Dismissing Dybbuks

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While Rabbi Dovid Batzri’s first attempt to drive the dybbuk out was not apparently successful, R. Elyashiv, shtlit”a, reportedly refused to allow it in in the first place, according to the account in Chadrei Chareidim. “Go away from here. I have no business with a dibuk.”

Assume, for the sake of argument, that the account is accurate. (My own practice is to follow R. Elyashiv’s own directive, and assume that nothing quoted in his name is accurate, unless heard directly from him. Even then, I would be skeptical if any background information regarding an issue that was delivered to him by one of his more notorious gatekeepers, who are known to color, filter, and distort.) Was R. Elyashiv dismissive of the possibility that the unfortunate young man from Brazil was possessed by a dybbuk? Did he, like R. Moshe Sternbuch, shlit”a, see mental illness as the cause of the aberrant behavior, rather than a freeloading spirit? Or did he dismiss the dybbuk because he had nothing to say to it, and didn’t particularly relish its company?

The same account claims that R. Elyashiv certainly did not rule out the possibility of a real case of possession. Shlomo Kook, the editor of HaShavua B’Yerushalayim, attended the ill-fated attempt at a videoconferenced exorcism, and reported on its details in his paper. He then looked back at the celebrated predecessor to today’s dybbuk, the infamous dybbuk of Dimona, a bit over a decade ago. Kook reports that R. Elyashiv was asked at the time whether the story should be told to children, since not everyone believed that it was an actual dybbuk they were up against. According to Kook, R. Elyashiv responded:

“Can you say for certain it wasn’t genuine?” adding, “If some are encouraged (receive chizuk) by this, why not tell?”

This is the message this week regarding the dibuk of Brazil “whether we are dealing with a dibuk or not” the chareidi papers reported, quoting Maran R’ Elyashiv, echoing his words from 11 years ago – “if people receive a chizuk from this, why not?”

Many years prior to all of this, R. Simcha Wasserman zt”l spent one of his last Shabbosim in Los Angeles at our yeshiva, prior to his aliyah to Israel. Someone asked him what he knew about the Chofetz Chaim’s dybbuk – the one that R. Simcha’s father, R. Elchonon Wasserman hy”d had watched the Chofetz Chaim dispatch back to Dybbuk Central. R. Elchonon reportedly talked about the event only once a year. Would R. Simcha share the story?

R. Simcha demurred. “Yiddishkeit is difficult enough for many people to accept without burdening them with stories about dybbuks.”

R. Simcha’s was a very different reaction, born perhaps out of his experience with a very different population of Jews. Having lived among Americans, both frum and not frum, R. Simcha knew that while such stories might give some people a boost to their emunah, they could seriously hamper the growth of others.

For the haredi community in Israel, tales of a dybbuk might indeed bring chizuk. When the possessed woman came around eight months later and complained that she was put up to the entire drama by people who wanted to milk it for its propaganda purposes, the purported confession appeared in Ha’aretz. (I say “purported” because I generally pay less attention to Ha’aretz’s treatment of anything religious than I do to a would-be dybbuk. Some of its journalists write as if possessed by multiple demons.) Now, Ha’aretz is not a paper generally read by haredim. Many, many people still believe that ten years ago, R. Batzri conversed with a dybbuk, recorded his voice, and then succeeded in obtaining a summary eviction. To them, both dybbuk stories are sources of chizuk.

To many others, however, both stories are the polar opposite. They are about supposedly discerning people preferring irrationality (or at least meta-rationality) above rational and commonsensical explanations. They create problems and doubts for people who struggle with criticism of their life style by people who see them as superstitious, anti-intellectual, narrow and primitive. They have answers for those people, but those answers are compromised by the behavior of their coreligionists, particularly when a dreaded dybbuk is unmasked as a foolish fraud.

Chizuk is good – as long as there is no strong probability that it will turn into the opposite under scrutiny. In more insular communities, that scrutiny is not very likely, and there is at least room to embrace the chizuk. For those of us in more open societies, every possibility of chizuk has to be weighed against the significant chance that it will be stood on its head. We must be far more prudent, as R. Simcha was.
The real lesson, I believe, is an old one that is often ignored. The needs and realities of the Torah community in Israel are not identical with those here. What is right in Bnei Brak is toxic here. All sorts of questions need to be asked and answered closer to ground zero, because advice appropriate to the tzibur in Israel is not appropriate here.

Realizing this may be the first step in ridding ourselves of our own community’s demons.

