Trauma, Guilt, and Ethics in BETIPUL and IN TREATMENT. The Universalist Approach and (Jewish) Particularism of Psychoanalysis in Transnational Television – by Michaela Wünsch

This article compares the Israeli television show BeTipul with its American adaptation, In Treatment, with regard to the subtle Jewishness of the Israeli show and its universalist conversion into a non-Jewish-American context. It asks why the adaptation was stripped of its Jewishness, and it relates this fact both to the question of psychoanalysis as a “Jewish” science as well as to Paulinian universalism. Questions after the fluidity and evasiveness of Jewish identity in general and in popular culture in particular arise as well as the question how psychoanalysis can be transferred on television. Both series are also analyzed from a psychoanalytical perspective as a cultural unconscious.

Produced by the network HOT3, BeTipul is an Israeli television series consisting of eighty episodes that were broadcast over the course of two seasons, from 2005 to 2008. The idea of its creator, Hagai Levi, was to make a “series that imitates therapy.”[1] Five episodes are presented over the course of one week, with each episode depicting a single therapy session. In each of four episodes, the therapist, Reuven Dagan (Assi Dayan), meets a different individual patient; one episode each week is reserved for Reuven’s supervision and therapy with his clinical supervisor, Gila (Gila Almagor). The series has been hugely successful in Israel in terms of both ratings and awards, and so far it has been adapted in fourteen different countries, including the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Russia, the Netherlands, and Italy.[2] This success is particularly surprising, given the show’s low levels of action, which instead feature “two almost motionless actors talking” in a consulting room in front of a mostly static camera that “almost contradicts dramatic principles.”[3] To produce drama, and to translate psychological language into televisual language, the writers create conflicts between the therapist and his patients. Instead of their merely talking about the conflicts that take place with people outside the consultation room, the patients develop conflicts with Reuven, which involve a love story, jealousy, a miscarriage, and even suicide attempts. Most of the subsequent adaptations have used similar consultation-room sets and the same scripts. As many have pointed out, BeTipul and its adaptations closely follow conventional television formats, especially those of daytime programs, with their frequent close-ups, shot/counter shots, and talking heads. But the show’s modular storytelling also marked an innovative approach to television drama. With recording technologies such as TiVo and the show’s availability on DVD, viewers could choose to watch only the episodes of their favorite “cases.”[4]

It is not unusual for an Israeli television series not to be broadcast worldwide, but this article explores why adaptations of a series like BeTipul might be necessary, despite the program’s minimalist setting and universal themes. I also explore the differences that emerge from comparing BeTipul with the first adaptation, the US series In Treatment (HBO, 2007-2010). I first analyze the Jewishness of BeTipul and subsequently trace how it is transformed into Paulinian universalism in In Treatment. Even though all the characters in the Israeli version are Jewish, the Jewishness of the series is not easy to identify, due only partly to its lack of religious topics and its secularism. I am following here Vincent Brook’s claim that it is hard to define what is Jewish in Jewish televisual representation: “Jewish themes need not be treated on the shows, nor will protagonists be held to any rigorous standard of religious affiliation or ethnic consciousness. The quotes around the word ‘Jewish’ acknowledge the constructed and highly contested nature of Jewish identity generally, as well as the tenuous, largely inferred, and increasingly ‘virtual’ nature of Jewish televisual representation specifically.”[5]

Because the question of what is Jewish remains “subject of debate,”[6] and also because of the psychoanalytic/psychotherapeutic focus of the series, I refer primarily to Sigmund Freud’s definitions and discussions of Jewishness. Freud’s most important essay on Judaism and Jewishness, Moses and Monotheism (1939), offers very unusual interpretations of Moses–“who set the Jewish people free, who gave them their laws and founded their religion,” but was later killed by the Jews[7]–and of the Apostle Paul, who is generally regarded as the founder of the Christian religion. Christine Lang, in her essay on In Treatment, emphasizes that psychoanalysis itself follows dramaturgical formulas and narratives ranging from Oedipus and Cassandra–and, I would like to add, Moses–to Saint Paul.[8] The title of Freud’s book on Moses included the subtitle “A Historical Novel,” which suggests that his aim was not to tell the true history of Moses but rather to provide a “formula” about the man who “created the Jews.”[9] Freud often uses mythologies, fictional characters, and historical persons to illustrate and develop his theories of psychic mechanisms, but he does so without implying that these depictions represent historical or empirical truths. Indeed, this resembles the ways in which the Jewish and Christian religions are based on myths from the Old and New Testaments. The interpretations of these narratives are connected to the second topic of this essay: psychoanalysis and Jewishness. Founded in the secular Jewish community of Vienna around 1900, psychoanalysis–like BeTipul–has been transmitted around the globe. In the process of “being adapted to different national registers, to different schools of thought, to theoretical and technical re-elaborations, to misunderstandings, and to the systematic resistance to it that has grown up,”[10] psychoanalysis was stripped of its Jewishness, defended against and fought by anti-Semitism, and yet it is still associated with Jewishness in popular culture.[11] The question about the Jewishness of the series can thus be related to the different status of psychoanalysis in the two different versions.

