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In Jewish mythology, a dybbuk (Yiddish: דיבוק, from the Hebrew verb דָּבַק dāḇaq meaning "adhere" or "cling") is a malicious possessing spirit believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person. It supposedly leaves the host body once it has accomplished its goal, sometimes after being helped.
"Dybbuk" is an abbreviation of דיבוק מרוח רעה dibbūq mē-rūaḥ rā‘ā ("a cleavage of an evil spirit"), or דיבוק מן החיצונים dibbūq min ha-ḥīṣōnīm ("dibbuk from the outside"), which is found in man. "Dybbuk" comes from the Hebrew word דִּיבּוּק dibbūq which means "the act of sticking" and is a nominal form derived from the verb דָּבַק dāḇaq "to adhere" or "cling".
The term first appears in a number of 16th century writings, though it was ignored by mainstream scholarship until S. Ansky's play The Dybbuk popularised the concept in literary circles. Earlier accounts of possession (such as that given by Josephus) were of demonic possession rather than that by ghosts. These accounts advocated orthodoxy among the populace as a preventative measure. For example, it was suggested that a sloppily made mezuzah or entertaining doubt about Moses' crossing of the Red Sea opened one's household to dybbuk possession. Very precise details of names and locations have been included in accounts of dybbuk possession. Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar rebbe (1887–1979) is reported to have supposedly advised an individual said to be possessed to consult a psychiatrist.
Ansky's play is a significant work of Yiddish theatre, and has been adapted a number of times by writers, composers and other creators including Jerome Robbins/Leonard Bernstein and Tony Kushner. In the play, a young bride is possessed by the ghost of the man she was meant to marry, had her father not broken a marriage agreement.
There are other forms of soul transmigration in Jewish mythology. In contrast to the dybbuk, the ibbur (meaning "impregnation") is a positive possession, which happens when a righteous soul temporarily possesses a body. This is always done with consent, so that the soul can perform a mitzvah. The gilgul (Hebrew: גלגול הנשמות, literally "rolling") puts forth the idea that a soul must live through many lives before it gains the wisdom to rejoin with God.
In popular culture
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The 2019 movie Killer Sofa features a dybbuk trapped in a recliner (not a sofa as the title suggests).
In Love and Death, Woody Allen's 1975 satire of Russian literature, Boris (Allen) flirts with the Countess Alexandrovna (Olga Georges-Picot), who is attending an opera with her lover Anton Ivanovich Lebedokov (Harold Gould). When the Countess says to Boris "You must visit me for tea. I'm sure we'd have a lot to talk about," Boris says "What about the dybbuk?"
A Serious Man opens with a parable about a couple who suspect that the rabbi they are hosting for dinner is a dybbuk.
In the Christopher Guest 1997 movie Waiting for Guffman, dentist Allan Pearl discusses his family history with show business: "I think I got a, a, an entertaining bug... from my grandfather... uh, Chaim Pearlgut, who was very very big in the, um, Yiddish, uh, theater, back in New York. He was in the, the very... the sardonically irreverent ..."Dybbuk Shmybbuk, I Said 'More Ham'"... and that revue I believe was 1914, and that revue was what made him famous. Incidentally, the song 'Bubbe Made a Kishke' came from that revue."
In the film To Dust (2018) the protagonist is suspected by his children to be possessed by a dybbuk (most likely that of his deceased wife).
In Ellen Galford's 1993 novel The Dyke and the Dybbuk, lesbian taxi-driver Rainbow Rosenbloom is haunted by, and gets the better of, a female dybbuk haunting her as a result of a curse placed on her ancestor 200 years ago.
In the comic series Girl Genius, the forcible insertion of the mind of Agatha's mother, the main villain Lucrezia Mongfish/"The Other", into her own was compared to a dybbuk by one of her followers when reporting the situation to someone else.
