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Guilt isn’t the problem

R DuschinskyFilmed at Limmud Conference 2016

Guilt is feeling bad for something we have done. Shame is feeling bad for the kind of person we are. Which is the characteristic Jewish emotion? Rabbi Sacks proposes that it is guilt, that each Jew stands with awareness of divine judgement looming, feeling bad for what they have done or not done. I argue that this is an idealisation. In fact our community as a whole is functionally atheist in moral terms, even if many individuals have faith. Instead, the community talks about Jewish pride, but runs in practice on shame and fear of shame. And we laugh off the associated ugly feelings as guilt. But when attention is paid to the role of shame, the possibility arises of weighing the unsettling truths associated with these feelings of shame, as well as potential misapprehensions.

Robbie Duschinsky is a boger of RSY-Netzer. He lives in Cambridge with his wife Sophie. He holds a Lectureship in Social Sciences at Cambridge University, serving as Head of the Applied Social Science Group within the Primary Care Unit. He is the author of around fifty articles, mostly addressing issues around children, the family and theories of human behaviour. He has also edited six books or journal issues. His most recent book is ‘Sustaining Social Work: Between Power and Powerlessness’, published earlier this year.

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