            In the case of BeTipul, I tackle the question of Jewishness by analyzing both the influence of the specific historical situation of Israel in the 2000s and the influence of Jewish history on the psychological lives of Reuven’s patients. I here follow Freud again, who claims that the “events in human history are no more than a reflection of the dynamic conflicts between the ego, the id and the super-ego.”[12] Especially in regard to traumas, Freud states that “they are not strictly limited to what the subject himself has really experienced but diverge from it in a way which fits in much better with the model of a phylogenetic event and, in general, can only be explained by such an influence.”[13] Trauma is not limited to a single subject but affects whole generations and cultures; thus I will discuss the treatment of trauma in BeTipul and In Treatment not only in regard to the fictionalized “cases” but also as characteristic of a specific culture. According to Hagai Levi, the case of the traumatized soldier in particular has been transformed to match specific national traumas in different adaptations of the series.[14] For this reason, I concentrate on the character of Yadin and his US counterpart, Alex, in the first season and analyze only those parts of both series that are significantly different. These differences also include the methodology and identity of the non-Jewish therapist (Paul Weston, played by Gabriel Byrne) in In Treatment, which I discuss in regard to the question of universalism and particularism connected to Paul the Apostle, the Jew who founded Christianity. But regardless of these differences, most parts of the script of BeTipul have been transferred word for word into In Treatment, and these transferences may correspond with the universal claim of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis assumes that, whereas the psychic mechanisms of repression and memory and the topology of ego, id, and superego work similarly in every subject, the particular content is different. Similarly, in the case of the television series adaptations, the form(at) is the same, but the content and the type of cast differs. Robert Stam claims that “adaptations are inevitably inscribed in national settings.”[15] Thus my analysis of In Treatment concentrates on how Jewishness and therapy play out in a changed national setting.

            The majority of literature on In Treatment discusses what kind of therapy is represented; whether Weston’s methods are ethically defendable;[16] and whether the fictionalized representation of the therapeutic process is realistic.[17] The therapeutic method shown in both series is not psychoanalysis but rather a relational form of therapy, in which patient and therapist face each other–a choice that reflects the needs of both medium and narrative. Jane Feuer and Caroline Bem compare the format of the television series with the setting of the analytic or therapeutic cure: “The idea of scheduling by the hour is not the only thing television and psychotherapy have in common. Both are, so to speak, serialized,” writes Feuer.[18] Bem focuses on In Treatment’s televisuality and televisual time:

Thus, while In Treatment is unable to fully reproduce the therapeutic experience, it relies, instead, on a premise of medium self-reflexivity whereby the face-to-face between therapist and patient is reflected in that other, medial encounter between viewer and personal screen. As a result, and by making use of the formal parameters of the TV show format (repetition, scheduled regularity, precise time constraints), In Treatment suggests that the talk-medium of television and the talking cure are bound by a kinship that exceeds cinema’s much-theorized connivance with psychoanalysis.[19]

I’ve written elsewhere about the (im)possibility of transference of the psychoanalytic cure into a televisual narrative.[20] But since this topic and the question of representation of psychoanalysis have already been dealt with extensively, this article takes another direction. It stands more in line with the psychoanalytical interpretations presented at a conference on BeTipul and In Treatment held at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2009.[21] Some of the talks in the panel “In Treatment/Be-Tipul and Psychotherapy” gave psychoanalytical readings of particular characters in both series as if they were real cases. My interpretation differs from these readings insofar as I analyze these cases as emblematic of Israeli and US cultures according to Sigmund Freud’s sociocultural and literal analyses. I also refer to the tradition of psychoanalytical readings in Film and Cinema Studies, which not only focuses on the emotional and ideological relationship between viewer and film but also includes psychoanalytical readings of the characters and the “filmic text.”[22] These psychoanalytical readings understand the filmic text as part of reality, in the sense that films and other forms of fictions are able to reveal the unconscious of a society. My interpretation thus doesn’t read the series’ fictional cases as “reality” but as “real” in the sense that they reveal something about the unconscious of the represented culture. I also analyze the sessions in the series in the way Ira Konigsberg treats films like a clinical hour, as processes that create narratives.[23] This interpretation exceeds the psychotherapeutic elements represented in both BeTipul and In Treatment, although I also outline the psychoanalytic aspects within this psychotherapeutic fiction.

What Is Jewish in BeTipul?

The series BeTipul starts with Reuven’s patient Naama (Ayelet Zurer), whose case is one of erotic transference. In the first episode, which takes place during her Sunday session, she confesses that she fell in love with her former therapist. Yadin (Lior Ashkenazi) has his sessions on Mondays. He is described by Tasha Oren as “a cocky fighter pilot who seems chillingly indifferent to the carnage he caused after bombing a Palestinian apartment building and whose own gradual deterioration serves to deconstruct the crushing consequences of Israel’s military ideology.”[24] Tuesdays Reuven sees Ayala (Maya Maron), a teenage gymnast who broke both arms in an accident that might have been a suicide attempt. On Wednesdays he sees a couple, Orna and Michael Neumann (Alma Zack and Rami Heuberger). On Thursdays Reuven sees his own former therapist and current clinical supervisor, Gila. All these cases have been described as being “very much about Israel, its talking culture, secularization, and the role of guilt in the twenty-first century,” but my discussion of the series’ Jewishness focuses primarily on the case of Yadin. [25] There are two reasons for my choice: first, because Yadin’s case is the one that most revolves around Israeli and Jewish issues; and second, because it is the one that most differs from the adapted US version, the case of Alex in In Treatment.

            Yadin accidentally killed several Palestinian children in Ramallah during a military operation. He did not know at the time that children were in the house he bombed, and he later wonders if his superiors knew about it or made a mistake. According to Irit Keynan, in Israeli society it is taboo to discuss such an incident or military mistake in a television series or in public media in general.[26] But since Judd Ne’eman’s 1977 movie Paratroopers (Israel), which shows how the training of an elite unit led to the suicide of a sensitive young man, a critique of “[a]rmy life as a metaphor of Israeli culture”[27] and Israeli military manhood has evolved.[28] Paratroopers and similar films from the 1970s to the 1990s depict the “fatigue and resentment of the military behavior enforced by the conditions of the occupation.”[29]

            Through the representation of Yadin’s case and the depiction of Yadin’s father, who can’t accept the failure and subsequent suicide of his son, BeTipul seems to reflect the lack of self-critique in Israeli society in regard to both the army and this tradition of cinematic critique. But instead of showing scenes of war and traumatic incidents as the earlier movies do, BeTipul depicts the trauma and its aftermath as they are “just” described by the patients, interrupted only by counter shots of the therapist. BeTipul never uses the usual visual device of flashbacks to illustrate and authenticate trauma.

