Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

10
The Woman Who Wanted To Be Her Father
A Case Analysis of Dybbuk Possession in a Hasidic Community

Yoram Bilu

Yoram Bilu examines a manifestation of spirit possession that is under reported in the anthropological literature: dybbuk possession among Eastern European Hasidic communities. The author draws on archival and historical documentation of a ninteenth-century event and concludes that this culturally specific possession phenomenon is best understood as a mechanism of social and gender- based resistance rather than as psychological deviance.

--Editors' Comment.

THIS PAPER DISCUSSES A PECULIAR CAREER of a Jewish woman in a 19th century Eastern European hasidic community, which was ended by an episode of dybbuk-possession. Although the details of this episode were not specified in the account, the case was selected for presentation because, unlike most other reports of this Jewish variant of spirit possession, it contains significant information concerning the social matrix in which it evolved, as well as the biographies of its main protagonists. On the basis of this information, an attempt will be made to render the possession episode intelligible in terms of the psychodynamic and sociocultural factors underlying it.

While case studies of spirit possession in various cultures are well-represented in the anthropological literature ( Crapanzano and Garrison, 1977; Goodman, 1981; Obeyesekere, 1970), the dybbuk has been the exclusive domain of creative writers such as Ansky ( 1925) and Bashevis-Singer ( 1959). The reason for this lack

____________________
Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology 8( 1) (Winter 1985): 11-27.

-196-

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