”

The notion that Franklin was antisemitic first emerged some eighty years ago, in 1934, with the publication of a fraudulent and since then repeatedly discredited text commonly known as “Franklin’s Prophecy.” On February 3, 1934 William Dudley Pelley, the occultist head of the pro-Nazi Silver Legion of America and publisher of the fascist The Weekly Liberation, ran an article in his paper (“Did Benjamin Franklin say this about the Hebrews?”) containing a supposed excerpt from the previously unknown diary of Charles Coatesworth Pinckney, South Carolina’s delegate to the Constitutional Convention. As presented by Pelley, “Charles Pinckney’s Diary” contained the record of a diatribe (or “prophecy”) by Franklin against Jews during the Convention, including a description of Jews as “a great danger for the United State of America” and as “vampires,” as well as an admonition to have the Constitution bar and expel them from the country lest in the future they change its form of government.[48] By August 1934 “Franklin’s Prophecy” had been published in Nazi Germany. Nazi leaders and sympathizers helped disseminate the fraud in German, French and English, and in Germany, Switzerland and the United States.[49]

In September 1934 “Franklin’s Prophecy” reached American historian Charles A. Beard, best known for his 1913 An Economic Interpretation of the US Constitution. Beard began a search for the source of “Franklin’s Prophecy,” in the process consulting with other scholars such as John Franklin Jameson, chief of the Manuscripts Divisions of the Library of Congress. Six months later (in March 1935) his conclusions were published in an essay in The Jewish Frontier, which then reprinted them as a pamphlet titled Charles Beard Exposes Anti-Semitic Forgery about Benjamin Franklin. Summing up the results of his investigations, Beard wrote:

All these searches have produced negative results. I cannot find a single original source that gives the slightest justification for believing that the “Prophecy” is anything more than a bare-faced forgery. Not a word have I discovered in Franklin’s letters and papers expressing any such sentiments against the Jews as ascribed to him by the Nazis — American and German. His well-known liberality in matters of religious opinions would, in fact, have precluded the kind of utterances put in his mouth by this palpable forgery.[50]

Henry Butler Allen, the director of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, also weighed in on the imaginariness of “Charles Pinckney’s Diary,” stating: “Historians and librarians have not been able to find it or any record of it having existed.”[51] The responses of Beard, Allen and several others were collected into the pamphlet Benjamin Franklin Vindicated: An Exposure of the Franklin “Prophecy” by American Scholars, issued jointly by the International Benjamin Franklin Society, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the Jewish Labor Committee  in 1938.[52]

A more recent discussion of the emergence and debunking of “Franklin’s Prophecy” may be found in Nian-Sheng Huang’s Benjamin Franklin in American Thought and Culture, 1790-1990.[53] Huang shows “Franklin’s Prophecy” to be an extreme case of exploiting, vulgarizing and distorting Franklin’s image. The ease with which the “Prophecy” has spread and its staying power demonstrate how successful bigots world-wide have been in misappropriating the American founding father’s good name and fame for their vile purposes. However, despite his famous liberality in matters of religious opinions, Franklin actually did on several occasions use anti-Jewish language in his letters.[54] Though offensive, this language does not come near the vitriol Franklin is purported to have publicly uttered in the “Prophecy,” but Franklin, who also owned slaves and featured slaves for sale in his newspaper prior to becoming an abolitionist, was not always a man free of prejudice.

Nonetheless, Franklin did eventually become an anti-slavery activist. In 1788, he also contributed money to Congregation Mikveh Israel, the oldest formal Jewish congregation in Philadelphia. This occurred during a time when the small congregation was overburdened with debt incurred from constructing its synagogue and had turned to its neighbors, “worthy fellow Citizens of every religious Denomination,” for assistance.[55] Among those stepping forward to help was Franklin, who gave five pounds to Congregation Mikveh Israel — a donation very much in line with Franklin’s attitude toward religion. It is not surprising that Franklin, with his encouragement of all religions and sects and his interest in works that would be “serviceable to People in all Religions,” would assist in alleviating Congregation Mikveh Israel’s debt and ensuring a Jewish presence in Philadelphia.


[1] Israel Zinberg, A History of Jewish Literature, trans. and ed. Bernard Martin (New York: Ktav Publishing, 1975), vol. 6, 279.

[2] The adherents of the Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskalah, were known as maskilim (singular: maskil). As described by Immanuel Etkes (“Haskalah,” The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. “The Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskalah, was an ideological and social movement that developed in Eastern Europe in the early nineteenth century and was active until the rise of the Jewish national movement in the early 1880s … Essentially, Haskalah sought to exploit the new possibilities of economic, social, and cultural integration that appeared to become available to Jews in the late eighteenth century with the removal of legal discrimination [against them].”

[3] Lefin’s surname has also been spelled or pronounced as Leffin, Leffins, Levi, Levin, Levine, Lewin, and Lapin.

[4] Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography and Other Writings, ed. Kenneth Silverman (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 90-103.

[5] Franklin, Autobiography, 91-95; Rabbi Mendel Lefin, Sefer Heshbon Ha-nefesh [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Mirkaz Ha-sefer, 5748/1988), 32-36.

[6] Franklin, Autobiography, 101-102.

[7] Franklin, Autobiography, 101.

[8] Franklin explains that the creed he composed for the intended members of “the Society of the Free and Easy,” which he reproduces in the Autobiography, is one “containing as I thought the Essentials of every known Religion, and being free of every thing that might shock the Professors of any Religion” (Autobiography, 104).

[9] Franklin, Autobiography, 104-105.

[10] Franklin, Autobiography, 105.

[11] Norman S. Fiering, “Benjamin Franklin and the Way to Virtue,” American Quarterly 30 (1978): 223, note 63.

