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Apart from the “Shema Yisra’el” with which we are so familiar, Parshat Va’etchanan has three other instances where we see similar instructions for Israel to listen. What do the Other Shema Yisraels have that our Shema doesn’t. Considering their emphasis, wouldn’t it be better to recite them twice daily rather than our Shema? What does our Shema Yisrael have that the other Shema Yisraels don’t? By examining these questions, we may be able to come to a better understanding of why we say the one we do, as well as draw inferences about the essence of a Jewish identity.
|וְעַתָּ֣ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל שְׁמַ֤ע אֶל־הַֽחֻקִּים֙ וְאֶל־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָֽנֹכִ֛י מְלַמֵּ֥ד אֶתְכֶ֖ם לַעֲשׂ֑וֹת לְמַ֣עַן תִּֽחְי֗וּ וּבָאתֶם֙ וִֽירִשְׁתֶּ֣ם אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֧ר יקוק אֱ-לֹקֵ֥י אֲבֹתֵיכֶ֖ם נֹתֵ֥ן לָכֶֽם׃ לֹ֣א תֹסִ֗פוּ עַל־הַדָּבָר֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אָנֹכִי֙ מְצַוֶּ֣ה אֶתְכֶ֔ם וְלֹ֥א תִגְרְע֖וּ מִמֶּ֑נּוּ לִשְׁמֹ֗ר אֶת־מִצְוֺת֙ יקוק אֱלֹֽקֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָנֹכִ֖י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶֽם׃||And now, O Israel, give heed to the laws and rules that I am instructing you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I enjoin upon you.|
|וַיִּקְרָ֣א מֹשֶׁה֮ אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵקֶ֗ם שְׁמַ֤ע יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת־הַחֻקִּ֣ים וְאֶת־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י דֹּבֵ֥ר בְּאָזְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם וּלְמַדְתֶּ֣ם אֹתָ֔ם וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם לַעֲשֹׂתָֽם׃ יקוק אֱ-לֹקֵ֗ינוּ כָּרַ֥ת עִמָּ֛נוּ בְּרִ֖ית בְּחֹרֵֽב׃ לֹ֣א אֶת־אֲבֹתֵ֔ינוּ כָּרַ֥ת יקוק אֶת־הַבְּרִ֣ית הַזֹּ֑את כִּ֣י אִתָּ֗נוּ אֲנַ֨חְנוּ אֵ֥לֶּה פֹ֛ה הַיּ֖וֹם כֻּלָּ֥נוּ חַיִּֽים׃ פָּנִ֣ים ׀ בְּפָנִ֗ים דִּבֶּ֨ר יקוק עִמָּכֶ֛ם בָּהָ֖ר מִתּ֥וֹךְ הָאֵֽשׁ׃||Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them: Hear, O Israel, the laws and rules that I proclaim to you this day! Study them and observe them faithfully! The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, the living, every one of us who is here today. Face to face the LORD spoke to you on the mountain out of the fire|
|וְזֹ֣את הַמִּצְוָ֗ה הַֽחֻקִּים֙ וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֛ה יקוק אֱ-לֹקֵיכֶ֖ם לְלַמֵּ֣ד אֶתְכֶ֑ם לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת בָּאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתֶּ֛ם עֹבְרִ֥ים שָׁ֖מָּה לְרִשְׁתָּֽהּ׃ לְמַ֨עַן תִּירָ֜א אֶת־יקוק אֱ-לֹקֶ֗יךָ לִ֠שְׁמֹר אֶת־כָּל־חֻקֹּתָ֣יו וּמִצְוֺתָיו֮ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָנֹכִ֣י מְצַוֶּךָ֒ אַתָּה֙ וּבִנְךָ֣ וּבֶן־בִּנְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֣י חַיֶּ֑יךָ וּלְמַ֖עַן יַאֲרִכֻ֥ן יָמֶֽיךָ׃ וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֤ יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֣ לַעֲשׂ֔וֹת אֲשֶׁר֙ יִיטַ֣ב לְךָ֔ וַאֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּרְבּ֖וּן מְאֹ֑ד כַּאֲשֶׁר֩ דִּבֶּ֨ר יקוק אֱ-לֹקֵ֤י אֲבֹתֶ֙יךָ֙ לָ֔ךְ אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ׃||And this is the Instruction—the laws and the rules—that the LORD your God has commanded [me] to impart to you, to be observed in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you, your children, and your children’s children may revere the LORD your God and follow, as long as you live, all His laws and commandments that I enjoin upon you, to the end that you may long endure. Obey, O Israel, willingly and faithfully, that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly [in] a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, spoke to you.|
|שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יקוק אֱ-לֹקֵ֖ינוּ יקוק ׀ אֶחָֽד׃ וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יקוק אֱ-לֹקֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃ וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ׃ וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ֖ בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃ וּקְשַׁרְתָּ֥ם לְא֖וֹת עַל־יָדֶ֑ךָ וְהָי֥וּ לְטֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֶֽיךָ׃ וּכְתַבְתָּ֛ם עַל־מְזוּזֹ֥ת בֵּיתֶ֖ךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃||Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.|
- Also in Parshat Va’etchanan is the source for the one of the “four children” at Passover, the wise child. Which Shema is it most important that this “wise” child recite every day? The one that deals with how important the laws are or the one that deals with why we follow them?
