Fleeting Dreams and Possessive Dybbuks
On Dreams and Possession in Jewish and Other Cultures
Edited by: Rachel Elior, Yoram Bilu, Yair Zakovitch, Avigdor Shinan
A Woman’s Dream (Song of Songs 5:2–6:3): Real or Imagined?
Many of the poems in the Song of Songs have the character of daydreams, and two explicitly describe night dreams (3:1-5; 5:2–6:3), resulting in the reader often being left to wonder what is real and what is fantasy. All dreams in the Song, whether reverie or deep-night dream, are women’s dreams (this corresponds with the spirit of the book, in which the central role is filled by women), in contrast to all other dreams in the Bible, which are the imaginings of men. The dreams outside the Song of Songs, in biblical narrative, are different in one further respect: they are of a prophetic nature and give us glimpses of the future. Women’s dreams in the Song, on the other hand, are personal and lend themselves—as do all personal dreams—to being interpreted and analyzed by readers throughout the ages, each according to the theories he or she prefers, whether Freudian or otherwise.
Our analysis of the long dream in Song 5:2–6:3 offers answers to the following questions:
- What is the reason for the many repetitions in the dream?
- Do the words of the dream carry symbolic meaning?
- Many lines of similarity can be drawn between this dream and the other night-dream in Song (3:1-5), similarities which push us to compare the two. What meaning are we to draw from this comparison?
- Can we determine where the dream ends? Can we determine the dream’s boundaries?
- Most significantly: Does the female dreamer have a real lover, flesh and blood, or is he only imagined?
The Gates of Dreams: Duality and Ambiguity in Ancient Dream Literature
Vered Lev Kenaan
This essay explores the mythological origins of ancient dream theory. Following E. R. Dodds’ remark that ‘For the Greeks…the fundamental distinction was that between significant and non-significant dreams’, the paper reconsiders a central duality underlying the ancient conceptualization of dreams: while ‘significant’ dreams can sometimes mean divinely-sent dreams, or dreams that come true, the non-significant dream is the false dream, or the somatic and the ordinary psychological dream. The essay uncovers the constant presence of an intrinsic duality in ancient dream literature and shows how this duality is articulated through the mythological figures of Sleep and Dream: Hypnos and Oneiros. Considering the Chthonic and Olympian origins of Sleep and Dream in Hesiodic and Homeric poetry, the essay shows that the dream belongs to a family of ancient terms constituted by an ambiguity. Like the terms, psychē and eidōlon, the dream too is a futile yet desirable image. The first part of the essay examines the poetic figures of the significant and non-significant dreams in Hesiod, Homer and Virgil. The paper’s second part examines how this mythical duality is transposed into a hermeneutical dual framework that serves the works of the dream interpreters, Artemidorus and Macrobius.
Dreams in the Book of Jubilees and in the Dead Sea Scrolls
The thousand fragments of Holy Scriptures that were found in the eleven caves of Qumran between 1947 and 1956 include a significant number of unknown dreams that were ascribed to biblical heroes. The dreams that were ascribed to Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Rivka, Jacob, Levi, Judah and Amram reflect a ‘counter-memory’ on issues that were under dispute during the second and first centuries BCE. The dreams are concerned with divine revelations or with angelic messages that relate sacred knowledge on the historical destiny of the ‘holy seed’, in relation to holy time, holy place, holy ritual, sacred scriptures, holy priesthood, and sacred memory associated with priests and angels. Dreams are considered, in this literature written in a time of great dispute on the priestly leadership of the Temple in the Hasmonaean period, as an indisputable source of knowledge on all the major sacred priestly issues mentioned above. The Book of Jubilees has a considerable number of new dreams that are designed to shape ancient memory anew in a time of a major political change. The book is concerned with holy time, as reflected in a sacred solar calendar that was revealed in a dream to Enoch son of Jared; with a holy place, Mount Zion, the place of the future Temple that was revealed in a dream to Noah and revealed by an angel to Moses, the grandson of Levi; and with the initiation of the priestly service that was revealed in a dream to Levi, the founder of the priesthood according to this priestly tradition.
