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Judaism and Psychoanalysis

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Is psychoanalysis a "Jewish science"? Ten essays contributed by the editor and distinguished scholars explore the Jewishness of psychoanalysis, its origins in the Jewish situation of late nineteenth century Europe, Freud's Jewishness and the Jewishness of his early colleagues. They also exemplify what the psychoanalytic approach can contribute to the study of Judaism.Clinical studies illuminate the issue of Jewish identity and psychological significance of the bar mitzvah experience. Theoretical essays throw light on Jewish history, Jewish social and communal behavior, Jewish myths and legends, religious ideas and thoughts.What are the major determinants of Jewish identity? What is the role of Jewish education in establishing and maintaining Jewish identity? What does the Midrash tell us about the meaning of anxiety to the traditional Jew, and how does Judaism attempt to deal with anxiety? What strategies have Jews used to survive an anti-Jewish world? Under what circumstances has the compliant posture of Johanen ben Zakkai been celebrated, and under what circumstances the defiance of the martyrs of Massada? What is the true nature of Jewish monotheism, and how does it influence Jewish thought and behavior? Who was the actual leader of the Sebastian movement and what role did Sabbatai Sevi himself play? Is there a mystical element in psychoanalysis? Is there a cultic element? These are the questions which the contributors strive to answer.

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PSYCHOANALYTIC EXEGESIS

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JACOB A. ARLOW

EDITOR’S COMMENT

This paper is reprinted from The Psychoanalytic Quarterly y Vol. 23, pages 374-397, 1951. It is an excellent example of the kind of understanding that classical psychoanalysis can contribute to the study of Scriptural text. Arlow is not only one of the leading theoreticians and clinicians in contemporary psychoanalysis, but, as the essay indicates, he is familiar, in the original Hebrew, with the material that he discusses, with its historical background and with its social and religious significance.

Unlike the early analysts, Arlow does not attempt to construct a virtual pseudohistory from a text. He has selected examples’of one of the few types of subjective psychic experience that one finds in the Jewish Bible, and he discusses its psychodynamic meaning. The psychodynamic hypotheses he suggests are based upon classical psychoanalytic “exegetic” technic. He examines the words and phrases of a Biblical text exactly as the analyst examines the words and phrases of the text of a dream presented by a patient. Using symbolic equivalents, inference by association of words and ideas, and inference from indirect allusions, the author extracts meanings from the text that are not conveyed explicitly. The reader familiar with classical religious exegesis of the Biblical text will see the resemblance.

 

The Meaning of Anxiety in Rabbinic Judaism

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RICHARD L. RUBENSTEIN

EDITOR’S COMMENT

Professor Rubenstein approaches the psychoanalytic study of Judaism from the point of view of a theologian who has mastered a good deal of classical psychoanalytic literature and theory. This essay is Chapter 5 of his 1968 book, The Religious Imagination: A Study in Psychoanalysis and Jewish Theology (New York: Bobbs-Merrill). His concern is not simply an academic exercise in the confrontation of one discipline with the other, but rather to deepen the understanding of how rabbinic Judaism prepares the modern Jew to cope with his situation. As he says (p. 42), “Were it not for the fact that the experiences of the rabbis and their community in the face of Roman hostility and Christian rivalry were paradigmatic of the Jewish situation in the Western world since that time, their very special perspective would have ceased to command the authority they retain before the Jewish people.”

The material that he studies is principally the body of Jewish literature called the Aggadah, “which consists of legends, myths, and folklore of the rabbis of the Talmudic period …the non-legal part of Jewish religious study, exegesis, and speculation.” The Aggadah, based on traditional exegesis, can be examined by classical methods of psychoanalytic exegesis, and when that is done, we learn about the true concerns of the rabbis, and therefore, the true concerns of Jews who take the religion of the rabbis seriously. To a very large extent, these concerns apply to the Jews of today.

 

FREUD AND JEWISH MARGINALITY

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MARTIN S. BERGMANN

EDITOR’S COMMENT

This essay is reprinted from the Israel Annals of Psychiatry and Related Disciplines, Volume 14, Number 1, pages 3-26, March 1976.

Analysts have learned from daily clinical experience that the history of a person’s career can be seen to express the vicissitudes of the process of his resolution of fundamental conflicts. This thesis becomes especially interesting when the person has made significant contributions to culture or science. We can observe then that his readiness to solve important and difficult problems in the outside world is influenced by his struggle to solve his inner problems. On the basis of this principle, the discipline that has been called psycho-history was established.

Psycho-history is both a promising and a treacherous discipline. Though it tells us nothing about the validity of contributions to science, or the esthetic value of contributions to art, or the intellectual value of contributions to culture, it can tell us something of the motivation and the struggle of the contributor. Properly done, it requires complete respect for facts and sufficient self-discipline to avoid seeing what is not there. Without the corrective and directive influence of the constant flow of material from the patient on the couch, the psycho-historian can easily find whatever he wishes to find.

 

CLINICAL PSYCHOANALYTIC STUDIES

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MORTIMER OSTOW

EDITOR’S COMMENT

This essay grew out of, and reflected the approach of, the study group on the Jewish response to crisis, the findings of which are summarized in “The Jewish Response to Crisis”. This essay, and the next two, are based primarily on clinical experience, but my observations here are coordinated with some of the principles and generalizations elucidated by that study.

In another place in this volume (p. 13) I call attention to the fact that the term “identity” as a psychoanalytic concept was first used by Freud with reference to his Jewish identity, while Erikson, who elaborated the concept, acknowledges that his interest in the subject was stimulated partly by what he called “the Jewish part of my background as an identity issue.” Identity becomes an issue of significance for those who are born into a minor community that is obviously demarcated from a surrounding major community.

