Culture > Jewish Culture, Humour, Cuisine and Religions > Jewish Humour and Cuisine
Freud, Jewish neuroticism and other stereotypes
I was depressed…I was suicidal; as a matter of fact, I would have killed myself but I was in analysis with a strict Freudian and if you kill yourself they make you pay for the sessions you miss.
- Woody Allen
"I can't kvetch!"
Moishe Cohen, one of the richest guys of the Lower East Side, had to go into the hospital for a week. So he booked himself into one of the best hospitals in Florida. Within a couple of days he moved to a small downtown Brooklyn hospital.
One of the doctors in this hospital asked what was wrong with the first hospital."Was the medical care not good enough?"
"No - the medical care was the best available. I couldn't complain".
"Was the nursing care OK?"
"Yes - the nursing care was brilliant. I couldn't complain".
"What about the food and the wards?"
"The food was cordon bleu, fantastic, and the hospital rooms were perfect. I couldn't complain".
"So why did you leave there for here?" the doctor asked.
"Here, I can complain!"
Sigmund Schlomo Freud (May 6, 1856 – September 23, 1939), was a Jewish-Austrian neurologist who founded the psychoanalytic school of psychiatry. Freud is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and the defense mechanism of repression and for creating the clinical practice of psychoanalysis for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient (technically referred to as an "analysand") and a psychoanalyst. As a medical researcher, Freud was an early user and proponent of cocaine as a stimulant as well as . He wrote several articles on the antidepressant qualities of the drug and he was influenced by his friend and confidant Wilhelm Fliess, who recommended cocaine for the treatment of the "nasal reflex neurosis".
During the late 1890s Freud, who never abandoned his belief in the sexual etiology of neuroses, began to emphasize fantasies built around the Oedipus complex as the primary cause of hysteria and other neurotic symptoms. Despite this change in his explanatory model, Freud always recognized that some neurotics had in fact been sexually abused by their fathers.
According to Freud neurosis need not in every instance be seen as negative. A neurosis is the formation of behavioral or psychosomatic symptoms as a result of the return of the repressed. Freud writes that there are indeed cases in which the physician himself must admit that the solution of a conflict by a neurosis is one of the most harmless and most tolerable socially.
Freudian psychoanalysis refers to a specific type of treatment in which the "analysand" verbalizes thoughts, including free associations, fantasies, and dreams, from which the analyst formulates the unconscious conflicts causing the patient's symptoms and character problems, and interprets them for the patient to create insight for resolution of the problems. The specifics of the analyst's interventions typically include confronting and clarifying the patient's pathological defenses, wishes and guilt. Through the analysis of conflicts, including those contributing to resistance and those involving transference onto the analyst of distorted reactions, psychoanalytic treatment can clarify how patients unconsciously are their own worst enemies: how unconscious, symbolic reactions that have been stimulated by experience are causing symptoms.
When the patient reclines on a couch with the analyst out of view, the patient tends to remember more, experience more resistance and transference, and be able to reorganize thoughts after the development of insight – through the interpretive work of the analyst. Although fantasy life can be understood through the examination of dreams, masturbation fantasies are also important. The analyst is interested in how the patient reacts to and avoids such fantasies.
On average, classical analysis may last 5.7 years, but for phobias and
depressions uncomplicated by ego deficits or object relations deficits, analysis may run for a shorter period of time. Longer analyses are indicated for those with more serious disturbances in object relations, more symptoms, and more ingrained character pathology (such as obnoxiousness, severe passivity, or heinous procrastination).
Judaism, a monotheistic religion, and Jewish identity, a subjective culture and experience, are part and parcel of the history of psychoanalysis. Like Franz Kafka, Freud was confronted with the question of his Jewish identity—an affective dimension of Freud better reflected in his correspondence than in his scientific works.
"How comes it that none of the godly ever devised psychoanalysis and that one had to wait for a godless Jew?" Freud wrote to Oskar Pfister on October 9, 1918. Freud refused to affiliate psychoanalysis with Judaism, while recognizing that it was linked to a special "experience." Along with some of his students, Freud studied religious phenomena in the light of psychoanalysis, but the so-called "Jewish science" of psychoanalysis was in fact a scientific project.
Until he met Carl Gustav Jung in 1907, his first disciples were Jews who more or less inherited the de Judaization commenced by their fathers as they struggled to assimilate. Freud rejected the Jewish religion while being faithful to his Jewish identity by recognizing its contribution to certain aspects of psychoanalysis. On May 11, 1908, Freud, for whom Judaism was part of his racial heritage, commented to Karl Abraham, "The Talmudic way of thinking cannot disappear in us just like that." In fact, both Judaism and psychoanalysis teach the central importance of language and its effects.
