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Kolbrener, W. (2010). Death of Moses Revisited: Repetition and Creative Memory in Freud and the Rabbis. Am. Imago, 67(2):243-262.

(2010). American Imago, 67(2):243-262

Death of Moses Revisited: Repetition and Creative Memory in Freud and the Rabbis

William Kolbrener

This article provides a Freudian reading of rabbinic representations of the death of Moses, but without the etiological baggage of Freud's own meditations in Moses and Monotheism. For the rabbis, the death of Moses was not the “murder” Freud constructed, and it led not to guilt and repression but rather to anxiety over the loss of the absolute certainty grounded in Moses' unique prophecy. Whereas for Freud Jewish guilt and the obsessive neurosis of ritual life find an antecedent in the repetitious enactment of the killing of Moses as the primal father, in the rabbinic view Moses' death constitutes a Judaism based not on repetition but on creative remembrance. Thus, the rabbinical response to the death of Moses forms a precursor to psychoanalysis, entailing a “hermeneutics of mourning” that highlights the need for remembrance and creative differentiation in the face of loss.

“Learning mourning may be the achievement of a lifetime.”

—Stanley Cavell, In Quest of the Ordinary

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