Law, Value and Norm: The Constitution of a Culture-Bound Ethical Dilemma in Social Work in the Ultra-Orthodox Community

Netanel Gemara, Yochay Nadan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Multi-cultural encounters pose challenges and ethical dilemmas for social workers. A common form of dilemma in these settings stems from the clash between the ethical requirement of cultural sensitivity and contradictory ethical principles. This article presents qualitative findings from an exploratory study of social workers (n = 30) working with Jewish Ultra-Orthodox families and children who are at risk in Israel. Our exploration was guided by the following research question: What are the constructions, perceptions, beliefs and meanings associated with the dilemmas social workers face while working with the Ultra-Orthodox community in Israel around issues of child well-being, risk and protection? A thematic analysis of 30 in-depth interviews yielded three themes of dilemma: the collectivist nature of the Ultra-Orthodox community, religion and spirituality and gender and sexuality. Further analysis of the findings revealed a typology of three elements that constitute a culture-bound dilemma: laws, values and norms. This article, which also addresses limitations and recommendations for future research, suggests how the understanding of what components make up a specific dilemma can aid social workers in managing the dilemma and may require a different course of action.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)700-718
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Israel Science Foundation [Grant No. 1958/ 17].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


  • children at risk
  • context-informed perspective
  • cultural competence
  • ethical dilemmas
  • social work
  • Ultra-Orthodox

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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