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Eisenstein, A. Rebillot, K. (2002). Midrash and Mutuality in the Treatment of Trauma: a Joint Account. Psychoanal. Rev., 89(3):303-317.

(2002). Psychoanalytic Review, 89(3):303-317

Midrash and Mutuality in the Treatment of Trauma: a Joint Account

Ann Eisenstein, CSW and Kathryn Rebillot, CSW

The practice of midrash, or the art of creating legends, originated in the early centuries of the Common Era. The rabbis were an elite group of scholars who were highly respected and served as the semiautonomous governing body of the Jews in Palestine during the reign of the Roman Empire. They believed that the Bible was written by God and was a veritable gold mine of meaning and wisdom. In the context of this belief system, the legends that they wove around the original biblical stories were sometimes designed to redress something that the rabbis found ambiguous or disturbing in the Holy Scriptures. God's behavior was often questionable, and human characters were often dysfunctional and nasty to each other. This was especially distressing when the characters were the idealized ancestors of the Jewish people, such as Abraham or Moses. These legends became widely known and were themselves studied, interpreted, and ultimately considered part of the sacred canon. In this way, the then-contemporary understanding of the biblical text was shaped. The reader's understanding of the biblical stories was actually transformed by these familiar, interpretive legends, or midrashim.

In one traditional midrash, there is an elaboration of the story in Genesis of Abraham's banishment of his concubine, Hagar, and their son, Ishmael. In this midrash, Abraham figures out a way of tracking Ishmael down in case he wishes to find him in the future, and, indeed, he later intervenes indirectly and anonymously to counsel and provide materially for Ishmael.

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