- Why do we follow the laws according to the Shema?
|כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָלְךָ֥ בִנְךָ֛ מָחָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֑ר מָ֣ה הָעֵדֹ֗ת וְהַֽחֻקִּים֙ וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֛ה יקוק אֱלֹקֵ֖ינוּ אֶתְכֶֽם׃ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ עֲבָדִ֛ים הָיִ֥ינוּ לְפַרְעֹ֖ה בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וַיּוֹצִיאֵ֧נוּ יקוק מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם בְּיָ֥ד חֲזָקָֽה׃ וַיִּתֵּ֣ן יקוק אוֹתֹ֣ת וּ֠מֹפְתִים גְּדֹלִ֨ים וְרָעִ֧ים ׀ בְּמִצְרַ֛יִם בְּפַרְעֹ֥ה וּבְכָל־בֵּית֖וֹ לְעֵינֵֽינוּ׃ וְאוֹתָ֖נוּ הוֹצִ֣יא מִשָּׁ֑ם לְמַ֙עַן֙ הָבִ֣יא אֹתָ֔נוּ לָ֤תֶת לָ֙נוּ֙ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַאֲבֹתֵֽינוּ׃ וַיְצַוֵּ֣נוּ יקוק לַעֲשׂוֹת֙ אֶת־כָּל־הַחֻקִּ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה לְיִרְאָ֖ה אֶת־יקוק אֱ-לֹקֵ֑ינוּ לְט֥וֹב לָ֙נוּ֙ כָּל־הַיָּמִ֔ים לְחַיֹּתֵ֖נוּ כְּהַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃ וּצְדָקָ֖ה תִּֽהְיֶה־לָּ֑נוּ כִּֽי־נִשְׁמֹ֨ר לַעֲשׂ֜וֹת אֶת־כָּל־הַמִּצְוָ֣ה הַזֹּ֗את לִפְנֵ֛י יקוק אֱ-לֹקֵ֖ינוּ כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּֽנוּ׃||When, in time to come, your children ask you, “What mean the decrees, laws, and rules that the LORD our God has enjoined upon you?” You shall say to your children, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and the LORD freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand. The LORD wrought before our eyes marvelous and destructive signs and portents in Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household; and us He freed from there, that He might take us and give us the land that He had promised on oath to our fathers. Then the LORD commanded us to observe all these laws, to revere the LORD our God, for our lasting good and for our survival, as is now the case. It will be therefore to our merit before the LORD our God to observe faithfully this whole Instruction, as He has commanded us.”|
- The different emphases in the “Shemas” above can be seen in the modern question of requirements for conversion. What does Rav Uziel think is sufficient for a halakhic Jewish identity? What does Rav Moshe think? Do they necessarily disagree?
- How does this (apparent) disagreement between Rav Moshe and Rav Uziel relate to the discussion in the Torah we saw above? Who is supported by the selection of our Shema Yisrael as the repeated declaration of identity?
