While the trip to Vienna and its purpose – treatment from "Herr Professor" – is reported in the published works of the Rashab's son, the 6th rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, and Chabad lore claimed the professor was Freud, the name of the professor was only revealed when the Reshimot (notebooks) of the 7th rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, were published posthumously in 1997.
But the identity of the professor as Sigmund Freud has been problematic for scholars, because no case file for the Rashab was found, and there is no conclusive evidence in Freud's writings to confirm the treatment.
Maya Balakirsky Katz, writing in the Association of Jewish Studies Review (April 2010) has done a masterful piece of historical research and shows that the Rashab did indeed seek out treatment from Sigmund Freud, but Freud referred the Rashab to another Viennese psychoanalyst , his close disciple Wilhelm Stekel, and consulted with Stekel on the case.
The Rashab reports being sexually molested by a male household servant from the time he was 5 or 6 years old until his marriage.
He also describes sexual liaisons he had with his sister-in-law; licentious sexual behavior of his brother, Rabbi Zalman Aharon; questionable sexual behavior of his wife; and his own frequent masturbation, sometimes carried out with his brother.
Here are excerpts from her article, An Occupational Neurosis: A Psychoanalytic Case History Of A Rabbi. References to page number in square brackets are mine:
In consultation with Sigmund Freud, the Viennese psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel (1868–1940) treated the first Jewish cleric known to undergo analysis, in 1903. According to the case history, published in 1908, a forty-two-year-old rabbi suffered from a Berufsneurose, an occupational neurosis associated with the pressures of his career. [p.1]…
The rabbi’s first dream took the form of a vivid military scene with soldiers in awkward poses, stretching their bayonets to mark their enemy and laughing deliriously. The leader of these soldiers seized the rabbi by his beard and demanded, “Why have you become so proud and will not have anything to do with me?” The dream was instigated by a “pornographic photograph” that the rabbi remem- bered in which a bayonet was pressed against a soldier’s penis. Stekel opined that the military leader in the dream formed a “condensation” figure—a single dream symbol that expressed the emotional content of several memories. The delirious military leader evoked both traumatic and repressed memories of a male servant, the rabbi’s brother, and a friend. The memories that followed the first dream thus were structured around the roles these three figures played in triggering the rabbi’s revelations about his early sexual experiences. Finally losing what appeared to be epic patience, the rabbi lashed out against “the cure,” a term of art that Stekel uses interchangeably with “psychoanalysis,” which the rabbi claimed was not helping in the least, but only making things worse.8
The next day, the rabbi revealed that a “man-servant,” whose tasks included watching over the rabbi in his boyhood, sexually molested him from the time he was “five or six” until his marriage, when “such things” became impossible. After retrieving the sexual trauma of his childhood, the rabbi divulged the details of the encounter, showing visible signs of emotional turmoil, and Stekel, in turn, recorded the sordid details of the encounter with clinical distance and graphic min- utiae. Stekel noted that the servant still lived in the rabbi’s house and that the rabbi still showed him great affection despite the fact that the man was frequently “rude and impertinent.” Despite their confusing sexual encounters, the rabbi “did not have the heart to be severe with him and much less to give him notice.”9 In line with psychoanalytic thought of the time, Stekel glides over the emotional conflict of traumatic memory under the premise that its discovery suffices for the patient’s recovery. Indeed, this memory of childhood sexual trauma unblocks “such a rich supply of source material that there was not enough time to discuss and incorpor- ate it all.” The rabbi admitted to masturbating since childhood, both alone and with his brother, a point that in 1903 signaled a possible cause of neurosis.10