            In his monologues Yadin, as played by Ashkenazi–who previously portrayed a similar figure as the cold, emotionally detached secret service agent in Walk on Water (Eytan Fox, Israel, 2004),which also deals with past and current Israeli traumas–seems to struggle between the image of the pilot as war hero and his guilt feelings.[30] In the first session Yadin repeatedly says that he feels good and still sleeps like a baby, claiming that it wasn’t he who made a mistake. He did not hit the wrong building; rather the wrong people were in the building. He just followed orders. At the same time Yadin struggles with the incident. Although he denies that what happened “sits on [his] conscience,” his story describes very well what is called moral injury in psychoanalytic and clinical discourse:[31] “[a]n act of serious transgression that creates dissonance and conflict because it violates assumptions and beliefs about right and wrong and personal goodness.”[32] According to K. D. Drescher et al., “[M]oral injury is a construct to describe disruption in an individual’s sense of personal morality.”[33] That Yadin’s character shows symptoms of moral injury is clearly indicated: he says in therapy that he feels a split in himself. In his second session, Yadin wonders why he didn’t feel anything when, after his first session, he visited Ramallah and met the wounded people and parents who lost their children as a result of the bombs he had dropped on them. He says that he could not “make a connection” between his acts and their consequences. He worries that this is not a “normal” reaction and starts analyzing himself. Yadin argues that his body “has a built-in separation mechanism” and that the “system did a great job on [him].” They cut out the “organ called ‘guilt feelings,’” he says. “I have no way of feeling guilt. I don’t have the organ.”[34]

            Typical of moral injury is the experience of “a soul-wound inflicted by doing something that violates one’s own ethics, ideals or attachments,” as Amit Goldenberg quotes Jonathan Shay; he continues: “[T]he emotions experienced in moral injury are often guilt, shame and anger.”[35] Clinical research shows that serving as an agent of killing and failing to prevent death and injury are related more strongly than other wartime actions to general psychiatric distress and suicide attempts; and indeed Yadin kills himself at the end of the first season. [36] According to Maguen and Litz, “Feelings that one does not belong with other people” are strong motivators for suicide.[37] In his second session Yadin tells Reuven that he discovered that he does not love his wife. He assumes that she “does not know anything about him” and that “she does not imagine what is going through my head.”[38] Not only does he feel disconnected from his wife, he is also angry with her–the very anger, in Reuven’s interpretation, which he does not or cannot feel toward himself. As Yadin puts it, he tries to “cut out” one side of his split self, abandoning either his wife, who forces him to fly again and follow his military duties, or the demand to feel guilt.

            The specific situation of Israeli soldiers is not the only particularly Israeli issue to be the focus of Yadin’s case. The series also reveals other aspects of the Israeli unconscious. In his first session Yadin tells Reuven about his father, a Holocaust survivor. Yadin brings up his father in relation to feelings of guilt, claiming, “If there is someone who doesn’t know of guilt feelings, it’s my father.”[39] He recalls the story his father tells every Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), describing his time in a Warsaw Ghetto bunker. It was there that Yadin’s father killed his own father, who had contracted tuberculosis. Yadin assumes that his father does not feel guilty, because he always says: “Leave the guilt to the Germans; the Jews can’t afford it.”[40] Reuven suggests that feeling guilty might be too dangerous, because it is a sign of weakness; whoever is weak or sick may be tossed out to die like Yadin’s grandfather. [41] He thus draws a parallel between Nazi ideology (tossing out the weak) and the behavior of Yadin’s father. In fact, in the beginning of the session, Yadin compares himself to a “German dickhead of the ‘Luftwaffe’ bombing Stalingrad,” and likens the street in Ramallah he visited to a shot from the ghetto in The Pianist, a film about the Shoah and the Warsaw Ghetto directed by Roman Polanski (France, Poland, Germany, UK, 2002).[42]

            Yadin’s case shows the psychic mechanisms not only of moral injury but also of transgenerational trauma, from which most Israelis suffer to this day. Writing about their research on transgenerational transmission of traumatic experiences, Nanette Auerhahn and Dori Laub state “that massive trauma has an amorphous presence not defined by place or time and lacking a beginning, middle, or end, and that it shapes the internal representation of reality of several generations, becoming an unconscious organizing principle passed on by parents and internalized by their children.”[43] They describe how children of survivors develop the sense that their parents often experience separation, differentiation, and individualization as a reactivation of the original trauma. Such responses by their parents support their own identification with their parents’ victimizers.[44]

            In his sixth session Yadin talks more about his relationship with his father and how angry his father became whenever Yadin did not live up to his expectations or separated, differentiated, and individuated himself from his father–for example, through Yadin’s tendency to be too female as a child or a “fag,” as Yadin’s father later calls his son. So instead of separating from his father–and thus repeating the trauma–Yadin followed his father’s expectations: he married a woman and became a pilot. Nevertheless, a reactivation of trauma is still possible in this transmission. Indeed, the transmission of the father’s trauma onto his son could explain why Yadin compares the street in Ramallah to the street in the Warsaw Ghetto, where his father and grandfather sheltered in a bunker. The trauma is present regardless of place or time. In addition Yadin identifies himself with the victimizer, the “German dickhead of the ‘Luftwaffe.’” It seems that Yadin’s father tried to protect his son from inheriting the guilt that the Nazis brutally transferred to their victims when he denied his own guilt for killing Yadin’s grandfather. But what Yadin inherited instead is an inability to feel guilty, because it is indeed too dangerous, and because it would mean that the Nazis would have succeeded, finally, in turning the victims into the victimizers.

