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Naftalin, M. (1958). Footnote to the Genesis of Moses. Psychoanal Q., 27:403-405.

(1958). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 27:403-405

Footnote to the Genesis of Moses

Moses Naftalin, M.D.

In Moses and Monotheism Freud wrote under the heading, The Progress in Spirituality (Section II, Subsection IV): 'If we may trust to language, it was the movement of the air that provided the image of spirituality, since the spirit borrows its name from the breath of wind (animus, spiritus, Hebrew ruach = smoke). The idea of the soul was thus born as the spiritual principle in the individual.'

My attention was attracted in this passage to '… Hebrew ruach = smoke'. An elementary knowledge of Hebrew would lead one to question the translation ruach = smoke, and it must be assumed that Freud had this knowledge and knew that ruach means breath or spirit. It is repeatedly met with in the early Hebrew education of a boy brought up in an orthodox environment, and is found in Genesis, I: 2, 'ruach Elohim', meaning 'the spirit of God'. In Yiddish, ruach is commonly used with the meaning 'demon-spirit'. A Hebrew dictionary gives the following definitions: breath, air, wind, breeze, breath of life, spirit, soul, bad demon.

Why did Freud translate ruach as 'smoke' when the literal translation, breath, spirit, air, soul would have corresponded exactly with animus, spiritus, and would have lent confirmation to his thesis? It then occurred to me that Freud made the association ruach (Hebrew) with Rauch (German) which is 'smoke', and that the association was based on the similarity of sound since there is no connection etymologically between the Hebrew ruach and the German Rauch.

I was sceptical, as would Freud himself have been, about an absence of meaning in this error.

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