These confessions led to the second character within the “condensation figure” represented by the tormenting soldier in the rabbi’s dream—the rabbi’s brother. The rabbi revealed that his brother, “a man-about-town and a ladies’ man—paid court to his [the rabbi’s] wife in a shocking manner.” The rabbi could not accuse them of anything definite and trusted his wife, but nevertheless, the rabbi chastised his brother for compromising his wife’s reputation. Further analysis uncovered that the real motivation for the rabbi’s jealousy toward his brother concerned not his own wife, but his brother’s wife. The brother, who married before the rabbi, habitually took the rabbi into his wife’s bedroom, “where he [the brother] displayed her in scant attire, with the idea of arousing him, and to hold his wife’s beauty before his eyes.” In his brother’s absence, the rabbi stayed with his sister-in-law, playing with her and “having fun” without getting carried away. In his characteristic dubious tone, Stekel offers a jus- tification in the rabbi’s own words: “They were all children in those days ...”11
Stekel’s inflammatory ellipses lead into the rabbi’s identification of the third character within the dream’s “condensation” figure—a male friend. The rabbi reminisced about a seaside resort where he and his young wife once spent a summer. The rabbi occasionally wrestled with the friend in the wife’s presence, and, after successfully pinning his friend on the floor with his knee, the rabbi tri- umphantly took his wife to bed. Stekel’s bold interpretation of the rabbi’s first dream is offered as “proof” of Stekel’s success as an analyst, as the interpretation led to the rabbi’s identification of the “core trauma” and the confession of a vivid sexual life. The rabbi was tormented day and night by the most unbridled fanta- sies: everything he saw, heard, read, and touched assumed sexual images. Stekel determined that this man, “who led such a pious and sequestered existence in real life, was in his fantasy life, the greatest Don Juan,” whose fantasies “would put even those of a Marquis de Sade in the shade.”12
The second dream’s setting was a sleeping compartment on a traveling train, which led to the admission that the rabbi harbored fantasies of being forced into a sexual liaison in a way that would exonerate him from the sin of adultery because it would be “an act performed against his will.” The rabbi explained that he knew of two possibilities by which he could remain true to the tenets of his religion while experiencing intercourse. In the first, a woman lying in the sleeping com- partment above him falls upon him in a way that might resemble coitus, a situation in which he could be an “unwilling” subject. In the second, he is attacked by robbers in a forest and the captain of the thieves holds a pistol to his breast, saying, “either you have intercourse with this woman who lies here before you, or I will shoot you.” In both cases, the rabbi could not be held accountable for his passive transgressions and thereby could achieve a measure of “pleasure without sin.”13
Stekel’s endeavors to account for two of the rabbi’s pathological behaviors through his interpretation of the second dream revealed that the rabbi suffered from a “traveling neurosis” (Reiseneurose), in which he was seized by a desire to travel at night by train and to walk in forests by day. “After three months an oppressive restlessness seizes him [the rabbi]; he cannot work any longer, and decides to go somewhere to consult some professor or visit some famous seaside health-resort ... . urged by the secret hope that a luscious lady would fall down on him from above.” Hence, Stekel interprets the dreamer’s anticipation of meeting a woman with whom he could have unwilling and unwitting—and hence free of sin—sex as the reason behind the rabbi’s real-life wanderings through forests and train travel. The rabbi harbored an obsessive desire for an illicit sexual experience, but he repressed this untenable desire into the unconscious, “masked by various more tenable desires, such as consultations with professors, visits to friends, trips to resorts, etc.” However, in Stekel’s estimation, the “primary motive, in fact, the only motive to these wishes, is the journey.” The rabbi “could not tolerate the spas for long, losing patience, and traveling further and as far as possible, always at night, and always in a sleeping-compartment.” Likewise, the second part of the fantasy with the sin-compelling robbers inspired the rabbi “to circle the forests for days while staying at a health-resort, always in the hope that circumstances might induce a sublime end to his innocence.”
Consequent analysis revealed that the woman in the rabbi’s train dreams triggered the memory of a “young, strikingly beautiful, and finely built woman,” resembling the housekeeper in the rabbi’s summer residence, who once extended her hand in greeting. The experience with a “foreign” woman left “a burning fire” in his left hand, and shortly afterward, he lost all sensation in that hand. Stekel records the rabbi’s fascination with travel in the rabbi’s own words: “Every time I get into a train, I think of this woman, and always hope that, by chance, she may one day share a compartment with me.” After this piecing together of details about the adult sexual fixation on the “foreign” servant and his pathological traveling, the rabbi’s left-hand numbness disappeared.