            While the transgenerational transmission of the Holocaust trauma affects Jewish people worldwide, there are different opinions about how trauma affects the children of Holocaust survivors in Israel as compared to those in other countries. Jeffrey Prager, for instance, writes:

„It appears that the descendants of Holocaust survivors in Israel have been more successful in establishing independent lives as compared with similar populations among Jews [in other] countries. [. . .] It might be said that the [Israeli] nation has taken the traumatic secret and assertively sought to expose it. [. . .] When, through public rites of remembering and accountability, traumatic secrets are allowed to see the light of day, conditions are established, it might be said, to recover childhoods for the children and to enable subsequent generations to claim the world as their own.“[45]

But this exposure of the trauma in public memories can also result in a type of remembrance that forgets, a closure that “processed the trauma by incorporating it.”[46] However this does seem to be the case for Yadin, who is very much kept imprisoned by the trauma of his father, even though his father is able to speak about his trauma during the rites of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yadin can’t claim the world as his own. Instead, he does what his father expects from him.

            The case of Yadin and the history of his father have an additional implication that might not be specifically Israeli but is attributed as specifically Jewish: the topos of parricide. One of Freud’s most important metapsychological assumptions is that of the primal father, who was “lord and father of the entire horde and unrestricted in his power, which he exercised with violence.”[47] This strong male was destined to be killed by the generation of younger men or by his sons. While later peoples practiced totem religious cults to reenact this primal murder on a symbolic level, monotheistic religions developed a different way of dealing with it. Freud’s Moses and Monotheism and Totem and Taboo (1912–13), as well as his lecture “Death and Us” (1915),[48] not only are concerned with the general passing of trauma from one generation to the next, as described earlier, but deal in particular with the trauma of the murder of the father and its impact on Judaism and Christianity. In his lecture Freud said:

„If the original sin was an offence against God the Father, the primal crime of mankind must have been parricide, the killing of the primal father of the primitive human horde. [. . .] Incidentally, let me point out that the doctrine of original sin is not a Christian innovation; it is part of the primal belief that has continued for ages in subterranean religious currents. Judaism has carefully pushed aside these dark memories of mankind.“[49]

The killing of the father is universal, but Christians have confessed the murder. They “have been cleansed of that guilt” through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s life to redeem mankind from original sin, while the Jews, according to Freud’s argument in his Moses text, denied the murder and acted it out again in the murder of Moses.[50]

            To a certain extent Yadin’s description of his father, who has had many lovers and cheated on his mother, resembles that of the polygamous primal father. But his father is free of guilt or denies his guilty feelings. Yadin also describes his father as “the boy who left the camp and created his own morals,” thus likening him to Moses, the religious leader and creator of the Jews who led the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt.[51] Yadin’s father seems to be a creator, and at the same time he repeats Jewish history by murdering his father and denying his guilt. Later we hear Yadin’s father saying that he doesn’t want to remember, that “the brain tells people what it doesn’t want to remember.”[52] According to Freud, such a denial of the murder (of the father) results in acting out and repetition: “The great deed and misdeed of primeval times, the murder of the Father, was brought home to the Jews, for fate decreed that they should repeat it on the person of Moses, an eminent father substitute. [. . .] It was a case of ‘acting’ instead of remembering. [. . .] They responded to the doctrine of Moses–which should have been a stimulus to their memory–by denying their act.”[53] Freud’s assumption that the historic and mythological past “retain[s] an impression of the past in unconscious memory traces” is not reduced to individual trauma; in my view it also constitutes the individual, collective, and cultural unconscious and therefore influences cultural products like film and television as well.[54]

            Aside from the specific Jewish and Israeli living conditions and historical experiences of the patients and the therapist, one can also ask about the relationship between psychoanalysis and Jewishness in general. The founder of psychoanalysis was Jewish, and different theoretical approaches claim that this was not coincidental. Indeed, psychoanalysis is still thought of as a “Jewish science”:

„[T]he claim that psychoanalysis should be considered a ‚Jewish science‘ relates to the idea that Jewish thought, Jewish philosophy, and Jewish history flooded its foundations, investing it with the specific inward-consciousness of the Jews, who were newly released in the nineteenth century from their ghettoes and at least some of their traditions. That is, the claim is based on the idea of cultural inheritance: that however atheistic these early psychoanalytic Jews were, they could not but pursue a way of looking at things which was “Jewish.”[55]

Despite the fact that Freud wasn’t religious, many argue that he was much in favor of Enlightenment and Bildung, and saw Judaism “as the religion of reason.”[56] Regardless of his universalistic approach, he did not deny his Jewish background. In fact, he sought to universalize Jewish experiences. David Meghnagi, for instance, draws a link between “Midrash Haggadah” and “free association.”[57] In a similar vein, Stephen Frosh also emphasizes that the “Jewishness” of psychoanalysis “was not a religious perspective–not Judaism–but an approach to argument and interpretation established over centuries in which debates over the meanings of texts were the main expression of cultural achievement.”[58] For Frosh the Talmudic patterns of exegesis, the fascination with words and with reading, present a “relentless and unending search for another way of looking at things,”[59] an other reading of words that goes together with a critical position.[60]

            At the conference on BeTipul and In Treatment at UCLA, almost every speaker agreed that BeTipul is very Jewish only in that it is about the power of words and reflection instead of action. This sentiment is summarized in Miriam Talmon-Bohm’s statement that psychoanalysis is about “thought representation” instead of “thing representation.”[61] Some of the sessions in BeTipul are clearly based on language; insight into the psychic history of the patients is produced though word associations that occur during therapy. In the second season, the patient Talia (Asi Levi), who was Reuven’s lawyer and also his patient several years earlier, is very upset because she read the files of his lawsuit and found out about his love affair with his patient Naama. Talia later tells Reuven about a book she bought online, by Howard Gordon, a fictional American psychologist who wrote a novel about having an affair with a young, attractive patient. She also tells Reuven that while she was looking up the word “therapist,” Google displayed “the rapist.”[62] Words are also confused in Reuven’s own session, when his supervisor, Gila, several times converts the name of his patient Naama into , much to his dismay. In his first session he says that he feels a rupture toward his family, and Gila asks, “What do you mean with ‘rupture’?” Reuven replies, “Never mind. I’m not in therapy, Gila.”[63] Therapy, then, starts only when words are being analyzed.