[12] Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (New York: Penguin Press, 2004), 43.   

[13] Wood, Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, 44.

[14] Franklin, Autobiography, 105.

[15] Franklin, Autobiography, 104.

[16] Nancy Sinkoff, “Benjamin Franklin in Jewish Eastern Europe: Cultural Appropriation in the Age of the Enlightenment,” Journal of the History of Ideas 61 (2000): 142.

[17] Shimon S.’s “What’s a ‘maskil’?” September 3, 2009. On the Main Line.

[18] Rabbi Bernie Fox offers a useful and concise definition of mussar (Jewish ethical teachings) and the movement surrounding its teachings: “At a basic level, mussar is study directed towards motivating the student to conduct himself in everyday life in a manner consistent with the Torah [i.e., the Five Books of Moses, and by extension, the Jewish religion that is based upon them]. In other words, mussar responds to a specific problem. Knowing how to behave does not necessarily translate into proper behavior … Mussar is designed to address this issue.” (“Parshat Korach: What Could Be Wrong With Mussar?”

[19] Samuel Jacob Bick, letter 29, in Sefer Kerem Hemed [Hebrew], ed. Samuel Judah Leib Goldenberg (Avien: Buchdruker und Buchhander, 1833), vol. 1, 97.

[20] Meir Halevi Letteris, “Toledot Nahman Hacohen Krochmal,” a biography published as an introduction to the posthumous second edition of Nahman Hacohen Krochmal’s Moreh Nevuche Ha-zeman [Hebrew] (Lemberg: 1863), 11-29.

[21] Letteris, “Toledot Nahman Hacohen Krochmal,” 13, note 2.

[22] Dov Katz, Tenuat Ha-mussar: Toledoteha, Isheha, Ve-shitoteha [Hebrew] (Tel-Aviv: Betan Ha-sefer, 5712/1952), 282, note 15.

[23] Lefin, Heshbon Ha-nefesh, 31.

[24] Perl was a disciple of Lefin.

[25] Israel Weinlos, “R. Mendel Lefin” [Hebrew], Haolam 13 (1925): 800.

[26] Weinlos, “R. Mendel Lefin,” 13 (1925): 819.

[27] Dovid Landesman and Shraga Silverstein, Cheshbon ha-Nefesh (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 5755/1995).

[28] Jay Michaelson, “The Path of the Just: Is Mussar the ‘New Kabbalah’?”, The Forward, March 7, 2008.

[29] Sinkoff, “Benjamin Franklin and the Virtues of Mussar,” The Seforim Blog, March 25, 2008, The Forward did not print Sinkoff’s response to the review; but see my short article at The Forward, “Benjamin Franklin, Mussar Maven,” January 17, 2011.

[30] Sinkoff, “Benjamin Franklin in Jewish Eastern Europe,” 136.

[31] Sinkoff, “Benjamin Franklin in Jewish Eastern Europe,” 138.

[32] Sinkoff, “Benjamin Franklin in Jewish Eastern Europe,” 140.

[33] Fiering, “Benjamin Franklin and the Way to Virtue,” 213.

[34] Fiering, “Benjamin Franklin and the Way to Virtue,” 214.

[35] Sinkoff, “Benjamin Franklin in Jewish Eastern Europe,” 141.

[36] Franklin, Autobiography, 91.

[37] Lefin, Heshbon Ha-nefesh, 30-31.

[38] Lefin, Heshbon Ha-nefesh, 31.

[39] Franklin, Autobiography, 93.

[40] Lefin, Heshbon Ha-nefesh, 36, 88, 123-124.

[41] Lefin, Heshbon Ha-nefesh, 36.

[42] David T. Morgan, “Benjamin Franklin: Champion of Generic Religion,” The Historian 62 (2000): 723.

[43] Morgan, “Benjamin Franklin,” 728.

[44] Morgan, “Benjamin Franklin,” 728.

[45] Morgan, “Benjamin Franklin,” 729.

[46] Morgan, “Benjamin Franklin,” 723.

[47] Franklin, Autobiography, 100.

[48] William Dudley Pelley, “Did Benjamin Franklin say this about the Hebrews?” Liberation, February 3, 1934, 5.

[49] Charles A. Beard, Charles A. Beard Exposes Anti-Semitic Forgery about Benjamin Franklin (The Jewish Frontier Reprints No. 4) (New York: The League for Labor Palestine, 1935), 3.

[50] Beard, Beard Exposes Anti-Semitic Forgery, 8.

[51] Henry Butler Allen, “Franklin and the Jews,” in Beard et al., Benjamin Franklin Vindicated: An Exposure of the Franklin “Prophecy” by American Scholars (New York: American Jewish Congress, [1938]), 10.

[52] “7 Scholars Refute Franklin Anti-semitism Allegation,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, January 3, 1939. As stated within the pamphlet, most of its material was reprinted from the November 1938 issue of the Contemporary Jewish Record.

[53] Nian-Sheng Huang, Benjamin Franklin in American Thought and Culture, 1790-1990 (American Philosophical Society, 1994), 174-180. See also Claude-Anne Lopez, “Prophet and Loss,” New Republic, January 27, 1997, 29-31, and Lopez’s chapter on “Franklin, Hitler, Mussolini, and the Internet” in her My Life with Benjamin Franklin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 3-16. Though Lopez does not discuss Huang’s work at all in “Prophet and Loss,” it is mentioned in My Life with Benjamin Franklin.

[54] For a discussion of two of these letters, see Lopez’s “Prophet and Loss,” 30 and My Life with Benjamin Franklin, 11-12.

[55] “Our History,” Congregation Mikveh Israel: Synagogue of the American Revolution,

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