The Jewish Trinity that Took Down the World
For the link to the video of my presentation, click here:
Part 2 June 26 2021
Intro to Freud:
The next great iconoclast- and
with far less blood as an outcome, but still, the great disrupter of human
society- Sigmund Freud.
I will confess that I am more sympathetic
to Freud than to Marx. He never turned his back on us and never denied us.
on Broadway - Extracts
A few extracts from the amazing production of Equus on Broadway with Richard
Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe.
I open with a clip from a play, Equus,( also film by
Sidney Lumet) as an example of the
impact of Freud on the arts.
The horse, in this story, represents both the object of
desire and the overwhelming guilt that comes with it. The horse must be blinded
as an act of defense against the conscience.
It is reminiscent of one of Freud’s first cases studies,
Little Hans, of a youngster who has been obsessed with seeing the sex organ of
a male horse. It is this account that leads Freud to his theory of the Oedipal
Freud with his signature cigar
”Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”.( A popular quote related to me by my
Talmud professor, who had grown up in Vienna and had attended Freud’s
Freud was born a Jew and
remained identified as a Jew, even if a very unreligious one, all his life.
Family from Galicia, he was born in Moravia ( now Czech) mid 1800’s.
He started out in medicine, as
a researcher in a famous French clinic under Charcot. He then began to explore
hypnosis. We can say, that in the beginning, he engaged in some very weird observations
and approaches. There was a fascination with the act of , to say delicately,
self-pleasuring. With one of his colleagues, he went down the rabbit hole
theory that the nose was the seat of all problems and engaged in surgery of the
nasal passages. Then, there was his discovery that” Things go better with Coke”
and prescribed it to a friend to get him off of morphine addiction, until he
discovered that his friend now had a cocaine addiction, which, in turn, cured
Freud of his own fondness for coke (powdered, not fizzy).
There are many false starts on
the way to great ideas. We all know that.
In a nutshell, we should all
be familiar with the idea that, at our birth, we are one bundle of never ending
desire, the libido, or, commonly termed, the “Id” (It, in Latin). As we go on
in life, we form the executive part of ourselves, the “ego”, (I) that must
satisfy the id yet navigate the real world. Over and above the ego, then, there
arises the “ superego” ( the self above), the sense of being judged, of being
held accountable for the failings of the ego to subdue the id. It is this
constant warfare inside the human psyche that drives our personal life. You are
also familiar with his concept of the Oedipal Complex, in which the toddler
desires the mother and needs to destroy the father to do so. The most powerful
of the drives in this battle is the sexual drive.
Oedipus and the Sphinx
For people still under the
impact of Victorian mores, where chair legs had skirts out on them, this emphasis
on human sexuality as the main factor in our eternal dissatisfaction, or as he
would call it, “Civilization and its Discontents”- was earth -shaking. Freud
wouldn’t even allow his wife to read the novel “ Tom Jones”. Marx had placed
economics as the great immovable mover. Freud now placed the sex drive as the great immovable mover.
You are also familiar with his
cure, of psychoanalysis, of the long, drawn out process of reaching into the
depths of repressed memories and dreams, to find that one trauma from infancy
that was undermining ones ability for “ lieben und arbeiten”- to love and work.
Freud’s language has become
part of common discourse:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7f/FREUD%27S_SOFA.jpeg Freud’s famous couch
Penis envy as his explanation
for the problem of women ( with its counterpart, for men, by his feminist
follower, Karen Horney, womb envy).
Oedipal Complex- Jung’s
Anal retentive Latency Repression Sublimation Transference Catharsis
What was the implication of all
He undermined the idea that
we, as human beings, had full rational control over our feelings, thoughts, and
I go back, again to my
father’s essay. He himself was influenced by Freud’s erstwhile adherent, then, and
chief competitor in the field, Alfred Adler, who served as mentor to his youth
group in Vienna:
“This is the fatalism of the
subconscious, be it of the individual, according to Freud, or the collective,
according to Jung. According to Freud,
the function of conscious thought in human endeavor is limited. Past events are forcefully drowned into the
subconscious which functions despite a controlling censor and forms our lives.
Freud's individual subconscious is supplemented by Jung through a collective
sub-conscious, which stems from
prehistoric strata in the evolution of our souls. This determines our
mental bearing. In contrast with this un
- and -sub - consciousness, our conscious knowledge is of little bearing. It is
not the super-conscious, but the sub-conscious which has the power to shape the
destiny of people and to give direction to the tendencies of one's
Indeed the trap of
fatalism is so varied and tightly wound that it leaves absolutely no room for
action on the part of human will and consciousness.”
was something messianic in this vison. There was, for Freud, a way out of the
compulsion of sexual guilt and that would come from confronting the demon
directly, through psychoanalysis. Freud would redeem humanity from the
emotional forces bearing down on it, and he would be aided by his Apostles, his
first coterie of great figures like Jung, Adler, and more.