Paulinian Universalism in In Treatment

At first sight the stories of the HBO adaptation In Treatment seem to be similar to those of BeTipul, with the exception of the third season, which was developed by HBO. The scripts for the first two seasons were adapted almost word for word from the original Hebrew. Co-producer Sarah Treem summarizes the differences on the formal level as involved more with storytelling than with dialogue.[64] But the visual style and setting also differ. Christine Lang offers this description:

„It is all presented in muted colors, soft lighting, and a classical mise-en-sc<è>ne, with alternating shots and reaction shots ranging from medium shots to close-ups; we always see the characters at eye level, which has an almost “anthropomorphizing” effect. There are very few dolly shots or gentle zooms. Line crossing is utilized only sparingly and always in the service of the plot, for example to emphasize a shift in psychological atmosphere. No effort is made to draw attention to the series’ cinematic technique, and soundtrack music is rarely employed.“[65]

It is quite apparent that In Treatment was produced with a larger budget than BeTipul’s. By comparison BeTipul looks more like a soap opera or reality TV program: the colors are more dazzling, the furniture looks cheap, and sometimes the “cinematic technique” is plainly visible, for instance, when a hanging microphone appears in the frame. But although BeTipul is thus less immersive than In Treatment, the focus on talking heads is still the same. Both series cast well-known actors: Dayan, Almagor, and Ashkenazi in BeTipul; and Byrne, Dianne Wiest, and Blair Underwood in In Treatment. And, through the foregrounding of acting, both series resemble theater plays. There are significant differences, however, in the details and cultural identities of the patients and analysts. In the case of Yadin/Alex, for instance, national trauma specific to the United States is introduced through the fact that Alex (Blair Underwood) is African American. Examples of the differences between “thought representation” and “thing representation” mentioned earlier occur already in the second season of In Treatment, in the adaptation of Talia’s case. Mia (Hope Davis), who replaces Talia’s character, also reads the private file of her therapist, Paul Weston, Reuven’s US counterpart. But instead of telling her therapist about a book she bought after she starts thinking about his affair, she speaks about a BBC documentary she watched on the topic of sex dolls.[66] The shift from words to images, or book to film, is already crucial here, but the change from reading about an affair to having sex with dolls is truly astonishing.

            Krin Gabbard argues that In Treatment is stripped of all Jewishness.[67] For Gabbard this is demonstrated by the fact that the name of the therapist has been changed to Paul, “the most Gentile name, the Jew Saul who became the Christian Paul.”[68] Harvey Roy Greenberg similarly questions whether Weston can be imagined as Jewish.[69] Let’s stay for a while with his name and the identity of “Paul” or “Saint Paul.” Paul the Apostle is known for his conversion from a Jew to a Christian missionary who preached that Jesus was the messiah and son of God. The mainstream interpretation of Paul says that salvation is based on faith and not on obedience to the words of law, although several authors have questioned this reading.[70] Paul sought to “offer Gentiles a means of salvation.”[71] He argued that Gentile converts did not need to become Jews, be circumcised, follow Jewish dietary restrictions, or otherwise observe Mosaic laws in order to be saved. This openness to conversion was related to universalism, as Daniel Boyarin points out: “Paul was motivated by a Hellenistic desire for the One, which among other things produced an ideal of a universal human essence, beyond difference and hierarchy.”[72] Boyarin reads both the integration of Gentiles and Paul’s universalism together with the spiritualizing and allegorizing interpretation of Israel’s scripture and law. Apart from the fact that one can conclude from Boyarin’s argument that Paul claimed universalism and spirit only for Christians (and not for Jews whose bodies became particular), one can also read the “fleshy signs” of the Torah and the marked body as focusing on the materiality of language (rather than its spirituality) and the associations of words that are more important in BeTipul.

            Freud’s interpretation of the Apostle Paul focuses mainly on the idea of the murder of the father and the resulting guilt. For Freud, Paul was the one “in whose spirit the realization first emerged: ‘the reason we are so unhappy is that we have killed God the father.’”[73] Whereas the Jews acted out–instead of remembering–the killing of the father through the murder of Moses, “Paul, a Roman Jew from Tarsus, seized on the sense of guilt and traced it back correctly to its original source.”[74] Freud also stressed that Paul universalized religion by abandoning the idea of a chosen people and the practice of circumcision: “he exorcised humanity’s sense of guilt; but he owed it as well to the circumstance that he abandoned the ‘chosen’ character of his people and its visible mark–circumcision–so that the new religion could be a universal one, embracing all men.”[75] According to Jacob Taubes’s interpretation, what Freud saw in Paul–his ability to trace back the sense of guilt to its original source instead of acting it out again–was also his own aim.[76] In addition, Freud invented a universal method grounded in Jewish experience.

            What, then, has Paul Weston in common with Paul the Apostle? While BeTipul is distinctly situated in a specific Jewish experience and Israeli culture, In Treatment is much less specifically Christian or Jewish, leaving Paul Weston rather unmarked both ethnically and religiously. But when it comes to guilt, Paul actively denies it: at Alex’s funeral, he denies having been Alex’s therapist, so that when Alex’s father comes to Paul’s clinic the next day, he is very upset. In contrast to Reuven, who says to Yadin’s father, “One must learn to live with guilt,”[77] Paul says to Alex’s father, “You are not responsible.”[78] And although, of course, no one is responsible for Alex’s suicide, Paul is not even questioning the source of guilty feelings that might arise in him or Alex’s father. So while the aim of both Paul the Apostle and psychoanalysis is tracing back the sense of guilt, this is not the aim of Paul Weston. Reuven, on the other hand, admits the guilt with which he and Yadin’s father must live.

