The Jewish Jungian Who Believed the Key to Spiritual Revival Lay in Hasidism

January 7, 2022 | Reuven Kruger
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Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud’s best-known disciple, stood out among early psychoanalysts because he was one of very few Gentiles. In the 1930s, long after he had broken with his erstwhile mentor, Jung—as Reuven Kruger puts its—came under “a barrage of fire for his views on racial psychology that seemed to imply tacit support, if not outright admiration, for National Socialism.” Yet the German Jewish philosopher Erich Neumann considered Jung “his tsaddik,” and Neumann, in turn, was one of Jung’s favored disciples. Neumann’s two-volume The Roots of Jewish Consciousness, which he declined to publish in his own lifetime, have now been issued in English translation. Kruger writes in his review:

Neumann, who died at age fifty-five in Tel Aviv, [would never] realize his ambition to write a third and final volume, which would diagnose the spiritual crisis of modern Jewry. “Spiritual crisis,” as understood by Neumann, required first and foremost a return to the ethos of Ḥasidism, which Neumann knew largely, though not entirely, from the writings of Martin Buber. Neumann was inspired by Buber’s retelling of ḥasidic stories and his romantic vision of a Jewish cultural renaissance, . . . though, unlike Buber, he had no access to the primary sources and had to rely on the selection of scholars and popularizers like Buber and Samuel Horodetzky.

In a brilliant introduction to the second volume of The Roots of Jewish Consciousness, Moshe Idel describes Neumann’s distinctive approach to reading ḥasidic texts as a Jungian version of Buber’s “this-worldly” approach. Idel notes that already in Ḥasidism itself, “one can discern a propensity to interpret biblical and kabbalistic topics, figures, and values as referring to inner human powers and processes,” which lends itself to Neumann’s call for “an introverted type of Judaism.” Thus, the ubiquitous prince in ḥasidic homilies, who is banished from the royal palace, represents, for Neumann, an alienated ego, assimilated into the surrounding culture, oblivious to any possible connection to the numinous source of being.

In a 1955 interview on his 80th birthday, Jung cryptically said that “the ḥasidic Rabbi Baer from Meseritz, whom they called the Great Maggid,” anticipated his entire psychology. In his introduction, Idel takes Jung to have been pointing to the Maggid’s prescient understanding of interplay between the masculine and the feminine, which Jung undoubtedly learned about from Neumann.

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