The Arty Semite

Dream a Little Dream of Tobie Nathan

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
'Sleeping Putto' by Léon Bazile Perrault, Wiki Commons

The Cairo-born French Jewish ethnopsychiatrist Tobie Nathan author of a 2010 novel, “Who Killed Arlozoroff?” from Les Éditions Grasset about the 1933 murder of left-wing Israeli political leader Haim Arlosoroff, has also focused on psychiatry’s ultimate father figure, Sigmund Freud.

In a 2006 novel from Les Éditions Perrin, “My Patient Sigmund Freud, Nathan offers a psychoanalysis of Freud by Isaac Rabinovitch, a fictitious Viennese medical student. Earlier this year Nathan’s turned the tables on Papa Siggy again when Les éditions Odile Jacob published his book-length essay “New Interpretation of Dreams.”

While acknowledging the historical importance of Freud’s 1899 Interpretation of Dreams, still available from Basic Books, Nathan expresses surprise that Freud never revised or updated his original conclusions about dreams, and that work by later neurophysiologists, such as the Stanford University sleep researcher William Dement, invalidate Freud’s definition of dreams as unfulfilled urges.

Instead, Nathan points to other guides, from the French sociologist Roger Caillois’s comparative 1966 approach, “The Dream and Human Societies,” from University of California Press, to the Talmud Bavli and The Zohar. After studying these essential texts, Nathan derives some useful conclusions, such as:

There is no such thing as the meaning of dreams, only their interpretation.

As a result of this observation he advises dreamers to be careful to whom they recount their dreams, as interpreters generally have an axe to grind. Most interpreters predict the future, Nathan notes, but the Talmud also offers the example of Rabbi Ishmael interpreting the dreams of a Sadducee, a member of that sect which rejected the Talmud, as referring to past evil deeds, from incest to grave-robbing.

Nathan also cites Moshe Idel’s 2003 “Kabbalists of Night,” published by Les éditions Allia, to explain cases where “the interpretation precedes the dream,” or when the dreamer convinces God and angels to appear in the next night’s dreams. In such cases, no interpretation is need, because the meaning, usually provided in the form of a verse from the Bible, is “clearer than our thinking is when awake.”

Then, of course, Nathan takes up such famous Biblical examples as Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams from the Book of Genesis. He ascribes the Egyptian ruler’s reiterated reveries not as a result of ancient tradition of narrative repetition, but instead as an allusion to the psychologically accurate phenomenon of repeating dreams as “attempts to construct a possible reality.” Ultimately, Nathan underlines the value of dreams as providing a “new look at the world, imagining events which were not foreseen the night before.”

Watch Tobie Nathan speaking, in French but fully translated, on anti-Semitism, multiculturalism, and ethnic identity at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2010.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Haim Arlosoroff, Tobie Nathan, Sigmund Freud

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.