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Is Psychoanalysis Kosher?

Is Psychoanalysis Kosher?

And are there Torah alternatives?



What is the traditional Jewish view on psychoanalysis? I’m particularly interested in the purported parallels between Freudian and Chabad philosophy.


There have been many views expressed, ranging from enthusiastic embrace to unconditional condemnation. What follows is based on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s letters on the topic.

The Rebbe writes that psychoanalysis has helped people, but since Freud and his colleagues saw religion as something of an illness in itself, we must be careful in choosing the doctor to go to. You may have heard of Dr. Viktor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. The basis of Frankl’s theory was that the primary motivation of an individual is the search for meaning in life, and that the primary purpose of psychotherapy should be to help the individual find that meaning. The Rebbe supports Frankl’s views over Freud’s, and bemoans the fact that the majority of psychotherapists have not followed in this path.

In other letters, the Rebbe agrees that there are many similarities between the Freudian model of the human psyche and that described by Rabbi Schneur Zalman in his highly original yet traditional classic work, the Tanya. The first book of the Tanya provides spiritual guidance, often describing intimately the inner workings of the human soul. All of this is based firmly on the Talmud and other rabbinic writings-such as the works of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides), Rabbi Yehuda Lowe of Prague (Maharal), Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (Ari), Rabbi Yeshayah Horowitz (Shaloh), and of course the oral teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch. Nevertheless, it stands out as the first literature to describe in detail the multiple facets and layers of the human personality and how they often conflict with one another, along with practical applications for overcoming depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy and more.

Furthermore, ethical literature beforehand had taken a generally behavioral approach: Do this, don’t do that. Be like this, avoid being like that. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry. Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s approach, which became known as “Chabad,” is that our emotions and behavior are symptoms of what is happening with our mind. You can’t direct the heart directly, he wrote, and even behavior is not truly changed by offering reward and threatening punishment. Rather, all true change must be affected by working with the entire person, beginning with the inner mind.

This was also Freud’s achievement, when he demonstrated that much illness can be traced to mental disorder. Freud also pioneered the concept of a multi-layered consciousness, with multiple forces pulling in different directions. The very words he used—ego (ich), superego and id—are strikingly similar to the G‑dly soul, animal soul and person (guf) discussed in Tanya. Many other similarities could be discussed.

Several authors have dealt with the Jewish roots of Freud’s ideas. Some even point to his fascination with the Kabbalah and his talks with Rabbi Shalom DovBer, the fifth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. Others assert that most of what he theorized can easily be traced to common Jewish folk knowledge.

However, where Freud sees the underlying force within man as his sexual drive, the Tanya sees it as his G‑dly soul. That’s a major difference with serious impact.

Furthermore, while Freud could prescribe therapy only through the intervention of an objective practitioner, Rabbi Schneur Zalman set down a clear path for the common man to work through on his own. We are all in control of our minds, he writes, to think about whatever we wish to think about. And then he lays out a prescription to develop a mindset that brings out the most essential and divine qualities of the heart. Of course, the guidance and assistance of the tzaddik is vital to the process, but the principal work, Rabbi Schneur Zalman stressed, lies on the shoulders of the individual wishing to improve.

Of course, Tanya was not meant as a remedy for psychosis. It was written for the common person who needs guidance in overcoming obstacles on his spiritual path. But the basics are all there, ready to be applied.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Shaul St. Paul, Minn March 6, 2016

ottawa, anonymous, Dr. Meir I am so thankful that the work I have done this past five years has beeen bearing fruit. Enough so to keep on working.

I wish you well on your journeys. May you be rewarded for your work. Reply

Dr. Meir In between Heaven & Hell March 3, 2016

Black sheep well done Ottawa! It is those kind of perceptive abilities that, right or wrong, I see as remarkable. Not ego remarkable, presences remarkable. It's a self truth. Bummer for you, as you seem to have it, but I won't tell if you don't😊. When I graduated college in attendence were my parents and my mother said, " who would have thought that out of all my children it would be you who graduated", smack. What on earth As a mother I know exactly who my daughter is. I see the her who is not the her I need.

Of course it is what it is, but is that an awareness or closing the door. After asking a question getting the 'I don't know response' I follow that with, "is that I don't know I don't want to know or let's find out?" Thanks coffee sounds great, if only.

Shaul, my bad😮, you're correct, no child has the ability to abstract understanding. Children are concrete and the journey to self is frought with complexities similar to knowing that G-d is more dimensional than a list maker Reply

Shaul St. Paul, Minn March 2, 2016

Thank you, ottawa.

I wish both of you well, ottawa and anonymous.

As for you, anonymous, I am well aware of the doctrine of free will. I can even preach it. But I don't.