Piske Uziel BiShe’elot HaZeman, Rabbi Ben Tzion Uziel, ch. 65
|ונדון דידן הוא גויים שהם נוצרים שאין אמונתם שלמה ביחוד יקוק וזהו עיקר יסודי בתורת ישראל כמו שנאמר: שמע ישראל יקוק אלקינו יקוק אחד, והכופר בזה לא יהיה לו חלקונחלה בישראל הילכך אפילו אם יאמין בתורת משה ואפילו אם יקיים כל מצות התורה אינו יוצא מכלל גוי עד שיאמין ביחוד יקוק והשגחתו ובתורה מן השמים…|
תדע עוד, שהרי בגוי הבא להתגייר מודיעים אותו עיקרי הדת שהוא יחוד יקוק ואיסור ע”ז ומאריכין עמו בדבר זה ואלו בקבלת המצות מודיעין אותו מקצת מצות קלות וחמורות ומודיעיןאותו מקצת עונשים של מצות…ואין מרבין עליו ואין מדקדקין עליו להודיעו כל דקדוקי עונשין וכו’ דשמא כוונתו לשמים(סי’ רס”ח סעיף ב’ וש”ך ס”ק ה’). מכאן מפורש יוצא שאין דורשין ממנו לקיים המצות ואף לא צריך שבית דין ידעו שיקיים אותן…
|Our case includes non-Jews who are Christians who do not have a complete belief in the unity of God. And this is a foundational principal in the torah of Israel as it says, “Hear oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” And one who rejects this will have no part in Israel. Therefore, even if they were to believe in the Torah of Moshe and even if they kept all of the Mitzvot of the Torah, they do not stop being non-Jews until they believe in the unity of God, Divine Providence, and Torah from Heaven…|
And know also, that when a non-Jew comes to convert, we tell them the essentials of the religion which are the unity of God and the prohibition against idolatry and we wax long on these issues. However, with regard to acceptance of Mitzvot, we tell them a few lenient and strict mitzvot and we tell them a few punishments for the mitzvot… and we do not embellish this and we are not detailed with them to tell them all of the details of the punishments for perhaps their motivation is for Heaven (Shulchan Arukh 268 sect. 2, Shakh ad loc subsect. 5). From this it is explicit that we do not demand of them to keep mitzvot and the Beit Din doesn’t even need to know that they will keep them…
Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah, Rav Moshe Feinstein, pt. 3, ch. 106
|ואף שודאי מקבלין גרים אף שלא ידעי רוב דיני התורה שהרי מודיעין אותם רק מקצת מצות, ופשוט שאף רוב דיני שבת אין מודיעין אותן, וגם מצינו עוד יותר שאף שלא ידע הגר שום מצוה הוא גר…הרי נמצא שלא הודיעוהו שום מצוה אף לא עיקרי האמונה ומ”מ הוא גר, הוא משום דאיירי שקבל עליו לעשות כל מה שהיהודים צריכין לעשות וזה סגי לגרות..||And even though we certainly accept converts even when they don’t know most of the laws of the Torah, for we only tell them a few mitzvot, and it is obvious that we don’t even tell them most of the laws of Shabbat, and we’ve found that even beyond that, even if the convert doesn’t know a single mitzvah, they are still legal converts… We find that we did not inform them of any mitzvot and not even the fundamentals of the faith, and in any case, they are a legal convert. This is because the case is where they committed to do everything that the Jews are required to do and this is sufficient for a conversion.|
- In the Talmud Yerushalmi, we find certain mitzvot that can not be performed by one person in order to fulfill another’s obligation to do that mitzvah. Why is Shema one of those things?
Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 25b
|…תני כל מצות שאדם פטור אדם מוציא את הרבים ידי חובתן חוץ מברכת המזון… א”ר לייא שנייא היא ברכת המזון דכתיב בה (דברים ח) ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את יקוק אלקיך מי שאכל הוא יברך. ר’ יוסי ור’ יודא בן פזי הוו מתיבין אמרו לא מסתברא בק”ש שיהא כל אחד ואחד משנן בפיו לא מסתברא בתפילה שיהא כל אחד ואחד מבקש רחמים על עצמו…||The Sages taught: “All of the commandments that a person exempt from, a person can still fulfill it for the masses except for the blessing after meals.” But it is taught: “Anyone who is not obligated in a thing cannot fulfill it for the masses,” thus if they were obligated, even if they had already fulfilled it, they could still fulfill it for others. Rabbi Laya said: The blessing after meals is different because it is written about it (Deuteronomy 8:10), “And you shall eat, and be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God.” The one who ate should bless.” Rabbi Yose and Rabbi Yudah ben Pazi were sitting. They said, “it doesn’t make sense with the reading of Shema because every single person needs to say it with their mouths. And it doesn’t make sense with the daily prayers because every single person should be asking for mercy for themselves.|
- Why is there a difference between someone who knows the Shema and someone who does not?
