Anti-Jewish Writing

Crypto-Jews, German Guilt, and the Wittenberg Jew-Pig

“Here on our church in Wittenberg a sow is sculpted in stone. Young pigs and Jews lie suckling under her. Behind the sow a rabbi is bent over the sow, lifting up her right leg, holding her tail high and looking intensely under her tail and into her Talmud, as though he were reading something acute or extraordinary, which is certainly where they get their Shemhamphoras [hidden name of God in Kabbalah].
Martin Luther, 1543 

During my early years researching the Jewish Question I was particularly struck by the strident and flamboyant nature of medieval and early modern anti-Jewish folklore and related art. I recall being fascinated at the strangeness and creativity of tales like the 16th-century Jewish woman said to have given birth to twin piglets,[1] the common 15th-century belief that Jewish males menstruate,[2] and speculation that Jews buried their dead with small rocks to throw at Christ in the afterlife. As with much of Jewish history and the historiography of anti-Semitism, the subject of anti-Jewish folklore has been dominated by Jewish scholars. My first introduction to the topic was thus The Blood Libel Legend: A Casebook in Anti-Semitic Folklore (1991) by the Jewish UC-Berkeley folklorist Alan Dundes (1934–2005), widely regarded as the field’s pre-eminent, and perhaps only, expert. In the book, as one might well expect, Dundes strips anti-Jewish folklore of context and presents instead a collection of “evil” and “dangerous” fantasies lacking any logical or rational basis.

Aside from the work of Dundes, direct scholarly engagement with the subject of medieval anti-Jewish folklore has been relatively rare, with most Jewish scholars preferring to probe medieval artistic linkages between Jews and the Devil (see, for example, the work of Robert Bonfil, Marvin Perry, and Frederick Schweitzer) rather than some of the more outlandish or colorful “memes” that then circulated. Almost all of these scholarly accounts utilize medieval anti-Jewish folklore as a means of denigrating and indicting medieval Christianity as irrational and prejudiced, and ultimately as the fons et origo of an equally irrational and prejudiced modern anti-Semitism. An explanatory account of medieval and early modern anti-Jewish folklore informed by historical context remains to be written, despite admirable and broadminded texts like The Singular Beast: Jews, Christians, and the Pig (1997) by Claudine Fabre-Vassas. This is a project I am giving serious consideration to undertaking. As luck would have it, it’s also becoming somewhat relevant again.

Of all the artistic manifestations of anti-Jewish folklore, few are more acute, vehement, and scatological than the imagery of the Judensau, or ‘Jew-Pig.’ In brief, the image, depicted in woodcuts or in stone (often on churches) between the 13th and 15th centuries, is an allegorical reference to Jews drawing sustenance from the Talmud, with Jews shown suckling from a sow and/or examining or eating its feces. The association of Jews with pigs in medieval Christian folklore was longstanding, owing something to the known aversion of the Jews to pork, and produced an array of stories and imagery that flagrantly ignored the ancient dietary commands in Leviticus. In one legend, for example, the aversion to pork dated from the time of Christ, when a sneering Jew challenged Christ to guess the contents of a barrel that the Jew knew to contain a slaughtered pig. Unknown to the Jew, the pig had been removed and his own children were hiding in the barrel. When Jesus answered that the man’s children were in the barrel, he was mocked and told there was a pig inside. “Let them be pigs then,” replied Jesus, and the children were transformed into piglets. From that day onward, so goes the tale, Jews avoided eating pork because for them that would be cannibalism. One suspects that seriousness was never a primary concern in the development of such folk tales — they served as entertaining and memorial “memes” to impart the message that Jews were different and were to be avoided. Read more

Balzac and the Jews

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) was an incredibly prolific French novelist of the first half of the nineteenth century. A pioneer of realism, he wrote 85 novels in twenty years, many comprising parts of his multifaceted examination of French society, which, invoking Dante, he dubbed La Comédie Humaine—The Human Comedy. Through carefully observing every social actor, profession, institution, and condition of French life, Balzac aimed to analyze the forces underlying the economic and social changes wrought by an emerging capitalist society—a society he believed was excessively motivated by money at the expense of traditional values.