As any American child at the age of two, we can easily see Santa Claus as Gd. After all, he's "making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice...So be good for goodness sake!"

That sounds very much like what Gd does. How was I supposed to know, at age two, that he was neither Santa nor Gd?

The feelings that occurred at that moment contradict my later rational awareness.

Perhaps you cannot imagine how much work it takes to replace powerful early feelings with mere rational facts. Reply

anonymous ottawa March 2, 2016

Normal for Me Believe me, I have waxed poetic about how marvelous I am, and people have taken me and shaken me for that too! But so many years go by, and you get to thinking "It is what it is". Whereas survival was mostly unconscious when I was young, I concede as I moved through these last five years especially, it's been a conscious choice full of conscious effort. In these years I have faced everything I felt could use improvement, and went ahead with those improvements. Most remarkable of all is the feeling that my heart is healing, and finally, I'm starting to feel strong inside, instead of like a quivering mass of jelly. I've never felt like that and it feels remarkable! So you're the black sheep I guess. I come from a back ground of what I felt was rampant narcissism, but when I read something like this, I realize that the maniacs from which I hail would still have me back at the table regardless. I think you would be a great person to have coffee with. Reply

Dr. Meir In between Heaven & Hell March 1, 2016

Is psychoanalysis kosher Let me see if I can respond to all in general. In my family anyone who maintains a different view is not invited back to the table, thus the bullseye on my butt. I have learned who to be and who not to be from them. Regarding Freud, I agree with some points but not others and yes I think psychoanalysis is okay or kosher. The open exchange of belief's has been nothing less than nourishment for my soul. I thank you. St. Paul, I have often thought that G-d allowed something to happen right before I remember to hold the responsible person accountable. It's that free will idea.

Owatta specific,

When I read your last responce I wanted to shake you. The only other person that I have felt that way about is my ex sister-in-law who has no hidden agenda for her kindnesses. She doesn't need or want thanks and she doesn't see her remark-ability as remarkable do you? It is never 'matter of fact' to live within life, it's exceptional. Regarding my mother I finally see the totality of her & I weap Reply

anonymous ottawa March 1, 2016

Shaul I want to be clear when I say psychoanalysis wasn't so helpful here. It was the Kleinian method I was subject to, and I still object. I was prompted to read up, and it did illuminate the world of mythology, the bible, and ancient civilizations. I came to the same conclusions about Moses as Freud did,long before I even knew Freud came to similar conclusions -and I only stumbled upon that fact while researching something else. The language of psychoanalysis is based on Freud's construct of the psyche. His construct of the psyche seems to overlook some super critical things and I believe the language of psychoanalysis may miss the mark as a result. I know how you feel about being around other people, and if you're work is helping you with that, then I will take another look. It's so simple, looking for God in dreams. I love it. Thanks for sharing this. Made my day actually. Reply

Shaul St. Paul, Minn February 29, 2016

Anonymous Thank you for your concern.
I did the work in every therapy. I continue to do the work. It does relate to love--love of Gd. Accepting Gd's love. Being unafraid of a Gd who allowed me to be almost murdered at age two. So it's also about death. It is wonderful to be with other people, whom I have always loved, and to be unafraid of them. But sometimes I am still afraid, so I still have work to do. One goal is to become able to greet death, which must indeed come, without fear or grief. My dreams tell me what I still need to learn to do, and how to do it. Even terrifying dreams are "good" since they come to teach how to overcome fear. We do not "interpret" dreams looking for meaning. We enact the dreams (or their opposite) in our imagination, to feel more love and less fear. The therapist helps to identify which dream character represents Gd and which represents our neurosis. Eventually we learn to identify these ourselves.

Gd is a young man with a sense of humor. Chocolate is love. Etc. Reply

anonymous ottawa February 29, 2016

Shaul I'm no expert, it's just my take on my exposure to the material. It sounds like Jung had a very different approach to psychoanalysis than Freud did. But the even Freud's faithful acolytes departed in some ways from the way Freud did things. So I don't know if it means they had different theories, or if they built on Freud's theories and found different ways to apply it, but you're saying the Jungian method of dream work worked for you. The foundation of Freud's theory is based on two archetypes - Eros and Thanatos - and it seems as if many of the archetypes are modeled on these two primal forces. So Thanatos can take on the face of an old man, and eros, a young woman - even though eros is typically thought of as male, but anyway... My guess is that the foundation of Jungian psychology is Freudian. The Jungian approach seems more accessible, but you did the work. I wonder if, in the end, success is as dependent on the analysand as it is on the analyst? Reply

anonymous ottawa February 29, 2016

Dearest Dr. Meir I wasn't sure exactly what to convey to demonstrate my experience with bigotry. I guess it was a lot that I chose to share, but having lived with it so long, and I believe, having processed a lot of it by this point, it seemed almost as matter of fact as stating something like, "I'm married, with three children, house in the burbs". Poor analogy, but I guess this was the trajectory my life took and suicide happened - like cancer would happen, or a car accident would happen. I guess these things are hard to hear, so I thank you for making the room for that. Plus I have a sense that you're struggling with some big change right now and maybe feel a bit lost yourself. I don't know, just a feeling, so I wanted to try to speak to that. Maybe I'm a bit off. I'm only coming to appreciate now what my estranged mother means to me. I wonder if your relationship with your mother is similar? I imagine you want your daughter to have a less fraught relationship with you? Running out of characters.. Reply

