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Remen, S. (1991). Anti-Semitism: A Disease of the Mind, by Theodore Isaac Rubin, M.D.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 51(1):83-86.
(1991). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 51(1):83-86
Anti-Semitism: A Disease of the Mind, by Theodore Isaac Rubin, M.D.
Review by: Stephen Remen, M.D.
Theodore Isaac Rubin's psychoanalytic study of the roots and dynamics of anti-Semitism is a welcome addition to a corpus of literature which, until now, has failed to adequately explain this affliction that not only has wreaked destruction upon its intended victims, Jews, but also has had devastating effects upon the lives of those people who suffer from this emotional malignancy. Dr. Rubin stresses that anti-Semitism is an emotional illness and is not the province of any particular religion. He states that “it is not possible for a Christian to be an anti-Semite or an anti-Semite to be a Christian.”
Symbol sickness is the name that Dr. Rubin gives to the core dynamics of the pathological process known as anti-Semitism. He makes it clear that symbol sickness is not unique to anti-Semitism. It is characteristic of all emotional illness.
Dr. Rubin points out that the non-pathological use of symbols distinguishes human beings from the other species. The constructive and creative use of symbols is widespread throughout the entire range of human functions and activities: thinking, talking, relating, inventing, calculating, and feeling—communicating in general.
Symbols may be simple or complex, almost concrete or abstract. The meaning of symbols may be altered by culture, society, individual experience, moods, events, and many other factors.
There is always some gap between the symbol and the object for which it stands. That signifying function is the purpose of the symbol to begin with—intellectual and emotional shorthand and elaboration.
The problem arises when the gap between the object and its representative symbol becomes so great that the original connection between them is totally eradicated. The symbol then may take on a life of its own, and its meaning becomes so distorted, that it may even represent the very antithesis of the essence of its original object. It may then point to the destruction of that object. This is what has occurred in anti-Semitism.
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