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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Shame and Illness: A Jewish Perspective

by Michelle Friedman, MD (Posted on July 5, 2016)
Topics: Halakha & Modernity, Disabilities

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I approach the topic of “Shame and Illness” from my twin perspectives as psychoanalyst and traditional Jew. This written piece contains material prepared for the forum held at New York Medical College on June 14, 2004 as well as issues raised that evening via case vignette presentation and audience participation.

I hope to discuss a number of points. My starting place is a definition of sham especially as contrasted to its sister emotion, guilt. I then look at shame from Jewish point of view, using three classical texts and mentioning a variety of cultural traditions. Next, as most of my professional medical experience is in psychiatry, I highlight the specific shame of psychiatric illness in the Jewish a larger community. The last portion of my spoken presentation was a practical charge to health care professionals – suggestions as to how understanding of Jewish attitudes towards shame and illness, can better serve our patients. Discussion at the forum expanded my topic in two directions that I will mention in this paper. Firstly, people wondered if traditional religious attitudes and customs continue to be meaningful for assimilated Jews. The group also voiced interest in exploring how the roles of psychiatrist and chaplain (or other religious personnel) differ in the face of illness…

This was published on the Yale School of Medicine website. To read the full article, click here.