- What is going on when somebody says Shema for an ignoramous? What is going on when they say Shema for an educated person?
Pri Chadash 62:1
|ראיתי למוהר”מ אלשקאר בתשובות הר”א מזרחי ז”ל סימן מ”ב כתב בתוך התשובה דלעולם לא אשכחן מאן דקאמר דהשומע קריאת שמע כאלו קרא אותה ואי אפשר למימר הכי כיון שהמצוה בקריאה ולא בשמיעה ובהידייא כתב הריטב”א [ראש השנה כט, א ד”ה תני אהבה] דקריאת שמע ותפילה אינו מוציא את הבקי וכו’. ותמהני עליו דהא בכל התורה קיימא לן בפרק לולב הגזול [סוכה לח, ב] ובריש פרק שלשה שאכלו [ברכות מה, ב] דשומע כקורא. והראיה שהביא מהריטב”א היא מנגדתו שהרי כתב דמוציא את שאינו בקי, אלמא דשומע קריאת שמע כאלו קרא אותה, ולא ממעטינן בירושלמי [ברכות] בפרק מי שמתו [הלכה ג] אלא קריאת שמע ותפילה וברכת המזון, והטעם דקריאת שמע דכיון שהוא בקי ראוי שכל אחד ואחד יהא משנן בפיו,ולאו משום דשומע אינו כקורא…||I saw the position of Mohara”m Alashkar in the responsum of Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi (ch. 42), he wrote in the responsum that we have never found anyone who says that one who hears the reading of the Shema is considered as though they read it. And it is impossible to say such a thing since the mitzvah is in the reading and not in the hearing! And the Ritv”a wrote expressly that for the reading of Shema and the daily prayers, one does not fulfill the obligation of one who is not expert etc. And I am astonished at what he wrote, for all over the Torah…we find that one who hears is considered as though they read. And the proof that he brought from the Ritv”a is against him because he wrote that one can fulfill the obligation of one who is not expert! Therefore, one who hears the reading of Shema, it is as though they have read it. And the reason the Jerusalem Talmud…excludes…the reading of Shema…is because since they are expert, it is most appropriate that they should say it with their own lips, and not because hearing is not the same as reading.|
- According to the Eliyah Rabbah, there might be a difference regarding the above laws if one is in the presence of a minyan. Why might this be a mitigating factor? What does this say about the meaning of the Shema?
- Can this source help to make some synthesis between Rav Moshe and Rav Uziel above? What does immersion in community represent according to the halakha?
Eliyah Raba, 62:2
|כתב כנסת הגדולה [הגהות טור] השומע ק”ש ולא קרא יצא ידי חובתו, הרא”ם ח”א סי’ מ”א, ובסי’ מ”ב כתב בשם הר”מ אלשקר [סי’ י] שלא יצא ע”כ. ועיינתי בתשובה גופיה וראיתי שהשיג הר”ם אלשקר על הרא”ם, ומטעם דמצות ק”ש היא הקריאה ולא השמיעה דכתיב ודברת בם, [ו]הביא הרבה פוסקים שפסקו הכי, ודבריו נכונים…מיהו דוקא אם הוא בקי אינו יוצא או אפילו כשאינו בקיאים הוא ביחיד, אבל בעשרה כתב הר”ם אלשקר שם גופיה בשם אבודרהם…דש”ץ מוציא את מי שאינו בקי, וכ”כ מג”א סי’ נ”ט [סק”ה]. וגם בזה תמהני הא כתב אבודרה”ם דף ל”א [שם] זה לשונו, יש לשאול למה אומר הש”ץ ברכות ק”ש בקול רם כדי להוציא את מי שאינו יודע, וק”ש אומר בלחש. וי”ל כי מברכות ק”ש יכול הש”ץ לפטור את מי שאינו יודע מפני שהדבר תלוי בשמיעה כמו בקריאה, אבל מק”ש אינו יכול לפוטרו משום שנאמר [דברים ו, ז] ודברת בם ע”כ, הרי דאפילו שאינו בקי אינו מוציא הש”ץ… ומ”מ לדינא נראה דברי הר”מ דשליח ציבור מוציא את מי שאינו בקי, דנראה דכיון שהוא בעשרה ועונה אמן הוי כמו שמדבר עצמו כיון שאינו בקי, וקרינן ביה ודברת בם. וראיה לזה מדברי רבינו יונה [יג ע”ב ד”ה ויש] שהביא ב”י בסי’ ס”ט עי”ש, וצ”ע. ועוד הא דכתב אבודרה”ם שם שאין לך בור בעולם שאינו יודע לומר פסוק שמע ישראל, ובכך יצא ידי חובתו:||It is written in the Knesset HaGedolah (in its comments on the Tur), “One who hears Keriyat Shema and did not read it still fulfills their obligation (RE”M)…, and in chapter 42 he writes in the name of Mahara”m Alashkar [ch. 10] that they did not fulfill their obligation. And I checked in the actual responsum and I saw that Mahara”m Alashkar was actually responding to