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'Hear O Israel'

The 'Impossible Profession' of Jewish Faith

Howard Cooper

In one of his last dense, dark essays (‘Analysis Terminable and Interminable’ (1937)) Freud offered, almost as an aside (a moment of gloom? an old man’s wry self-deprecation?), a remark which has haunted the psychoanalytic community ever since: ‘It almost looks as if analysis were the third of those ‘impossible’ professions in which one can be sure beforehand of achieving unsatisfying results. The other two, which have been known much longer, are education and government.’

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The Challenge of Living with Multiple Identities

'Does Monotheism Breed Monomania?'

Howard Cooper

My specific self-questioning title for this evening – 'Does Monotheism Breed Monomania?' – which I hope is both playful and provocative, has emerged from the conversation inside me between two of these identities, as it were. The dialogue within me between the analyst immersed in particular traditions of thinking about the human mind and its unconscious processes – and the rabbi who is one link in a chain of a millennia-old Judaic cultural heritage which can be thought of as a 'concentric tradition of reading' (the phrase is George Steiner's) centred on the Torah, but spreading ever outwards, and involving a 'fidelity to the written word' from the sacred scriptures of tradition to the definitive so-called 'secular' texts of our own times, like Kafka or Freud, texts which have their own luminosity, perhaps even, at times, numinosity.

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Howard Cooper

Forty years later, I am asked – as a rabbi, a psychotherapist and, I suppose, as a longstanding (and, I now realise, embarrassingly frequent) contributor to the journal – to offer an overview of the way in which the theme of Judaism and Psychotherapy has been reflected within its pages over these years. And as I look back, imagining that this topic emerged only during the 1980s when three editions of the journal were dedicated to it, I open up again that first edition, from the summer of 1966, and read how Leslie Shepard, in his text Religion and the Affluent Society, is already writing about the shadow side of 'modern society' where 'the sweets have lost their flavour. There is fear, loneliness, frustration, emptiness, bitterness and despair. The psychoanalyst hears more of these things that the priest …' (Vol. 1, No. 1, p.13).

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Howard Cooper

I have been given the task of responding to this gift, this dream-work, and in starting in this personal way I am taking my cue from our speaker, who also began by opening out for us his own personal theological stance. It was, and is, the prism through which everything else is to be viewed. And because the light that he shone on to our theme was, and is, refracted through this personal prism, it deserves particular attention. It seems to me that this prism has several planes.

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Howard Cooper

The phenomenon we call scapegoating seems familiar, and we may think that as intelligent and benign folk we have a fairly secure grasp on our impulses to scapegoat others: that is, on our capacity to project some of the hidden, darker, more unpleasant aspects of ourselves onto other groups or individuals.

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Howard Cooper

He appeared at the end of the day. Suddenly. Out of nowhere. I had seen my last patient. I was ready to go home. The end of another day. Thank God. I opened the door to leave my consulting room – and there he was. Standing still, staring – or so it seemed to me – fixing me with that gaze, that look I came to know, and hate. And love. Those eyes which looked inside me until I could not bear it any longer. The emptiness. The loneliness. The endless horror of it all.

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Fifty Years On

The Limitations of André Schwarz-Bart's The Last of the Just

Howard Cooper

The article takes André Schwarz-Bart's 1959 novel The Last of the Just as the starting point for an exploration of the trope of 'Jews are eternal victims of (Christian) anti-Semitism' and the theological question of suffering as part of God's plan for the Jewish people. The role of Jewish anger, conscious and unconscious, in relation to both themes is discussed, and linked to contemporary political questions in regard to Israel-Palestine. The history of the 'thirty-six Just Men' (lamedvovniks) is reviewed; and questions are raised as to whether, since the Shoah, the Judaic myth of salvation has been transferred from a deity to a land and a state.

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Chance, Fate, Luck

How the History of the World Turned on the Randomness of a Sunny Morning One Hundred Years Ago

Howard Cooper

A series of random, chance and synchronous events between 10:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. on 28 June 1914 catalysed the world into a war, the reverberations of which are still with us. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his young wife by a Bosnian Serb unfolded through a sequence of unpredictable events, the absence of any one of which would have led history off into another direction. Although history is often thought about as if what actually happened had to happen – what Henri Bergson termed 'the illusions of retrospective determinism' – the events of that sunny June day belie that view. When in the Torah (Numbers 20) Moses strikes the rock, rather than speaking to it, there is a mystery involved as to why he acted as he did. But that moment sealed his fate. Acts which might seem insignificant at the time can have consequences, for us, our society, our world, that can never be imagined at the time – for good and for bad.

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Howard Cooper

This is a personal essay on Rabbi Lionel Blue and his idiosyncratic relationship to God. Although he had a first-class mind, Lionel Blue thought the mind was limited in relation to religious experience, and that Jews couldn't and shouldn't trust in material things, but had to learn to trust the intangibility of the spirit. Everyday life was a vehicle for holiness: food, cooking, religious items of the home were all valued, as was humour as a way of conveying religious truths. He was a religious pragmatist, finding out what works religiously and using that, rather than relying on tradition. His focus was on the everyday realities of people's lives rather than abstract theology.

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Howard Cooper

There are many approaches to reading the Hebrew Bible, from the pietistic in both Jewish and Christian traditions to the scholarly. Gabriel Josipovici’s approach is not about seeking the reductive ‘meaning’ of a text, but encouraging readers into an open relationship with the text in order to preserve the ambiguities and mysteries that adhere to such texts. Joseph’s encounter with an unnamed stranger in Genesis 37 is used as an illustration of this approach. Standing ‘face to face’ with the text requires humility, and trust in the storyteller.