Monday, January 18, 2010

A Dybbuk

A Dybbuk, and the Dybbuk Melody and other themes and variations, by S. Ansky

In Eastern European Jewish folklore, a dybbuk is the soul of a dead person that maliciously possesses the living body of another. Ansky's play, The Dybbuk here adapted as A Dybbuk by Tony Kushner, relates the story of a young bride possessed by the spirit of the lover who was rejected by her father. In this adaptation, one can see echoes of the phantasms that often inhabit Kushner's work, specifically Angels in America.

Also in this volume are a number of stories by Ansky that draw on the Hasidic tradition and from the Talmud and Kabbalah, as well as poems by him, and several folktales. There's an absolutely amazing piece in which the old man, Feyval, sues God in a rabbinical court for allowing the king of Romania to issue a decree banishing the Jews. Not to mention The Egyptian Passover, telling that story from a different point of view!

A thread of music runs through these stories. An old man, who had no time or money to study as a boy, wishes to study Torah, but cannot understand the rabbi's words. So the rabbi sings to him a "melody that contains all the beliefs of the Baal-Shem-Tov"* and the man understands. The spirit of a dead cantor enters the new one, and the rabbi must drive out that dybbuk with a melody of his own.

This book is a reminder of a world lost forever to the evil that is anti-Semitism.

* Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer, who is considered to be the founder of Hasidic Judaism


  1. It is an endless tragedy. Not only the people who were lost but largely the whole Yiddish tradition

  2. It's true. But there are some who are doing their best to preserve it. Do you know about the National Yiddish Book Center? They're doing wonderful work.