“You Look, Thank God, Quite Good on the Outside”: Imitating the Ideal Self in a Jewish Ultra-Orthodox Rehabilitation Site


Rather than viewing therapeutic interventions as either compliance or resistance to the social order, I analyze them as mimesis of cultural ideal selves. In particular, I examine the new mediations of the social order constituted in mimetic therapeutic practices and their entailed creativity and ambivalence. Drawing on participant observation in a Jewish ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) rehabilitation site I explore how, given the ruptures brought about in mental disorders, caretakers offer their clients new ways to inhabit the normal self through its imitation. Specifically, caregivers construct replications of dominant selves by selectively deploying modern and neotraditional discourses of the self in diverse social contexts and in multiple registries like body, emotions, social relations, and ways of belonging to the community. I suggest that mimetic therapeutic work is carried out along emerging social distinctions that are associated with Haredim’s complex relations with the secular society, and with cultural contestations within the community itself.

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