Sunday, September 09, 2007

Freud and God

Fascinating article in The New York Times Magazine this week.

Between atheism and believing in God is as thin as a hair (Kechut Hase'arah).

Had Freud lived a little longer ...



  1. David,

    Thank you for sharing that article with all of us. It is yet another example of the Tzelem Elokim in action.

    I have also heard (though I haven't read this myself) that Freud consulted rabbis of his generation for insight into Chazal's interpretation of dreams. Can you imagine a modern atheist consulting chachmei Yisroel? This just goes to show that Freud was interested in one thing: chochmah. Ezeh hu chacham? Ha'lomeid mi'kol adam.

  2. I am not entirely sure there is a direct connection here, but your quote reminded me of the passage:

    It happened that Rabbi Yeshua ben Hananiah was walking along the avenue and encountered Ben Zoma. Ben Zoma did not extend a greeting to him, so Rabbi Yeshua inquired: "From where do you come and where are you going?". Ben Zoma replied: "I was pondering the creation of the universe and I have concluded that there was scarely a handbreath's division between the upper and lower waters. For we read: "The spirit of Hashem hovered over the waters," (Bereishit 1:2) Now the Torah also says: ' like an eagle who rouses his nestlings, hovering over his young' (Devarim 32:11). Just as an eagle, when it flies over the nest, barely touches the nest, so there is barely a handbreadth's distance separating the upper and lower waters."...Rabbi Yeshua said to his students:" Ben Zoma is already outside." (Tosfeta Hagiga 2:6)

    I suppose the point is that

  3. Oops. I suppose the point is that the distance can be traversed both ways.

  4. The puzzle is why Freud felt he had to publish this very odd, uneven book before he died. Edmundson says in effect...Judaism 's belief in an unseen God leads to introspection which leads to psychonalysis. There are many benefits in using psychoanalysis to read aspects of Torah, but to even suggest that the telos of Torah and Judaism let alone the history of the Jews is to open the way for psychoanalysis to triumph is silly.For different readings of the Moses text one can look at K.Reinhard's article
    & Yosef Chaim's Yerushalmi's book
    "Freud's Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable." On the relationship betwween Torah and psychoanalysis see Shoshana Felman's articles in the book she edited "Literature and Pychoanalysis."

  5. Evanston Jew, I always found compelling the person who struggles to understand things. Freud certainly was one such person. That is what caught my attention.

    I am no Psychology expert in fact I am not that good at understanding it though my wife is a mental health professional. I am a believer in psychiatry though and when practiced well is a tremendous help in Avodat Hashem. the problem is to find someone who practices it well.My experience is that it is not dependent on the practitioner's religious beliefs but rather on his skills.

    Now to interpret Moshe's story as a dream and say that it is the reverse of reality of course is silly and that is not what I was referring to. Apparently however he did start seeing some value in tradition though not yet as a believer but rather as a utilitarian tool. That is the beginning and the meaning of mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma thus my comment 'had he lived longer...."

  6. As an aside, check out the beginning of Freud's Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Freud essentially goes over the "Kuzari Argument for Torah" step by step . . . unfortunately, he concludes with a statement to the effect of "this works for every historical figure and event, except for things like Moses and Nimrod." Oh well.

  7. What I find most objectionable in Freud’s hermeneutics is his view that psychoanalysis can interpret the inner truth of Judaism, but not the other way around. He the master can know the inner truth of Torah, but Torah, the slave as it were cannot read /interpret/dominate the analyst and his interpretation. The idea that Judaism has a point because it led to psychoanalysis is part of the same idea.

    I want to give an example of this dialectic in a different area. People frequently comment/read/interpret the stock market. The market goes on to do the opposite of what one would expect from the reading. Here one must say that not only are analysts, commentators, the public reading the market, the market is reading them …the market knows what they are saying and acts in such a way as to catch the public by surprise. Strong texts cannot just be read and finished off so to speak….they always come back and make the quasi literalist reader look foolish. So too when it comes to reductionist readings of Torah, Freudian, feminist and so on.Just a thought.

    Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy New Year.

  8. I wrote a response on XGH's blog when he linked to this article. My basic point was that Freud, unlike the leading atheist thinkers today, recognized a qualitative distinction between monotheism and polytheism. It wasn't simply a matter of numbers; it was the difference between more abstract and more concrete thinking about the world. I possibly intend to elaborate on this point in a future post on my blog. It is a point that gets overlooked in the theism/atheism debates (which I generally do not like participating in).

    I haven't read Freud's book, and the most I knew about it before was its bizarre theory about Moses. I myself am very much not a Freudian, and recently I wrote a post contrasting Freud's view of dreaming (which remains very influential in popular culture) with that of my own. Here is the post: