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Letters to the Rebbe: Religion and healing among the Lubavitch of Stamford Hill

Dein, S; (1999) Letters to the Rebbe: Religion and healing among the Lubavitch of Stamford Hill. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis examines sickness and healing among Lubavitchers, a group of Chassidic Jews living in North London. It attempts to answer a number of questions: To what extent do their ideas about the body, sickness and the cosmos derive from their religious texts? How do they conceptualise the relation between words and objects, between religious texts and the body? Under what circumstances do they resort to symbolic healing? How do they understand healing? Are rituals intended to effect change in the world or their own dispositions or both? Lubavitchers response to sickness must be understood within the context of Chassidic ideas relating to suffering and misfortune. At times of severe sickness or that not responding to biomedical treatments, appeal is made to their spiritual leader, the Rebbe. He mediates between the material and spiritual worlds and effects physical healing through the manipulation of religious artefacts. Deriving from Tanya, Lubavitchers emphasise the unity of everything in the universe and the close interrelation between the physical and spiritual, words and objects and religious texts and the body. Healing "works" on account of the fact that there is a close correspondence between Hebrew words and parts of the body. These esoteric expertises are only applied in times of sickness not in other areas of daily life. Much of the time Lubavitchers live in an enchanted world where the divine intrudes into mundane events and miracles are commonplace. However at other times they live in a pragmatic world of cause and effect The thesis confirms the Malinowskian hypothesis that symbolic measures come into play when pragmatic actions fail. In the accounts presented the petitioners argue that they expect, through the Rebbe, to effect some definite change in the natural world: ie their petitions are strong illocutionary acts. From the analyst's point of view, a "magical view" of the world may be imputed to Lubavitchers. In practice their explanations of their actions are often not well systematised and actions we might call "magical" they themselves call religious. The various Lubavitcher campaigns reinforce the power of the Rebbe and legitimate his authority. This is especially the case with the Messiah Campaign. Following his death, messianic expectations intensified as did proselytisation.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Letters to the Rebbe: Religion and healing among the Lubavitch of Stamford Hill
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10125089
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