Psychological Roots of Ritual
To the Editor:
Permit me to break a lance in favor of Mr. Rosenfeld, whose article, “Adam and Eve on Delancey Street” [October 1949], received such a sad drubbing in your letters section. Mr. Rosenfeld said: “It is hard to see how anyone could doubt the unconscious sexual quality of the milchigs-fleishigs ban in the minds of those who observe it. Otherwise how account for the zeal with which the law dividing milchigs from fleishigs is upheld by the faithful, and for their explosion into virtual terror at the least infringement? No one takes mere food so seriously.” The letters in reply to his article demonstrate the acuteness of Mr. Rosenfeld’s observation. . . .
That is not to say that I subscribe to everything Mr. Rosenfeld says. His conclusions are not based on any scholarly investigation that I am aware of. However, I do think it is interesting as a bit of whimsical but clear thinking from the point of view of the layman about what is actually an important and difficult problem in the psychology of religion.
I did, however, feel embarrassed when I read that in the opinion of one of your correspondents the editor of COMMENTARY should select his material in such a way as not to offend Gentile readers. This is a sort of Jewish self-effacement which is most destructive in terms of internal Jewish morale. Current psychoanalytical opinion does support the inference of a significant relationship between food taboos, kashrut, and the very basic problem of the social control of sexuality. There are data to support such theories and nothing is to be gained by calling them unscientific, obscene, or pornographic. In fact, I believe that a good deal would be gained by religious leaders from an objective and thorough understanding of the psychic nature and value of such ritual observances
Mortimer Ostow, MD
New York City