The chief contribution of this essay is the suggestion that identity is composed of an unconscious core, established in childhood, and a manifest identity determined by the influence of environmental circumstance and current psychic mental disposition. Therefore manifest identity may change from time to time, even though core identity remains fixed. Manifest identity is profoundly influenced by the personality consolidation of adolescence, and also by current cultural and political pressures. The early home environment shapes the core identity of the child, while subsequent education merely contributes content to his manifest identity.

 

A Psychoanalytic Study of a Religious Initiation Rite: Bar Mitzvah

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JACOB A. ARLOW

EDITOR’S COMMENT

The religious ceremony in which the attainment of the status of Bar Mitzvah is observed is widely recognized nowadays as the equivalent of a puberty ordeal. Arlow provides clinical evidence, in this essay, of the fusion of the induction of the young nian into the Jewish community with his transition to sexual maturity. His cases illustrate problems in adolescent resolution of the Oedipus complex, sibling rivalry, and timidity in facing ordeals. He notes that even though the ceremony symbolically sanctions sexual activity, in practice the sexuality and the aggressive impulses associated with it are diverted into substitute channels of religious study, ritual observance, and community loyalty.

In one of his footnotes, the author comments that his clinical material provided evidence also that the Bar Mitzvah ceremony encouraged the boy’s separation from his mother, and from women and sexuality in general. This theme should be developed further with respect especially to the problem of the boy’s fear of his initial sexual encounters with girls, and problems of potency which for so many centuries might have been threatened by the implicit training of the young Jew in exile to suppress aggression.

 

The Hypomanic Personality

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MORTIMER OSTOW

EDITOR’S COMMENT

This essay, the third clinical study in this volume, was prepared for inclusion in a book about manic illness, Mania: An Evolving Concept by Robert H. Belmaker and H. M. van Praag (New York: Spectrum Publications, 1980). It expresses a psychiatric rather than a psychoanalytic point of view: it describes the phenomena of illness rather than its mechanisms.

It is included in this volume because it casts some small light on two of the major figures of the Sabbatean movement, that strange and damaging madness of seventeenth-century Jewry. Since the definitive biography of Shabbatai Zvi was provided by Gershom Scholem (Shabbetai Zevi and the Sbabbetian Movement During His Lifetime [in Hebrew] [Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1957], translated by R. J. Zwi Werblowsky zsSabbataiSevi, the Mystical Messiahy Bollingen Series XCIII [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973]), it has become possible to examine this phenomenon and to analyze some aspects of it in modern times. Scholem believes that Zvi suffered from manic-depressive illness, and he supports this hypothesis with convincing data. He also makes it clear that the organizing genius of the movement was Nathan of Gaza.

 

APPLIED PSYCHOANALYTIC STUDIES

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MORTIMER OSTOW

EDITOR’S COMMENT

The final three essays illustrate what is called “applied psychoanalysis.” This rubric comprises studies of individual and group behavior by the application of psychoanalytic principles to the data of history, of biography, of social phenomena, and to artistic and intellectual creations. Bergmann’s and Rubenstein’s papers both illustrate applied psychoanalysis, the former employing psychoanalytic principles to elucidate Freud’s attitude toward his Jewishness, and the latter, to elucidate the concerns of the Jewish community at the time the Midrash was composed.

This essay summarizes very briefly the findings of an interdisciplinary study group. The group included experienced analysts who were knowledgeable in Judaica, and serious scholars of Judaism who were sophisticated in psychodynamic thinking. Original texts were considered and were studied for both their explicit and implicit meanings. While no striking new insights were obtained, the observations here recorded achieved varying degrees of consensus and therefore deserve to be taken seriously.

 

Unconscious Fantasy and Political Movements

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JACOB A. ARLOW

EDITOR’S COMMENT

While this essay considers the role of myths in integrating internal motivation and social need, the illustrative case and the historical examples deal with specifically Jewish themes and make the essay appropriate for this volume.

It is Arlow’s argument that the shared myth carries the common projections of the members of the society that entertains it, and permits, by its retelling, the indirect expression of projected, unconscious wishes. At the same time, the social sharing of the myth dissipates individual guilt.

Society, he argues further, encourages those myths that give expression to personal qualities or ideals of behavior desirable for society’s needs at the time. Since such qualities change from time to time, the myths encouraged by society also change.

It is interesting to observe how the child in the illustrative case at first identified with the mythic character of Dracula, a projection of his Oedipal wishes (Oedipus was after all, himself, a mythic character), and subsequently with legendary ideal characters from American and Jewish history. The earliest figure resembled the deities of the pagan religions, supernatural and representing personal wishes, and the subsequent figures resembled the heroes of monotheistic religions, human, and representing ego ideals sanctioned by the superego.

 

Monotheism and the Sense of Reality

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LEONARD R. SILLMAN

EDITOR’S COMMENT

Dr. Sillman, who died in 1976, was an analyst with wide-ranging interests in all aspects of human thought and behavior. He rejected Judaism as a religion early in life, and, as the reader will observe, associated himself with what Freud called the scientific Weltanschauung (Standard Edition, Vol. 22, pp. 181 f.) and its atheism. However, in later years, his intellectual interests, facilitated by his clinical psychoanalytic experience, brought him to study Judaism closely and to consider its influence on both the individual Jew and the Jewish people.

In this essay, written before Kaufmann’s landmark study became available in English (The Religion of Israel [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, I960]), the author observes that in many respects true monotheism is considerably more frustrating but also more useful than polytheistic paganism. It imposes on the subject a stringent discipline of morality in behavior, family cohesiveness, realism in dealing with the world, objectivity and logic in thought, and self-awareness. These qualities have contributed to the survival of the Jews and to their capacity to contribute heavily to Western culture.

 

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