Dreams and Dreamers in the Aramaic Targums of the Pentateuch
The Pentateuch mentions dreams or dreamers in thirty-four different verses, most of them in the book of Genesis. This study surveys the various ways in which the Aramaic translations of the Pentateuch (the targums) deal with these verses, exposing their attitudes toward this fascinating human phenomenon. While Targum Onqelos adheres basically to the biblical story, the so-called ‘Palestinian Targums’ (The Fragment Targum, the Aramaic Targum found in Ms. Neophyti 1, and the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum) differ in the amount of additions which they add to the biblical story and their character. They describe in rich details Jacob’s dream at Beit-El (Genesis 28) and the dreams of Pharaoh’s ministers (Genesis 40), but in other instances they tend to adhere to the biblical story, revealing little about their understanding of the dream as a message from God. The only exception is Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, which includes unique traditions regarding a dream that told Noah what was done to him by his son Ham (Genesis 9) and a very detailed dream that told Pharaoh about the future birth of Moses (Exodus 1). These two cases – and some other minor additions included in this text, which can be seen as being drawn mainly from popular traditions – testify to the uniqueness of this targum and to its special status within the world of the Aramaic targums.
Between Pharaoh’s Dream and Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream
This paper compares three different midrashic works referring to Pharaoh’s dream as described in Genesis 41 and Nebuchadnezzar’s as described in Daniel 2. These texts represent three different stages in the development of Aggadic traditions. In the first, Genesis Rabba, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represents a mere illustration of the main theme, which is Pharaoh’s dream. In the last, Midrash Tanhuma, the opposite occurs: Daniel’s dream is at the center of attention, and Pharaoh’s is not mentioned at all. Between these two poles we find the tradition preserved in Midrash Ḥadash, which tries to balance the two stories. Our assumption is that at the first stage of this Aggadic tradition the sages interpreted the words ותפעם רוחו (‘his spirit was agitated’) in Genesis 41:8 in connection with ותתפעם רוחו in Daniel 2:1, while analyzing the main differences between the two stories. At a more advanced stage this interpretation was followed by an expansion of both stories, until the verses of Daniel became the homily’s main concern. In this process a homily deliberating Pharaoh’s dream and its interpretation by Joseph became a homily retelling the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation by Daniel and, in the process, emphasized the power of prayer, prophecy, and revelation.
On the Tip of a Barrel: Reading Abbaye’s and Rava’s Dreams about Barrels (BT Berakhot 56a)
In the Babylonian Talmud (Berakhot 55b-56a) we find an unusual story about a meeting between Rava and Abbaye and an eccentric dream-interpreter, Bar-Hadaya. This is a long and complicated story with twenty-nine dream-units dealing with varied subjects and themes. In the article I explore one of these themes: a unique series of six dreams that Rava and Abbaye had about barrels. These dreams seem to deal with a mundane and simple image: the barrel, a common object for the storage of all kinds of fluids in the ancient world. My reading of this series will uncover a possible underlying meaning of these dreams that transforms this ordinary symbol into a complicated image that relates to basic questions of identity and self-definition
Between Vienna and Baghdad:
On a Mystical Tradition of ‘Psychoanalytic’ Dream Interpretations
A vast literature has been written on the influence of Sigmund Freud’s Jewish background and identity on the nature of his psychoanalytic theory. Some scholars went so far as to maintain that psychoanalysis constitutes a secularized version of Jewish mysticism (kabbalah), given that both systems view sexuality as a primary organizing force and interpretation as the major vehicle for uncovering its manifestations. Focusing on dream interpretation, a major tenet in psychoanalysis and Judaism, my study concerns Rabbi Yehuda Petaya (1859-1942), a famous mystical scholar from Baghdad, and his son Sha’ul, whom I interviewed in Jerusalem in the 1970s. Through my interviews I was able to shed light on Sha’ul’s method of dream interpretation, based on a family tradition articulated in Rabbi Yehuda’s text Minh̩at Yehuda. I present a selection of dreams the two interpreted in order to convey their intriguing ‘psychoanalytic’ sensibilities. While all the dreams dealt with violations of religious precepts on the manifest level, the interpreters consistently translated these concerns into sexual matters. Viewing these interpretations as powerfully creative, I seek to uncover the Jewish mystical sources from which these interpretive insights were presumably derived.
