Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The first psychotherapist (Vayigash, Covenant & Conversation 5778)

The phrase “Jewish thinker” may mean two very different things. It may mean a thinker who just happens to be Jewish by birth or descent — a Jewish physicist, for example — or it may refer to someone who has contributed specifically to Jewish thought: like Judah Halevi or Maimonides.
The interesting question is: is there a third kind of Jewish thinker, one who contributes to the universe of knowledge, but does so in a recognizably Jewish way? The answer to this is never straightforward, yet we instinctively feel that there is such a thing. To give an analogy: there is often something recognizably Jewish about a certain kind of humor. Ruth Wisse has interesting things to say about it in her book, No Joke.[1] So does Peter Berger in his Redeeming Laughter.[2]Humor is universal, but it speaks in different accents in different cultures.
I believe that something similar applies to psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. So many of the early practitioners of psychoanalysis, with the marked exception of Jung, were Jewish that it became known in Nazi Germany as the “Jewish science.” I have argued — though my views on this have been challenged — to the contrary, that by taking the Greek myth of Oedipus as one of his key models, Freud developed a tragic view of the human condition that is more Hellenistic than Jewish.[3

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