Jung and the Kabbalah: Dialogue

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For background to this dialog the reader may wish to look at some of the articles posted under: Jung and the Kabbalah. Listed there are previous publications and work in progress pertaining to the author's research on Carl Gustav Jung and Jewish Mysticism.


12-1-04 (1) Jung, Kabbalah, and the Nazis.  (2) Psychology and the Alter Rebbe: Dialogs with Nachshon Zohari 


Dear Dr. Drob,

I just finished reading your article Jung and the Kaballah.  I enjoyed it very much and I believe you are right on the money in your interpretation of the influence of Kaballah on Dr. Jung.  I am a psychotherapist and Chassidic Jew living and working in Denver, CO and have been combining Jungian and Kaballistic concepts with my clients for years with very positive results.  I have recognized their compatibility for a long time.  I am interested in knowing if you've ever learned the Tanya by the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.  I believe his exposition of the benoni, the intermediate man, and the struggles he encounters (and IY'H overcomes) are extremely pertinent and helpful in applying Kaballistic concepts in a psychotherapeutic setting.  If you had time it would be interesting to have a dialogue with you on this matter, but if you don't, I would still like to extend a yasher ko'ach to you and encourage you to continue your good work.

Kol Tov,

Nachshon Zohari, LCSW

Response of Sanford Drob


Thanks so much writing! Coincidentally I was working on finishing my book on Jung and the Kabbalah and listening to a shir on Chassidus on the "Tanya line" here in Brooklyn at around the same time you wrote me.

I am somewhat familiar with Tanya as I used to attend a shul in Park Slope, Brooklyn where the Rabbi (Shimmon Hecht) was from Chabad. I have a great deal of interest in Chabad thought, and I wrote about some of the issues your raise regarding the benoni etc. in an article  I wrote a number of years ago on Freud and Chasidus that I published in the Jewish Review and in my book Kabbalistic Metaphors, (Jason Aronson in 2000). I am particularly interested in the Chabad perspective on the coincidence of opposites, and indeed the shir I was listening to this morning was on this idea as it is expressed in Pirke Avot (where we are told of both the superiority of ha-olam haba (this world) and ha-olam ha-zeh (the world to come) I am certainly curious to hearing your thoughts on these matters as they relate to psychotherapy, etc. 

One of the problems I have had in completing my book on Jung is how to deal with his purported early anti-semitism and the optimism he had that Hitler and the Nazis would somehow catalyze the creative soul of the German people. I wonder if you had any thoughts on this.


From: Nachshon Zohari 12-2-04

Thanks so much for writing back.  I believe the most important thing to take away from the Alter Rebbe's exposition of the benoni [the “intermediate man” SD] is to accept that I am a benoni (not a tzaddik) and therefore struggle defines who I am as a human being.  Chassidus teaches that we should not be depressed by this thought, but rather, elevated and joyful.  Instead of berating myself over my "sinful" nature I can see myself engaged in a cosmic struggle. As I am sure you know, Yisroel means "struggles with G-d."  Chassidus teaches that if we truly want to win over the yetzer hara we must approach the battle with joy.  So many of my clients are ridden with guilt, regret, and despair but when I provide a Chassidc (Kaballistic) context for their lives I can see their eyes get wide with wonder and a new sense of hope.  I believe Nietzsche's statement, "If I have a why nothing can stop me," is so true.  Kaballah provides the "why," which is enough to keep most people going (and joyful) in their struggle.

In terms of Jung's attitude toward the Nazis I don't think there is any need to be apologetic for him.  Jung's life (as he would be the first to admit) was constantly evolving, and through his journey, he probably went down more than a few ill-advised paths.  I believe it is difficult to judge someone who lived through that time without being there oneself.  As the famous Milgram shock studies showed, even nice "normal" folk will savagely kill people under the right set of conditions.  The Nazis certainly took up all sorts of achetypical symbols in their quest to rouse the German people back to a place of pride after the loss of World War I and then the Great Depression.  If you've ever seen footage of the Nuremberg rallies you could see why someone like Jung would get excited about what was happening.  In my mind, the most important thing to know about a person is how does he react when he discovers that he is dead wrong about something.  Jung's changed attitude after the war, and the visions that resulted from his illness, shows me that he learned from his mistake. This then propelled him to a much higher place (which is the whole point of being born).

Kol Tov,



Dear Nachshon: Yashur koach! I love your concise formulations and while I believe the Jung problem is a bit more complicated than you say I am essentially in agreement with your formulation.



Re: Jung and the Kabbalah From Charles Coon 12/27/03


I just want to say once more how fortunate I feel to have discovered your New Kabbalah website.  I am relatively new to Kabbalah and find your depth and clarity to be wonderful… In reading your article on Jung and the Kabbalah I recalled Harold Bloom's writing in his recent Genius.  He says (p. 11) "Fierce originality is one crucial component of literary genius, but this originality itself is always canonical, in that it recognizes and comes to terms with precursors."  His statement seems applicable to Carl Jung, with reference to Jung's effort to be original in the face of his debt to the Kabbalah.  In other of Bloom's works he seems to be saying that originality is extremely difficult in light of a strong literary precursor.  I guess that's it for now.  Again, Dr. Drob, many thanks for your website.


Charlie Coon


Response 12/28

Thanks for your interest and comments. Jung had a complex relationship with a number of literary and philosophical precursors, including Nietzsche, Plato, Kant, the Gernan Romantics, Hegel, as well as those he openly recognized such as the alchemists. What I have tried to do in a series of papers, most of which are not posted on my website, is to demarginalize the Kabbalah as an influence on Jung, and to show why Jung would have been particularly anxious about such an influence prior to World War II. After the war, he was much more open to Jewish mysticism, writing about his Kabbalistic visions and stating in an interview on his 80th birthday that the Hasidic rabbi, the Maggid of Mesiritch actually anticipated his entire work.  This is interesting to me because the Maggid and other Hasidim psychologized the Kabbalah in much the same way as Jung psychologized alchemy  (and insofar as alchemy itself was greatly influenced by the Kabbalah--see the work of Raphael Patai--Jung thereby also psychologized the Kabbalah). I do not, however believe either that psychology is the only or necessarily the best way of comprehending the Kabbalah, or that the Kabbalah is the only or necessarily best way to understand the development of Jung. The influences are convoluted and complex--and when we look at Jung, we can begin to see how any one thinker is indebted to the entire fabric of western  (and in Jung's case parts of Eastern) thought, and that a thinker's originality consists in how that fabric is folded, twisted and turned. Although my more orthodox or fanatical friends don't like it went I say this, the Kabbalah too is a fabric of influences, some Jewish, Greek, Gnostic and beyond. My own interpreation of the Kabbalah is that humankind completes creation and God Himself  (Tikkun ha-Olam) in part through the great dialog that is the history of ideas, and that by participating in that history we can grasp something of the divine.

Sanford Drob


From: Charles Coon 12/31/03 Dear Sanford:


One more quick comment on the Jung issue.  I suppose that all of the "influences" one is exposed should be considered, in a real sense, as "raw materials" which we use in our creative endeavors. 

The Lurianic Kabbalah is treated in detail in Sanford Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors .

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All material on New Kabbalah website (c) Sanford L. Drob, 2001-4.


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