The Dybbuk Inside


In Jewish mythology, a dybbuk is a wandering spirit of a dead person that possesses a living person. Often, the dead person has unresolved business on Earth or an unsettled score to avenge.

This demon became a prominent part of Jewish culture thanks to a play called The Dybbuk, by Yiddish writer S. Ansky, published in 1914. The play takes place in a European shtetl, mostly inside a tiny cabin. It was produced in Russia in 1920 by Konstantin Stanislavski, the legendary director of the Moscow Art Theater, and was translated into Hebrew by Hayim Nahman Bialik. It was also adapted as a film for the first time in 1937. Since then, both Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein have composed pieces based on the play.

1959 version of The Dybbuk, starring Theodore Bikel and Sylvia Davis, filmed as part of a syndicated “Play of the Week” series, has just been released on DVD. Bikel, wearing a fake white beard as the rabbi who performs the exorcism, is alternately funny and haunting–just like the idea of a dybbuk, both absurd and creepy at the same time.

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