His most famous works include Eugenie Grandet (1833), Pere Goriot (1934), Lost Illusions (1837), and Cousin Bette (1846). In developing the novels that would comprise La Comédie Humaine, Balzac hit upon the (then revolutionary) idea of using recurring characters. He wrote with great attention to detail to depict and explain their lives, and strived to present them as real people with real triumphs and frequent failures. Never fully good nor fully evil — his characters are entirely human in their desires and their behaviors. Balzac’s attention to detail and unfiltered depiction of people in society had never been seen before in literary writing. In addition to his remarkable powers of observation and prodigious memory, he had an intuitive understanding of people and their motivations which, borrowing the term from Sir Walter Scott, he called “second sight.” The French poet Baudelaire, an ardent admirer of Balzac, noted how “All his characters are endowed with the same vital flame which was burning within himself.”[1]

After working for three years as a lawyer’s apprentice, the young Balzac turned his back on the profession, finding it inhumane and tedious in its working schedule. His experiences in the law did, however, provide the basis for many plotlines in his novels which often center on legal disputes, wills and contested legacies. Turning his attention to writing, his early attempts to forge a literary career proved unsuccessful, as did later attempts to achieve success as a publisher, printer, businessman, critic, and politician. Despite experiencing dire poverty and constant rejection, Balzac continued to write, and his breakthrough came with The Chouans (1829), a novel set in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Its success encouraged him to devote himself wholeheartedly to a literary career. From this point, his life’s purpose was to achieve glory as the historian of his time, as the “secretary” of French society. In this endeavor he developed what many would regard as insane work habits.

Balzac’s energy was unbounded and his productivity astounding. His phenomenal work ethic was necessitated by a penchant for luxurious living—a tendency that constantly plunged him into debt, and led to his being hounded by creditors for most of his adult life. To evade them, he registered under pseudonyms and frequently changed his lodgings. While Balzac eventually earned decent money from his literature, his reckless spending always ensnared him in further debts: bills exist for his order of fifty-eight pairs of gloves at one time, and for similarly extravagant purchases from his fashionable tailor and jeweler in Paris. Balzac was famous for his bejeweled walking sticks, red leather upholstered library, busts of Napoleon (whom he loved), and other things of a luxurious and superfluous nature. In a letter from 1828, his publisher and friend Latouche wrote:

You haven’t changed at all. You pick out the [expensive] rue Cassini to live in and you are never there. Your heart clings to carpets, mahogany chests, sumptuously bound books, superfluous clothes and copper engravings. You chase through the whole of Paris in search of candelabra that will never shed their light on you, and yet you haven’t even got a few sous in your pockets that would enable you to visit a sick friend. Selling yourself to a carpet-maker for two years! You deserve to be put in Charenton lunatic asylum.[2] 

Read more

Frederick the Great’s Jewish Policy: Between Containment and Profit, Part 3

Go to Part 1.
Go to Part 2.

The Political Testament of 1752 and the Jews: “The Most Dangerous of Sects”

Frederick the Great’s two political testaments are significant documents—systematic presentations of political doctrine, which rulers of Brandenburg-Prussia had composed since the days of the Great Elector (apparently inspired by Richelieu). These expound not only many of Frederick’s general doctrines but also contain his longest and most explicit comments on Jews and justifications concerning his Jewish policy. These are therefore essential documents for understanding the monarch’s thinking.

In the Political Testament of 1752, the Jews are presented essentially as an economic problem. Their numbers in Prussia had increased substantially following Frederick’s conquest of Silesia in the 1740s, which had also lengthened the country’s border with Poland, where Jews had an important economic role. Under the heading, “On Rules for Commerce and Manufactures,” Frederick writes on the need for industrial policy, local manufacturing, and tariffs. In this context, he says of the Jews:

One must watch over the Jews and prevent them from getting involved in wholesale trade, prevent their numbers from increasing, and, at fraud they do, deprive them of the right of residence, for nothing is more contrary to the merchants’ commerce than the illegal trade done by the Jews.[1]

Frederick, a deist, was essentially contemptuous of all traditional religious stories and organizations. Under the heading “On Ecclesiastics and Religions,” he advocates religious tolerance rather than fanaticism, ensuring civil peace and prosperity for “Catholics, Lutherans, Reformists, Jews, and many other Christian sects.”[2]

All that having been said, Frederick notes that the Jews are nonetheless “the most dangerous of sects” due to their economic practices:

The Jews are the most dangerous of sects, because they harm Christian trade and are useless to the State. We need this nation for some trade with Poland, but one must prevent their numbers from increasing and fix them, not at a certain number of families, but a certain number of heads, and restrict their commerce and prevent them from wholesaling, so that they only be retailers.[3]

Frederick therefore opposed Jews not on religious grounds but because he thought them prone to fraud, detrimental to other businesses, and useless to the State, except in enabling trade with underdeveloped Poland. Frederick argues for Jewish policy to be motivated strictly on utilitarian economic grounds rather than on religious or racial ones: practical measures included both economic policy (keeping Jews out of wholesaling), and a voluntarist population policy aimed at limiting Jewish numbers (headcount not family count), but also including the forcible deportation of those found guilty of fraud.

