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Psychoanalysis: A Jewish Science?

How Jewish was your childhood home? To this query, Anna Freud responded: "more than people think, and less than I remember."  Her quip does double duty: illustrating the porous boundaries of memory, fact, and interpretation that psychoanalysis has sought to clarify and disturb, and highlighting a question surrounding the enterprise since its inception. How Jewish is it?

Relevant Links
"Because I was a Jew"  Sigmund Freud, Library of Congress. Documents in Freud’s own hand illustrate facets of his Jewish identity.
The Problem of Desire  Seth Aronson, Answering a Question with a Question. Medieval interpretations of the Tenth Commandment, enriched by the dark insights of Melanie Klein, can teach us how to live more easily with our conflicting urges. (PDF)
Freud and Judaism  Alan W. Miller, Conservative Judaism. Consciously or unconsciously, Freud may have been trying to articulate a new Jewish identity. (PDF)
The End of Psychoanalysis?  Gabrielle Birkner, Forward. Psychoanalysis is no longer as Jewish, let alone as ubiquitous, as it once was.

Sigmund Freud, Anna's father, was unmistakably a fin-de-siècle Viennese Jew—an ironic intellectual outsider in love with wit and literary interpretation, committed both to the liberating power of science and to the social norms of the bourgeoisie. But as for Judaism, he famously regarded it, like all organized religions, as one of the problems his insights were meant to neutralize and dissolve. At first, he saw religion as a neurosis-like expression of unresolved conflicts between instinctual drives and society-ordained values. His later view, famously expressed in Moses and Monotheism (1939), was that religion is an illusion, the projection onto the universe of an omnipotent and guilt-inducing father. 

A  new volume, Answering a Question with a Question, comes upon the heels of shifts in psychoanalytic theory that now enable religion to be studied, understood, and worked with rather than simply overcome, and that likewise enable Jewish scholars to see in psychoanalysis a reservoir of concepts and techniques that can enrich their own work. The essays here collected—by clinicians, researchers, and scholars of literature, Bible, and Jewish thought—trace the avenues along which psychoanalysis and Judaism can meet.

A number of the volume's contributors are drawn to the work of the British analyst D. W. Winnicott (1896-1971). For them, his depictions of childhood development—and by extension, adult life—can function as a lens through which religious life reveals itself as an endless negotiation and play between received traditions and present realities, between distancing from and union with God.  Thus, developing Winnicott's characterization of parenting as a kind of "holding," Joyce Slochower explores the unique healing power of Jewish mourning rituals like shiva. For others, the recent "relational" theories of Stephen Mitchell, in which analyst and patient together re-create a life story, provide a space for religion as an integrating element in such stories.

Some classical Jewish texts—think of the Bible's family narratives, talmudic passages on dream interpretation, or the cosmic parental dynamics depicted in the Kabbalah—seem to cry out for the insights of psychoanalysis. But legal texts, too, as Seth Aronson contends, can be illuminated by psychoanalytic perspectives on discipline and desire.

There are limits, of course. One of the book's strongest essays highlights the difficulties that psychoanalysis, with its relentless focus on the individual psyche, has in explaining the broader social phenomenon of anti-Semitism. Another, invoking the Jewish ethics of the French philosopher Emanuel Levinas, calls upon analysts to display greater engagement and self-sacrifice.

Psychoanalysis is just one, admittedly arresting, element in the effort to understand, build, and live in the world.  Freud hardly provided the last word on human experience. But in forging a hugely influential path to certain kinds of wisdom, he created, as Auden wrote, "a whole climate of opinion." Is or was psychoanalysis, however, a Jewish science? To do a turn on Anna Freud: perhaps less than some imagine, perhaps more than others remember.

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Susan Goodman on June 11, 2010 at 8:58 am (Reply)
The title of this article surely contains an oxymoron. There is no evidence to support the idea that psychoanalysis has any basis in anything that is recognizable as the scientific method.
David on June 15, 2010 at 7:09 pm (Reply)
Since we are discussing here Psychology and Judaism, I thought I'd recommend a book or two:

a] Abraham Amsel, Judaism and Psychology, Feldheim, c.1969

b] Professor Henri Baruk, Tsedek, Modern Science reviewed in the light of the Hebraic Civilization, Swan House Publishing Co., c.1972

Rabbi Amsel has also written other books on the subject but I don't have their titles on hand.

