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Freud in Zion

Three Jewishly-conflicted German speakers changed the course of modern history. By the time the first, Karl Marx, had died in 1883, Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl were rising stars in their twenties; later, they came to be neighbors living but a few doors apart on a Vienna street. 

Relevant Links
Know Thyself  Gordon Marino, New York Times. If philosophy embodies a love of wisdom and knowledge of how best to live, then Sigmund Freud was a philosopher of the highest order.
Einstein and Freud  Zionism & Israel Information Center. As these two great minds corresponded on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power, they found themselves in agreement over the psychoanalytic origins of war.
Psychoanalysis: A Jewish Science?  Yehudah Mirsky, Jewish Ideas Daily. Sigmund Freud was unmistakably a fin-de-siècle Viennese Jew, but he famously regarded Judaism, like all organized religions, as one of the problems his insights were meant to neutralize and dissolve.

Whereas Herzl determined that solving the Jewish problem necessitated sovereignty and statehood, Marx and Freud were more concerned with what ailed universal man, offering solutions more ambitious than mere tinkering with political organization. For Marx, economic reality was the key determinant; but Freud underscored the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction which was present regardless of the reigning political system.

All three also had acolytes in Palestine during the British Mandate who tried to harmonize some or all of their disparate views.  How Freud's ideas fared there is the subject of a new work by the Tel Aviv-based psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and historian, Eran Rolnik.

The book's subtitle, “Psychoanalysis and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity,” is a bit of a tease.  We don’t get any straight answers about the impact psychoanalysis had on shaping modern Jewish and Zionist identity.  Instead, we are given to ponder whether there is a contradiction between "psychoanalytic man" and "Zionist man." What this book, intended mostly for a professional readership (the 2007 Hebrew edition was well-received by the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association) does offer is a deeply researched history of the coming of the psychoanalytic idea to Palestine.

Nineteenth-century political Zionism understood the Diaspora as being mentally, physically, politically, and culturally injurious to a healthy Jewish life.  Recovery could only come by its negation.  By contrast, in developing psychoanalysis Freud's goal was universal: to help people understand their drives, themselves and thereby ameliorate emotional pain. 

Come 1933, hundreds of German-speaking Jewish doctors went to Zion–mostly for lack of any other choice. Rolnik's history of the psychoanalytic profession in the Yishuv explores the challenges faced by its early practitioners in adapting to a non-European environment, and tells how they competed for Freud's affections while feuding among themselves. 

Meanwhile, Freud's own concern was that anti-Semitic attitudes would tarnish the all-embracing message of psychoanalysis. He did not want his theories to be seen as a commentary on the Jewish condition, writes Rolnik. Freud, after all, was thoroughly assimilated: the family celebrated a secular Christmas and Easter, not Passover. Nevertheless, he never considered conversion, perhaps because he came to view all religion as neurosis. Raised Jewishly illiterate, he and Martha Bernays brought up their six children in a similar fashion (though two sons flirted with Zionism). Yet he was not an ashamed Jew. He peppered his letters with Yiddishisms; stayed a member of the B'nai B'rith lodge where he had first publicly presented his ideas; admired Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann; and, according to Rolnik, was not unsympathetic to the cultural Zionism espoused by Ahad Ha'am and took pride when his works first began to be translated into Hebrew in 1928. 

But Freud was put off by any hint of Jewish chauvinism. Hence his odd last book, Moses and Monotheism which, in Rolnik’s view, was Freud's attempt to show that Jewish ethnicity and nationalism were not integral to its main gift to humanity. 

His distaste here might explain his wobbling as the struggle between the Zionists and the Arabs intensified.  A product of his milieu, he hoped to ride out Hitler by keeping a low profile in Vienna. Earlier, he had refused to bequest his papers to the newly-established Hebrew University (then riven between those who envisioned the campus as a Zionist citadel and those who wanted it as a repository of Diaspora intellectual capital). Not coincidentally, the university rejected overtures from Freud's followers to establish a training institute in psychoanalysis; a Sigmund Freud chair in psychoanalysis was finally established only in 1976.