‘I Live in a Terrifying Nightmare’: On War-Nightmares and Wishful Dreaming during the Holocaust
This article discusses the content and patterns of dreams Jews dreamed during the Holocaust and attempts to use them as a basis for discussing the hardships that characterized Jewish life in those days. By analyzing dozens of dreams recorded in contemporary sources from many different European countries, two main patterns of dreams arise: nightmares of overwhelming horror, referring mainly to the murder of family and friends; and dreams that served as a source of comfort and encouragement in which the past -- or even the future -- is presented in a very nostalgic manner. The relative lack of dreams of hunger in war-time accounts is surprising. Comparing the themes of the dreams recorded during the Holocaust and their characters with those recorded in later testimonies, as well as in memories, exposes the unique patterns of dreams formed during the event as well as their unique content. Thus, dreams serve as an important source and as another tool for understanding better the inner world of Jews during the Holocaust.
La légion étrangère in Pig Herds (Matthew 8:28-36; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39)
Jewish literature of the Second Temple period—and the New Testament, in particular—is rich with exorcism traditions. In this article I discuss one such narrative, a relatively long and layered one, which appears in all three synoptic gospels. Both the original story and its secondary additions carry traces of a variety of literary units from the Hebrew Bible, which the writers used to help construct their story. In analyzing the story we look for these building blocks and evaluate their contribution to creating the story’s hidden message. We also point to an allegorical element that conveys a covert and subversive message: the wish to remove the conquering Roman army from the Land of Israel.
Ghosts and Spirits in the Aggadic Literature
The article treats three stories about the meeting-point between humans and spirits in three different literary genres of Aggadic literature: the expansion of a biblical story (Boaz and Ruth), a folk story (the Hasid and the spirits in the cemetery), and an exemplum (Ben Temalion and R. Shimon B. Yochai). The three tales demonstrate the degree to which ghosts and spirits represented an integral part of everyday human experience in the time of the talmudic sages; they also reveal the ambivalence felt by the sages concerning the demonic world. While trying to lessen the significance of supernatural beings and other magical powers in the world of the simple person, the sages made sure to warn people against times and situations in which they might come into contact with those same forces. We further posit that the stories discussed in this article were designed literarily, in order to criticize popular belief in ghosts and to restrict it to the extent possible.
Bat Kol – The Heavenly Voice in Talmudic Stories
After prophecy ceased, the Bat Kol (heavenly voice) remained the only way to create some sort of communication between God and men. This article discusses thirty-four rabbinic stories in which a Bat Kol appears and says several words.
The Bat Kol appears very clearly in contexts of death and human crisis. In most of the stories the Bat Kol appears at the moment of death, while in the others it appears in the general context of violence and destruction. Most of the stories deal not only with the actual moment of death, but also describe cases of a difficult, tragic, and unexpected death.
Unlike the miracle that saves people from death and gives them life, the Bat Kol appears in the moment after a ‘non-rescue’ or ‘lack of salvation’. The Bat Kol provides, to those who are still alive on earth, some information, whether about the destiny of the dead man in the other world or about some unknown issue in this physical world.
Hence, the Bat Kol neither solves the problem, nor makes it worst; it neither heals nor destroys. Nevertheless, its eneutralityf provokes feelings of discomfort. Given the expectation that the divine force would bring salvation, the failure of such salvation to materialize gives rise to feelings of perplexity and misunderstanding.
Between Satan and the Holy Spirit: Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern Catholicism
This article argues that the category ‘possession’ went through a major transformation between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries. While during most of the Middle Ages possession denoted an established set of behaviors that were easily identifiable as demonic in origins, in the fourteenth century the identity of the possessing entity was first put into question, for the symptoms that had previously been marks of demonic intervention could now also indicate the presence of the divine spirit within an individual. In the following centuries the Catholic Church devised a new set of hermeneutic tools to discern the identity of possessing spirits. Exorcism was thence transformed from a prescribed ritual into a probative investigation. Women’s alleged possessions, especially, were more likely to be ruled demonic rather than divine, or, alternatively, simulations of either possession or sanctity (hysteromania) or mere delusion. This reconfiguration of the category ‘possession’ warns us against employing insights from twentieth-century anthropological observations of possession in other societies, in which, more often than not, possession and exorcism are established categories whose meanings are both stable and self-evident.
