Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 1–27 | Cite as




In this essay we seek to examine the cultural tool kit employed in the Jewish ultraorthodox community to cope with autism, a predicament deemed resistant to massive cultural molding. Through 30 open-ended interviews with ultraorthodox mothers of children with autism we portray the mothers’ emerging recognition of the disorder, their care seeking activities, and their construction of explanatory models. The health care system on which the ultraorthodox mothers rely is extremely diverse, including mainstream medical and educational services, various alternative therapies, therapies specific to autism, and spiritual and mystical interventions. The outcome of these endeavors is a dual system of illness perception in which bio-medical and spiritual-religious frames of references coexist. This duality cuts across all the facets of the explanatory system: etiology, pathophysiology, treatment, and prognosis. Metaphysical accounts, and especially the notion of the transmigration of souls, serve as meta-accounts, bridging the epistemological gap between God’s mysterious intention and the specific bodily mechanisms underlying the disorder. The religious and moral theme of suffering is highlighted in the narratives as a salient constituent of the ultraorthodox mothers’ attempts to understand and come to terms with their plight.


autism Israel ultraorthodox explanatory models 



The interviews for this study were conducted in 1998–2000 as part of the first author’s Ph.D. dissertation. The project was supported by a doctoral scholarship granted by the School of Education and by the Eshkol Institute, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

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