The Political Testament of 1768 and the Jews: Against Usury and Fraud

Frederick’s Political Testament of 1768 still predates the first partition of Poland, during which the Jewish population of Prussia would grow with the annexations of Polish territory. Nonetheless, this Testament too dedicates significant attention to the Jews, essentially presented as an economic problem. Jews are denounced again, this time not only for fraud but also usury. Hence, under the heading “On the Bank,” dealing with lending, Frederick praises “the Lombards established in the big towns, who lend money for manufacturing and other works at low interest, to prevent the Jews from crushing the peoples through usury.”[4]

Under the heading “Views for the Future,” Frederick expounds on the need to develop the country, its agriculture, cities, and industry. Again, Frederick notes the Jews’ usefulness for trade with Poland, but otherwise finds them harmful:

We have too many Jews in the cities. We need some on the border with Poland, because in that country there are only Hebrew merchants. If a city is not close to Poland, the Jews become harmful by their usury, by the contraband among them, and by the fraud undertaken to the detriment of the Christian bourgeois and merchants. I have not persecuted the people of this sect; but I believe it is prudent to ensure that their numbers do not increase too much.[5]

Frederick mentions the Jews a final time under the heading “On the General Police,” charged with enforcing order, safety, and good manners. He writes that the police must, among other duties, ensure that “the Jews do not crudely conduct their usury.”[6]

Frederick’s basic attitude on Jews had thus not fundamentally changed between 1752 and 1768. Claiming to not be motivated by religious prejudice, purely economic and political reason, he denounced their “crushing the peoples through usury” and their “thousand scams [friponneries] which turn to the detriment of the Christian burghers and merchants.”[7] They were again only useful in Poland and their numbers ought to be carefully limited.

Conclusion: The Contradictions of Frederick the Great’s Jewish Policy

Frederick the Great’s attitudes and policies towards the Jews were free from religious or racial prejudice, animated by the Enlightenment’s spirit of toleration for religious minorities. In other words, because of Enlightenment values, he was naturally inclined in a theoretical, a priori sort of way to view Judaism as deserving tolerance, just like other religious sects. However, in practical terms, he realized the harm that Jewish business practices caused to the non-Jewish population whose interests, after all, were his main concern. And he inherited a contradictory set of policies from his predecessors which aimed at simultaneously limiting the Jewish population and the economic problems associated with it, while economically profiting from that population’s licit or illicit activities. Frederick’s own experience in government and warfare led him to essentially maintain, rationalize, and further develop these policies.

Frederick himself had a liberal reputation as an “enlightened despot.” The French philosopher Jean le Rond d’Alembert wrote him:

[The Austrian emperor] is apparently granting the Jews freedom of conscience and the status of citizens, which his ancestors the august emperors would have regarded as the greatest crime. It is you, Sire, whom humanity and philosophy must thank for all which the other sovereigns are doing and will do to favor tolerance and suppress superstition; because it is [Your Majesty] who gave them the first great example.[8]

In fact, Frederick’s policies were quite restrictive on the whole, but this statement is symptomatic of the secularizing Enlightenment’s move away from religiously-defined citizenship and toward the gradual recognition of Jews as individual citizens, free of any group loyalty or ethnic bias.

