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The Hidden Freud

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This book explores Sigmund Freud and his Jewish roots and demonstrates the input of the Jewish mystical tradition into Western culture via psychoanalysis. It shows in particular how the ideas of Kabbalah and Hassidism have profoundly influenced and enriched our understanding of mental processes and clinical practices. Freud's own ancestors were hassidim going back many generations, and the book examines how this background influenced both his life and his work. It also shows how he struggled to deny these roots in order to be accepted as a secular, German professional, and at the same time how he used them in the development of his ideas about dreaming, sexuality, depression and mental structures as well as healing practices. The book argues that in many important respects psychoanalysis can be seen as a secular extension of Kabbalah.The author shows, for example, how Freud utilized the Jewish mystical tradition to develop a science of subjectivity. This involved the systematic exploration of human experience, uncovering the secret compartments and deepest levels of the mind (such as the preconscious and unconscious methods of thinking), expanding human consciousness beyond 'objective' reality, and the revelation of hidden, unconscious thought processes by free association and dream analysis (all linked to kabbalistic modalities such as 'skipping and jumping'). The book also explores the close connections between psychoanalysis, quantum physics, and Kabbalah.The Hidden Freud: His Hassidic Roots also uses the meetings that took place in 1903 between Freud and the great hassidic leader, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe Rashab, as a point of departure to consider Freud's Jewish identity. While Freud may have felt himself to be "completely estranged from the religion of his fathers" he still remained a man who "never repudiated his people, who felt that he was in his essential nature a Jew, and who had no desire to alter that nature", as so many of his colleagues had done. Freud lived the life of a secular, sceptical Jewish intellectual. This was his revealed persona. But there was another, concealed Freud, who revelled in his meetings with the Rebbe, Kabbalists and Jewish scholars; who kept books on Jewish mysticism in his library; and who chose to die on Yom Kippur, 1939, the Day of Atonement. This book considers the implications of the 'concealed Freud' on his life and work.

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Acknowledgements

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I am very grateful for all the help I have received in the writing of this book.

In particular I wish to acknowledge the contribution of my friend and colleague, Prof. Stanley Schneider, of the Hebrew University. Much of the work I present is based on the papers and book which we have jointly researched and written.

I also wish to give special thanks to my wife, Shree, for her patient support, wise comments, and helpful editing.

Many friends and colleagues have enabled this work to come to fruition. Thank you so much for your contributions.

Rabbi Shimon Cowen
Dr. Sanford Drob
Dr. Michael Eigen
Rabbi Mendel Gordon
Professor Robert Hinshelwood
Ms. Ilany Kogan
Rabbi Shmuel Lew
Professor Naftali Loewenthal
Professor Kate Loewenthal
Mr. Alistair Mann
Mr. David Morgan
Mr. Matthew Rosen-Marsh
Mr. Ephraim Rosenstein
Mr. Henry Rotstein
Dr. Morton Schatzman
Ms. Ann Shearer
Rabbi Yossi Simon
Swami Sadasivananda
Mr. Rod Tweedy

 

About the Author

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Joseph Berke is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist working with individuals and families. He is a lecturer, writer, and teacher and has lived in London since 1965. Beforehand he attended Columbia College of Columbia University and graduated from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York.

Dr. Berke moved to London to study with Dr. R. D. Laing and assisted in establishing the Kingsley Hall Community. There he helped Mary Barnes, a middle-aged nurse who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, to pass through a severe regression. Barnes later became a noted artist, writer, and mystic. The book which Barnes and Berke co-authored (Mary Barnes: Two Accounts of a Journey through Madness, 1972) was adapted as a stage play and has been performed in many countries. It has now been optioned as a feature film.

In 1970 Berke and colleagues founded the Arbours Housing Association in London in order to provide personal, psychotherapeutic care and shelter for people in emotional distress. Later he founded and was the director of the Arbours Crisis Centre.

 

Chapter One - Sigmund Freud and the Rebbe Rashab

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By 1903 Sigmund Freud was evolving from a neurologist to a psychoanalyst. This term had been proposed by Freud several years beforehand. He first used the term in 1896, in French and then in German (Gay, 1988, p. 103). It denotes an expert in matters of the mind who aims to alleviate emotional and physical distress through psychological means. But Freud's transformation was by no means straightforward. For years he explored physical treatments for the relief of physical and emotional illness. One of these was the use of cocaine as a stimulant and cure for morphine addiction. In fact, Freud narrowly escaped becoming famous for discovering the analgesic and anesthetic properties of coca. He was very upset that he had missed a chance for professional recognition and advancement (Clark, 1980, pp. 58–62). However, such a success could have undermined his emerging focus on psychological processes.

