Petra Marquardt-Bigman’s critique of Lerman’s recent work is here.
“What has gone wrong with the Jewish journey from genocide in Europe to what Israel is today?”
Let us not forget, that the same question was asked by liberals and non-liberals in the nineteenth century to explain how it could be that a people who had been emancipated and brought into the bosom of civilization could still exhibit “negative” Jewish traits. More often than not, the question and the answer provided took the form of,
“a psychological link between past trauma and present brutality.”
It was this “psychological link” that sought to explain the idea that it was because of their prior exclusion in the ghetto that “the Jew could not be but “immoral”, “unethical”, “liars”, “cheats”, “dirty”., etc. etc.. Leaving the anti-Jewish tropes in place, these alleged negative images, fixed them all the more firmly under the label of a “psychological” condition of Jewishness. Immoralty, etc. now became the inherent trait of “the Jew”. It was only a short step for the problem of the Jewish “head” to be inscribed in the problem of Jewish “blood”.
Equally interesting was the fact that this notion of a psychological “Jewishness” as the (“empirical”) foundation for the composite of negative traits that was said to make up the reality and actuality of “the Jew” was a line pushed most ardently by the established and assilimated Jews in the face of the embarassment brought about by the presence of the Ostjuden. The problem for the assimilated Jew, of course, was that people no longer compared them to their liberal (non-Jewish) brethren, but against the “mass” of their “backward” and “superstious” brethren from the East. The fear of loss of social status was palpable.
Needless to say, those assimilated Jews thought themselves adjusted and “healthy” and that the problem of “Jewishness” belonged to others.
The truth of the matter, as many historians of Jewish social and political history have noted, is that it was not the “backward and superstitious” who suffered from the tics of a psychological condition of “Jewishness” – they knew and relished their place as pariah – but those obsessed with differentiation (from the mass of Jews) and the acceptance which they craved – those thrown into the position of parvenu. It is, of course, true that they were forced into this role against their will (but which do not stop them they readily accepting it). Indeed, they were put into the position of playing an impossible game of showing to themselves and to others that they were both the “same” and “different” at one and the same time. In that situation it is hardly surprising that such a game which implied the constant fear of being associated with the Jewish mass, of being “like them” should not take its psychological toll, and, in its wake, bring forth an alternative, but more socially grounded, more individual, more persistent concept of “Jewishness” that came to determine their every action, both in relation to Jews and non-Jews.
And, in this context, is it not pertinent to note that, at a time when many a good liberal is seeking to make the Jew and the Jewish state a pariah, the parvenu’s voice joins the chorus and strives to sing the loudest?
In many schools of psychology and psychotherapy, it is encumbent for the therapist himself or herself to undergo the process themselves. If Lerman is going to continue in the present vein, maybe it is a piece of advice that he should take on board. After all, as he so often states, “denial” is a terrible thing.