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."  Philip Rieff expresses the same idea in a more
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.
Psychoanalysis did not end traditional hermeneutics, however.
Freud and Fromm kept the Bible in their sights. It was before them at all
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."  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.
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.
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.