As Stekel described it, the analysis progressed rapidly, and the patient found boundless relief in being able at last to communicate unabashed, for the rabbi “did not have a single person whom he could speak about these things.”14
The third and final dream ties up the loose ends presented at the start of the case history, a performance so eloquent that it invites skepticism. Stekel assesses the value of the handwritten books that the brother demanded, to address the “deeper emotional regions.” The key to the rabbi’s obsession with the holy books lie in passages within them of a graphic sexual nature. Even when he was a child, scripture dealing with erotic life excited him, and “he pursued these portions of scripture in earnest.” The old manuscript contained significant details about the erotic symbolism found within the four letters of the divine name (YHWH), a staple of kabbalistic literature since the thirteenth century.15 Stekel concluded that the book symbolized the sexual rivalry between the rabbi and his brother, who taunted him both with the beauty of his sister-in-law and the unabashed courting of the rabbi’s wife.16 In Stekel’s interpretation, the rabbi’s real attachment to the book stemmed from his hermeneutical analysis of the sexual symbolism of the divine name. Stekel discovered that the rabbi always lost his train of thought and always halted at the name of God because “it brought the sexual symbolism of the four letters out of the unconscious and to the surface.” Stekel concludes, “His religious acts were imbued with a secret sexual symbolism. He halted—not without a deeper determination—in the middle of his speech. He [the rabbi] always halted at the word ‘YHWH’ because this word reminded him not only of his illicit thoughts, but of his inhibitions.”17 [p.3 - p.6]
In Stekel’s case history, other familial relationships besides that with the elder brother make a debut. These are revealed in the rabbi’s attraction to his brother’s wife, his confusion regarding his own wife, his incestuous thoughts about his sister, and even his incestuous feelings toward his mother. These appear to illustrate a complex interior life. Stekel never even men- tions the rabbi’s own role as a father, whose child is presumably susceptible to the “sexton in his father’s house” during his own extensive traveling. The most palp-able silence within the case history concerns the rabbi’s anger toward a father who left his child in the care of this “man-servant” on account of personal health and on behalf of the Jewish people. [p.18]…
R. Yosef Yitzchak writes that he always wished that his father had spent more time recounting his family history and the stories of other pious men, but it was not until RaSHaB was infirm in Vienna that RaSHaB began to experience vivid dreams in which the deceased R. Shmuel [his father, the 4th rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch] revealed family history. During the long walks through the forest “as per doctor’s orders,” RaSHaB, in turn, related these stories to his son. [p. 19]…
R. Yosef Yitzchak writes about his father’s two-year absence as an intensely painful time of isolation from his father: “My lifestyle during the course of those two years made me forget my earlier memories of my father” and “during my two bitter years I suffered greatly from this man [the servant Yosef Morde- khai in his grandmother’s house].” R. Yosef Yitzchak describes the time as years spent alone in his room crying without even the memory of his father to sustain him. The amnesia that he experienced during his father’s absence ended with his father’s return. The years of absence induce a selective amnesia and, in his “recollections,” R. Yosef Yitzchak’s narrative moves back and forth between R. Yosef Yitzchak’s “remembering” and “forgetting” over the two years, but “in the summer of 1889, in the space of one month, I became a different child. My father drew closer to me with a great intimacy so that I felt all the warmth of a father, all the love of a merciful father, and I would go to sleep with the thought that I too have a father and mother to which to say good- night. In the course of these two years I forgot the bitter conditions of the earlier life.”77
Freud considered hysterical amnesia a symptom of repression connected with childhood sexuality and the Oedipus complex, and R. Yosef Yitzchak’s narrative of father absence is sprinkled with accounts of the elderly servant. With his father and memory restored, however, R. Yosef Yitzchak finds himself eighteen months later paralyzed with fear when his father again falls severely ill. R. Yosef Yitzchak describes his pain and desperate intercession with God on his father’s behalf, so that when RaSHaB rises from the sick bed, R. Yosef Yitzchak writes, “With God’s mercy and with the positive turn of the situation, my father’s [return to] health became recognizable before all and not only for our family but also for our helpers and all the people who came to our courtyard ... Even Yosef Mordekhai, the old servant, had a different countenance and his perpetual bitterness subsided.”78 [p. 21-22]…
As the author notes, Chabad has claimed for more than 65 years that the Rashab went to a famous Viennese professor for psychoanalysis in 1903.
But there are references Stekel makes that are incorrect.
The Rashab's age at marriage, cited by Stekel as 18 when the actual age was 13, could be a simple typographical or transcription error. (That can be seen from the Rashab's repeated statement, quoted by Steckel in reference to the sexual interplay between the Rashab, his sister-in-law, Rabbi Zalman Aharon and the Rashab's wife, the masturbation, etc., that “they were all children in those days ...” Stekel quotes this several times but doesn't attempt to explain how 18 to 20 year olds could be referred to as children in 1903, which leads me to believe Stekel's handwritten notes or manuscript had the numeral "13" written, and that was read by his publisher as "18.")
The second error is "Stekel's report about the rabbi's daughter, whom the rabbi purportedly sent to Stekel five years after his own successful treatment. In fact, RaSHaB did not have a daughter."
This is true, the Rashab did not have a legitimate daughter. But he may have had an illegitimate daughter, or, much more likely, the reference is to a niece or a granddaughter. If the latter, it would be most likely be Chana, his oldest granddaughter, who would have been a teenager in 1908.
Maya Balakirsky Katz has done groundbreaking research that, among many other things, shows the devastating long-lasting impact of child sexual abuse even in rabbinic families, and the need for therapy to overcome that damage.
If nothing else, lets hope the haredi community takes that message to heart.
Photographs from top: The Rashab, his son the Rayyatz, and Wilhelm Stekel.