the RE”M. And the reason is that the commandment of reading the Shema is about the reading and not the listening as it says, “And you shall speak of them!” And He brought many decisors who decide thus, and his decision is correct…However, this is specifically if they are expert, then they do not fulfill their obligation, or even if they are not expert but they are alone. But if they are in a minyan, the Mahara”m Alashkar wrote there in the name of the Abu Darham that the prayer leader can fulfill the obligation for one who is not expert. And the Magen Avraham wrote this too. And I am astonished for the Abu Darham writes, “We should ask why the prayer leader says the blessings of the reading of Shema out loud in order to fulfill the obligation for people who don’t know them, and the reading of the Shema he says silently? And we could that the it is possible for the prayer leader to exempt people who do not know the blessings for Shema but he cannot exempt them from the reading of shema itself since it says, ‘And you shall speak of them.'” So the prayer leader cannot fulfill the obligation even for a person who is not expert!…In any case, according to the law, it appears that we hold with the position of the Mahara”m that the prayer leader can fulfill the obligation for one who is not expert. For it appears that since they are in a minyan, and they answer “Amen”, it is as though they said it themselves since they are not expert, and we call this, “And you shall speak of them.”… And anyway, the Abu Darham wrote that there isn’t an ignoramous in the world who doesn’t know how to say the verse, “Hear oh Israel…” And they fulfill their obligation thus.|
- According to the following Mishnah Berurah, how does understanding the words play into the question of whether or not someone can say the Shema on your behalf? If you don’t understand the words, what are you actually doing? What if you do understand?
- Why can the prayer leader say Shema for you in a minyan, even if you don’t understand the words? What difference does the minyan make?
Mishnah Berurah 61:40
|יש נוהגים וכו’ – לענין אם יוצא בק”ש ע”י אחר שיכוין להוציאו עיין במ”א ופמ”ג ורוב האחרונים סוברים דיוצא בזה ועדיף זה מהרהור דהרהור לאו כדיבור דמי משא”כ בזה דשומע כעונה וכתב ע”ת ונראה דדוקא במבין הלשון ואפילו בלה”ק בעינן דוקא שיבין השומע עיין בסימן קצ”ג ס”א ובשכנה”ג הביא בשם ברכת אברהם דדוקא ביחיד המוציא את היחיד אבל יחיד המוציא את הרבים או יחיד המוציא את השנים בבהמ”ז אפילו אינם מבינים בלשון הקודש יוצאים:||There are those whose custom is… – With regard to whether one can fulfill their obligation by way of someone else who intends to fulfill their obligation, see the Magen Avraham and the Pri Megadim. And most of the decisors hold that one can fulfill their obligation in this way. And it is better than just saying it in your head. For saying it in your head is not the same as actually saying it. But this is not the case with hearing which is actually like saying. And the Olat Tamid wrote that this is specifically someone who understands the language and even if it is said in Hebrew, the listener still needs to understand. See ch. 193 sect. 1 and in Sha’arei Knesset HaGedolah he brings in the name of the Birkat Avraham that this is specifically an individual who fulfills the obligation of an individual. But the individual who fulfills the obligation of the masses or an individual who who fulfills the obligation of another two in the blessing after meals, even if they don’t understand Hebrew, their obligation is fulfilled.|
- In the following article, what is the distinction between James’s view of identity and Freud’s? How does their disagreement correspond with the halakhic question of whether someone can say the Shema on your behalf?
