Eran J. Rolnik discusses Psychoanalysis and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity |



Freud in Zion: Psychoanalysis and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity

Few episodes in the history of psychoanalysis are as densely packed with trans-cultural, ideological, institutional and ethical issues as the arrival of psychoanalysis in pre-state Israel in the early 20th century.

Freud in Zion is the first work to explore this encounter between psychoanalytic expertise, Judaism, Modern Hebrew culture and the Zionist revolution. The book is based on hitherto unpublished documents from twenty different archives, and includes many unpublished letters by Freud. It links the history of psychoanalysis in remote Palestine to the history of the evolution of psychoanalysis in many other countries. The book follows the establishment and early years of the psychoanalytic society in Jerusalem, and the acceptance, dissemination and influence of psychoanalysis in contemporary Jewish society in a very unique political context of war, immigration, ethnic tensions, colonial rule and nation building. This local story is placed in the wider historical social and cultural context of Europe, Zionism, and Jewish migration from Eastern and Central Europe, as well as the development and spread of psychoanalysis in the era of mass violence. Freud in Zion offers a look at the relationship between psychoanalysis and a wider community, and follows the life and work of Jewish psychoanalysts during World War II. As such, it makes an important contribution to a central concern of psychoanalytic studies today, the interplay of psychoanalysis, culture, ideology and politics.

The book’s six chapters cover the three broad contexts through which I view psychoanalysis’s formative years in the Land of Israel. The first of these is the appearance of the Zionist version of the European “New Man,” and its connection to the Freudian view of man. The second is the migration, following the rise of the Nazis in Germany, of psychoanalysis out of Central Europe. The third is the consolidation of psychoanalytic discourse in the Yishuv following the arrival of immigrant analysts, headed by Max Eitingon, Freud’s mysterious “helmsman”, who established the psychoanalytic institute in Jerusalem. The book shows that, despite the affinity that early Zionists claimed to have for Freud’s theories lay an inherent tension, at times even an evident contradiction in terms. Can psychoanalysis as a psychological-critical theory and Zionism as an ideology and consciousness really live together? Did historical reality and the new Hebrew culture play a role in shaping local psychoanalytic practice and ethics? The coming of Freudian psychoanalysis to pre-state Israel, where it rapidly penetrated the discourse of pedagogy, literature, medicine, and politics, becoming a popular therapeutic discipline, could also be regarded as an integral part of a Jewish immigrant society’s struggle to establish its identity in the face of its manifold European pasts and its conflict-ridden Middle Eastern present.

Eran J. Rolnik

Tel-Aviv University

Israel Psychoanalytic Society

Eran J. Rolnik, Freud in Zion: Psychoanalysis and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity, London: Karnac Books (2012)



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