The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Erich Neumann’s Gendered Reading of Hasidic Texts

According to T. Kauffman (2014), "The scholarly discussion regarding Hasidism and gender is not sufficiently developed, especially regarding its symbolic, theological and theoretical aspects (as opposed to its historical dimensions)." This lecture will highlight the contribution of Erich Neumann, the German-born philosopher and depth psychologist, to the emerging discourse on Hasidism and gender. After making aliya in 1933, Neumann devoted the first stage of his career to the study of Hasidism and the Jewish psyche. A dedicated disciple of C.G. Jung, Neumann later authored well-known texts in depth psychology, including The Great Mother and Amor and Psyche. For reasons that remain unclear, Neumann decided not to publish his early Jewish studies and it was only in 2019 that this research was finally published as The Roots of Jewish Consciousness. In this lecture, we will use these newly-available texts to analyze Neumann`s claim that Hasidism embodies a feminine dimension that offers a "saving countermovement" against the "danger of sterile encapsulation in pure rationalism." To this end, we will critique Neumann`s interpretation of the Kabbalistic symbol of Adam Kadmon as an early archetype of the contemporary Self and his claim that this hemaphroditic icon foreshadows the integration of "feminine" and "masculine" qualities in the modern process of individuation. For Neumann, the Hasidic movement represents a veritable "Copernican Revolution" in the realm of the human psyche, a revolution that effectively "decentered" the ego and repositioned it as a dependent satellite in orbit around the larger Self. The lecture will argue that this paradigm shift in which a "relational autonomy" replaces the hithertofore absolute sovereignty of the autonomous subject constellates a new worldview that is more consistent with the intuitions and formulations of feminist thinkers.