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33 Responses

  1. lev midaber says:

    “Rambam’s view of the term sheidim are HUMAN BEINGS who lack that intelectual/moral attribute that seperates us from animals”

    Abarbanel appears so, though Shem Tov is not so clear, referring to them as שדים ורוחות, not just שדים. But this may have more to do with the whether Adam began as a brute animal and was endowed with Neshama, in which case these creatures are brute +, just not + enough. I was merely noting that he does describe their existence, albeit in clearly different terms than that of the mekubalim.

    But you have still only pointed to the Rambam, and not regarding the “in limbo” soul. The Ibn Ezra still seems otherwise, unless we presume the Torah is prohibiting offering sacrifices to intellectually diminished, damage causing humans. Radak certainly accepts such spirual entities, according to him Rav Saadia and Rav Hai do as well, as does Meiri, and Or HaChaim HaKadosh (or did the Kabbalist in this case take the Rationalist’s view?).

    I still await a source for Ralbag, and Kuzari.

    Again, I am not saying that this story is true, I highly doubt it. But you are rejecting the concept of such a soul entirely, and the opinion of all “pre-moderns” who accepted the same. “not denying that they thought that they experienced”… So those who accepted “such constructs” were not lying, just delusional, and irrelevant to modern Psychology.

    As for Shabbos 152b’s description of Kaf HaKela, Rambam himself, R’ Albo (Ikkarim 4:33), and Maharal (Chidushei Aggados) seems to view such a soul as bouncing back and forth, torn between two yearnings.

    מאמרי הרמב”ם – מאמר על הנפש לרבי יוסף עקנין
    ועל נפשות הרשעים אמור כי היא בעונש מכאיב ויגיעה עצומה הם אסורים בה לבד, והמשילה לאבן הקלע שהוא עולה למעלה כפי כח הקולע, וכשתגיע לתכלית כח הקולע תשוב למטה בטבעה ותשוב למצוקי ארץ כן נפש הרשע מפני חכמתה ודעתה את הבורא תעלה למעלה ומפני רוע מעלליה תרד למטה למדרגה התחתונה של גיהנם ואין לה מנוחה מפני שהיא נכספת אל העליון והיא מתנהמת על המעעלים והיא באבל וביגון, והנה הנפש החכמה והרשע אין להם אבדון וכליון אך היא נבדלת האחת מן השנית, כי האחת בנועם והשני בקצף ועונש כל ימי עולם

    Note this is regarding the extreme of Reshaim, not the Beinoni who would presumably qualify for Gehinnom and Gan Eden. (I’m not discussing the Baal HaTanya’s Beinoni.)
    This does not seem to differ from the dybbuk of the Mekubalim, they just describe it in greater detail, and grant the possiblity of it entering another, a phenomenon noted positively in forms of Gilgul or Ibur, only here in a negative fashion. Though I presume you would have difficulties with Gilgul as well.

  2. Chareidi Leumi says:

    Your reading of MN is a common phenomenon where the Rambam’s terms are not understood as part of his internal system. Almost every single classic or modern interperter of the MN understands that when the Rambam’s view of the term sheidim are HUMAN BEINGS who lack that intelectual/moral attribute that seperates us from animals. It is NOT another type of entity in any way shape or form.

    Regarding angels, again, the Rambam sees them as synonymous with natural physical or metaphysical forces. NOT as autonomous and seperate beings.

    Regarding the rest of the sources, don’t have the time to answer one by one. Some are less obvious than others (perhaps the Ohr HaHaim is not rejecting the fundumental idea of sheidim). But all in all, it is fairly clear that all the rationalist rishonim rejected the idea as it is commonly understood today.

    >, I most certainly take the word of those “pre-moderns” the Ben Ish Chai, R’ Petaya, the Chofetz Chaim, et al. They not only discussed the concept, but claimed to have interacted with such souls. So this is not merely academic, but yes, a referendum on the credibility of our Torah greats. I believe an honest appraisal is that, currently, science has nothing to say on the matter.<

    I am not denying that they thought that they experienced the existnence of dibbukim. I am denying that their analysis of that phenomenon is relevant to how we view people with obvious psychiatric problems or relevant to our position regarding to the validity of their explanations regarding the phenomenon they experienced.

  3. lev midaber says:

    With apologize for the length of this response.

    MN 1:7 describes sheidim as non-human (lacking Tzura), but greater than animal in that they have some independent propensity towards damage. By describing them, he certainly posits their existence. MN 2:6 discusses angels as forces not having body and the appropriate way to label them. Pirush AZ 4:7 discusses the development of AZ, labeling it foolishness as is his well known opinion. MN 3:29 is more of the same. None of these sources discusses a soul disqualified from either Gan Eden or Gehennom and therefore wandering in some sort of “limbo”, nor the non-existence of such a state.