Considering what the founder of psychoanalysis has recognized in Judaism as important to his affective and intellectual education, according to his own statements, it tries to demonstrate that the “roots” of errantry, nomadism and exile which single out the history of Jewish people, resound as an echo in the Freudian discovery. One hypothesis is that what makes up the Jewishness of Freud himself, causing him to exile himself from the Jewish religious majority, as well as the identifications given by other people about his Jewish circumstance, was manifested together with the invention of Psychoanalysis, the major expression of his making up a Jewish devenir.
Freud's theory of humor
In his view, jokes happen when the conscious allows forbidden thoughts which society suppresses.The superego allows the ego to generate humour. A benevolent superego allows a light and comforting type of humour while a harsh superego creates a biting and sarcastic type of humour. A very harsh superego suppresses humor all together. Freud’s humour theory was based on the dynamic among id, ego and superego. The commanding superego will impede the ego to continue its pleasure-seeking from the id, or to momentarily adapt itself to the demands of reality. Moreover Freud also contributes to the development of the relief theory of laughter in which he proposed that emotional energy is released by humour sense.
George Eman Vaillant, M.D. (born 1934) is an American psychiatrist and Professor at Harvard Medical School. He distinguishes four categories of defence mechanisms: psychotic (or pathological) defences, immature defences, neurotic defences and mature defences. Humour is a mature defence. "Overt expression of ideas and feelings (especially those that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about) that gives pleasure to others. Humour, which explores the absurdity inherent in any event, enables someone to "call a spade a spade"."
Neurotic Jews and other stereotypes
According to Freud, neuroses are manifestations or symptoms of anxiety-producing unconscious matter. Some thoughts are too painful to bear, but still they must find some expression. According to psychoanalytic theory, neuroses may be rooted in ego defense mechanisms, but the two concepts are not synonymous. Defense mechanisms are a normal way of developing and maintaining a consistent sense of self (i.e., an ego), while only those thought and behaviour patterns that produce difficulties in living should be termed neuroses.
Aaron T. Beck however, in his formulation of cognitive therapy, claims that a neurosis can be viewed as attempts to avoid the fear of punishment, rather than the punishment itself. So the neurotic never learns that his fears are unwarranted because avoiding fear of failure keeps the neurotic from experiencing both failure and success.
Advertisement on dating site from 25 year old man from Seattle, Washington:
"Neurotic jew seeks female who can tolerate him."
My life is rather insane. I had a very typical dysfunctional Jewish upbringing. I spend most of the day reading, both for work and for pleasure. Technology in all instances encompasses almost all aspects of my life. I, unfortunately, haven't dated very much for a variety of reasons. For one, I went to collage very early and all of the girls that I set my sights on were far older than me and had no interest in a young guy who hadn't sprouted, and possibly raised legal issues. Maybe I'm just very ugly and no one has the heart to tell me. I'm not very demanding. I love to talk and laugh. My sense of humor is offensive to most people so I tend to check it at the door unless I'm in a familiar crowd. I have a lot of friends, but I don't think of myself as a very social person. Most of my friends describe me as a young Woody Allen or Larry David, in the body of a football player, with the mind of a nerd. A proud nerd.
Susan Kaplan writes:
Every time you turn on the television, there they are. Jewish, neurotic guys whining about their relationship problems or their writer's block, kvetching about their parents and analyzing their struggles with commitment. Yet while they may have their annoying qualities, underneath they're mensches. They're caring, they ultimately do the right thing, and they're a lot more interesting than the Richie Cunning-ham-type characters of yore.
Meredith Berkman about Michael Steadman and other Jewish sitcom actors:
Of course, these new Jewish men are neurotic — but in these self-doubting times, neurotic is sexy. The Jewish man, once the butt of his own jokes, is now an appealing combination of intelligence, wit, and not-so-subtle sensuality. Suddenly, it's hip to be insecure. And guess what? These self-deprecating guys have the ''shiksa goddesses'' to prove it — what some might see as a sure sign of Jewish male success.
Is neuroticism a typical Jewish thing?
Or is it a stereotype, and maybe even a self-fulfilling prophecy? I don't know, but what I do know is that Jewish-American writers and comedians in general aren't trying very hard to get rid of that stereotype. Despite the frequent, conspiracy theory-steeped accusations of Jews having a media takeover, it’s quite a wonder that the portrayals of Jews, including Jewish-Americans, are not exactly the most flattering.
The Jewish mother or wife stereotype is a common stereotype and stock character used by Jewish comedians and authors, usually when discussing their , whether fictionally or not. The stereotype generally involves a nagging, overprotective, manipulative, controlling, smothering, and overbearing mother or wife, one who persists in interfering in her children's lives long after they have become adults. Lisa Aronson Fontes describes the stereotype as one of "endless caretaking and boundless self-sacrifice" by a mother who demonstrates her love by "constant overfeeding and unremitting solicitude about every aspect of her children's and husband's welfare[s]".