In fact, assimilation and shedding of group identities and ties did not occur at any level of the Jewish community, including the movement of Reform Judaism, and it was never intended by any significant segment of the Jewish community. Jews had warmly greeted the Enlightenment and “emancipation” but refused to accept the Enlightenment’s premise that group ties would be rejected in favor of a thoroughgoing individualism. As Israeli historian Jacob Katz noted,

The predicament of emancipated Jewry, and ultimately the cause of its tragic end, was rooted not in one or another ideology but in the fact that Jewish Emancipation had been tacitly tied to an illusory expectation—the disappearance of the Jewish community of its own volition. When this failed to happen, and the Jews, despite Emancipation and acculturation, continued to be conspicuously evident, a certain uneasiness, not to say a sense of outright scandal, was experienced by Gentiles. . . . If gaining civil rights meant an enormous improvement in Jewish prospects, at the same time it carried with it a precariously ill-defined status which was bound to elicit antagonism from the Gentile world.[9] (Katz 1983, 43)

Jewish writers on this period have rightly emphasized the self-contradictory and even self-defeating quality of Frederick’s policy of accepting Jews for economic reasons but seeking otherwise to limit their numbers and influence. As the number of wealthy Jews gradually rose, these steadily increased pressure on the government to eliminate checks against them, a self-reinforcing pattern common in Western history. The Jewish Encyclopedia writes:

During Frederick’s entire reign the Prussian Jews continually protested against harsh edicts, but without much success. In 1763, however, succession to the rights of the Schutzjuden was extended to second sons on condition that these take up manufacturing. For this privilege the Jews had to pay 70,000 thalers. For further privileges the Jews had to purchase a definite number of pieces of porcelain from the royal porcelain manufactory.[10]

The Jewish Virtual Library confirms this trend, also reinforced by the large Jewish population Prussia acquired by conquering parts of Poland:

In Berlin, Breslau, and Koenigsberg the upper strata of the Jews, who were rich and influential, took the first steps toward assimilation, acquiring the General-Privilegium, which granted them the rights of Christian merchants (such as freedom of movement and settlement). Through the First Partition of Poland (1772) Prussia’s Jewish population had almost doubled, and Frederick feared above all an influx of Jews from the newly annexed province of West Prussia.[11]

It is no wonder that Frederick’s policy proved unsustainable and was gradually dismantled by his successors. The Jewish Virtual Library notes: “Frederick’s nephew, Frederick William II (1786–97), inaugurated a period of liberalization and reform in Prussia. As crown prince, he had borrowed large sums from Berlin’s Jewish financiers.”[12] The vicious circle of Jewish emancipation, Jewish economic, political, and cultural empowerment, and anti-Semitism would of course culminate in the apocalyptic conflict between Jews and Germans in the first half of the twentieth century.


[1] Gustav Berthold Volz (ed.), Die Politischen Testamente Friedrich’s des Grossen (Berlin: Von Reimar Hobbing, 1920): http://www.archive.org/stream/diepolitischente00freduoft/diepolitischente00freduoft_djvu.txt

[2]Ibid. Frederick added, in a manner typical for Enlightenment politicians, that while he was contemptuous of religions one ought to be respectful in public:

It is indifferent in politics whether the sovereign has a religion or not. All religions, when examined, are based on some fabulous and more-or-less absurd System. It is impossible for a man of good sense to enter into these matters and not witness Terror; but these prejudices, these errors, this wonder are made for men, and one must know how to respect the public to not scandalize them in their religious practice, whatever their religion be.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Ibid.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Frederick, Œuvres, 25/214.

[9] Jacob Katz, “Misreadings of anti-Semitism,” Commentary 76, no. 1 (1983):39–44, 43.

[10]“Frederick II,” JE: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6334-frederick-ii

[11]“Prussia,” JVL: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/prussia-virtual-jewish-history-tour

[12]Ibid.

Frederick the Great’s Jewish Policy: Between Containment and Profit, Part 2

Voltaire at the court of Frederick the Great.

Go to Part 1.

Frederick, Voltaire, and the Jews

Frederick the Great and the famous French philosopher Voltaire had one of the most celebrated relationships between prince and intellectual of the Enlightenment. Indeed, on this rests some of Frederick’s claims to being an “enlightened despot.” Voltaire himself was a vociferous critic of both the Jewish religion and Jews as a people. He wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary: “It is with regret that I speak about the Jews: this nation is, in many respects, the most detestable which has sullied the earth.” Voltaire’s letters to Frederick have numerous critical comments on Jews. For instance, reacting to Catherine II of Russia’s sending a Jew to Egypt to investigate the situation in the country, he said: “The Jews have always loved Egypt, whatever their impertinent story [Exodus] says.”[1] Voltaire appears to have been much more emphatically anti-Semitic than Frederick.