            What about Paul’s universalist approach? Instead of seeing Paul as unmarked and universal, Alex’s father accuses him of being not familiar “with [Alex’s] background.” He asks Paul what he would do if his son sought out someone from a different culture “who started giving him advice [. . . ], advice that you would pretty sure find harmful to your son; what would you do?”[79] Alex’s father makes clear that he thinks a white man could not be a good therapist for his African-American son, suggesting that what might be good for white people might be harmful for black people. For him the cultural background of the therapist is relevant; the use of universal ideas for every different case is insufficient.

            But in his universal attitude toward and disregard for cultural differences, Paul Weston’s approach fits well into the recent philosophical debate that has arisen around Saint Paul, involving such figures as Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, and Slavoj <Ž>i<ž>ek. Boyarin, too, attests that “in terms of ethnicity, his [Saint Paul’s] system required that all human cultural specificities [. . .] be eradicated.”[80] Badiou found in Paul’s universalism a counter-model to a multicultural identity politics, including Jewish particularism, which is based on the tolerance of difference. He also follows the idea that Paul overturned the Jewish law.[81]

            In In Treatment we also find a struggle with the law, mostly in the episodes when Paul sees his supervisor, Gina (Dianne Wiest). Furthermore, some reviewers contend that the sessions with Gina are the most psychoanalytic ones, and Paul frequently argues with her about the rules of psychoanalysis. In his sessions with patients, Paul seems to practice an “Augustinian/Lutheran psychologizing of Paul’s epistle to the Romans,”[82] which forms a model of introspection and confession combined with a forgiveness of sins. But when he meets with Gina, he constantly questions her authority. When she asks Paul if he might repeat his father’s behavior and run away with a patient, Paul asks her to stop talking about his father. He clearly challenges Gina’s rules, treating her disrespectfully by arriving late, ending the session early, and insulting her. If psychoanalysis is a Jewish science–with Judaism a religion of law–Paul is here rebelling against that authority figure and claims to invent a new school. Like the Apostle Paul, who said that belief in the advent of Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law,” Paul Weston claims to redeem psychoanalysis.[83] He complains that Gina follows the rules of psychotherapy too closely, as reflected by her demand that he end the case of erotic transference with Laura (Melissa George).

            Žižek’s reading of Apostle Paul is similar to Freud’s, wherein Paul relieved Christians of guilt for their past sins. For Žižek the most important difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is the break with the logic of Sin and Punishment, which brings about the possibility of a New Beginning: “[T]he crucial point is that this New Beginning is possible only through Divine Grace–its impetus must come from outside; it is not the result of a man’s inner effort to overcome his/her limitations.”[84] This is an attempt to overcome “the universe we live in, our ‘way of all flesh.’ [. . .]”[85] His argument is that Paul was not against the law as such but rather against a cycle in which the subject is kept in a “universe in which Sin and Law, desire and its prohibition, are inextricably intertwined. [. . .] The direct result of the intervention of the Law is thus that it divides the subject and introduces a morbid confusion between life and death: the subject is divided between (conscious) obedience to the Law and (unconscious) desire for its transgression.”[86]

            Paul argues with Gina over whether the case of erotic transference is still within the laws of psychotherapy or already crosses the borders, and over whether he expresses a desire for a transgression when he articulates the wish to leave his patients and his wife. The question of whether desire exists beyond the rules of the law is more or less a question of psychoanalysis and the analytic cure. Žižek’s discussion of Saint Paul is not in the lineage of Freud but rather draws on Lacan’s seminar on the Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959, 60). “Psychoanalysis,” he writes, “is the theory that conceptualizes the paradoxical structure of the first division!”[87] The question is whether psychoanalysis stays within the circle of the law and the desire that transgresses the law, or what “solution” it offers. Lacan agrees with the Apostle Paul that sin is always situated in relation to the law, or rather that the law produces sin as its transgression. When Lacan formulates the maxim of psychoanalytic ethics in the sentence “don’t give way on your desire,” desire is no longer the transgressive desire generated by the prohibitory Law; “rather, it is fidelity to one’s desire itself that is elevated to the level of ethical duty, so that [it] is ultimately another way of saying ‘Do your duty!’”[88]

            From this point of view, all of Paul’s sessions with Gina are about the ethics of psychoanalysis and about the rules of the cure, but also about an understanding of these rules and the symbolic law itself.[89] When Paul confesses later that he is in love with his patient Laura and wants to be with her, a relationship or an affair with Laura seems to be a fulfillment of his desire. But when he finally meets her at home, he is not able to sleep with her, because he has a panic attack. Gina asks Paul whether he thinks “moral decisions are always made in the absence of temptation.”[90] While for Paul the panic attack stands between his desire and its fulfillment, in Gina’s view it was in accordance with Paul’s desire to fulfill his duty to his patient, to do the right thing. This episode at the end of the first season thus shows the impossibility of jouissance beyond the law. Jouissance is part of the law, but not as its opposite. Rather, the two are tied together.


