Rabbi I Have a Problem

What can I do if I am haunted by a dybbuk?


Question: A few weeks ago I started being pursued by an angry dybbuk who whispers curses at me and sometimes manifests itself as a menacing grey form. Please tell me how I can get rid of it. Is there anyone who knows how to perform an exorcism?

Rabbi Naftali Brawer

Naftali Brawer is the CEO of the Spiritual Capital Foundation.

Even if one were to believe in the notion of a dybbuk, your symptoms do not fit its conventional description. A dybbuk, is a restless soul wandering between heaven and earth, which manifests itself in its victim’s body, causing involuntary thoughts and actions. The fact that you perceive a grey form outside yourself indicates that it may be something else entirely.

The name dybbuk comes from the Hebrew root dybk, which means to cleave or cling, describing how the wandering, sometimes malevolent, soul cleaves to the individual it possesses. The concept of possession goes back to the Bible, which tells of King Saul being possessed by some sort of evil spirit which terrified him (I Samuel 16:14.).

However, there is no suggestion that the spirit was a wandering soul but rather some sort of demonic spirit — quite possibly the Bible’s way of describing mental depression.

The idea of the dyybuk as a wandering soul, possessing the body of the living, makes its first appearance in Jewish literature only as late as the 16th century. The great Safed mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria contributed to the groundwork of this belief by asserting an earlier, and somewhat controversial, doctrine of the transmigration of souls or reincarnation, which is known in Kabbalah as gilgul.

Once the idea of souls travelling back to earth as gilgulim was accepted, it was not long before Rabbi Luria’s disciples posited the idea of possession or dybbuk. But the dybbuk only gained widespread currency as the result of a play by that name penned by the 19th-century Russian Jewish author Shloime Zanvel Rappoport, popularly known by his nom de plume S. Ansky.

The great 20th-century historian of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem concluded that those complaining of dybbuk possession were most likely suffering from hysteria or schizophrenia. He was not alone in detecting a more prosaic cause for these symptoms.

When the late Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitenbaum, visited Israel he was asked to exorcise a dyybuk. After examining the sufferer, the Rebbe is purported to have instructed that he be admitted to hospital and placed under the care of a physician.

I am neither a kabbalist nor a physician but I find it difficult to believe that an exorcist can help relieve your symptoms. My first port of call would be a trained mental health professional. I hope you find the peace of mind you so desperately seek.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain

Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.

I am sorry to hear that you are having such experiences. There will be many reading your question who will think you must be hallucinating; but whether the dybbuk is actual or imaginary, I know that for you it is real. I am also certain it must feel very threatening and distressing to sense the dybbuk around you.

At this point I should admit to being very torn in my reaction. On the one hand, I do not believe in physical dybbuks. I reckon that they are the workings of our inner stresses and turmoils, which can become so powerful that they seem to take on an external force.

On the other hand, I also know that there is much we do not understand about this world. It has never happened to me, but I do know individuals who are rational, stable and intelligent who have had sensory experiences that defy all explanation. It does not necessarily prove that there is a world of spirits, but it does oblige us not to be dismissive of the unknown.

However, I am concerned about your search for an exorcist. First, it can be very dangerous if someone who is in a state of extreme vulnerability puts control of their life in the hands of someone else.

When this happens with doctors, we know that they are trained, obliged to follow regulations, subject to monitoring and expected to have your best interests as their prime motivation. I am not certain this can be said of all those who claim to do exorcisms. Moreover, if spiritual healing is important to you, then it would be better to find a long-term religious home rather than a quick-fix operator.

My second objection to exorcism is that I am not sure if the incantations and rituals that the person will offer you will be sufficient to reach the root of your problem. It is clearly not a surface issue that you are encountering, but is something that will need in-depth analysis and will probably benefit from professional counselling.

So do pursue a religious approach, but rather than look for an exorcist, try to find a sympathetic rabbi, go to his or her synagogue, put down roots and become part of a life-affirming community. At the same time, approach your local surgery for a recommendation for psychological help. These two approaches will compliment each other.

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