For a lay reader one of the book's highlights is the section on Freud's foremost follower in Palestine, Max Eitingon (1881- 1943). A pro-Zionist, Eitingon was at once fabulously wealthy and himself a psychoanalyst and physician. Compelled by the Nazi threat to move to Palestine in 1933, he effectively transplanted the Berlin headquarters of psychoanalysis to Jerusalem. It was a move Freud sitting in Vienna hoped would be only temporary until the Hitler thing blew over. Rolnik had access to Eitingon's papers and put them to excellent use fleshing out the rivalries between Freud's various followers, Zionists, non-Zionists, and anti-Zionists.

Despite the upheaval caused by Arab belligerence and the world war, Eitingon's institute, which served as a sort of professional guild, conducted regular meetings (in German) while its members carried surprisingly heavy patient caseloads.  They also shared their frustrations. Eitingon, for instance, complained that neither Arabs nor Orthodox Jews were suitable subjects for psychoanalysis. (On the intriguing charge that Eitingon was -- on top of everything else – also a Stalinist agent, Rolnik comes down against the idea.)

Can Freud be said to have a political philosophy? In an email exchange, Rolnik emphasized that Freud never claimed to be offering a solution to the Jewish people or to any other people. Freud's most political book, Civilization and its Discontents, addressed the inherent tension between the individual's quest for freedom and society's need for discipline, arguing that for a polity to function humans had to sublimate their desires. In the book, Rolnik writes that "from Freud's point of view, it makes no difference how humans decide to organize their lives together" for at the end of the day "inherently irrational components of social existence" preordain individual behavior.

Nevertheless, Rolnik wraps up Freud in Zion by airing his own concerns–which he insisted to me were made as a psychoanalyst with no political ax to grind–about contemporary Israel. He worries about an Israeli political culture "in which violence, omnipotence . . . and victimization takes precedence over assumptions of responsibility." The Shoah and now the Iranian threat have made Israelis ever more myopic.  In a back-and-forth, he told me that while paranoids have real enemies, that doesn’t make them any less paranoid.  Israelis, he said, put too much blame on history, which makes them less accountable for their aggressions.  He believes that the psychoanalysis practiced in Israel today does not adequately take innate aggression into account: What we hate about ourselves is the key.

Freud died at age 83 in London exile just weeks after Hitler invaded Poland, thus outliving the madly optimistic Herzl by thirty-five years.  Freud dreamed about Herzl. The rest of us can be grateful that Herzl's dream became the emphatic reality.  But Marx, Herzl, and Freud operated on different planes; the latter, the founder of psychoanalysis, should be evaluated not by his political acumen but by how he proposed that modern man understand his frailties.

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Eliyahu Konn on July 3, 2012 at 6:40 am (Reply)
What is Jewishly-conflicted, when Jews conflict or when Judaism is conflicting with say Torah and science or when halakha and science conflict?
tdl on July 3, 2012 at 7:22 am (Reply)
When he claims that Freud was raised "jewishly illiterate", its not clear whether the reviewer is expressing his own view or that of Rolnik. While that was certainly the impression that Freud intended to give to his wider readership during his lifetime,and one that was perpetuated by his successors in the 50 years following his death,he was remarkably unsuccessful in his attempt to prevent psychoanalysis being labeled a "Jewish Science". Recent scholarship, most notably that of Joseph Hayim Yerushalmi, has demonstrated quite convincingly that the opposite was true with respect to Freud's Jewish literacy. That Freud was an assimilationist par excellence is nevertheless beyond question, as were so many of his contemporaries in fin de siecle Vienna; notably Herzl, Mahler and Zweig. What one wonders ultimately, is how the Professor finally viewed his professed alienation from Jewish particularism, when he wrote in 1939 regarding his treatment at the hands of the Gestapo, that he would recommend such treatment to "anyone".
Kalman J. Kaplan, Ph.D. on July 3, 2012 at 8:36 am (Reply)
See below several cited letters in Rolnick's book indicating Freud was far more enamored with Greek than Hebrew thinking.

Obedience and Disobedience/Rebellion in Biblical Versus
Greek Narratives: Toward a Biblical Psychology
Kalman J. Kaplan

Pastoral Psychol
DOI 10.1007/s11089-011-0343-x

European man, argues Shestov, even religiousWestern man, has been basically Greek rather than Hebrew. Western man, for Shestov, hasshied away from the biblical proclamation that God created the heaven and the earth,instead subordinating Him to the very nature and material laws He has created. To phrase itdifferently, the Creator of the world has become subordinate to Necessity, which He createdand which, without at all seeking or discovering, has become the sovereign of the universe.

