Judaism and Psychology

Jews have engaged with and steered psychological inquiry since its inception.

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Issues in Jewish Psychology Today

Some Jews have since seized upon the insights of modern psychology to address issues of mental illness in the Jewish community. Their specifically Jewish psychology infuses a scientific understanding of the functioning of the mind and emotions with an appreciation of God and Jewish history.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski, for example, has done much to educate these communities about addiction and domestic abuse, even drawing specific parallels to the practices of Alcoholics Anonymous and wisdom in the Talmud. Other practitioners like Rabbi Harold Kushner and Dr. Joyce Brothers have applied Jewish wisdom and insight to modern relationships, and have gained a huge following among Jews and non-Jews alike. 

And yet many observant Jewish communities have been slow to take on the insights of psychology, remaining in denial about specific mental health issues. This might be because psychological theories can conflict with traditional Jewish ideas. The Jewish system of mitzvot, commandments, presumes that individuals have agency and free will. Classical psychological concepts like the unconscious and contemporary approaches that stress psychopharmacology and the physiology of psychological disorders may challenge traditional Jewish notions of "freedom."

In the secular world, however, Jews have assumed a central role in the formation of new psychological theories and applications to this day, and the continuing contribution of Jews to the field of psychology is a testament to the perceptive position of the Jewish people and the emotionally astute cultural heritage that binds them.

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Jessica Kraft

Jessica Kraft is a writer, educator, and artist based in San Francisco, CA.