Thursday, September 8, 2011

Elul 9: Vidui and The "Jewish Science"

Some of us pay professionals to listen to us because it helps us get in touch with ourselves and find ways to change our behavior. However, this is how Jews have approached teshuvah for hundreds of years.

Some have referred to psychoanalysis as "the Jewish science." And there is a good, historical reason for this, independent of the fact that it was pioneered by a Jewish doctor from Vienna, Sigmund Freud.

One of the things that we do, beginning with the recitation of the Selihot prayers during the week before Rosh Hashanah and most notably on Yom Kippur, is to confess our transgressions in public, aloud, together, with the words of the Vidui confessional prayer. Since I was very young, I have always been fascinated by this - beating our breasts, reciting out loud in public a litany of sins that few of us can claim to have personally committed (while assuming that SOMEBODY in the room has) in first-person plural forms: we have been guilty, we have cheated, we have stolen, etc. My Catholic friends might do this in private, but not the Jews! We're a community that runs on collective admission of guilt.

Freud himself was a secular Jew, but there is no question in my mind that having the patient speak to an unseen analyst echoes the Vidui experience. It is the oldest form of psychotherapy.

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