The radical idea that God created nature and is thus able to change what seem to beimmutable natural laws is incompatible with a much more deterministic view that naturecreates the gods and in fact governs them. Freud correctly understood that the latter,deterministic alternative was immutably tied to an Oedipal conflict. “Earth and Sky foretoldthat Cronus would lose his rule to his own son.” Freud seems to have had no ultimate faithin the transformative powers of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, or anyunderstanding of Shestov’s position. Thus Freud was not able to use biblical master a basis for psychoanalysis and psychology.

Several letters from Freud reproduced in a recent work by Rolnik (2007) confirm thismpression. A short time after the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, the Jewishhistorian and folklorist Alter Druyanov (then of Odessa) wrote to Freud to alert him of theconsiderable similarity between his ideas and those of the early Hebrews. Freud replied,
“I’m happy to learn of a competent reader of my book from so far a place. As far as I’mconcerned however the similarity between my ideas and those of the early Greeks strikesme as much more salient” (p. 34).8

In a second, equally pertinent exchange, Max Eitingon alerted Freud to the
writings ofEitington’s friend and landsman, Lev Shestov, who is discussed above. Eitington went sofar as to send Freud one of Shestov’s books. Freud’s answer gives ample evidence as to hislimitations in understanding biblical and Hebrew thinking, “You cannot imagine howunaffected I am by these convoluted philosophical discussions” (p. 56).

This inability to see or employ the hopeful counter narrative provided in the Hebrew Bibleleaves Freud solely within the cyclical Greek mindset. In the words of Yosef Yerushalmi (1991):
Like Sisyphus pushing his rock, Oedipus and Laius must contend forever. Rebellion
against authority per se is central to this process as authority cannot be trusted. Yetrebellion does not provide much of a resolution either. At one point in the cycle, thefather must be slain by the son, at another, that of the return of the repressed, thefather returns, the return is only illusion, for the cycle will begin again. (p. 95).That ever-repeating cycle represents Freud’s tragic Greek understanding of thepsychological processes intrinsic to a deterministic universe.
Larry Kobrin on July 3, 2012 at 9:28 am (Reply)
One incident reported about Freud, which I once saw in a NY Times story, but cannot now locate again, said that upon arriving in London, escaping from the Nazis, Freud said that now we are like R. Yochanan ben Zakai, escaping from Jerusalem. If true, this would indicate a level of knowledge of Jewish history and identification with it that is somewhat surprising.
Anne Golomb Hoffman on July 3, 2012 at 10:48 am (Reply)
Freud was in fact Jewishly literate. See the scholarship of Emmanuel Rice and Yosef Haim Yerushalmi on this subject. Each considers, among other things, the evidence offered by the copy of the Philippson Bible which contains the elaborate inscription written by Freud's father in Hebrew, addressing his son Sigmund by his Hebrew name, if I remember correctly.
jacob arnon on July 3, 2012 at 1:44 pm (Reply)
Freudians like to believe that Nazism validated Freud’s theories about human aggression. They did not. If anything the reality of Nazi genocide invalidates Freud’s theories in as much as his theory of aggression are expressions of everyday life. Freudian aggression is typically sublimated. Even his Oedipus complex is not meant to explain actual behavior but potential subconscious urges.
There is no psychoanalytic theory of Nazism.

It’s hard to believe that Freud himself would have accepted refuge for himself and immediate family and leaving his extended family including his sisters to perish at the hand of the Nazis had he foreseen what was coming.
“Three of Freud’s sisters Marie, Pauline Winternitz, and Rosa Graf-Freud were deported to Treblinka, on Transport Number BQ on the 23 September 1942 and murdered, in the gas chambers.”

Freudianism still can’t account for genocide. Ironically, Freud stated that Jews were not wanted in Palestine by the Arabs and should not move there. He neglected to say that Jews were not wanted in Austria, Germany and soon most of Europe.

Why can’t we admit that Freud was wildly wrong about contemporary history and that his psychoanalysis has little to offer when it comes to understanding human aggression?
Moshe Waldoks on July 4, 2012 at 11:51 am (Reply)
It is a good thing Herzl and Freud didn't meet, especially in a professional capacity.
Mr. Herzl: I've had this recurring dream.
Dr. Freud: Forget about it!

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