One can claim that Paul’s universalism fails in the US adaptation. If the Apostle Paul embodies a universalism and abolishment of borders, the series and especially the adaptation say something different: that the same story needs its own specific cultural adjustment. In Treatment follows a multiculturalist concept; the cast is more diverse than in BeTipul. But even though its diversity is limited to patients of African-American or Indian decent, it is striking that Jewishness is almost invisible. In its multicultural approach, the Jew becomes white in the series, as has often been the case.[91] But even the transference from a Jewish culture to a multicultural project fails in some cases. In the case of Yadin/Alex, the incomparability of Jewish and African-American trauma becomes obvious. This is partly because racism in the US and the history of slavery are rarely discussed in public, and they are not acknowledged as national traumas.[92] Another important difference is the commonality or difference between the identities of patient and therapist. While I don’t argue that this is equally important for all cases, the case of Yadin shows that a specific trauma cannot be transferred onto another traumatic history. Ultimately, American television’s avoidance in naming both Jewishness and racism results in the failure of that particular story. In regard to the Jewishness of psychoanalysis in general, we have to take into account that in both series we don’t see psychoanalytic sessions but rather witness psychotherapy instead. Although both series consist mainly of dialogue, there is a crucial difference between the two. Whereas in In Treatment the exchange between patient and therapist focuses more on action than on language, the dialogue in BeTipul is more closely aligned with the aim of psychoanalysis–the interpretation of words.


I am grateful for Kenneth Reinhard’s and Ann Goldberg’s comments and helpful suggestions on a draft of this article and for their general support of my work. Great thanks to Vincent Brook, Deborah Hertz, and Nancy Ezer for our conversations on Jewish and Israeli television, and to Hagai Levi, Sarah Treem, and Rodrigo Garcia for their interviews. Special thanks to Katrin Pesch.


[1] Mosse-Lecture with Hagai Levi and Elisabeth Bronfen, Humboldt University, Berlin, June 14,, 2012,, accessed May 15, 2015.

[2] Other countries are Slovenia, Serbia, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Moldavia, and Canada.

[3] Roni Baht, “Consulting for the TV Series BeTipul: A Personal Perspective,” Contemporary Psychoanalysis 46.2 (2010): 238.

[4] Tasha Oren, “Therapy Is Complicated: HBO’s Foray into Modular Storytelling with In Treatment,” Flow, January 29, 2008,, accessed January 14, 2014.

[5] Vincent Brook, Something Ain’t Kosher Here: The Rise of the “Jewish” Sitcom (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 1.

[6] Ibid., 11.

[7] Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, vol. 1 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1964), 7.

[8] Christine Lang, “The Idea of Love in the TV Serial In Treatment,” in Screening the Dark Side of Love, ed. Karen Ritzenhoff and Karen Randell (London: Palgrave, 2012), 120-140.

[9] Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), 16.

[10] Silvia Vegetti Finzi, “The Jew as an Ethical Figure,” in Freud and Judaism, ed. David Meghnagi (London: Karnac Books, 1993), 96.

[11] See Stephen Frosh, Hate and the “Jewish Science”: Anti-Semitism, Nazism and Psychoanalysis (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2005).

[12] Sigmund Freud, Postscript (1935) to An Autobiographical Study, vol. 20 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1964), 72.

[13] Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 99.

[14] Mosse-Lecture with Hagai Levi and Elisabeth Bronfen.

[15] Robert Stam, “The Theory and Practice of Adaptation,” in Literature and Film–A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation, ed. Alessandra Raengo and Robert Stam (Malden, MA: Blackwell 2005), 44.

[16] Brett Kahr, “Dr. Paul Weston and the Bloodstained Couch,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 92 (2011): 1051-1058.

[17] Harvey Roy Greenberg, “In Treatment: Doctor Paul Weston–Psychotherapist or Cinetherapist?” Psychoanalytic Review 98.1 (2011): 121-134; Laura Barnett, “How Realistic Is In Treatment?” Guardian, April 25, 2011,, accessed January 14, 2014.

[18] Jane Feuer, “Being in Treatment on TV,” Flow, May 16, 2009,, accessed January 21, 2014.

[19] Caroline Bem, “Of Talk and Silence on Television: Notes on In Treatment,” Seachange (2012): 25-39, 28,, accessed May 15, 2015.

[20] Michaela Wünsch, „Schluss mit dem Kino!,“ in Félix Guattari. Die Couch des Armen. Die Kinotexte in der Diskussion, ed.Aljoscha Weskott, Susanne Leeb, Herlmut Draxler (Berlin: b_books 2011), 79-91.

[21] This was a one-day conference on April 9, 2009, hosted by the Nazarian Center for Israel Studies., accessed May 15, 2015.

[22] See, for instance, Slavoj <Ž>i<ž>ek’s reading of Psycho or Total Recall in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) (London: Verso, 1993); Joan Copjec’s film analysis in Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994); or Todd McGowan and Sheila Kunkle’s reader, Lacan and Contemporary Film (New York: Other Press, 2004), xx, in which the editors claim that a psychoanalytical reading of a “filmic text” cannot be separated from its reception.

[23] Ira Konigsberg, “Does It Work? Mine Own Executioner and Psychoanalytic Interpretation,” Contemporary Psychoanalysis 46. 2 (2010): 199.

[24] Oren, “Therapy Is Complicated.”

[25] Krin Gabbard at the UCLA conference on In Treatment/BeTipul, April 3 2009, podcast:, accessed May 15, 2015.

[26] Irit Keynan, “Moral Injury: The Case of Israel,” UCIPC Annual Conference, Lake Arrowhead, May 18, 2013.

[27] See Ilan Avisar, “Israeli Cinema and the Ending of Zionist Ideology,” in Israel in the Nineties, ed. Frederick Lazin and Gregory Mahler (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996), 153-168; Nurit Gertz, “Historical Memory: Israeli Cinema and Literature in the 1980s and 1990s,” in Critical Essays on Israeli Society, Religion, and Government, ed. Kevin Avruch and Walter Zenner (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 200-226.

[28] Raz Yosef, Beyond Flesh: Queer Masculinities and Nationalism in Israeli Cinema (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 57.

[29] Avisar, “Israeli Cinema,” 165.

[30] Hagai Levi at the UCLA conference on In Treatment/ BeTipul, April 3, 2009, podcast:, accessed May 15, 2015.

