The article first appeared in Jewish Ideas Daily and is
re-printed with their permission.
Three Jewishly conflicted German speakers changed the course of modern history.
By the time the first, Karl Marx, had died in 1883, Sigmund Freud and Theodor
Herzl were rising stars in their 20s; later, they came to be neighbors, living
but a few doors apart on a Vienna street.
Whereas Herzl determined that
solving the Jewish problem necessitated sovereignty and statehood, Marx and
Freud were more concerned with what ailed universal man, offering solutions more
ambitious than mere tinkering with political organization. For Marx, economic
reality was the key determinant; but Freud underscored the human instinct of
aggression and self-destruction which was present regardless of the reigning
All three also had acolytes in Palestine during the
British Mandate who tried to harmonize some or all of their disparate views. How
Freud’s ideas fared there is the subject of a new work by the Tel Aviv-based
psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and historian Eran Rolnik, Freud in Zion: Psychoanalysis and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity (Karnac, London 2012).
subtitle, “Psychoanalysis and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity,” is a bit of
a tease. We don’t get any straight answers about the impact psychoanalysis had
on shaping modern Jewish and Zionist identity.
Instead, we are given to
ponder whether there is a contradiction between “psychoanalytic man” and
“Zionist man.” What this book, intended mostly for a professional readership
(the 2007 Hebrew edition was well-received by the Journal of the American
Psychoanalytic Association) does offer is a deeply researched history of the
coming of the psychoanalytic idea to Palestine.
political Zionism understood the Diaspora as being mentally, physically,
politically and culturally injurious to a healthy Jewish life. Recovery could
only come by its negation. By contrast, in developing psychoanalysis Freud’s
goal was universal: to help people understand their drives, themselves and
thereby ameliorate emotional pain.
Come 1933, hundreds of German-speaking
Jewish doctors went to Zion – mostly for lack of any other choice. Rolnik’s
history of the psychoanalytic profession in the Yishuv explores the challenges
faced by its early practitioners in adapting to a non-European environment, and
tells how they competed for Freud’s affections while feuding among
Meanwhile, Freud’s own concern was that anti-Semitic
attitudes would tarnish the all-embracing message of psychoanalysis. He did not
want his theories to be seen as a commentary on the Jewish condition, writes
Freud, after all, was thoroughly assimilated: the family
celebrated a secular Christmas and Easter, not Passover.
never considered conversion, perhaps because he came to view all religion as
Raised Jewishly illiterate, he and Martha Bernays brought up
their six children in a similar fashion (though two sons flirted with
Yet he was not an ashamed Jew. He peppered his letters with
Yiddishisms; stayed a member of the B’nai B’rith lodge where he had first
publicly presented his ideas; admired Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann; and,
according to Rolnik, was not unsympathetic to the cultural Zionism espoused by
Ahad Ha’am and took pride when his works first began to be translated into
Hebrew in 1928.
But Freud was put off by any hint of Jewish
Hence his odd last book, Moses and Monotheism, which, in
Rolnik’s view, was Freud’s attempt to show that Jewish ethnicity and nationalism
were not integral to its main gift to humanity.
His distaste here might
explain his wobbling as the struggle between the Zionists and the Arabs
A product of his milieu, he hoped to ride out Hitler by
keeping a low profile in Vienna. Earlier, he had refused to bequest his papers
to the newly established Hebrew University (then riven between those who
envisioned the campus as a Zionist citadel and those who wanted it as a
repository of Diaspora intellectual capital).
Not coincidentally, the
university rejected overtures from Freud’s followers to establish a training
institute in psychoanalysis; a Sigmund Freud chair in psychoanalysis was finally
established only in 1976.
FOR A lay reader one of the book’s highlights
is the section on Freud’s foremost follower in Palestine, Max Eitingon (1881-
1943). A pro-Zionist, Eitingon was at once fabulously wealthy and himself a
psychoanalyst and physician.
Compelled by the Nazi threat to move to
Palestine in 1933, he effectively transplanted the Berlin headquarters of
psychoanalysis to Jerusalem. It was a move Freud sitting in Vienna hoped would
be only temporary until the Hitler thing blew over. Rolnik had access to
Eitingon’s papers and put them to excellent use fleshing out the rivalries
between Freud’s various followers, Zionists, non-Zionists and
Despite the upheaval caused by Arab belligerence and the
world war, Eitingon’s institute, which served as a sort of professional guild,
conducted regular meetings (in German) while its members carried surprisingly
heavy patient caseloads. They also shared their frustrations.
for instance, complained that neither Arabs nor Orthodox Jews were suitable
subjects for psychoanalysis.
(On the intriguing charge that Eitingon was
– on top of everything else – also a Stalinist agent, Rolnik comes down against
the idea.) Can Freud be said to have a political philosophy? In an email
exchange, Rolnik emphasized that Freud never claimed to be offering a solution
to the Jewish people or to any other people. Freud’s most political book,
Civilization and its Discontents, addressed the inherent tension between the
individual’s quest for freedom and society’s need for discipline, arguing that
for a polity to function humans had to sublimate their desires.
book, Rolnik writes that “from Freud’s point of view, it makes no difference how
humans decide to organize their lives together” for at the end of the day
“inherently irrational components of social existence” preordain individual
Nevertheless, Rolnik wraps up Freud in Zion by airing his own
concerns – which he insisted to me were made as a psychoanalyst with no
political ax to grind – about contemporary Israel. He worries about an Israeli
political culture “in which violence, omnipotence... and victimization takes
precedence over assumptions of responsibility.”
THE SHOAH and now the
Iranian threat have made Israelis ever more myopic. In a back-and-forth, he told
me that while paranoids have real enemies, that doesn’t make them any less
paranoid. Israelis, he said, put too much blame on history, which makes them
less accountable for their aggressions.
He believes that the
psychoanalysis practiced in Israel today does not adequately take innate
aggression into account: What we hate about ourselves is the key.
died at age 83 in London exile just weeks after Hitler invaded Poland, thus
outliving the madly optimistic Herzl by 35 years. Freud dreamed about
The rest of us can be grateful that Herzl’s dream became the
emphatic reality. But Marx, Herzl and Freud operated on different planes; the
latter, the founder of psychoanalysis, should be evaluated not by his political
acumen but by how he proposed that modern man understand his
The article first appeared in Jewish Ideas Daily and his
re-printed with their permission.