Shaul St. Paul, Minn February 28, 2016

To anonymous in Ottawa and others who find Freud and Jung equivalent I cannot say whether their theories differ, but I suspect that they do.

When I first heard that Jung felt we all have an "old man" and that he symbolizes this-and-that for all of us, and so on with the other universal symbols, I objected. Surely it matters what culture we cme from. Surely it matters what upbringing we had. Surely it matters who we are as individuals.

I read an article decades ago that our dreams teach us how to respond better to waking-life situations. The trouble is, we do not know how to understand the lessons that the dreams come to teach us. When I learned in a book that there was (& is) a therapist who teaches his clients how to learn from our dreams, I contacted him. Sure enough, his "homework" assignments taught me how to handle the difficult situations created by the distorted messages of my childhood.

It turned out he was using Jungian universal images. His advice worked, where Freudian therapists had been useless.

So they differ in the way that matters. Reply

Dr. Meir In between Heaven & Hell February 27, 2016

Remaing teachable along the journey to the self Jewish or not, with or without psychoanalysis Dearest Ottawa,

Respectfully, you are a hoot, I so enjoy the way you put things. Survival intensive, absolutely, but it requires one to pay attention to the lessons life offers. My lessons have come at a great price and since age 35 I happily pay the bill as
that's how my soul is nurtured. Regardless of your reasoning and whether or not you shared that in the same way as I received it, I felt touched that you shared it. It's not a little thing to trust someone you don't know. I suppose that was why I was effected so deeply. I have, to some degree, a different view of suicide than most and I'm sure it is yet another self truth that highlights the bullseye on my butt. I've known one person who I cared about that committed suicide, but I was not in love with her. My mother and my daughter are the only people who know my views. My mother because she was headed down that road and my daughter because she wants to became a psychotherapist and creating a foundation for her is quite purposeful. Reply

anonymous ottawa February 26, 2016

Dearest Dr. Meir! It sounds like you've had more than your fair share of hardships too, if you've spent equal amounts of time on either side of the scalpel - even if it's a figure of speech. I'll be honest, the older I get, the luckier I feel. As a person who was oft marginalized her whole life, I had my own bigotry towards successful people, and it's only later that I've come to appreciate that none are without their struggles, and some of these struggles are every bit as survival intensive as mine have been, and even more so. Are you finding your way to better health?When time seems limited, that will have a way of putting the focus on what's important. Sometimes I think even finding out what's important to us can be a rare gift. How many people these days seem to be in touch with that? Don't worry too much about processing what I laid at your feet. I wanted to convey that I understand something about bigotry. Your family, best friend, your story is similar to mine. Reply

Dr. Meir In between Heaven & Hell February 25, 2016

Dearest Ottawa,

First thank you for opening up, I hope I demonstrate the same courage. My thoughts are racing and I think I will fumble a bit until I find my sea legs, please bear with me. To me you have laid this significant experience at my doodstep and I feel driven to be as respectful as I can. I will get back to you in a few days regarding that. Let me respond to other parts of your note for now. The easiest response is, yes an actual scalpel. Next, I was married to a man who was a red head I saw the bizzar way he was dealt with. When I was in third grade there was a girl who wore glasses and she was relentlessly picked on. She was so hurt by it and it was the first time I would find myself being drawn in facing the ugliness of humanity. She and I were best friends for years. I have survived my family as their scapegoat and I weap for them. It never ceases to amaze me how the general public will search for things to judge in others, for me, I don't have that kind time to waste. Reply

anonymous ottawa February 24, 2016

Bigotry and the Red Headed Step Child When my husband suicided, I made a giant departure from everything and everyone I knew. I completely withdrew, intending to start anew. There were complications related to pstd, so that period of withdrawal was much longer and far more profound than I had envisioned or planned for. I think I must have seemed extremely disconnected to a lot of people for a long time and in that state I drew a lot of unwanted attention. I was amazed at how much trouble I could still get into even when I rarely left the house or even spoke. I refused to take all this hostility from complete strangers personally, and put it down to social Darwinism. I'm getting really good at dealing with it now. Almost worth the learning curve. A lot of people are bothered that I'm not in a couple relationship - for exactly the same reasons as your mother! So are you talking a literal scalpel, or is that a euphemism for the couch? Reply

