Talmudic, Psychoanalytic Viewpoints Explored

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The title — “A Talmudist and a Psychoanalyst Walk into a Bar …” — sounds like the setup for a joke, but the planned lecture to come will discuss serious issues.

The fifth annual Jewish Thought and Psychoanalysis lecture, slated for 7 p.m. on May 14 at Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, will explore the similarities and differences between a Talmudic and a psychoanalytic approach to life experiences.

Harvey Schwartz, a longtime practicing psychiatrist in the Philadelphia area, will present the psychoanalytic side, while the Talmudic side will be explored by Ruth Calderon, a former Knesset member who was deputy speaker of the Knesset for the Yesh Atid party. She also founded the Alma nonprofit for teaching Hebrew culture and was appointed head of the National Library of Israel’s culture and education department.


Harvey Schwartz | Photo provided

“Hopefully, it will be an engaging conversation,” said Schwartz, who met Calderon through his brother Larry, founder of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality in New York City.

Schwartz’s discussion will focus on the psychoanalytic belief that life events come in layers and are interrelated to each other. Psychoanalysis studies the effects of the unconscious mind on behavior and mental health.

Calderon said she will discuss the lead tale from her 2014 book, A Bride for One Night: Talmudic Tales. The story is about a rabbi who would travel to different cities and look for a woman who would marry him. He’d marry the woman, sleep with her that night — then divorce her in the morning.

“I’ll tell the story of what happens to the woman,” she said. “I try to give voice to the woman.”

Schwartz is likely to apply a psychoanalytic perspective to those stories, exploring the motivations of these characters.

Ruth Calderon | Photo provided

Schwartz noted that Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was a secular Jew, but also was a B’nai B’rith member as well as a Zionist. He said Jews have long taken an interest in mental health.

“Everyone knows the percentage of Jews in the mental health profession goes way beyond the percentage of Jews in the population,” he said.

The lecture won’t take the form of a debate — there will be no “winner,” Schwartz said, just an exploration of two differing points of view, both of which have merit.

“One doesn’t go to a Talmud scholar when you have difficulties in your life,” Schwartz said. “We serve very different functions.”

Calderon said she’d be spending 10 days in the United States, with a visit to New York included. She noted that she visited BZBI in 2016 to lecture about her book and spent time in Philadelphia in 2017 as a scholar-in-residence at Adath Israel.

Teaching is Calderon’s forte, although she said she enjoyed her time in the Knesset.

“I felt and still feel that the work I did as an educator, a Jewish educator, I did in the Knesset,” she said. “I felt it was part of my duty to go there.”

For videos of past lectures, which have included topics such as “Freud, Moses and the Holocaust” and “The Jewish Body Image and Psychoanalysis,” visit jewishthoughtandpsychoanalysis.com. Tickets to the event are $15, with students paying $5. 

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