Benjamin Franklin and Judaism

In addition to his lasting contributions in the realms of science and government, the American founding father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) also managed to posthumously influence Jewish thought and practice by way of his famous Autobiography. In that work, Franklin briefly discussed a method he had devised in order to overcome his undesirable habits and become more virtuous. Inspired by this account, the early maskil (Jewish enlightener) Rabbi Menahem Mendel Lefin of Satanow (1749-1826) decided to compose Sefer Heshbon Ha-nefesh (The Book of Spiritual Accounting, 1808), a Hebrew self-improvement guide that is still studied in yeshivot today.Franklin's Autobiography and Lefin's Spiritual Accounting both 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...(Read Full Article)

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