The association of this otherwise gender stereotype with Jewish mothers in particular, is, according to Helmreich, because of the importance that is traditionally placed by Judaism on the home and the family, and on the role of the mother within that family. Judaism, as exemplified by the Talmud (e.g. the Woman of Valor) and elsewhere, ennobles motherhood, and associates mothers with virtue. This ennoblement was further increased by poverty and hardship of Eastern European Jews immigrating into the United States (during the period 1881–1924, when one of the largest waves of such immigation occurred), where the requirements of hard work by the parents were passed on to children via guilt: "We work so hard so that you can be happy." Other aspects of the stereotype are rooted in those immigrant Jewish parents' drive for their children to succeed, resulting in a push for perfection and a continual dissatisfaction with anything less: "So you got a 98? Who got the 100?" Hartman observes that the root of the stereotype is in the self-sacrifice of first-generation immigrants, unable to take full advantage of American education themselves, and the consequent transference of their aspirations, to success and social status, from themselves to their children. A Jewish mother obtains vicarious social status from the achievements of her children, where she is unable to achieve such status herself.
Jewish Princess is a stereotypical pejorative characterization of a subtype of women. The term implies materialistic and selfish tendencies, attributed to a pampered or wealthy background. Viciousness, greed, arrogance, vanity, social-dominance, inability to do minor tasks (i.e. cooking, cleaning, laundry), fragility and dishonesty are also criteria.
The Nice Jewish boy is a stereotype of Jewish masculinity which circulates within the American Jewish community, as well as in mainstream American culture. In Israel and the parts of the Diaspora which have received heavy exposure to the American media that deploy the representation, the stereotype has gained popular recognition to a lesser extent.
The qualities ascribed to the nice Jewish boy are derived from the Ashkenazic ideal of edelkeit (either "nobility" or "delicateness" in Yiddish). According to Daniel Boyarin's Unheroic Conduct (University of California Press, 1997), edelkeit embraces the studiousness, gentleness and sensitivity said to distinguish the Talmudic scholar and make him an attractive marriage partner.
Battling Stereotypes of the Jewish Mother
One woman confronts a stereotype to which she herself might be subject--and learns about protecting her children from stereotypes.
By Dr. Paula Hyman
When I was growing up, the last thing I wanted was to be a Jewish mother. Not that I planned to be childless. It was just that I feared that as I acquired children I might also acquire the characteristics of the stereotypical Jewish mother--in particular, a domineering personality and a neurotic over-involvement with my children, a kind of obsession with mothering that American culture found alternatively ludicrous and destructive. I resolved my "Jewish mother" problem in a double process: first, by becoming a mother myself and, almost simultaneously, by studying the history of Jewish women and the emergence in the past 30 years of the very stereotype of the Jewish mother that had so appalled me. Confronting that stereotype--as well as other unflattering images of Jews, from the Jewish American princess to the materialistic, vulgar, and stingy Jews of anti-Semitic lore--is an important process for Jewish parents.
Protecting & Teaching Our Children
These stereotypes affect us as parents in several ways. Most obviously, we seek to protect our children from them. But we Jewish parents do have to prepare our children for the possibility of anti-Semitic incidents, as rare as they may be in the circles in which we move. And, at a later stage, our children will have to try to understand why Jews have been, for so much of our history, the victims of hatred and the models for denigrating stereotypes.
In my experience, at least, it has always been possible to neutralize the persecution of the Jews or turn the subject into a teaching device about the dark underside of intergroup relations. Hanukkah and Pesach [Passover], after all, do celebrate Jewish triumphs; and it is the opponents of the Jews who can be dismissed for their brutality and intolerance.
More difficult for parents is the way our own reactions to Jewish stereotypes influence our behavior. It is easy to deal with the Hanukkah and Pesach stories; it is even easy to deal with the existence of anti-Semitism. It is far more difficult to come to terms with stereotypes toward which we ourselves feel ambivalent.
The Jewish Mother Comes to America
The "Jewish mother" stereotype is a case in point. It is only in the past generation that the Jewish mother has emerged as a derisive character. In Eastern Europe and in the immigrant centers of America, she was celebrated by her children in song and story. The precipitous decline of her image reflects first and foremost a shift in the criteria for evaluating what makes a good mother.