Freud wavered between his identity as a rational scientist and his explorations of subjective worlds: Dreams, free associations, and kindred eruptions of the unconscious. He was not the first to note the power of unconscious impulses. Toward the late nineteenth century writers like Carl Gustav Carus declaimed: “The key to the knowledge of the nature of conscious life of the soul lies in the realm of the unconscious” (ibid., p. 115) and the prominent psychiatrist, Henry Maudsley, insisted that the most important part of mental action was unconscious mental activity (according to Clark, ibid., p. 116). Freud was the first to systematically investigate the hidden basements and subbasements of the mind. He showed how they are built, what they contain, and how they affect ordinary thoughts and behavior.

 

Chapter Two - A Tale of Two Orphans

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The Rebbe Rashab arrived in Vienna on 6 January 1903 in order to meet “the famous professor,” Sigmund Freud. He was accompanied by his son, Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn (the Rayatz) who was known for his deep devotion to his father. But before meeting Freud, a strange, unsettling series of events began to unfold, the details of which were related by the Rayatz, who was well known in the Lubavitch community for his phenomenal memory.1

The story begins at the hotel where they had checked in after a long journey. His son recounts:

My father's way was that he used to take a rest on the sofa after lunch. He didn't lie down, and he didn't sit, but he would lean with one leg on the couch. He used to refer to this as valgerinzich, roaming around.

Once after lunch when he was resting in this manner, he took a longer time than usual and I didn't know what to do. It looked like he was not in this world at all. He wasn't sleeping, he was lying on his side, his eyes were bulging and appeared very strange. I was afraid to wake him, but I was also afraid to leave him like this. So I started to pace back and forth in the room in a noisy manner, hoping that maybe this would alert him, but it didn't make a difference. Then I started shaking the table, but it still didn't help.

 

Chapter Three - The Jewish Mystical Traditions

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Psychoanalysis and Kabbalah are theories about the nature of existence. They are also meditations, really methods for restoring shattered lives. These are lives which have been separated from their source. The particular domain of psychoanalysis is the head and the heart, that is, “the self,” the totality of an individual's mind and emotions. I refer to a person confirmed in his subjectivity, as agent of his thoughts and feelings, and confirmed in his objectivity, the object of his own activity and focus of his consciousness.

In contrast the domain of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, is the soul, a person's holy, timeless essence. I refer to an entity which is both elevated, that is, exists in spiritual realms, and is part of a whole, the primordial source, God.

Needless to say, such a capsule definition is limited and limiting. It does not take into account many other facets of psychoanalysis or Kabbalah. Thus, psychoanalysis, as currently practiced, is not just concerned with an individual man, woman, or child. On the contrary, it strives to see this person in relation to his family and friends. And to complicate matters even more, it considers each person to be a dynamic nucleus of relationships. Essentially he is a center of energies, a world in and of himself, containing and being contained by a myriad of other swirling worlds.

 

Chapter Four - Bion and Kabbalah

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Wilfred Bion, a tank commander in World War I, brushed with death countless times, emerging from the war unscathed physically but emotionally distraught. His wartime experiences led him to a lifelong fascination with psychic catastrophe, whether evinced by shell shock or psychosis.1 Bion queried how one can contain the uncontainable, a puzzle which preoccupies Kabbalah, as well as his writings.

This thought resonates with the work of Michael Eigen, a New York psychoanalyst and author, who has written a study of Kabbalah and Psychoanalysis (2012). In his work he describes many areas of convergence between the two disciplines, and in particular, with Bion's ideas. Eigen notes that Lurianic Kabbalah and Bion's books are expressly concerned with catastrophe (breaking of the vessels) and faith (whether in God, or in the “psychoanalytic attitude”). This is a profound belief that goodness will emerge by plumbing the dark, painful parts of the self. Moreover, both teachings focus on the known and unknown: on ontology (being) and the transformation of being; on the mind, and feelings, and on the beyond feelings, the essence of existence.

 

Chapter Five - On the Nature of the Self: And its Relationship with the Soul

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The self and the soul are key protagonists of both the psychoanalytic and Kabbalistic worlds. Still, they are amorphous concepts, perhaps the self more so than the soul. So really: what is the “self”?. what is the “soul”?

The “self” is a paradox. It is a specific entity, but also an exercise in ambiguity. Although it pertains to psychological realms, the term encompasses a multitude of meanings, ranging from the interpersonal to the transpersonal. Most narrowly, the many definitions include identity and identifications, awareness and self-awareness, as well as a host of mental functions which Freud referred to as “the mental apparatus.” Fundamentally, the self refers to a person confirmed in his own subjectivity and objectivity.

