In this series, author Lamed Resh addresses a commonly asked question about his life’s story: When did you abandon Chassidic faith? In true Talmudic fashion, Lamed responds to this simple question with a complicated answer. He turns to Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory of development and traces the origins of his heresy through four critical phases: Oral, Anal, Phallic, and Genital. In this episode, Lamed recounts the anal phase of his progression from Chassid to apikores1.
We are all born with an instinct to suck. Without it, we’d die.
Sucking is the first skill we master, and not only does it nourish us, but it rewards us with our very first pleasure of consumption. Freud believed that sucking was not merely a means of sustenance, but also a means of sexual gratification. He claimed that children suck their thumbs – an indulgence devoid of nutriment – because the oral activity is inherently gratifying.
During infancy, our mouths also serve as the instrument of exploration; we use it to sample novel experiences and to differentiate the things that please us form those that do not. As crawlers traverse their living room floors, they frequently stop to smell the proverbial roses, discovering the world first through their mouths by tasting, biting, and sucking the array of objects within reach.
Chassidic rebellion also begins with an oral phase, marked by the very same impulse to sample new experiences. I vividly remember my first oral transgression.
It was a chilly November night, and my mother had sent me on an errand to a nearby grocery store. At the age of ten, I had never once considered eating treif, but that night was fatefully different. As I approached the cashier, I impulsively grabbed a bag of Doritos from the register isle and threw it on the counter among the items my mother requested. I paid the cashier, took my change, and dashed to the alley behind the store. Sheltered from the prying gaze of Chassidic onlookers, I foraged through the grocery bag, and quickly shoveled the chips into my mouth. They were like nothing I had ever tasted: cheesy, savory, crispy, forbidden. I had committed my first oral sin, and it was thrilling.
Over the next few years, I would repeat the oral transgression again and again, discovering the world beyond my Chassidic enclave in an escalating cycle of novelty and sin: cheeseburgers, shellfish, bacon… sex.
Freud believed that during infancy we confront a special oral conflict: we must be weaned from our mother’s breast without developing a thumb-sucking habit. To Freud, thumb-sucking was perverse because although it substituted for the pleasures of nursing, it failed to supplement the nutrients. He warned of the neuroses that would ensue from such an unsustainable habit: overindulge a child’s thumb-sucking, and they would emerge in adulthood with an eating-disorder, perpetually haunted by the impulse to purge their food – to consume without nourishment – and their mouths would forever remain the conduit to sexual gratification.
The Chassidic heretic encounters a similar challenge in the oral phase of their progression. Upon first exploring an alternative secular life, they must wean themselves from the breast of Chassidic nurturance. Departing from such a sheltered upbringing invariably leaves a void, and the infantile heretic is desperate to fill that void with a succession of pleasurable substitutes. But just as thumb-sucking fails to deliver the nutriments of breastfeeding, a rebellion driven by pleasure alone fails to supplement the nutriments of community life. Such heretics invariably get caught in a cycle of sin and repentance, perpetually fixated on the impulse to consume, but forever returning to their original source of sustenance – Chassidic observance, a breast from which they were never successfully weaned.
During the oral phase of my heretical development, I was sustained by such discoveries as secular music, literature, and science, which had come to provide an enriching source of personal nourishment. I had struck just the right balance between infantile pleasure-seeking on the one hand, and cultivating a sustainable source of growth on the other, that my weaning from the breast of Chassidic observance was ultimately realized. Had I failed the oral conflict, I would have been fated to endure the pangs of a religious eating-disorder, ensnared by the impulse to transgress and then repent – to consume and then purge myself of sin, and my rebellion would forever be devoid of nourishment.
…And so it was that my rebellion had begun. And not only did I consume, but I was nourished. And it was good.
But alas, Dear Reader, that which is consumed, must inevitably be expelled. And though I had mastered the oral conflict of consumption, an ever more fateful conflict of expulsion awaited me in the anal phase of my heretical development….
1apikores is the Yiddish term for a heretic.
Dear Reader, Be sure to check back here in a few weeks for the 3rd instalment of From Chassid to Apikores: The Psychosexual Development of the Jewish Heretic when Lamed Resh examines the anal phase of his rebellion. Click here to read what this series is all about.
Lamed Resh hails from the streets of Cote-des-Neiges in Montreal, where he attended Yeshiva as a child. LR’s journey to relinquish his Chassidic faith for a secular life has been featured on local and international television. He is now studying for his Doctorate in Philosophy as part of a broader effort to demystify human experience for himself and others.
The illustration for this story was done by Jacob Aspler. Check out his other work.