Religion and Healing Among the Lubavitch Community in Stamford Hill, North London: A Case Study of Hasidism

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This book focuses on two main areas – first, the response of British Lubavitchers to misfortune generally and sickness, in particular and the role of their religious leader the Rebbe in this process; and second, their response to the illness and ultimate death of the Rebbe. It addresses a number of issues in contemporary social and medical anthropology: the social construction of the body, the power of words in ritual, the relation between myth and praxis, religious texts as a charter for healing and the relation between the use of biomedicine and symbolic healing. This book will be of interest to students of social anthropology, medical anthropology, medical sociology, millennialism, religious studies and students of contemporary Judaism.


“In this compelling account of an enclosed religious group within the wider secular metropolis, Dein shows how individual suffering is aligned with their Kabbalistic cosmology through the person of their leader, the Rebbe. . Through his body, group history, illness, divine will and the final state of the universe came together. One of the more extraordinary aspects of the tale is how some sections of the group actually elevate the leader to a divine status. This is quite unusual in Judaism where many notable Jews seem to have wondered if they themselves could be the promised Messiah but always a Messiah who is still strictly human: unlike in Christianity, the Jewish Messiah has never previously been awarded the status of a deity. In this account of the Rebbe’s personal illness and its own precipitation of messianic fervour in the group, his death resulting in a split in the group and a return of his physical body into the cosmological sphere, Simon Dein demonstrates sure ethnographical description as well as a fascinating hypothesis.” – (From the Commendatory Preface) Professor Roland Littlewood, University College London

“….an important and fascinating contribution to the anthropological picture of contemporary religious sub-cultures in London generally and in particular, of a community whose way of life and unique world view is often obscure to the outsider. As well as the painstaking collation of ethnographic material and oral data, Dr. Dein has carefully and clearly presented some of the major theological themes and historical contexts behind the issues affecting the community…..this is an outstanding work because it is both sympathetically written and objectively researched – in the best tradition of sensitive anthropological ethnographs.” – David Solomon, Visiting Research Fellow in Jewish Mysticism at the British Library and Translator of The Doctrine of Evil in Lurianic Kabbalah

“This fascinating book is based on participant-observer ethnographic research carried out by Simon Dein, who is both a psychiatrist and an anthropologist in Stamford Hill, North London…..Simon’s Dein’s book [is] invaluable in terms of providing vivid ethnographic background…..[It] has broader relevance in helping us understand apocalyptic movements and the way in which people accommodate emotionally and intellectually to the situation that arises “When Prophecy Fails”. It is also invaluable as a way of interpreting apparent inconsistencies and incompatibilities between adherence to the rationalism of modernity and beliefs in the supreme potency of the non-rational and the supernatural….This book will appeal to a very wide readership, both general and academic. Jewish readers will have the unique opportunity to learn more about their heritage than is available in other far more superficial texts. The book will also be invaluable to students of theology, comparative religion, medical anthropology, mysticism and folklore. Finally, the book will provide a very useful text to those health workers in London, Antwerp New York and Israel who are attempting to deliver a “culture fair” health service which incorporates insight and understanding of unfamiliar religious beliefs and healing systems.” – Maurice Lipsedge

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface by Professor Roland Littlewood
A Kabbalistic Primer
1. The Origins of Hasidism and its Practices of Healing
2. Words of Healing
3. Ethnography of the Stamford Hill Community
4. The Rebbe and His Miracles. The Power of Stories
5. Body and Soul
6. Words, Texts and Creation
7. Pragmatic and Symbolic Healing
8. Messianic Expectations in Stamford Hill

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