Dybbuk and the Wandering Jew: No Rest on Earth or in Heaven
The article correlates two figures emphatically extant in folk culture from the end of the sixteenth century – the European Christian Wandering Jew and the Jewish Dybbuk. Both figures are characterized as an expression of the dimension of culture hovering between the real and the unreal, a dimension for which Freud on one hand created the category of the unheimlich that has proven highly fruitful in cultural interpretation, and which Todorov on the other hand systematized in his study of fantastic elements in literature.
The emergence, and especially the profuse distribution of these figures in the respective European and Jewish folk cultures, is interpreted in the context of new spiritual movements such as the Reformation and especially in the context of the major change in the system of cultural communication due to the invention and spread of printing-press technology.
Following de Certeau’s analysis of the seventeenth century as a moment of loss and mourning in European culture, illuminated by him through the converso phenomenon among the Jews of Spain in the wake of 1492, the article highlights the figures of the Wandering Jew and the Dybbuk as two creative expressions for the new homelessness and itinerancy of the individual emerging from the medieval into the early modern world. Whereas the Wandering Jew’s individuality and homelessness materialize (if one may say so regarding a figment of imagination) in an endless horizontal traveling in the geographical space, the Dybbuk’s outsider status takes its form in a restless migration on the vertical, cosmological axis of life and death.
A Glimpse into a Hidden World: The Dybbuk Stories of Rabbi Eliyahu Hacohen of Izmir
Possession (Dybbuk) and stories of exorcism amongst Jews are documented from the mid-sixteenth century until the early twentieth century, spreading from the holy congregation of Safed to Jewish communities in the domains of Islam and in Christian Europe. Yoram Bilu has analyzed this phenomenon, showing it to be an ‘idiom of stress’, with typical stages and distinctive features. Bilu has also pointed to its function as an instrument in the hands of rabbinic authority, designed to bolster Jewish faith and to strengthen the measure of conformity among community members.
The present article reaffirms Bilu’s observations, but adds the historical context, thus explaining why these cases occurred at certain times and why they were recorded and preserved. Using a group of chronologically- and geographically- defined stories, I suggest that crisis periods produce such phenomena. Moreover, I suggest that the significance of the exorcist stories was far greater than the significance of the individual acts of exorcism, real or invented.
The group of stories by R. Eliyahu Hacohen of Izmir (Smyrna) reflects the atmosphere of the post-Sabbatean period in Ottoman Jewish society, which was troubled with theological, social, and economic problems. The narrator is in fact the hero of these stories, in which he depicts himself as the ultimate exorcist. In this manner, R. Eliyahu Hacohen was not only preaching in a sophisticated way, but also empowered himself and demonstrated that he was superior to his rabbinic colleagues despite his marginal role.
The Woman Who Wanted to be (Like) Her Father: Dybbuk in a Hasidic Court
Reported exorcisms of dybbukim, the Jewish variant of spirit possession, have been common in traditional sources since the 16th century. These accounts conveyed powerful moral messages, but they remained mute regarding the motivation of the possessed. The narrative in Dov Sadan’s memoir, From the Region of Childhood, is exceptional in explicitly portraying the psychodynamic drama underlying the exorcism of Eidel, the beloved daughter of Rabbi Shalom Rokeach, the founder of the Belz Hasidic dynasty. Sadan situates the roots of Eidel’s tragedy (which the Belz Hasidim altogether deny) in her father’s unbounded love for her and fantasy to transform her into a son. After his death, Eidel sought to become a tsaddiq, bitterly challenging the leadership of her brother Rabbi Yehoshua. Her attacks were attributed to a dybbuk and her brother was summoned to cure her. During the dramatic exorcism, the spirit’s voice that attacked Rabbi Yehoshua was no other than Rabbi Shalom. The validity of Sadan’s heavily psychodynamic interpretation may be doubted, given his strong psychoanalytic bias. Nevertheless, I argue that this episode could have happened, if one takes into account that other women too (for example, the Maiden of Ludmir) who sought to walk in a spiritual trajectory, transcending female role bounds, were labeled as dybbukim.
