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In Jewish mythology, a dybbuk (Yiddish: דיבוק, from Hebrew 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 dibbuk me-ru'aḥ ra'ah ("a cleavage of an evil spirit"), or dibbuk min ha-hiẓonim ("dibbuk from the outside"), which is found in man. "Dybbuk" comes from the Hebrew word "דיבוק," which means the act of sticking from the root "דבק," which means cling.
The term first appears in a number of sixteenth-century writings, though it was ignored by mainstream scholarship until S. Ansky's play The Dybbuk popularized 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. Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar rebbe (1887–1979) advocated psychiatry as a cure.
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.
The dybbuk has been portrayed in popular culture in theatrical releases such as the films A Serious Man (2009), The Unborn (2009) and The Possession (2012). It was mentioned in the Rugrats episode "Monster in the Garage" when Boris tells the children a scary story.
The 1977 film Audrey Rose includes a scene of a man discussing how his grandfather used to tell tales of the dybbuk.
In the film Waiting for Guffman (1997), the character Dr. Allan Pearl, portrayed by Eugene Levy, refers to catching the acting bug from his grandfather, who performed in the Yiddish theater, specifically in the play "Dybbuk Schmybbuk, I Said More Ham", a comic flouting of Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), and an indifference to its consequences.
The dybbuk appears in written fiction in The Inquisitor's Apprentice (2011), a novel by Chris Moriarty.
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.