Frederick and Voltaire fell out for various reasons, one of the most important being displeasure over crooked financial dealings between Voltaire and a Jew, Abraham Hirschel. According to Voltaire’s biographer Wayne Andrews:

On November 23, 1750, [Voltaire] called upon Abraham Hirschel, a Jew known for his talent in making money in forbidden transactions, and requested him to buy up for his account in Dresden a certain amount of Saxon bonds. These were then selling at thirty-five per cent below par, but according to a Prussian-Saxon treaty, could be redeemed at par by Prussians. This was such an easy invitation to attack the Saxon treasury that Frederick, on the eighth of May 1748 agreed that the bonds could no longer be imported. Despite this, Voltaire went ahead. Offering a bill of exchange on Paris for forty-thousand francs and a draft on a Berlin Jew for four thousand shillings, he made Hirschel his agent. As agent, Hirschel turned over certain diamonds as security. But then Voltaire saw fit to cancel the bill of exchange that Hirschel cashed, and a nasty quarrel followed with Hirschel demanding the return of his diamonds. Voltaire lost his temper, snatched a ring off Hirschel’s finger, and the affair had to be settled in court. [. . .]

Frederick was not pleased, and the dignity with which he behaved on this occasion was, for once, kingly. He would not allow Voltaire in his presence until the case was settled. He knew that Voltaire was lying when he claimed he had sent Hirschel to Dresden to buy furs and diamonds and was irritated by his language.[2]

Frederick laconically described the affair: “[concerning] Voltaire’s trial with the Jew: it’s a matter of a scoundrel who tried to hoodwink a crook.”[3] This scandal concerning a Jewish financial speculator and a greedy Frenchman contributed to the brevity of Voltaire’s stay in Berlin. Read more

Reply to Jordan Peterson on the Jewish Question — From His Heroes Part Four: Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche

Go to Part 1: Solzhenitsyn
Go to Part 2: Dostoevsky
Go to Part 3: Jung

A Reply from Nietzsche.

Like these other figures, whose thought is sanitized and claimed by Peterson, Nietzsche possessed views of Jews quite at odds with Peterson’s own hasty conclusions. Robert Holub’s 2015 Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem: Between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism (Princeton University Press) convincingly demonstrates that, at best, Nietzsche could be described as ambivalent towards the Jewish Question. Nietzsche was undeniably in tune with Wagner when it came to animosity towards those aspects of modernity most closely linked with the rise of the Jews in Germany: the hegemony of journalists, the press, newspapers, new ‘trends’ in art, and the stock market. He was a critic of both Berthold Auerbach and Felix Mendelssohn, whom he argued produced works typified by foreignness, jargon, mawkishness and internationalism. At Basel, one of Nietzsche’s closest colleagues was the historian Jacob Burckhardt, described in one dedication as “my honored friend.” Burckhardt was unequivocally opposed to Jewish emancipation and believed that everything of worth in European culture was due to its Greek and Roman heritage rather than the Jewish tradition. He would have balked at the idea of Europe as a ‘Judeo-Christian’ cultural entity—a favorite piece of Jordan Peterson’s nomenclature—and he was firmly convinced that Jews were responsible for the worst manifestations of modernity. Early in his career Burckhardt wrote to a friend that the presence of Jews in a theater would be sufficient to entirely destroy his enjoyment of the event.

Like the others reviewed here, Peterson references Friedrich Nietzsche in almost every interview, talk, or text he delivers. In 12 Rules for Life (p.59), Peterson describes Nietzsche as both “great” and “brilliant,” and calls him (p.85) “perhaps the most astute critic ever to confront Christianity.” In much the same way as he cites Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, and Jung as his ideological forerunners, Peterson holds up Nietzsche as a prescient and thoughtful thinker whose work was characterized (p.37) by its “brilliance.” Read more

Reply to Jordan Peterson on the Jewish Question — From His Heroes: Part Three: Jung

C. G. Jung

Go to Part 1: Solzhenitsyn.
Go to Part 2: Dostoevsky

A Reply to Jung.

Jordan Peterson references Carl Jung in almost every interview, talk, or text he delivers, and these references are especially frequent in his lecture series on the Biblical stories. In 12 Rules for Life (p.131), Peterson describes Jung as both a “great psychiatrist” and a “psychoanalyst extraordinaire.” Jung’s ideas about the subconscious and archetypes form the backbone of much of Peterson’s self-concept and public work. One therefore wonders what Jung would have made of Jordan Peterson’s “On the So-Called Jewish Question.”

