Academic journal article Shofar

Answering a Question with a Question: Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Jewish Thought

Academic journal article Shofar

Answering a Question with a Question: Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Jewish Thought

Article excerpt

Answering a Question with a Question: Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Jewish Thought, edited by Lewis Aron & Libby Henrik. Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2009. 442 pp. $49.00.

This book addresses the contentious issue: what was Freud's attitude to religion, and by extension, to Judaism? On one hand Freud's biographer, Petet Gay, insisted that Freud was a "Godless Jew," and that Judaism played no role in the creation of psychoanalysis. On the other hand, Bruno Bettelheim has pointed out that such conclusions emerge from the systematic mistranslations of Freud's works, particularly by James Strachey. He emphasized the rational over the irrational, or as I would prefer to say, the non-rational elements in his writings, in order to make Freud more acceptable to an American audience. Freud was a wordsmith, perhaps as great as Goethe. When Freud chose to use "psyche," he specifically meant soul, not mind. Hence psycho-analysis is best rendered "soul analysis," not mind or mental analysis, a change which totally recalibrates one's thinking about Freud's intentions.

Freud did disparage God and religion, as Celia Brickman points out in her excellent initial chapter on "Psychoanalysis and Judaism in Context." But his attitude was rather more complex than most readers realize. Like Torah niglah and Torah nistar, the revealed and hidden observance of scripture, Freud appeared to despise formal practices and simplistic views of God. Thus, after they married, he prevented his wife, Martha, who was the granddaughter of the Chief Rabbi of Hamburg from lighting candles on a Friday night. She obeyed but was none too pleased. Aftet he died she exclaimed, "That mamzer (bastard), he even forbade me to light candles." She proceeded to do so for the rest of her life. Yet Freud maintained a lifelong interest in the Kabbalah and, indeed, kept a copy of the Zohar (The Book of Splendor) in his library.

This book covers many aspects of Freud's convoluted attitudes to Judaism. At one moment he could deny its importance to him. On another he could strongly affirm his Jewish identity, unlike many of his friends and colleagues who converted to Christianity in order to gain professional acceptance and advancement. The discussion of these issues is so rich that many chapters, such as Joyce Stochower's, on holding a psychoanalytic lens to Jewish rituals, Tuvia Peri's, on a Freudian and Kleinian reading of the Midrash, Moshe HaIevi Spiro's, on dreaming and Stephen Frosh's, on antisemitism, could easily be expanded into books on their own right. I particularly appreciated the chapter by Lewis Aron and Karen Starr on transformation in Jewish mysticism and contemporary psychoanalysis. …

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