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.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Many thanks to the people who shared with me their agonies and hopes; to Eliezer Witztum and Tuvia Buchbinder, with whom I participated for two years in weekly meetings with patients in their special clinic; to Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi from the department of psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel for his warm hospitality and good advice; to Sam Heilman, Tamar Katriel and Adital Ben-Ari for their comments, and to Tammar Zilber for the ongoing discussion on this paper. Transcriptions were supported by the Eshkol Institute, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This paper was written during my post-doctoral stay at the University of Haifa (funded by the High Education Council, Israel) and at the University of California, Berkeley (funded by the Lady Davis Fund and the Morris Ginsberg Foundation). Early findings were presented at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting, Washington DC, 1997; and at Deborah Golden’s seminar on narratives at the University of Haifa, 1998.
- Mental disorders
- Narrative analysis
- Ultraorthodox Jews