Freud succeed? In one sense, no. His theories are more often prevalent in
literature or the arts, much less so in psychology today. [My friend, Dr. Hy Malinek,
a forensic psychologist who has testified frequently in Federal cases, differs
on this; he assures me that Freud is still ,” in my mind, the cornerstone of psychodynamic formulations and there
is no other theory of personality that came close to its level of
integration of mind-body or offer a theory of human development and
psychopathology that "checks" so true.” I accept this, and admit the
influence of my undergraduate department, which was heavily behaviorist in
orientation! ] The
long-drawn out process of psychoanalysis, which required hours and hours of
lying on the analyst’s couch has become financially unviable in an age when
insurance covers, at best, 10 sessions with a therapist with an Master’s degree,
or drowning one’s problems in prescription meds. The training of a professional
psychoanalyst is also very rigorous, and it was originally open only to MDs,
who had to go lengthy psychoanalysis themselves. This ,too, greatly limited the
access to practitioners.
head of my psychology department at my university would poke fun at clinical
psychology-“ voodoo”, he called it. Behavioral conditioning from one end, and
drug therapy for a gamut of behavioral symptoms from the other, have crowded
out much of Freud’s practice. Furthermore, from the aspect of science of the
mind, even as Freud himself actually hoped, it is impossible to identify any
particular brain structure or function with any of his concepts.
sense, though, he stands correct- as much as we have gone through the era of
free-love a century ago, or the make-love-not war-ethos of 50 years ago, human
sexuality, especially in the issue of gender identity is now front and center of
our culture wars. As we have reduced the barriers to sexual expression, we have
created even newer emotional demons. Issues of pedophilia, for example, which
shows resistance to any treatment, or the incel ( involuntary celibate) movement, or the whole issue
of gender identity today shows how intractable the sex drive is over our lives.
also acted as a spur to the development of therapy of all kinds, either through
him directly, or in reaction to. His colleague, Jung, emphasized the idea of a
collective consciousness, for example, or the idea that we carry in ourselves,
as male, or female, our opposites, animus/anima, and the concept of
introvert/extrovert . His other colleague, Alfred Adler, who rejected the
primacy of the sex drive, gave us
concepts as inferiority complex, drive for aggression, “individual psychology”(
examining the total person in his/her environment).( Our friend, Dr Vladimir
Melamed is now New Center for Psychoanalysis, Los
Angeles, Director of Research and Archival Department. http://ncp-la.info/ Research and Archival work in the History and Philosophy of the
Science of Psychoanalysis)
What drove Freud?
Here is one event that shaped his drive to remake the
His father Jacob told Sigmund, then 12, about
the time in Tysmenitz when a gentile had crossed his path on the pavement and
had knocked his hat into the gutter jeering after him, “Jew, get off the
pavement.” “What did you do?” the indignant Sigmund asked his father. Jacob
replied, “I stepped into the gutter and picked up my cap.” From this bitter
little memory, the adult Freud was to date his disillusion with his father, and
the birth of one of his most persistent fantasies, his identification with
Hannibal, the Semitic warrior king who wrought vengeance on the Roman oppressors
of his people. (https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1986/06/12/the-jewish-freud/)
How to understand his Jewishness?
“ Sigmund Freud always affirmed his Jewish
identity, although he was never able to quite define its components, only a
"clear consciousness of an inner identity, the familiarity of the same
psychological structures," as quoted by Rozenblit in the book under
review, hereafter cited as The Jewish World of Sigmund Freud. Yet this
"godless," "infidel Jew's" protestations and ambivalence
regarding the Jewish and all other religions notwithstanding, there seems to
be no doubt about the impact of his early education and Jewish family environment,
his father Jakob having been a Talmud scholar. Jonathan Rosen, paraphrasing
Harold Bloom, recently remarked, "To understand Freud .. . you had to
understand the rabbis" (quoted in Herschthal, 2011, pp. 25-26). Indeed,
the core of Freud's psychoanalytic principles, the search for meanings beyond
and beneath the manifest words and behaviors, is rooted in Judaism.”
We can add to this the milieu of Viennese Jewry. The
great bulk were Jews who had settled in from the newly conquered Austrian
regions of western Ukraine ( Galicia). Freud’s family originated in Buczacz, Agnon’s
home city. The Chasidic ethos, which was the background of these Jews, was much more
open to the world of inner feelings and imagination. So, if Marx’s style was
purely materialistic/rational based, typical of German and northern Polish and
Lithuanian Jews, Freud’s world was tempered by stories of Rebbe Nachman and
other Chasidic masters, for whom the realm of the subconscious was very
Jewish influences on Freud:
“ He always described his
father’s background as Hasidic, and his mother was raised traditionally Jewish.
