Sanity and Sanctity

Mental Health Work Among the Ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem

David Greenberg and

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Ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem are isolated from the secular community that surrounds them not only physically but by their dress, behaviors, and beliefs. Their relationship with secular society is characterized by social, religious, and political tensions. The differences between the ultra-orthodox and secular often pose special difficulties for psychiatrists who attempt to deal with their needs.

In this book, two Western-trained psychiatrists discuss their mental health work with this community over the past two decades. With humor and affection they elaborate on some of the factors that make it difficult to treat or even to diagnose the ultra-orthodox, present fascinating case studies, and relate their observations of this religious community to the management of mental health services for other fundamentalist, anti-secular groups.

David Greenberg, M.D., director of the Community Mental Health Center, Herzog Hospital, Jerusalem, is editor of the Israel Journal of Psychiatry. Eliezer Witztum, M.D., is professor in the division of psychiatry, faculty of health sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and director of psychotherapy supervision, Mental Health Center, Beer Sheva.

"An important and fascinating contribution to the fields of cross-cultural psychiatry, mental health services, and Jewish studies that reflects David Greenberg’s deep understanding of and immersion in his patients’ world and beliefs"—Robert A. King, MD, Yale Child Study Center   










“Is a religious Jew who is visited by an angel mad? How can one distinguish between religious ritual and obsessional behaviour? In addressing questions such as these, the authors take the reader on a fascinating journey through mysticism, magic and profound faith. Enlivened with parables and written with clarity and compassion, this book will be of great value to all psychiatric professionals who work with members of cultural minorities.”—Julian Leff, Professor of Social and Cultural Psychiatry in the University of London, England

"The authors have profited from a twenty year involvement with a community in which cultural and religious influences upon psychiatry are exceptionally clear: the ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. They present their insights with subtlety and intelligence. The result is a convincing demonstration of the importance of transcultural psychiatry in the endeavors of mental health workers worldwide and is destined to become a classic in the field."—Raymond Prince, MD, Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal 

"This serious and enlightening study of mental health and illness in individuals at the extreme of religious commitment, is beautifully written, psychiatrically perceptive, sophisticated and wise, and religiously informed (and informative). It will engage every reader with an interest in the psychology of religious people, cultural psychiatry, and the uses and abuses of religious, spiritual and mystical engagement with the world. Recommended without reservation."— Mortimer Ostow, Emeritus Professor of Pastoral Psychiatry, Jewish Theological Seminary of America; President, Psychoanalytic Research and Development Fund

“Lucidly written, with humor and humility, the authors maintain a questioning, non-dogmatic tone throughout their expansive and in-depth discussions of the topics covered. Clear, yet learned descriptions on the intricacies of haredi life, make the book accessible to those with no previous knowledge, and a glossary and interesting notes make reading this thoughtful book an enjoyable and enriching experience.”—Nicky Lachs, The Jerusalem Post

“This book is packed with intriguing anecdotes, sensitive case histories and careful analyses of clinical and epidemiological data. . . . The work is essential reading for clinicians of a cross-cultural bent.”—Psychological Medicine

“This book is a very valuable addition to the literature on ultra-orthodoxy. It should also interest all involved in psychology and religion.”—Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review

". . . The authors . . . provide a thoughtful discussion of many ways in which cultural considerations come into lay when a mental health worker and a patient do not share common cultural ground. . . . The book speaks to general issues about how to establish a clinical rapport with patients of different cultural backgrounds from those of the clinician, how culture shapes psychiatric disorders, and how to establish treatment plans that are culturally sensitive."—Adam B. Cohen, PhD, The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease

"Written in a very clear and lucid way, providing many illustrations of the relation between Jewish culture and mental illness. The book is highly informative. . . . The authors are to be praised for the amount of scholarship, which has gone into this book. It is highly recommended for psychiatrists, psychologists, anthropologists and anyone interested in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel."—Simon Dien, Transcultural Psychiatry
ISBN: 9780300071917
Publication Date: April 10, 2001
400 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4