In Search of the People’s Spirit: An-sky and the Ethnographic Expeditions of 1912-1914
Shlomo-Zanvl Rappoport, known as An-sky (1863-1920), was brought up in a traditional Jewish home, but as a youth he taught himself Hebrew and Russian, moved to South Russia where he wandered in the villages, worked in mines, and wrote stories on the life of the Russian peasants and miners and also on Jewish life. His stories were published and he entered the Russian literary world. He moved to St. Petersburg and then to Paris, where he joined the Russian revolutionaries.
Two events caused An-sky to return to his Jewish roots: the Dreyfus Trial (1894), which brought to the surface the anti-Semitic sentiments of his revolutionary friends, and a story by Y. L. Peretz that convinced him that Yiddish can be the language of high-class literature. An-sky returned to Russia and began collecting Jewish folkloristic items.
His most important project was the organization of expeditions that went in the summers of 1912, 1913, and 1914 to Vohlynia and Podolia in southwest Russia to collect stories, songs, and objects that reflect the essence of the Jewish spirit.
A Jewish museum displaying objects collected by the expeditions was opened in St. Petersburg in 1914 and closed in 1916, then was back in operation from 1923 until 1929. When the museum closed most of the objects were housed in the ethnographic museum in St. Petersburg; others were sent to Kiev and Moscow. With the fall of the Soviet Union part of the collection was displayed in the Jewish museums of Amsterdam, Cologne, Frankfurt, Jerusalem, and New York.
An-sky is especially well known for his play ‘The Dybbuk’, based on folk stories he collected. The play was staged many times in many versions, and is still shown today
On ‘The Dybbuk’ and Havens of Yearning:
An-sky’s ‘Between Two Worlds’ (‘The Dybbuk’) and Its Hasidic Roots
Rivka Dvir Goldberg
The play ‘The Dybbuk’, or in its full name ‘Between Two Worlds’, was written in both Yiddish and Russian by S. An-sky (Shlomo-Zanvl Rappoport, 1863-1920) between the years 1912-1917, following his journeys throughout the Jewish ‘Pale of Settlement’ in Russia, when he headed an expedition that collected various ethnographic materials in Jewish towns and villages in the region. The play, in its Hebrew translation by Chaim Nahman Bialik, became a milestone in the evolvement of the Jewish theater, initially in Russia and, thereafter, in the Land of Israel.
In his composition of the play, An-sky attempted to fulfill the vision that had guided him in the expedition’s work and to glean raw materials for the new work from the findings of the ethnographic expedition. A large portion of these materials derived from the Hasidic world, with which the majority of the region’s Jews were affiliated. This paper wishes to illustrate the fact that a large proportion of the Hasidic components in the play strengthen and enhance the central and fundamental theme of the play -- which is already hinted at in its full name, ‘Between Two Worlds’. A striking feature of the play is the connection to the stories of R. Nahman of Breslav and, especially, to his story ‘The Mountain and the Wellspring’, which emphasizes the intensity of endless yearning.
At the focal point of An-sky’s personal life, as in the focal point of his play ‘The Dybbuk’ and many of R. Nahman’s stories, especially in the ‘The Mountain and the Wellspring’, is the eternal searching, yearning, and longing for a desired unity, a longing for wholeness that in the physical world is destined to remain only an unfulfilled hope.