You may want to check these out as they offer an alternative approach to the Freud - Jung school of Psychology ... and I have not discussed the issues as seen from a Kaballistic Chassidic point of view.
jane hall on June 18, 2010 at 1:28 pm (Reply)
Psychoanalysis is not a science. Religion, with it's positive aspects is at the root of all war. Arts, crafts, sports, real science, games all have the potential for helping the human race bond while at the same time competing.
Jane s hall
june 18, 2010
P. W. Stodola, m.d. on April 10, 2012 at 2:07 am (Reply)
Psychoanalysis is a science, but do not look for something where it is not intended to be. Psychoanalysis is a social science, not an earth science, like chemistry or physics. It is reproducible in the way social sciences are. Thank you David for your input. I will search out the authors. Judaism is present in the work of Freud in the same way any subject is present in the work of one who is steeped in the subject. Freud actually wrote a book or two on the subject. How is it possible to say that psychoanlysis is not Jewish? It is as Jewish as its author was.
Larry Silverstein on June 15, 2012 at 9:01 am (Reply)
The Oedipus complex was the invention of Sigmund Freud! Freud originally discovered, in the treatments partially conducted under hypnosis, that all his patients, both male and female, had been abused children and recounted their histories in the language of symptoms. After reporting his discovery in psychiatric circles, he found himself completely shunned because none of his fellow psychiatrists was prepared to share the findings with him. Freud could not bear the isolation for long. A few months later, in 1897, he described his patients’ reports on sexual abuse as sheer fantasies attributable to their instinctual wishes.
Freud’s father was a paedophile! In a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, he wrote:

“Unfortunately, my own father was one of these perverts and is responsible for the hysteria of my brother (all of whose symptoms are identifications) and those of several younger sisters. The frequency of this circumstance often makes me wonder.”

Fliess’s son, Robert Fliess, exposed his own father as being another paedophile, who had sexually abused him when he was a child.

Second century Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai, one of Judaism’s very greatest rabbis and a creator of Kabbalah, sanctioned pedophilia—permitting molestation of baby girls even younger than three! He proclaimed, “A proselyte who is under the age of three years and a day is permitted to marry a priest.” 1

Yebamoth 60b, Subsequent rabbis refer to ben Yohai’s endorsement of pedophilia as "halakah," or binding Jewish law. 2

Yebamoth 60b Has ben Yohai, child rape advocate, been disowned by modern Jews? Hardly. Today, in ben Yohai’s hometown of Meron, Israel, tens of thousands of orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews gather annually for days and nights of singing and dancing in his memory.
References to pedophilia abound in the Talmud. They occupy considerable sections of Treatises Kethuboth and Yebamoth and are enthusiastically endorsed by the Talmud’s definitive legal work, Treatise Sanhedrin.

The Pharisees Endorsed Child Sex

The rabbis of the Talmud are notorious for their legal hairsplitting, and quibbling debates. But they share rare agreement about their right to molest three year old girls. In contrast to many hotly debated issues, hardly a hint of dissent rises against the prevailing opinion (expressed in many clear passages) that pedophilia is not only normal but scriptural as well! It’s as if the rabbis have found an exalted truth whose majesty silences debate.
Because the Talmudic authorities who sanction pedophilia are so renowned, and because pedophilia as “halakah” is so explicitly emphasized, not even the translators of the Soncino edition of the Talmud (1936) dared insert a footnote suggesting the slightest criticism. They only comment: “Marriage, of course, was then at a far earlier age than now.” 3

In fact, footnote 5 to Sanhedrin 60b rejects the right of a Talmudic rabbi to disagree with ben Yohai's endorsement of pedophilia:
"How could they [the rabbis], contrary to the opinion of R. Simeon ben Yohai, which has scriptural support, forbid the marriage of the young proselyte?" 4

1 Yebamoth 60b, p. 402.
2 Yebamoth 60b, p. 403.
3 Sanhedrin 76a.
4 In Yebamoth 60b, p. 404, Rabbi Zera disagrees that sex with girls under three years and one day should be endorsed as halakah.

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