- What do you make of Freud’s initial statement that he is ashamed to admit that his Jewish identity has nothing to do with “faith nor national pride”? How does this jive with his later statement of discomfort with “national enthusiasms”?
On what parts of the Halakhic Jewish identity do James and Freud shed light? What is still missing in their accounts?
Identity: Youth and Crisis, Erik Erikson, W.W. Norton and Co., 1968 pp 19-21
|…Today when the term identity refers, more often than not, to something noisily demonstrative, to a more or less desperate “quest,” or to an almost deliberately confused “search” let me present two formulations which assert strongly what identity feels like when you become aware of the fact that you do undoubtedly have one.|
My two witnesses are bearded and patriarchal founding fathers of the psychologies on which our thinking on identity is based. As a subjective sense of an invigorating sameness and continuity, what I would call a sense of identity seems to me best described by William James in a letter to his wife:
A man’s character is discernible in the mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: “This is the real me!”
Such experience always includes:
…an element of active tension, of holding my own, as it were, and trusting outward things to perform their part so as to make it a full harmony, but without any guaranty that they will. Make it a guaranty… and the attitude immediately becomes to my consciousness stagnant and stingless. Take away the guaranty, and I feel (provided I am ueberhaupt in vigorous condition) a sort of deep enthusiastic bliss, of bitter willingness to do and suffer anything…and which, although it is a mere mood or emotion to which I can give no form in words, authenticates itself to me as the deepest principle of all active and theoretic determination which I possess…
James uses the word “character,” but I am taking the liberty of claiming that he describes a sense of identity, and that he does so in a way which can in principle be experienced by any man. To him it is both the mental and moral in the sense of those “moral philosophy” days, and he experiences it as something that “comes upon you” as a recognition, almost as a surprise rather than as something strenuously “quested” after. It is an active tension (rather than a paralyzing question) – a tension which furthermore, must create a challenge “without guaranty” rather than one dissipated in a clamor for certainty. But let us remember in passing that James was in his thirties when he wrote this, that in his youth he had faced and articulated an identity crisis ”of honest and desperate depth, and that he became the Psychologist-Philosopher of American Pragmatism only after having experimented with a variety of cultural, philosophic, and national identity elements: the use in the middle of his declaration of the untranslatable German word “ueberhaupt” is probably an echo of his conflictful student days in Europe.
One can study in James’s life history a protracted identity crisis as well as the emergence of a “self-made” identity in the new and expansive American civilization. We will repeatedly come back to James, but for the sake of further definition, let us now turn to a statement which asserts a unity of personal and cultural identity rooted in an ancient people’s fate. In an address to the Society of B’nai B’rith in Vienna in 1926, Sigmund Freud said:
What bound me to Jewry was (I am ashamed to admit) neither faith nor national pride, for I have always been an unbeliever and was brought up without any religion though not without a respect for what are called the “ethical” standards of human civilization. Whenever I felt an inclination to national enthusiasm I strove to suppress it as being harmful and wrong, alarmed by the warning examples of the peoples among whom we Jews live. But plenty of other things remained over to make the attraction of Jewry and Jews irresistible – many obscure emotional forces, which were the more powerful the less they could be expressed in words, as well as a clear consciousness of inner identity, the safe privacy of a common mental construction. And beyond this there was a perception that it was to my Jewish nature alone that I owed two characteristics that had become indispensable to me in the difficult course of my life. Because I was a Jew I found myself free from many prejudices which restricted others in the use of their intellect; and as a Jew I was prepared to join the Opposition and to do without agreement with the “compact majority.”
No translation ever does justice to the distinctive choice of words in Freud’s German original. “Obscure emotional forces” are “dunkle Gefuehlsmaechte”; the “safe privacy of a common mental construction” is “die Heimlichkeit der inneren Konstruktion”- not just “mental,” then, and certainly not “private,” but a deep communality known only to those who shared in it, and only expressible in words more mythical than conceptual.
These fundamental statements were taken not from theoretical works b, but from special communications: a letter to his wife from a man who married late, an address to his “brothers” by an original observer long isolated in his profession. But in all their poetic spontaneity they are the products of trained minds and therefore exemplify the main dimensions of a positive sense of identity almost systematically. Trained minds of genius, of course, have a special identity and special identity problems often leading to a protracted crisis at the onset of their careers. Yet we must rely on them for formulating initially what we can then proceed to observe as universally human.