It is according to middle class, mid-20th-century American standards that the Jewish mother fails to meet the test. At the very least, we must recognize that our acceptance of the stereotype involves a rejection, perhaps unconscious, of traditional Jewish family values in favor of middle-class American norms. Certainly in the case of the authors and comedians who exploited the stereotype, fixation with the faults of the Jewish mother signaled a deep-seated sense of not being fully at home in American society. What better way to compensate (or over-compensate) for this unease than to lay the blame for incomplete assimilation at the feet of their Jewish mothers?
The Jewish mother stereotype arose only in part from the application of American standards to traditional Jewish cultural behavior. It also originated in the social situation of a second generation of Jewish mothers in America. While they patterned their intense life style of mothering after their immigrant mothers, they lived in an environment that made fewer demands on their time than had their mothers' more straitened economic circumstances.
And there were few acceptable outlets for their energy other than concern for home and children. Paradoxically, the "Jewish" intensity of the mother-child bond may thus have been heightened at the very time when many American Jews were most anxious to feel themselves fully American and least Jewish or immigrant in their behavior. Hence, the extreme sensitivity to neurotic aspects of the Jewish mother.
The Truth Behind the Caricature
The popularity of the particular comic stereotype lies in its recognizable kernel of truth. Eastern European Jewish culture did foster an intense style of mothering, which was reinforced by the physical and psychological insecurity of life in the shtetl [the small-town or village community of Jews in Eastern Europe] and later in the immigrant ghettos. Not only was it a style of mothering appropriate to its surroundings, it also served to equip the children for survival, even for success, in an environment that was often hostile.
Whatever the merits of this mothering style, to a generation of women raised on a combination of popular Freudianism and feminist concepts of self-fulfillment, the "Jewish mother" is hardly a model to emulate. On the one hand, she damages her children, denying them the independence necessary for healthy development, at least as defined by our psychologists. On the other hand, apart from her role as mother, she has no sense of worth, at least as defined by contemporary feminism.
Intellectually and emotionally, then, it is hard for us not to accept the partial truth of the stereotype. But it is important to realize that the stereotype is exaggerated and divorced from the cultural context in which our Jewish mothers and grandmothers functioned. In assenting to that exaggeration, we alienate ourselves not only from our past as history but also from our past as a source of cultural continuity.
The stereotype makes us self-conscious: Since we don't want to be "Jewish mothers," we hold ourselves back from the kind of behavior satirized in the caricature. When we find ourselves, despite our best intentions, behaving "just like a Jewish mother," we condemn ourselves for doing so. The stereotype can thus influence our relationship with our children as well as our self-evaluation as parents.
Superwoman: An Alternative Stereotype
Another stereotype that crops up increasingly as the two-career family comes into its own is the "Eshet hayil" stereotype, or, in American terms, the superwoman image. The poem "Eshet Hayil" ([Proverbs 31:10-31], which many traditional men recite to their wives on Friday night before Kiddush) praises the "Woman of Valor" who is a successful businesswoman, nurtures and feeds her family, sews their clothes, gives charity, and dispenses wise advice.
The question for many of us who are participating in a two-career family is how to provide healthy models for the family work distribution. We are in a time of transition in which we are not satisfied with the roles our mothers played and have not yet fully discovered how to do the thing better. All too often when women decide to embark on a career, it simply means that now, instead of being responsible for the housekeeping, laundry, cooking, clothes buying, and general welfare of their families, they are also responsible for their new careers and the housekeeping, laundry, etc.
How does a couple truly share household tasks? How does a couple convey to their child the notion that men and women can share nurturing roles as well as housekeeping responsibilities? How can we avoid, for ourselves, in our own minds, the Eshet hayil stereotype? Certainly, what we don't want to do is trade in the Jewish mother stereotype for the Eshet Hayil stereotype.
Transcending Stereotypes & Learning From Them
Understanding the sources of the stereotype prepares the way for a reexamination of traditional Jewish mothering, for a liberation of the real Jewish mother from the stereotype. To paraphrase a truism in immigrant history, what the child wants to forget, the grandchild is eager to remember. If the Jewish family has been a source of stability in Jewish life as well as the launching pad for Jewish social mobility, the nature of Jewish involvement with children has been at the center of the family.
Only when the stereotype of the Jewish mother is exposed as the caricature that it is can we recognize and integrate into ourselves the positive aspects of the Jewish mother. Her warmth, her involvement with her children, her ability to convey to them that they are marvelous and special, are talents that we would do well to foster in ourselves. These are characteristics that we can develop even if we reject the limitation of the Jewish mother's role to mothering and choose to combine mothering with a career. They "travel well," whatever our social circumstances.
We are fortunate to live at a time when ethnic and cultural differences are celebrated rather than suppressed. If, as Jewish parents, we are, in fact, more exuberant, more aggressively involved with our children than others, we need not despair. The culture of Jewish parenting is still basically a healthy one in which we take pride and which we can present to the world as a model for others to emulate.