All paradigms of psychology ultimately deal with a picture of man. Judaism provides a complete and comprehensive vision of man. Psychology and Judaism address common concerns such as well-being, ethical behavior, and the fulfillment of a meaningful life. Additionally, the practice of psychology is based on certain underlying assumptions about what it means to be human. It addresses such questions as: What is human nature? Do we have free will? How do we create a psychologically healthy lifestyle? Which thoughts and feelings should be expressed and which suppressed? Judaism also has much to say on these issues.

This class will not focus on psychological problems per se – issues better left to mental health professionals to discuss. Rather, the focus will be on positive psychology – how people thrive and experience normal life in a more fulfilling way.

In order to understand how Judaism promotes these goals, we will first have to explore the basic Jewish understanding of human psychological makeup. We will explore the understanding of human nature and how it is built to facilitate free will. This in turn will lead to an investigation of various facets of the intellect and imagination, and about the development of personality and character traits. We will then be poised to appreciate how the Jewish system of Torah study and mitzvot observance can help us achieve the goals of positive psychology and personal development.

As such, this class seeks to answer the following questions:

  • What is the Jewish attitude toward psychological therapy? How is it in line with the goals of such therapy, and how does it differ?
  • How does Judaism view human nature?
  • Do we have free will, and if so what are its parameters?
  • What are the basic powers of the human mind, and how are they best employed?
  • What are the most fundamental human character traits, and can they be changed?
  • How does practicing Judaism promote positive psychological development?