    A search in Teshuvos HaGeonim Harkavi on HebrewBooks did not locate this reference. Is 248 the page or the siman? I would like to see it inside; though it does appear to reject any power to sheidim, it does not discuss our topic.

    Radak to Shmuel 1 perek 28 dealing with Shaul and the Baalas Ov supports, rather than rejects, its efficacy. On pasuk 12 he explains how she knew it was Shaul in that Shmuel rose standing straight as opposed to upside down which is the norm for Ov, clarifying how it works. On 13 he brings the statement of Chazal that Shmuel even brought Moshe with him.
    On 24 he discusses at length whether it is real or not, mentioning the Rambam, and a machlokes amongst the Geonim which is the quote you cite. Rav Shmuel ben Chofni Gaon, rejects Ov as real, while Rav Saadia and Rav Hai Gaon accept Ov as real, which would seem contrary to the quote from Teshuvos HaGeonim. Radak himself questions why Hashem would not inform Shaul through a dream, the Urim V’Tumim, or a Navi. (His destruction of Nov is mentioned in many sources as a reason for these paths being denied him.) But even more, if it is a fake, how could all his wise men not know this? He considers this “logically unacceptable” and therefore stands by his pirush which accepted and described its efficacy.

    Radak to Shmuel 1 25:29 commenting on Avigail’s words, explains Kaf Hakela as our “in limbo” soul.
    וימית האל יתעלה ויתברך הרודפים אותך ויפריח נפשם כמו אבן הקלע וכף הקלע פירוש מושב אבן הקלע שהוא עשוי כמו כף ולדעת יונתן פירו’… וית נפש בעלי דבבך יפרחינה כמה דמפרחין אבנא בקלעה וכן בדברי רז”ל ר’ אליעזר אומר נשמתן של צדיקים גנוזות תחת כסא הכבוד שנאמ’ בצרור החיים את ה’ אלקיך ונשמתן של רשעים מטרפות ומשוטטות מסוף העולם ועד סופו ואין להם מנוחה שנאמר יקלענה בתוך כף הקלע:

    Meiri to Sanhedrin prohibits using sheidim even during the week, while permitting בשרי שמן ושרי ביצים precisely because the latter are nonsense, while the former presumably are real and therefore prohibited. Meiri to Shabbos seems to reject various incantations and the like as Darkei HaEmori, since they are neither natural nor accepted segulos, not because they don’t work. Further on he writes that some of these methods did work when the people trusted in them. If he were rejecting them outright, he could have simply quoted the Rambam.

    The Ibn Ezra quoted is to Vayikra 19:31 not Iyov, clearly rejecting Ov as real. But see earlier at 17:7 “LaSeirim” where he defines them as sheidim, says that one’s hair stands on end at seeing them, hence “Seirim”, and because they are seen by the insane in the form of goats. See also Devarim 18:11 where he defines “chover chaver” as having to do with sheidim and states that these various forms of kishuf are prohibited because they detract from one’s being “tamim” with Hashem. He too is not rejecting their existence.

    Or HaChaim HaKadosh is telling us that the plague of blood was recognizably not the work of sheidim or kishuf because such “blood” would not have killed the fish, it would have been in its essence an illusion. In addition, it could not have been transported from place to place without breaking its power, or by placing it on the ground “as is known” – from the Zohar HaKadosh to Ki Sisa regarding the power of the Egel HaZahav which was animated through kishuf. He is not rejecting kishuf, nor sheidim, but is rather explaining why the experts of Egypt would recognize this as being something different and more powerful.

    I do not have access to the Kapah Kuzari, and I would appreciate a more detailed source in Ralbag.

    No, the nature or existence of a dybbuk is certainly not one which makes or breaks a Torah Jew.

    I am not denying that there will be differences between the approaches of a “Rationalist” v. “Kabalist” regarding various issues, but they need not be diametrically opposed on every philosophical or theological matter. I was taught to view those from the Tannaim through Acharonim as being in agreement unless noted otherwise, just as we expect a particular Mishna to be in concert with the rest of Shas, and if not, we look to which Tanna’s opinion it represents. But there is a presumption of underlying unity in Torah thought. Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel disagree in a few hundred particular halachos, but agree everywhere else. Rambam and Raavad agree where the Raavad does not object.

    For the modern “rationalists”, the world of Scientism, where nothing exists unless it can be measured, weighed, or grown in a lab, the existence of a soul is entirely discarded, let alone discussing its state after death and whether it can reenter another body. In that case, I most certainly take the word of those “pre-moderns” the Ben Ish Chai, R’ Petaya, the Chofetz Chaim, et al. They not only discussed the concept, but claimed to have interacted with such souls. So this is not merely academic, but yes, a referendum on the credibility of our Torah greats. I believe an honest appraisal is that, currently, science has nothing to say on the matter.