Heinz Kohut, the psychoanalyst whom many consider to be the progenitor of self-psychology, contends that the self is essentially “not knowable” (1977, p. 311). Before reaching this conclusion he reviewed various attempts to refine the term, ranging from personality structure to psychological center. Subsequently he described the constituents of the self: ambitions, ideals, talents, and skills. A secure self is a cohesive whole. The converse lacks cohesion and remains a fragmented, chaotic mess. Ultimately Kohut refused to assign a specific, that is, inflexible definition to the “self.” While he may not have believed that the self is ineffable, he did think that the term may be best left undefined.

 

Chapter Six - On the Nature of the Soul: And its Relationship with the Self

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In considering the nature of the soul I will explore it from the perspective of Hassidism and the Jewish mystical tradition because they are the roots from which Freud and so many of his followers emerged.1 As I have previously described, the soul is a person's holy, timeless essence. I refer to an entity which is both elevated, that is, exists in spiritual realms, and is part of our primordial source and the endless everything. Therefore the soul is transcendental in nature and orientation. It yearns for knowledge of the most creative and sublime aspects of existence. Not only does it surpass the self, but the soul necessarily seeks to obliterate it in order to achieve union with the infinite, which in Kabbalah is called the ayn sof (the without end). And, by so doing, the soul acts to repair or rectify the chaotic threads of the universe.

The Zohar asserts there are many paths to soul-knowledge:

One way is to contemplate the mystery of his Master. Another is to know one's self. Who am I? How was I created? Where do I come from? Where am I going? How is a body fixed to function? How must I give an account of myself before the Ruler of All? (Song of Songs, 18, in Drob, 2000b, p. 373)

 

Chapter Seven - The Replacement Child

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Sigmund Freud may have been a “godless Jew,” as he often claimed, yet he possessed a pervasive Jewish soul. This was a “yiddishah neshamah” which he spent much of his life fighting and embracing, concealing and revealing, until he left the world at a moment of his own choice on Yom Kippur 1939.

Freud descended from a long line of Galicianer hassidim, many of them noted rabbis and scholars. Galicia is an enormous region of Eastern Europe ranging from Poland to the Ukraine. For centuries it was a self-enclosed center of Jewish tradition and mystery. This began to change in the 1800s when revolutionary currents reached the shtetls (Jewish villages) and the haskalah (Jewish enlightenment) burst forth. This, in turn, led to social and religious developments which aroused intense antagonisms among Jews who were desperate to slough off ancestral practices and others who were equally determined to maintain them. Long-established communities split into warring factions whereupon pitched battles repeatedly occurred. At the least families were torn apart by intergenerational denunciations.

 

Chapter Eight - Sigmund Freud and Rabbi Safran

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Freud often spoke about the “warfare between science and religion” (Gay, op. cit., p. 533). The former was rational, logical, and progressive, while the latter was obsolete, backward, and mired in superstition. He repeatedly declared that “religion is the enemy” (ibid., p. 533). By religion he meant supernatural, magical, irrational thoughts and beliefs. Indeed, to show his disdain for superstition, he rented an apartment in an infamous building, the Kaiserliches Stifungshaus, just after he was married. The block was also known as the House of Atonement because it had been erected on the site of the old Ring-Theater, which had previously burned down with enormous loss of life. But even after it had been rebuilt, the place remained almost empty. Few people were willing to court bad luck by living in a “house of death.” Years later Freud's sister Anna recalled: “My brother, far from sharing the general superstition, did not hesitate to establish himself there with his young wife, and his example quickly encouraged others.” (Clark, op. cit., p. 89).

 

Chapter Nine - On Opposites

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In his Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis Freud anticipated the ideas of Jacques Derrida about deconstruction and binary opposites. In particular he saw that to really understand what a person is trying to communicate, you have to plough through many contradictory levels of meaning. Freud explained:

…mental life is the arena and battle-ground for mutually opposing purposes or, to put it non-dynamically, that it consists of contradictions and pairs of contraries. Proof of the existence of a particular purpose is no argument against the existence of an opposite one; there is room for both. (1916–17, pp. 76–77)

Earlier, in his study of dreaming, Freud described how and why dream-thoughts may be turned into their opposites. This happens in order to filter powerful emotions to do with love, sex, aggression, and other fundamental feelings:

