Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Jewish Trinity that Took Down the World-Part 2-Freud


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.


Equus 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 complex.,_by_Max_Halberstadt_(cropped).jpg

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 lectures).

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: 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 counterpart-Elektra complex.

Anal retentive       Latency     Repression     Sublimation     Transference   Catharsis


What was the implication of all this?

He undermined the idea that we, as human beings, had full rational control over our feelings, thoughts, and actions.

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 life-formation.

            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.”

There 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.

Did 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.

The 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.

In one 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.

Freud 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. 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 world:

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. (


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 important.


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 in particular.

“David Bakan, in his 1958 book, Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition showed 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.”  Jessica Kraft



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 majority."


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


1)    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.


2)    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

 Talmud Bavli Kidushin 30 2

Teaching 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.

3)    Accommodate the desire—The “ captive woman”-Deut- delaying, rather than denying desire. Ishah yafat toar- Yetzer hara Ein Yaakov, Kiddushin 1:8

4)    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

Finally- the 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.


Shown here, the Baal Shem of London, a Kabbalist healer of the early 1700's, a prototype of the modern analyst and something of a celebrity in Lonodn in his day. His own hallmark was recording his dreams in detail.

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