Makers of Jewish Modernity – Freud – Princeton University Press

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)

Lydia Flem


When Sigismund Schlomo Freud turned seven, his father, Jakob, opened the family Torah for him. The biblical story he presented for Sigmund to read was from the remarkable bilingual German-Hebrew edition, the Israelitische Bibel. The stories in this edition were illustrated and included commentaries by the Reform rabbi Ludwig Philippson in the spirit of the Aufklärung, the Judaism of the En- lightenment. This exceptional version of the Bible is subtitled Den heiligen Urtext, and for Freud this first book of stories and images was a fundamental, founding text.

From the time he was nine and a half, when his maternal grandfather, Jakob Nathansohn, died, the archaeological engravings from Philippson’s Bible served as the backdrop to the only anxiety dream that Freud talked about and analyzed over thirty years later in The Interpretation of Dreams, the dream he called “beloved mother and bird-beaked figures.” On his thirty-fifth birthday, his father gave him the copy of his childhood Bible, newly rebound, or perhaps bound for the first time, for it is not impossible that Jakob Freud acquired this Bible in its first edi- tion, in fascicules, between 1839 and 1854. He added an inscription in Hebrew to this symbolic gift:

Son who is dear to me, Shelomoh. In the seventh in the days of the years of your life the Spirit of the Lord began to move you [Judges 13:25] and spoke within you: Go, read in my Book that I have written and there will burst open for you the wellsprings of understanding, knowledge, and wisdom. Behold, it is the Book of Books, from which sages have excavated and lawmakers learned knowl- edge and judgment [ Numbers 21:18]. A vision of the Almighty did you see; you heard and strove to do, and you soared on the wings of the Spirit [ Psalms 18:11]. Since then the book has been stored like the fragments of the tablets in an ark with me. For the day on which your years were filled to five and thirty I have put upon it a cover of new skin and have called it: ‘Spring up, O well, sing ye unto it!’ [Numbers 21:17] And I have presented it to you as a memorial and as a reminder of love from your father, who loves you with everlasting love. Jakob, Son of R. Shelomoh Freid [sic]. In the capital city Vienna, 29 Nisan [5]651, 6 May [1]1891. (….)”

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