To begin with, Jung would almost certainly object to Peterson’s implicit assumption that Jews are easily integrated parts in the machinery of Western civilization, equal or even superior in suitability to all others. Jung believed that Jews, like all peoples, have a characteristic personality, and he would have stressed the need to take this personality into account. Even in his own sphere of expertise, Jung warned that “Freud and Adler’s psychologies were specifically Jewish, and therefore not legitimate for Aryans.”[1] A formative factor in the Jewish personality was the rootlessness of the Jews and the persistence of the Diaspora. Jung argued that Jews lacked a “chthontic quality,” meaning “The Jew … is badly at a loss for that quality in man which roots him to the earth and draws new strength from below.”[2] Jung penned these words in 1918, but they retain significance even after the founding of the State of Israel. Even today, vastly more Jews live outside Israel than within it. Jews remain a Diaspora people, and many continue to see their Diaspora status as a strength. Because they are scattered and rootless, however, Jung argued that Jews developed methods of getting on in the world that are built on exploiting weakness in others rather than expressing explicit strength. In Jung’s phrasing, “The Jews have this particularity in common with women; being physically weaker, they have to aim at the chinks in the armour of their adversary.”[3] Read more

Reply to Jordan Peterson on the Jewish Question — From His Heroes Part One: Solzhenitsyn

“The Aryan subconscious has a higher potential than the Jewish.”
G. Jung

Overture

I recently took some time to devote serious attention to the work of Jordan Peterson. Until a few months ago, my familiarity with Peterson had been limited to his very weak and ill-advised intervention in the Nathan Cofnas affair. At that time, I toyed with the idea of providing a series of historical examples (there are many) that would contradict every one of Peterson’s assertions regarding the Jewish Question, but, in the end, his intervention was dealt with so conclusively by Kevin MacDonald (see here), that I saw no reason to discuss it further and abandoned that essay at the “skeleton” stage.  Peterson is, however, hard to ignore. As MacDonald put it, Peterson is indeed a “celebrity intellectual,” and one who, despite an occasionally overt philo-Semitism, has engaged in spirited defenses against some manifestations of cultural Marxism. This is admirable, and he is generally pleasing and interesting to watch his TV appearances. Watching and listening to these appearances with any frequency, it’s hard to escape Peterson’s key influences. The Canadian academic is both vocal and (remarkably) repetitive in naming them: summaries, quotes, and interpretations of Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, and Jung all feature very prominently in Peterson’s content.[1] It’s clear that all four men act as his foremost intellectual and personal heroes. But they share something else in common – they have all confronted the Jewish Question in a manner that quite clearly contradicts the view put forth by Peterson. This is not to say that everyone must follow all the ideas of their heroes, but it does call into question how carefully Peterson has both understood these writers and considered his own position on the Jews. The following essay is intended to tease out some problems and contradictions.

I’ve spent the last couple of months listening to Peterson’s lecture series on the Biblical stories, reading his 12 Rules for Life, and examining (and re-examining) his essay “On the So-Called Jewish Question.” I have to confess to finding his lecture series extremely strange. Listening to the audience question and answer sessions at the end of each lecture, it’s clear that Peterson has a sizeable Jewish following and that his lectures are, if not geared toward Jews, certainly holding great appeal for them. Part of this may be the fact that, for an ostensibly Christian apologist, thus far only one of Peterson’s sixteen lectures have concerned the New Testament. What I find particularly interesting about Peterson’s interpretation of these stories is that he extracts, in abstract psychoanalytic fashion, a series of self-help non-sequiturs without looking at how and why the stories were formulated in the first place, and how they have been understood by Jews during the many centuries since they were written. This is an especially ironic development because Peterson’s approach to these particular texts is rather like that of Jacques Derrida, the Jewish Marxist postmodernist he rebukes in 12 Rules for Life, who argued “there is nothing outside the text.” And it is quite unlike the suggestion of his hero Carl Jung, who, as Peterson notes in 12 Rules for Life, suggested that “if you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequences — and infer the motivation.”

Peterson doesn’t seem remotely interested in the psychological needs and motivations of the Jewish authors and readers of the stories, and, by his own admission (in the question and answer session following his discussion of the tale of Jacob and Esau) Peterson has never examined the Talmud to see how Jews have interacted with them. Read more