10. Dreams

A dream (chalom) is a night vision, an apparition, a revelation or a vision that a person occasionally sees in his sleep.

Sometimes, the term "dream" is also used to describe a phenomenon without permanence, something fleeting which rapidly evaporates. "Dream " also refers to a strong desire which is unfulfilled or to something which is farfetched and unlikely.

Scientific Background

A dream (chalom) is a night vision, an apparition, a revelation or a vision that a person occasionally sees in his sleep.

Sometimes, the term "dream" is also used to describe a phenomenon without permanence, something fleeting which rapidly evaporates. "Dream " also refers to a strong desire which is unfulfilled or to something which is farfetched and unlikely.

The study of dreams is an ancient one. People since antiquity have been agitated and fascinated by dreams and have made many attempts to explain the nature of dreams, their purpose and their interpretation.

In spite of thousands of years of effort and study of  the nature and interpretation  of  dreams,  science  has  advanced very little in this  area.  The  modern  era  of  the  study  of dreams begins with the publication of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. Freud claimed that all details of a dream (even the  most  ridiculous}  have  significance.  In his view, various feelings and sensations which one experiences in a dream are those pushed out of consciousness because of various social prohibitions. Further, contents of dreams satisfy hidden desires. There are struggles in man's nature between intellect and impulse. During waking hours, logical tendencies predominate. During a dream, instinctive desires and experiences occur which are important to satisfy a person's needs. The approach of Freud is based more on theories and hypotheses than on scientific facts. His views were strongly opposed by many people even during his lifetime and more so nowadays in view of new scientific knowledge about the structure of dreams - knowledge which was not known to Freud .

In the first half of the present century, the numerous studies of dreams were based on psychological and/or psychiatric considerations. Dreams form the basis of names denote similar things with variations in degree. See Mishneh Torah , Yesodei Hatorah 7:2-3. Other scholars state that there is a fundamental difference between a dream and prophecy and these names are not all the same.

psychoanalytical theory. Even nowadays, some  psychiatrists  and psychologists believe that dreams have important significance to the dreamer. Various psychiatric theories are based on the diagnosis and treatment of the  contents of dreams.

In 1953, the various stages of sleep which form the physiological basis of sleep were first identified. In  that year, the stage of sleep of rapid eye movements (REM) was described as the most important stage of dreams. The connection  between a large number of  dreams and  the REM stage  of  sleep  was established in 1957. On the other hand, some people lack this stage of sleep, lack any known dreams during sleep, yet have no functional problems. 12 During the past 50 years, dreams have been intensively studied by physiologists and others specializing in sleep disorders. There are still no clear scientific facts which prove that dreams are psychological, physiological, or a combination of both. Therefore, we still do not have a dear understanding of the nature and function of dreams nor of their genesis.

The importance and function of dreams has not yet been scientifically clarified. According to the theory put forth by Freud, the function of dreams is to release the contents of our subconscious and to transfer these contents to our consciousness. Primarily these contents are sexual in nature. Other psychoanalysts, such as Adler and Jung, theorize that dreams are important to express other contents such as aggressive tendencies or various personal desires. Other  psychiatrists state that the main purpose of dreams is to forget some learned material, thereby producing "cleanliness of the head" and to liberate brain energy to gather other and varied  material. Yet other psychiatrists believe that the purpose of  dreams is  to transfer n1emory, temporarily stored in subcortical areas, to cortical areas in the brain where memory is stored for prolonged periods of time. Finally, some psychiatrists suggest a combination of the two theories, namely the transfer of memory from subcortical to cortical areas, and the simultaneous erasure of memory which was temporarily stored in those subcortical areas, for an intermediate period of time, thereby allowing a fresh collection of memories and experiences to be collected and stored. 

Some psychiatrists believe that the storage of memory in our brain is effectuated through parables. When awake, we immediately try to interpret them. During sleep, the dream is an expression of the amorphous from the memory. This matter resembles vision and learning which enter the brain and are stored as electrical impulses. Only when our bra.in is awake does it translate the impulses into pictures and sounds.

Dreams in the Bible and the Talmud

The phenomenon of dreaming seems to be a wuversal human experience. A number of dreams  are  portrayed in  the  Bible: the dream  of Abimelech, the  dreams  of  Jacob, of  Laban the Aramean, the dreams of Joseph, and of the butler and the baker,0 the dreams of Pharaoh, of the two Midianites about Gideon, of Solomon, of Nebuchadnezzar, and the dream of Daniel.

The interpretations of all these dreams are described in the Bible except for the first dream of Jacob, about the ladder whose top reached up to heaven.

