Psychoanalysis and Kabbalah

psychoanalysis   |   Kabbalah   |   gender   |   mysticism   |   therapy
Years of Activity: 2015 - 2016

Research Status:

Not Active

Steering committee: Dr. Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel, Prof. Haviva Pedaya, Dr. Hani Biran


The profound questions posed by Kabbalah and psychoanalytic theory come into contact at critical junctures. The similarities between the two fields are especially noticeable with regard to poetic and mythic symbolism, the centrality of dream interpretation, erotic experience and expressions of sexuality in interpersonal dialogue and theosophy. The creative and healing potential of speech, as a means for connection and tikkun ("repair"), stand out in both Kabbalah and psychoanalysis. Another important similarity is the emphasis on the body function, the importance of semiotic memory, the sense of the "skin" and psychosomatic phenomena, alongside the notions of Shiur Qomah in the mystical and kabbalistic literature (the tradition of describing the Divine Body, from the Song of Songs, through the early Merkava mysticism, to medieval Kabbalah). Finally, we note the similarity between the attitudes towards the Other, exposed through the concept of the "Analytic Third" in psychoanalytic theory, and the centrality of the mystic’s personal connection to the Divine, on the one hand, and the sharp Otherness of the Divine, on the other hand, as reflected in the kabbalists’ descriptions of their mystical experience. Moreover, contemporary research displays a clear focus on the tension between psychoanalysis and gender and the encounter between diverse approaches within psychoanalysis itself: the British School and object relations, relational and intersubjective approaches, Kohut’s self psychology and Lacanian analysis, and more. Similarly, current research on Kabbalah proposes new views of the figure of the Shekhinah and its identity as mother, consort, and feminine subject, in contrast to her perception as a source of "absence" or "lack." Despite the similarities between these two fields and the light that Kabbalah sheds on psychoanalysis, and the possibility that Kabbalah can be elucidated by the insights of psychoanalysis, there are still definite gaps between them. Some of these gaps originate from the span of centuries that separate these two disciplines; others arise from the differences in their terminology and concepts.

This research group will examine the links and divergences between the world of Kabbalah and the world of psychoanalysis, with an emphasis on the ethical, gender-based, and interpersonal aspects stimulated by the encounter between them. The goal is to develop a language based on the connections and similarities between the two fields and to propose ways to bridge the gulf between them. The members of the group will look for ways in which Kabbalah and psychoanalysis can enrich each other, both in research and in practice and therapy.

All the participants in the group are women who engage in therapeutic professions, such as psychoanalysis, art therapy, social workers etc, and women from various fields in humanities; scholars of Kabbalah and literature, intellectuals, writers and performing artists.

The group aims to create an empowering space for women in which they can develop a multidisciplinary dialogue that leads to joint and multifaceted action, research, and writing on the subject. Another goal is to expand the discourse between the scholarly communities in Israel and abroad and expose them to new fields of study. This encounter will lead therapists to be aware of Jewish myths and the extensive realm of Kabbalah, while at the same time enriching Kabbalah scholars through engagement with female psychoanalytic issues in current therapy.

The group meets once a month. In the summer of 2015 we held a two-day workshop, in collaboration with the Elyachar Center at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. We hope that the work of the group will result in the publication of a collection of papers that reflect the discourse produced by the linkage between these fields and other disciplines, such as religious studies, anthropology, and gender studies.