The Jewish Side of Freud


The Jewish Side of Freud


Search our Archives:

Opinion & Society

Sigmund Freud the Jew

By Philip Rosenbloom

The Jews do not lack for intellegensia. Our history is replete with men of wisdom whose ideas have contributed to the development of mankind.

Sigmund Freud was one of those rare individuals that provided the world with a new way of understanding the human psyche.

Freud was born in 1856 in Freiberg, Morovia. His father, Jacob, was a merchant and after his first wife died, married again to Amalie Nathansohn, who was destined to become the mother of Freud. Sigmund was her first child. He was named after his father's father and given the Hebrew name Shlomo. She subsequently had five daughters and two other sons, one of whom died at the age of eight months.

His father moved from Freiberg after a down turn in business coupled with a resurgence of anti-Semitism convinced the father that his fortune lies elsewhere. First the family moved to Leipzig, where the family settled for a year and finally making their way to Vienna.

His biographers relate that the father was brought up in accordance with the orthodox traditions. Freud was certainly familiar with all the Jewish holidays and traditions, although after moving to Vienna, the father suspended his observance of the orthodox customs. Yet when Freud was only seven, his father presented him with a present of a Bible, in which the father wrote and inscription in Hebrew urging him to study the ancient texts.

In spite of this, Freud grew up devoid of any religious training although he had related that at the time he was greatly influenced by his Bible.

At the age of nine, he passed a test enabling him to attend the high school a year earlier than his age. He remained in the top of his class until seventeen when he graduated summa cum laude.

He was drawn towards medicine and became a medical researcher. Amongst other things, he did research on cocaine. He believed that it could be used as a agent to relieve gastro pain. Unaware of its addictive powers, he gave it to his friends to use. It wasn't until later that the addictive effects were understood.

Freud's fiancée, Martha Bernays, came from a distinguished Rabbinical family. Her grandfather, Isaac Bernays, had been the Chief Rabbi of Hamburg during the reform movement that swept through Orthodox Judaism in the years around 1848. Her brother, Eli, married Freud's eldest sister, Anna in 1883.

Their engagement lasted approximately four years. The question of which type of marriage ceremony to have was difficult for Freud. Martha's mother insisted on a religious marriage, Freud wanted a civil wedding. He disliked ceremonies, especially religious ones. Never the less, they had both a civil and a religious wedding. Martha convinced him that since they wanted to live in Austria, the authorities did not recognize a civil marriage, only a religious marriage. He acquiesced; Martha understood how to get around Freud's mental difficulties.

It is not the intent of this article to delve into the aspect of Freud's development of his psychoanalysis work and his revelations, but rather to give a sketch of Freud, the Jew. Although Freud never was known for his participation in the religious aspects of Judaism, yet he never distanced himself from association as a Jew. As a matter of fact, most of his associates were Jews.

He never would deny being a Jew. Just the opposite, many times he would joke about various situations, and make various comments about his Jewishness.

In one letter to a colleague, Freud remarked that "In my opinion, we as Jews, if we want to cooperate with other people must develop a little masochism and be prepared to endure a certain amount of injustice. There is no other way. You may be sure that if I were called Oberhuber my new ideas would, despite all the other factors, have met with far less resistance."

As old age approached, Freud was famous, except in the eyes of the Nazis. Freud could not believe that in enlightened Vienna, the anti-Semitism of Hitler would be accepted. He felt that the Jews were secure. Unfortunately, we know otherwise and Freud remained in Vienna until the Nazi take over. With the help of international pressure on the Nazi government Freud was allowed to leave with his family. He emigrated and finally settled in England.

Freud was a prolific writer. He not only wrote books on psychology, but even as a young man would earn money writing translations of classic novels. It is perhaps in this realm that we focus our attention, on his last writing.

While in his eighties, Freud turned his psychoanalytic energies towards the Bible. He began by publishing pamphlets dealing with Moses. These were to become the core of his theory of Moses and the Jewish nation.

Against the advise and wishes of many of his friends, he published his last book, "Moses and Monotheism." In this book Freud lays down his ideas of the Bible. First he declares that Moses was actually an Egyptian. During this period, Freud reasons, there was a battle in the Egyptian society between the polytheists and the monotheists. Moses, he reasons, was on the side of monotheism, but the polytheists had the upper hand.

During that time, a Semitic tribe was enslaved in Egypt. Moses escaped from Egypt taking this tribe with him only to be killed by them in the desert. This Freud presented as his idea of the Bible. Needless to say, he upset both Jews and Christians with his speculations.

Many people have been bothered with the question of why did Freud, a person of such brilliance write a book that was scorned by so many, that caused him and his psychoanalysis to be associated with anti-religious thought? If Freud did not believe in the Biblical story of Moses and the origins of the Jewish nation, why did he try to come up with another story? Why not just announce that he had no belief in religion or in the Biblical accounts

The answer is this: Freud, the psychoanalyst, analyzed the Biblical account of Moses and the Jews as if it were written by men who like all men, try to embellish the account of their lives. Freud dealt with people who covered the true source of their actions with a façade. In order to understand people, Freud had to uncover this external representation that man created to protect his weaknesses.

Far from rejecting the validity of the Bible, Freud accepted it, but only as an external manifestation of the inner trauma of the Jewish nation. His interpretation was based on the Bible being written by man, not as we know, dictated by God.

Freud, like many brilliant thinkers, carved a niche in his chosen field. However, when he varied from that path, he endured the ridicule of his contemporaries.

Freud was a cigar smoker. He enjoyed his smoke and was rarely with out a cigar. Unfortunately, it caused a reoccurring cancer inside his mouth. He last years were very painful until his death in September 23, 1939.


from the September 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Please let us know if you see something unsavory on the Google Ads and we will have them removed. Email us with the offensive URL (

The Jewish Magazine is the place for Israel and Jewish interest articles
The Current Monthly Jewish Magazine
To the Current Index Page
Write to us!
Write Us
The Total & Complete Gigantic Archive Pages for all issues
To the Big Archives Index Page