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Terms related to this article: Judaism Analysis  Midrash Analysis  Hermeneutics Analysis 

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Continued from page 7

"According to one pole," Paul Ricoeur observes, "hermeneutics is understood as the manifestation and restoration of a meaning addressed to me in the manner of a message, a proclamation, or as is sometimes said, a kerygma: according to the other pole, it is understood as a demystification, as a reduction of illusion." [51] Philip Rieff expresses the same idea in a more Freud-oriented vein:

In traditional hermeneutics, the discrepancies which inspire the interpretative effort are attributed either to accidental mutilation or to secret intention of texts. In psychic texts, discrepancies--breaks in continuity, distortions of content--are always presumed to disclose intention. Mutilations to the psychic life do not occur by chance. More than once in Freud the dreamer's situation is likened to that of a journalist who, in order to evade political censorship, supplies ingenious hints to put the reader on the track of the message which he cannot declare straightforwardly. [52]

Psychoanalysis did not end traditional hermeneutics, however. Freud and Fromm kept the Bible in their sights. It was before them at all times.

In regarding patients as texts, the psychoanalysts also opened the possibility of regarding texts as patients. And it is precisely this turn of events which enables us to understand Fromm. Freud regards Scripture as a neurotic outgrowth of a primal crime of Moses-murder. Bakan views it as an hysterical codex of laws devised out of incest-fears and their accompanying guilt. And Fromm? He certainly belongs to this tradition. Hence, Jakob J. Petuchowski could refer to The Art of Loving as "Erich Fromm's Midrash on Love." [53] Fromm is capable of distorting the Bible in some of his midrashim. But, then again, all the generations of Jewish (and Christian) exegetes have been guilty of this to some extent. Where Fromm differs from them is in his view of the focus of midrash. Always it is the person who is the text--his loving, his hoarding, his living. Fromm's hermeneutics are as rooted in Freud as in the Bible. Fromm employs Freud and the Bible when they are helpful, and looks to other sources, such as Zen Buddhis m, when he fails to find an obliging image in either. Yet Fromm always creates midrash which, as Petuchowski describes it, "is not only concerned with blending new insights and ancient wisdom... but must also contain musar (ethical teaching) and tockachot (criticism and reproof) Whatever his prejudices as biblical exegete, Fromm, it must be said, made his writings rich in both musar and tochachot.

ELLIOT B. GERTEL is Rabbi of Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Chicago and a contributing editor to Conservative Judaism and The Jewish Spectator. He is film and TV critic for the National Jewish Post and Opinion.


(1.) Yasef Haim Yerushalmi, Freud's Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable (New Haven/ London: Yale University Press, 1991), p. 99.

(2.) Erich Fromm, Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My Encounter with Marx and Freud (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962), p. 58.

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