In addition to allowing them [dream-thoughts] through or reducing them to nothing, [dream-work] can turn them into their opposites. We have already become acquainted with the interpretive rule according to which every element in a dream can, for purposes of interpretation, stand for its opposite just as easily as for itself…We can never tell beforehand whether it stands for the one or for the other; only the context can decide. (1900a, op. cit., p. 471)

 

Chapter Ten - Lowness of Spirit

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In 1904, Freud delivered a lecture before the Wiener medizinisches Doktorenkollegium entitled “On Psychotherapy” (1905a, pp. 257–270) In this address Freud tried to elucidate some of the pitfalls of treating patients with the method of psychotherapy. He made it clear that while the therapist may expect the patient to make him a present of his secrets, the therapist needs to allow time to take its course. He cannot drag the secret of a depression out of his patient (ibid., p. 262).

These secrets are intimately connected with the conflicts that exist in and between people. Freud focused on the clash of opposing desires and feelings to explain the emergence of clinical symptoms. As I demonstrated in the previous chapter, “On Opposites,” the development of language can serve to mask and unmask many of these conflicting elements. Freud himself deployed a military metaphor, a battlefield, to show how the mind is often at war with and within itself.

The first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the “Alter Rebbe”) also believed that the “animal soul” (Nefesh B'hamit), which has to do with physical pleasures, especially pride and self-inflation, and the “godly soul” (Nefesh Elokit), which has to do with transcendent experience, were at war with each other. He compared the physical body to a “small city,” and said the two souls were like two kings, each trying to capture the city and dominate the populace (Tanya, op. cit., ch. 9, p. 37).1

 

Chapter Eleven - Reparation

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1896 was the year that Freud's father died, an event which he said was “the most decisive loss of a man's life” (Gay, op. cit., p. 88).1 One might think that Freud's reaction to the passing of Jacob would be an increased use, a heightened dependence on “magical substances” like cocaine to get over his grief. Yet this was not the case. For Freud it was also a moment of liberation from his father's expectations. Not long afterwards he began his epic study, The Interpretation of Dreams and he formulated the Oedipus complex. Both constructions led directly to the development of psychoanalysis. This became the “healing potion” which excited and sustained him for the rest of his life.

Five years earlier Jacob Freud had given his son a handsome present for his thirty-fifth birthday. It was a copy of the family's Philippson Bible, rebound in leather, and inscribed in Hebrew with a warm message from Jacob to Shlomo (Sigmund).2 It reads (in translation from Hebrew):

 

Chapter Twelve - Atonement

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This book is dedicated to Dr. David Bakan and Professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, two men who have been instrumental in reintroducing psychoanalysis to its Jewish roots. Bakan (1921–2004) was one of the founders of humanistic psychology.1 He wrote on a wide variety of topics including psychoanalysis, religion, philosophy, and research methodology. His interest in the Jewish origins of psychoanalysis was aroused by his grandfather who spent hours reading him tales of the hassidim, especially by the Sassover Rebbe, Moishe Leib, who insisted that whoever does not devote one hour a day to himself is not a person and that to help someone out of the mud, one must be willing get into mud oneself.2

Bakan's hypothesis is that Freud, consciously or unconsciously, secularized Jewish mysticism and that the origins of psychoanalysis exist within the Kabbalah (ibid., p. xi). He further stated that the discipline that Freud originated is essentially a contemporary version of this outlook, or should we say, “in-look”. I have already presented considerable evidence for this conclusion from the works of earlier Kabbalists like Abraham Abulafia, Moses De Leon, Isaac Luria, and Chaim Vital as well as modern thinkers like the Lubavitcher Rebbes, Aryeh Kaplan, Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and Adin Steinsaltz.

 

Epilogue

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In the ensuing generations since Freud passed away many of his descendants have made major contributions to secular knowledge and culture. They include, of course, his daughter, Anna, a founder of child psychoanalysis, particularly through the auspices of the Hampstead Child Therapy Centre (now the Anna Freud Centre) which she helped to establish in London in 1947.

Anna's brother, Martin, was a lawyer who looked after his father's finances, and Ernst, who was a successful architect. Their descendants numbered notable writers, artists and journalists, academics and businesspeople.1 Many have moved in the highest circles of British aristocracy and government. Freud's grandson Clement (by Ernst) received a knighthood after serving several terms as the Liberal MP for the Isle of Ely.2 His very rivalrous brother, Lucian, one of the greatest English portrait painters of all time, one-up'd Clement exclaiming:

Why on earth would I want to speak with him or see him? I was offered a knighthood, but turned it down. My younger brother has one of these. That's all that needs to be said on the matter. (Singh, 2000, p. 3)

 

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