[31] “Yadin: Week 1,” BeTipul, season 1, episode 2, 2005.

[32] B. T. Litz, N. Stein, E. Delaney, L. Lebowitz, W. P. Nash, C. Silva, and S. Maguen, “Moral Injury and Moral Repair in War Veterans: A Preliminary Model and Intervention Strategy,” Clinical Psychology Review 29.8 (2009): 695-706.

[33] K. D. Drescher, D. W. Foy, C. Kelly, A. Leshner, K. Schutz, and B. Litz, “An Exploration of the Viability and Usefulness of the Construct of Moral Injury in War Veterans,” Traumatology 17 (2011): 8-13.

[34] “Yadin: Week 1,” BeTipul, season 1, episode 2, 2005.

[35] Amit Goldenberg, “A Soldier’s Self-Cannibalization: Moral Injury,” International Psychoanalysis, October 24, 2011,, accessed January 20, 2014.

[36] A. Fontana, R. Rosenheck, and E. Brett, “War Zone Traumas and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptomatology,” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 180 (1992): 748-755.

[37] Shira Maguen and Brett Litz, “Moral Injury in Veterans of War,” PTSD Research Quarterly 23.1 (2012): 2,, accessed May 15, 2015.

[38] “Yadin: Week 2,” BeTipul, season 1, episode 7, 2005.

[39] “Yadin: Week 1,” BeTipul, season 1, episode 2, 2005.

[40] “Yadin: Week 2,” BeTipul, season 1, episode 7, 2005.

[41] He uses the Hebrew word for “tuberculotic.” I thank Yaron Spivak for this translation.

[42] “Yadin: Week 1,” BeTipul, season 1, episode 2, 2005.

[43] N. Auerhahn and D. Laub, “Intergenerational Memory of the Holocaust,” in International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma, ed. Y. Danieli (New York: Plenum Press, 1998), 21-42: 38.

[44] Jeffrey Prager, “Lost Childhood, Lost Generations: The Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma,” Journal of Human Rights 2:2 (2003): 173-181; 177.

[45] Ibid., 180.

[46] Raz Yosef, The Politics of Loss and Trauma in Contemporary Israeli Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2011), 7.

[47] Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 81.

[48] Freud, “Death and Us,” in Freud and Judaism, ed. Meghnagi, 11-41.

[49] Ibid., 23.

[50] Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 133.

[51] “Yadin: Week 5,” BeTipul, season 1, episode 22, 2005.

[52] “Yadin–Yadin’s Father: Week 8,” BeTipul, season 1, episode 37, 2005.

[53] Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 88.

[54] Ibid., 101.

[55] Frosh, Hate and the “Jewish Science”, 10 (emphasis in original).

[56] Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, “Some Thoughts on Freud’s Attitude during the Nazi Period,” in Freud and Judaism, ed. Meghnagi, 74.

[57] David Meghnagi, “A Cultural Event with Judaism,” in Freud and Judaism, ed. Meghnagi, 63.

[58] Frosh, Hate and the “Jewish Science”, 11. I am not sure where the comma has to be, because the “ is part of the title.

[59] Ibid., 13.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Miriam Talmon-Bohm at the UCLA conference on In Treatment/ BeTipul, April 3, 2009, podcast,, accessed May 15, 2015.

[62] “Talia: Week 3,” BeTipul, season 2, episode 11, 2008.

[63] “Gila: Week 1,” BeTipul, season 1, episode 5, 2005.

[64] Interview with the author, June 20, 2013.

[65] Lang, “Idea of Love,” 131.

[66] “Mia: Week 3,” In Treatment, season 2, episode 11, 2011.

[67] Krin Gabbard at the conference on In Treatment/ BeTipul, April 3, 2009, podcast,, accessed May 15, 2015.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Greenberg, “In Treatment: Doctor Paul Weston,” 129.

[70] Wolf-Daniel Hartwich, Aleida Assmann, and Jan Assmann, “Afterword,” in Jacob Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul, trans. Dana Hollander, ed. Aleida Assmann and Jan Assmann (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 116.

[71] Pamela E. Klassen and John W. Marshall, “Saint as Cipher: Paul, Badiou, and the Politics of Ritual Repudiation,” History of Religions 51.4 (May 2012): 360.

[72] Daniel Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), introduction (ebook).

[73] Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 135.

[74] Ibid., 89, 86.

[75] Ibid., 88.

[76] Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul, 95.

[77] “Yadin–Yadin’s Father: Week 8,” BeTipul, season 1, episode 37, 2005.

[78] “Alex: Week 8,” In Treatment, season 1, episode 37, 2008.

[79] “Alex: Week 8,” In Treatment, season 1, episode 37, 2008.

[80] Boyarin, A Radical Jew, introduction.

[81] Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, trans. Ray Brassier (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003). See also Eleanor Kaufman, “The Saturday of Messianic Time (Agamben and Badiou on the Apostle Paul),” in South Atlantic Quarterly 107.1 (Winter 2008): 37-54.

[82] Klassen and Marshall, “Saint as Cipher,” 360.

[83] Holy Bible, New International Version, Galatians 3:13.

[84] Slavoj Žižek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology (London: Verso, 1999), 331.

[85] Ibid., 148 (emphasis in original).

[86] Ibid., 148-149.

[87] Ibid., 153 (emphasis in original).

[88] Ibid.

[89] On Paul’s unethical behavior, see Kahr, “Dr. Paul Weston and the Bloodstained Couch.”

[90] “Paul and Gina: Week 9,” In Treatment, season 1, episode 43, 2008.

[91] See Vincent Brook, Something Ain’t Kosher, 15, 163.

[92] Jeffrey Prager, “False Memory and Early Childhood Sexual Abuse: Two Distinctive Differences in Understanding and Intervention,” New Center for Psychoanalysis, Los Angeles, CA, November 21, 2013.


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