Dreams and dreaming are often discussed in the Talmud, but their ultimate significance is debatable. "Dreams are hidden and concealed things, and their purpose is concealed from human  beings."  "In  the  matter  of  dream  interpretation  there are nostrums or concealed things. Their purpose has not been revealed to us." Thus, in the Torah and the Talmud we find statements and opinions which indicate that dreams have no significance, are not true, are not fulfilled, and only represent deceptions of one's imagination for a variety of  reasons. On the other hand, we also find statements which indicate that dreams are significant in telling us about the future and in establishing Jewish law or ethical conduct. Some dreams are completely true and correct, while others are at least partially correct. There are also numerous conflicting opinions in Jewish writings about the origins and purposes of dreams, as discussed below.

Confirmed dreams which have significance and  which can be used to determine a halacha or a custom are called "true dreams." By contrast, dreams which are insignificant  or meaningless are called false dreams or vain dreams.

Our rabbis apparently considered that true dreams can be significant and meaningful. Examples include the dreams cited in Scriptures, which have true prophetic meaning, and the dreams cited in the Talmud whose forecasts become established according to the contents of the dreams. The laws about voiding a bad dream, fasting for bad dreams, and excommunication testify  to the  various meanings our rabbis attributed to dreams. Other mentions of dreams as authentic harbingers of some kind of divine message include "If there be a  prophet  among  you...I  will  speak  to  him  in  a  dream;" "And when Saul inquired the Lord...  neither  by dreams..."; "a dream is one sixtieth part of prophecy;" "the Lord said:

Although I hide My face from them, I shall speak to them in a dream;" "unripe prophecy is a dream." "Three types of dreams are fulfilled:  an early morning dream, a dream which a friend has about one, and a dream which is interpreted in the midst of a dream. Some also add, a dream which is repeated ... "Every dream just before morning is fulfilled immediately.'" "Nowadays, there is no prophecy nor voice from l1eaven, but people still have dreams.''

Some rabbinic dicta suggest that a dream should not be understood as totally meaningful and true.  However, it may be partially meaningful, as stated in the Talmud:  "Just as wheat cannot be without straw, so there cannot be a dream without some nonsense.', Kabbalists hold that although part of a dream is fulfilled, the whole of it is not fulfilled.  And while not all of a good dream is fulfilled, neither is all of a bad dream fulfilled. Some dreams are totally true and some contain both truth and falseness .

These elusive, sometimes contradictory, opinions regarding the validity of a dream sequence and its possible relevance reflect the wide range of rabbinic positions regarding the importance one ought to ascribe to a dream.

Clearly, there is a difference between the dreams of true prophets, which are meaningful and represent an expression of prophecy, and the usual dreams of ordinary people.  The latter dreams are the ones whose content, function, and significance are discussed in the Talmud and by the rabbis, to probe to what extent they may be meaningful.

Rabbinic decisors employ a variety of approaches to reconcile the apparent contradictions in talmudic teachings about dream interpretation and to explain the origins of dreams and their significance. Some rabbis write that there is an essential identity between a dream and prophecy - the difference between them is only quantitative.

A dream originates in the imaginative faculty of the soul. What a person perceives in a dream are concepts which he already had and whose impressions remain engraved in his imagination together with all his powers of imagination. When any idea becomes nullified, only those impressions remain. According to this view, there are various levels of prophetic experience; a prophet's dreams represent certain stages of prophecy. The prophetic dream levels are a dream in which the prophet sees an allegory, a dream in which the prophet hears things, a dream in which the prophet is addressed by an angel, a dream in which it appears to the prophet as if G-d spoke to him. Consequently, some rabbis describe true dreams as a "minor prophecy.”

By contrast, other rabbis believe that there is a substantive difference between a dream and prophecy and that the similarity between them is only external. For a dream is derived from the individual human imaginative faculty according to his own expressed characteristics and the constitution of his body, whereas prophecy comes from divine revelation from above.

Whether the difference between prophecy and a dream is qualitative or quantitative, apparently most rabbinic decisors and commentators believe that the majority of dreams originate from an imaginative faculty which is not healthy, or from a physical reason such as the digestion of food which produces gases in the brain, or from weakness of the body constitution which allows alterations in the body humors, or from provincial expressions and thoughts during the course of the day. A dream is the revelation of disorganized thoughts that are suppressed during waking hours and released during sleep. Such dreams are vain, have no meaning, and have no effect one way or the other. One should pay no attention to them.  Even if something in the dream is true, it is a very small part of the dream. Prophecy, however, is completely true, without any falseness at all.