Dr. Meir In between Heaven & Hell February 23, 2016

Freud vs Jung Yom tov Ottawa,

Wow, your message drew me in and it brings up some interesting concepts. I don't know that I agree with it completly, but it is intreging and I will spend sometime examining it. From someone who has spent equal time on either side of the scalpel, great example. If I may, your message stated your experience with bigotry again. The first time I noticed it you wrote, "people who have nobody are targets". Please forgive my ignorance and feel free to not respond, but I feel compelled to understand things that are laid in my path. How does being alone set you up for bigotry? I am not doubting your experience and I am sure what you write is honest. I am simple missing some details that would help me get it. I am painfully aware of how people mistreate thoes who are; over weight, wheelchair bound, mentally challenged, Jewish, Muslim and the list goes on. The only person who is bothered that I'm not in a love relationship is my mother and she is only bothered by it for her not I Reply

anonymous ottawa February 22, 2016

Frued vs. Jung I don't see where the two theories are in conflict. Freud boiled the human psyche down to two main thrusts - Jung insisted upon a spiritual component. Was Jung was building on what Freud pioneered? Can the life and death impulse as embodied by the libido, encompass the spiritual and esoteric elements of human experience as well? Are the theories really in conflict, or the egos? Psychoanalysis can be useful in the therapeutic process, perhaps as different instruments are used during surgery. You wouldn't use a scalpel for everything. Personally, analysis has been helpful in gaining insights into the bigotry I have suffered, but insight for me isn't a cure - just a starting point and a good direction. As for the rest of the emotional mess, that was time and struggle, but it helps to start with the right insight. Reply

Dr. Meir In between Heaven & Hell February 21, 2016


You write about the exact solution, (or issue if your cup is half empty) that speaks to how distance grows between people's beliefs which ofter end in condemnation of the 'other side'. As a person of Jewish faith I have been on the receiving side of bigotry. I'm still wondering; what on earth is the difference for 'the other' if I don't see it the way they do. I mean seriously, do they get reimbursement for how many people they bring into their flock?? Your message adds a demination to the conversation, "Is psychoanalysis kosher?" which is worth examining. You seem passionate about your beliefs, which on one hand offers up a different view for consideration and on the other hand, as long as there is room, allows for disagreement. I have learned as much from those I agree with as from those I don't. Ridge inflexibility is a thief that creates dogmatic slave owners. In order for scientific learning to occur embraceing errors are almost required. Darkness is the absence of light. Reply

hymie Chicago February 17, 2016

I wish I could say that Freud, a Jew, was correct.

But Jung's work comes closer.

Well, we still have Victor Frankl (another Jew). He was right on! And to think it was the Rebbe who encouraged him to persist when he was about to give up.

My therapist is a Jungian. He has continued where Jung left off, and his approach really works, without digging into the soul. And he believes in Gilgul and in Gd, which Freud and Jung, living in a "modern" era, did not.

The time has come to realize that, as Hamlet said, "there are more things in Heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in" what passes for "rational" science. Take off the "rational" blinders and see what's real, and choose a therapist with post-modern attitudes. Science has discovered many useful things, but it has embraced many errors in its path on the way to these useful things.

Most of Freud's "patients" did not improve. He even said that psychoanalysis was not therapeutic. Reply

Dr. Meir In between Heaven & Hell February 16, 2016

nay-sayers? Good day anonymous NYC,

Is your response directed to me? If so I'm not sure what I wrote that reads as if I consider psychoanalysis as useless, to the contrary, I am someone who believes deeply in using whatever tools lead to the development of the soul. A brilliant man once told me that regardless of the direction my journey takes, if I'm in contact with those that have no reflection they will decide who I am based on their need, so I should not define myself by how I am seen. More to the point it is always more important to have a free exchange of ideas and to remain teachable. If I have been disrespectful to you I would be open to having a diolog regarding that. I agree that the role of the therapist is never to answer the questions inherent in personal development. Any good therapist knows how to deal with transference and knows they can offer up a flashlight, but never tell in which direction to shine it. Outside my front door is an invitation, "All Students Of Life Are Welcome" Reply

anonymous ottawa February 7, 2016

Louise, Anonymous NYC Louise - yeah, I guess in a way I'm fortunate to have dropped out to a large extent. I probably have it much easier than most, in reality. I was really feeling the bite of it in my initial post, but it's sunny skies at the moment. I like what you said about liberating goodness in yourself and others. I like to think I'm on that track too. Anonymous NYC, it sounds like you have an excellent mind set for therapy. I admit mine really sucked. So my education was doubly surprising. :) Reply