Richard Zimler's 2011 novel The Warsaw Anagrams is narrated by a dybbuk desperately trying to understand why he has remained in our world. This is in keeping with kabbalistic belief that dybbuks fail to pass over to the Other Side because of a mitzvah or duty that they have failed to fulfill.
The dybbuk is mentioned in the paranormal TV show Paranormal Witness, season 2, episode 4, "The Dybbuk Box" (USA 2012).
The "Dybbuk Box" was shown on the first episode of Deadly Possessions (spin off of Ghost Adventures), in which the son of the relative of a Holocaust survivor recounts the tale of the dybbuks' alleged involvement in the deaths surrounding the box.
In the episode of The Real Ghostbusters titled "Drool, the Dog-faced Goblin", the Ghostbusters discuss with Peter Venkman the many different forms an antagonistic ghost they are facing can take, with Egon Spengler mentioning a dybbuk. Peter asks Egon what a dybbuk is and Egon replies that it is best if he did not know. In a later episode titled "The Devil to Pay", the Ghostbusters deal with a demon named Dib Devlin, who swindles Ray Stanz and Winston Zeddemore into selling their souls to compete in his game show. Dib Devlin is later revealed to be a dybbuk.
Grandpa Boris tells a scary story to the babies involving a dybbuk in an early episode of Rugrats.
In the Legends of Tomorrow episode "Hell No, Dolly", the team goes after a dybbuk (voiced by Paul Reubens) stuck in a creepy doll, using the alias "Mike the Spike". The dybbuk later inhabits a puppet of Martin Stein. By the end of the next episode, "Mike the Spike" is subdued by the Legends and detained at the Time Bureau.
Few topics in Jewish theater history have inspired as many stage treatments as the dybbuk. A review of the innovative approaches to the subject was presented by EgoPo Classic Theater in English translation from the Yiddish, as penned by Joachim Neugroschel and adapted by Tony Kushner, the production directed by Lane Savadove. Containing detailed background information on the history of the dybbuk, "'Don't ask me what happened. It’s best not to know!': A DYBBUK, or Between two worlds" the article was first published by All About Jewish Theatre the world's largest English-language Jewish theater website, before its demise in 2014, but recently rescued by Drama Around the Globe and republished by Phindie.
- A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews, by Avner Falk, p.538, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1996
- "Dybbuk", Encyclopædia Britannica Online, retrieved 10 June 2009
- "Dibbuk", Encyclopedia Judaica, by Gershom Scholem.
- See A. Sáenz-Badillos & J. Elwolde, A History of the Hebrew Language, 1996, p. 187 on the qiṭṭūl pattern.
- Spirit Possession in Judaism: Cases and Contexts from the Middle Ages to the Present, by Matt Goldish, p.41, Wayne State University Press, 2003
- Tree of Souls:The Mythology of Judaism, by Howard Schwartz, pp. 229–230, Oxford University Press, 1 Nov 2004
- Billu, Y; Beit-Hallahmi, B (1989). "Dybbuk-Possession as a hysterical symptom: Psychodynamic and socio-cultural factors". Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Science. 26: 138–149. PMID 2606645.
- "The Dybbuk". The National Center for Jewish Film. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
- "The Dybbuk", Horror Punks USA Quarantne Compilation 2020, Volume 1, retrieved 4 April 2020
- Schwartz, Howard (1998). Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195104998.
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- Lane Savadove
- "'Don't ask me what happened. It’s best not to know!': A DYBBUK, or Between two worlds"
- All About Jewish Theatre
- Drama Around the Globe
- J. H. Chajes, Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism, University of Pennsylvania Press, Aug 31, 2011.
- Rachel Elior, Dybbuks and Jewish Women in Social History, Mysticism and Folklore, Urim Publications, 1 Sep 2008.
- Fernando Peñalosa, The Dybbuk: Text, Subtext, and Context. Jan 2013.
- Fernando Peñalosa. Parodies of An-sky's The Dybbuk. Nov 2012
- Yosl Cutler, "The Dybbuk in the Form of a Crisis", In Geveb, March 2017.