Though by the time he was growing up the family had partially assimilated,
Freud acknowledged how influenced he was by Jewish thought, and the mystical tradition
“David Bakan, in his 1958
book, Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical
that Freud was familiar with, and interested in Kabbalah. Bakan advanced the idea that Freud’s
psychoanalysis was a secularization of Jewish mysticism.
“According to Langman and
Dana Beth Wasserman (1990), Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams was based on interpretive methods
used to understand dreams in the Talmud .
The aspects of Freudian dream psychology that seemed perhaps shocking to the
gentile public were already part of Jewish text: symbolism, word play,
enactment of taboos, and numerology.
“Psychoanalysis, as it
then developed into a standardized practice, was dominated by Jewish men; …,
“the analysts were aware of their Jewishness and frequently maintained a sense
of Jewish purpose and solidarity.”
Freud’s open identification with the Jewish community:
Although Freud set himself up as the great iconoclast,
setting out to smash the religious structure that Moses had built ( Moses and
Monotheism). He was nevertheless always aware of anti-semitism around him (
he had to flee Vienna from the Nazis)
and he was a proud member of the Bnai Brith in Vienna, then and there, open
only by invitation to a select few, dedicated to an ethical society on the
basis of Judaism.
In 1926, when Freud's lodge brothers
celebrated his seventieth birthday, illness kept him from attending the
celebration, but he wrote to them:
What bound me
to Judaism was, I must confess, not belief and not national pride ...
Other considerations ... made the attractiveness of Judaism and Jews
irresistible ... Because I was a Jew I found myself free from many prejudices
which limited others in the use of their intellect, and being a Jew, I was
prepared to enter opposition and to renounce agreement with the "compact
Here are some examples of classic Jewish concepts that
may have impacted Freud.
Quite possible that the tripartite division of the soul
was influenced by the Jewish concept of yetzer hara, human desire, especially
sexual, and yetzer ha tov, the equally powerful drive to do that which is right
and good, and the self-caught in between. Oy li meyitzri, oyli emyotzri. Woe to
me from my passions, woe to me from my Creator.( Berakhot 61a) ( I will call it
the Id versus the Yud and the Yid is in the middle!).איד-ייד-יוד
Jews were freer about
human sexuality than were Christians.
Talmudic tale of the student who crept into
the teacher’s bedroom to learn how the teacher engaged in sex ”: You are like someone
who has never eaten before? “ The teacher protests” This is not derekh eretz-
the student replies- Torah hi ulilmod ani tzarich. This is Torah, and I need to
learn! ( Berakhot 62a)
Chasidic lore contains the same practice
of students peeking in on the rebbe.
On the value of the
Yetzer Hara- the sexual urge- Described as “ Tov” in the rabbinic
interpretation of creation of adam. Vayyetzer- He created him with the two
instincts- to good and to evil, and both are blessed “ki Tov.”
On the idea of sublimation—classic example- someone
obsessed with blood becomes a life saving surgeon. Rare to find absolute
prohibitions on passion and desire- in Jewish sources - Engage
in positive action-study of Torah
Bavli Kidushin 30 2
of R Ishmael- If the disgusting one attacks you, drag him with you to the house
of study- If it is stone, it will be crushed, if it is iron, it will crack open.
Accommodate the desire—The “ captive woman”-Deut-
delaying, rather than denying desire. Ishah yafat toar- Yetzer hara Ein
Yaakov, Kiddushin 1:8
The Torah is speaking regarding the Yetzer
Hara- that it is better that the children of Israel eat of improper meat that
has been kosher-slaughtered, than of improper meat that is a nevelah, a corpse.
Midrash Tanchuma Buber, Shmini 12:1
[(Lev. 11:2:) THESE ARE THE CREATURES THAT YOU MAY
EAT.] The Holy One
said: Whatever I have forbidden you from having, I have permitted you to have
< something > that corresponds to . . . I have forbidden you the flesh of
swine; I have permitted you the tongue of a fish with the name shibbuta,
which resembles swine.. . . I have forbidden you < another >
man's wife; I have permitted you a beautiful woman, as stated [(in Deut.
21:11–12): AND WHEN YOU
SEE AMONG THE CAPTIVES A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN WHOM YOU DESIRE TO TAKE FOR A WIFE,
< YOU SHALL BRING HER INTO YOUR HOUSE
relation of the pious Jew to his rebbe was similar to that of the patient to
his therapist- Unlike the priest, who provides absolution from sin by
confession, the rebbe served as counselor and advisor.