In Jewish folklore, a dybbuk is the spirit or soul of a dead person that enters a living body and takes possession of it. Dybbuk is a Hebrew word meaning “attachment.”
According to tradition, a dybbuk is a restless spirit that must wander about—because of its sinful behavior in its previous life—until it can “attach” itself to another person. The dybbuk remains within this person until driven away by a religious ceremony.
Dybbuks in Context
Belief in possessing spirits such as dybbuks was common in eastern Europe during the 1500s and 1600s. Sometimes people who had nervous or mental disorders were assumed to be possessed by a dybbuk. Often a special rabbi was called to exorcise, or drive out, the evil spirit. Exorcisms of dybbuks still take place in modern times, though they are rare and not considered a typical part of Jewish culture.
Key Themes and Symbols
Like ghosts in many cultures, dybbuks usually symbolize restlessness, unresolved conflict, or pain. Dybbuks are seldom identified with people who led happy, fulfilling lives. Dybbuks also serve as a reminder of the soul's continued existence after a person dies, which reinforces a belief in the afterlife .
Dybbuks in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Shloime Ansky wrote a play in Yiddish called The Dybbuk in 1916. It concerns a rabbinical student named Khonnon who calls upon Satan to help him win Leye, the woman he loves. When Khonnon dies, he becomes a dybbuk and takes possession of Leye. After she is freed of the spirit, Leye dies, and her spirit joins that of Khonnon. In 1974, composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins created a ballet titled Dybbuk that was based on Ansky's play.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Some churches still practice exorcism as a way to remove a demonic spirit from the body of someone who has been declared possessed, usually a child. Many cases of exorcism around the world have resulted in death or injury to the supposed victim of the possession. Do you think the practice of exorcism should be protected under the banner of religious freedom? Why or why not?