The Dybbuk as Imagery and as Psychological State in the Work and Life of Yona Wallach
In her poetry, Wallach unfolds a spectacular fan of human conscious and unconscious states. Rational, ethical and bourgeois consciousness appears in her poetry as a superficial, thin and fragile veneer over an individual’s personality, beyond which lies a deep ravine. Wallach breaks down the most basic concepts of identity and gender, with erotic symbiosis serving as a central means of reaching this goal. Correspondingly, Wallach undermines the validity of basic distinctions of time and space, and in so doing shatters the basic components of rational consciousness. In this essay, I deal with the question of what, ultimately, is revealed to our eyes when the unconscious is ‘unfolded like a fan’. Beyond making reference to the process of post-modern disintegration to which we have alluded earlier and the shattering of the rational layer of awareness, are there alternative systems of organization creating some sort of order in the flow of language and in a wild, erupting awareness? Is it possible to identify general cultural models that served Wallach in constructing the alternative psychological world that her poetry describes? In this essay, I argue that it is possible to identify in the background of Wallach’s creative output two general frames of reference, frames that possess a distinct terminology, both of them dealing with the unconscious by giving pride of place to its non-rational characteristics. One is the psychological frame of conceptualization, which Wallach uses broadly and freely, and the other frame of reference is the mystical system of explanations, a central source of that inspiration being the world of Kabbala. In this essay, I focus on states of consciousness in Wallach’s poetry similar to that associated with a ‘dybbuk’, and argue that such descriptions comprise an attempt to give meaning to a complex and non-defined identity—an attempt that expresses an alternative to psychological conceptualization and medical diagnosis, forming in its stead a different path to express those states of mind.
‘The Dead Should Not Be Excluded From Any Celebration’: The Queer Body’s Lamentation in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and A Dybbuk
Following his groundbreaking play, Angels in America, the Jewish-American playwright Tony Kushner turned to adapting An-sky’s Yiddish classic, The Dybbuk. While at first glance, the shtetl of Kushner’s A Dybbuk might seem to be worlds apart from Angels in America’s milieu of gay culture in New York during the 1980’s, this paper explores the various intersections between these two plays and their political implications. Focusing on the queer body and its disjointed temporality in Kushner’s work, the paper argues that both dramas propose a radical act of lamentation as political intervention. Reading A Dybbuk alongside Angels in America reveals an ongoing articulation of a queer-diasporic, ‘homeless’, bodily identity, which harbors revolutionary drives – even as it is located in seemingly ‘traditional’ Jewish settings. When such a queer, homeless, disjointed body laments on Kushner’s stage, it is never a nostalgic plea to return to the past, but a relentless struggle of the past with the present, in order to delineate a better political and civic future. It is only through not feeling at home in any land or at the present that such a lamenting body can fully enact its radical potential on- and offstage, and rethink the boundaries of citizenship.
Zar Spirits Possession among Ethiopian Immigrants in Israel: Social, Cultural, and Clinical Aspects
Eliezer Witztum and Nimrod Grisaru
This paper describes the phenomenon of Zar spirits possession among Ethiopian Immigrants in Israel.
The belief that a spirit can possess a person, and cause intensive discomfort, is included in the group of disorders called possession disorders. The phenomenon of possession by Zar spirits is among the common possession disorders found in Africa and the Fertile Crescent, particularly in Ethiopia, Somalia, Egypt, and Sudan, but also throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Zar is an Amharic word of a non-Semitic origin, and probably refers to a pagan deity. Ethiopian immigrants brought with them to Israel the phenomenon of Zar spirits possession.
This paper describes in detail this complex phenomenon and the rituals connected with it, and provides an understanding of the meaning and interpretation of the phenomenon according to various explanatory models. Several case-studies are presented, and we also provide an analysis of the narrative construction of this symbolic idiom of distress.
Possession Illnesses in the Bedouin-Arab Society
Bedouin-Arab society is one of the largest minorities in Israel today. The change for the Bedouin-Arabs, from nomadic life to fixed settlements, occurred on the backdrop of a large and increasing rift between their situation as a traditional-religious society and their existence in modern-day Israel. The phenomenon of possession and dybbukim can be exotic and fascinating for outsiders, but constitutes obstacles and true discomfort for those who suffering from. Western society today views manifestations of dybbukim and possession in terms of mental disorders, but within Bedouin-Arab society in Israel there is still widespread belief in traditional explanations for these illnesses. Research shows that the conceptualization of emotional and mental disorders and the intervention needs of Bedouin-Arab patients are different from those of western patients. An intervention response that combines two treatment systems, one which is based on global knowledge and the other on local knowledge, enables both therapists and patients to experience an inter-societal meeting. Those who take care of these patients should examine the patients’ problems and suffering while keeping in mind the social, cultural, and religious context in which they live, in order to give them treatment not only customized to their needs as individuals, but also based on an understanding of their culture and family life.