, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 169-194

Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion: Comparing Mental Illness Narratives of Haredi Male Patients and their Rabbis

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Abstract

By comparing versions of mental illness narratives – told by Haredi (Utraorthodox Jews) male patients of a mental health clinic in Israel and by their rabbis – this paper relates to two distinct, yet interrelated, theoretical questions: the place and agency of narrators, and the tension between experience and representation. A pair of narratives exemplifies a pattern in which the patients (Talmudic students) tell a narrative of a sudden breakdown related to a dramatic meeting with a non-human figure (often, a woman) or force. Their rabbis, by contrast, tell a narrative that emphasizes their students' mundane symptoms, ``abnormal'' and ``immoral'' behavior, and use a local adaptation of a Western psychological explanatory model. A dynamic of inclusion and exclusion emerges as students are seeking legitimization and avoidance of stigma, while their rabbis are silencing themes that challenge social and cultural orders. The different narratives are further interpreted in the context of the micropolitics of the interviews and of identity politics between the Haredim and secular Israelis. This social dynamics shows how differently placed social actors-narrators-interpreters construct differently contested and diverse cultural narratives of a seemingly shared reality.