  4. Chareidi Leumi says:

    See also Rambam, Peirush HaMishnayot, AZ 4:7:

    הכוכבים והכשוף וההשבעה והמזלות הרוחניות ודבר הכוכבים והשדים והגדת העתידות ומעונן ומנחש על רוב מיניהם ושאלת המתים והרבה מכיוצא בזה ששלפה התורה האמיתית חרבה עליהם והכריתה אותם והם עיקר עבודת כוכבים וענפיה

    Or MN 3:29

    וזה הספר מלא שגעונות עובדי עבודה זרה, וממה שנפשות ההמון נוטות אליו ונקשרות בו, ר”ל עשיית הטלסמאות והורדת הרוחניות והכשוף והשדים והמזיקים והשוכנים במדברות, וגלגל ג”כ בספר ההוא שגעונות עצומות ישחקו מהן אנשי השכל

    or Rav Hai Gaon, and Rach, and Ri Teshuvot HaGeonim, Harakavi 248:

    ורב ביבי בר אביי שאמר את המעשה הזה (חגיגה ד:) יחיד הוא. וחס ושלום שמתכוין לשקר אלא שמאד היה מעמיק לדבר עם המלאכים ושוקד לראות את השדים וממה שהעמיק בדברים הללו נסתכן ודומה שנפגע.. או שמא נידמה לו לרב ביבי בר אביי המעשה הזה בחלומו כדרך שהרבה מבני אדם מספרין כי הן רואין בחלומן כמו כן” [העתיק תשובה זו גם רבינו חננאל בגמ’ שם]. וכן מביא בהלכות הר”י אבן גיאות ח”א עמ’ 36 כי ר’ האי לא היה מאמין בשדים ורוחות.

    Or Radak Shmuel I 25 (maaseh Ov is necromancy – an process related to excorsicm):

    וראינו מחלוקת בין הגאונים בדבר הזה וכלם נשתוו כי מעשה האוב הבל ותהו ודברי כזב והתול

    Or Meiri Sanhedrin 101a:

    ואלו שמאמינים במציאות השדים ופעולותיהם אסור להם לשאול בהם אף בחול ויש להתיר בשרי שמן ושרי ביצים אלה שאינם אלא דברי הבאי, והגרסא לפי דעת זו אלא שמכזבין, וגדולי הפוסקים גורסין מפני שמכזבין כלומר שעיקר היתר מפני שהם דברי הבאי ואין אדם מצוי לימשך אחריהם, וכן עיקר. והוא נמשך למה שכתבנו בסוף פרק ארבע מיתות בענין המעוננים והוא מה שהתירו בתלמוד הרבה בלחישות המוניות והדומים לאלו

    or Meiri Shabbat 67a:

    כל מיני הלחשים וההשבעות אחר שאינם בשם ע”ז או כוכב אינן מיני ע”ז, ומ”מ יש בהם משום דרכי האמורי אחר שאין בהם צד רפואה מדרך טבע או סגויה וזה שכתבו רבותינו ע”ה הרבה מהם בסוגיא זו ובמקומות אחרים הם נעזרו בדבר זה בצירוף בשני דברים הא’ שלא היה שם דבר כדאי להטעות אלא הבלים המוניים וכזבי הנשים כמו שתראה ברובם שהיו מיחסים אותם על שם הנשים המיניקות והמגדלות את הילדים ומגדלות אותם בלימוד הבליהם והוא אמרם אמרה לי אם וכו'”.

    Or Ibn Ezra to Iyov 32:

    ריקי מח אמרו לולי שהאובות אמת גם כן דרך הכשוף לא אסרם הכתוב ואני אומר הפך דבריהם כי הכתוב לא אסר האמת רק השקר, והעד האלילים והפסילים, ולולי שאין רצוני להאריך הייתי מבאר ענין בעלת אוב בראיות גמורות

    Or Ohr HaHaim, Sheimot 7:21:

    לא היה מעשה שדים ולא מעשה כשפים כי מעשה שניים אלו יהיה דמיון ולא ממש, והדמיון יהיה לעין הרואים ולא ממש כו’ וכל דבר שיהיה ממעשה שדים יבטלהו שנוי מקום ובפרט כשיניחוהו בארץ כידוע (זהר ח”ב קצב)”, [וכ’ כי שייך בנשים כי דעתן קלה].

    Are these not “Torah observant Jews”?

  5. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >can you please cite specific sources and not just the names of these Rishonim?

    I will not do the leg work for you. I will give you a bit of a direction: For the kuzari on the topic, see R’ Kapah’s notes in his translation of the sefer and how he shows that the kuzari considered all forms of spirits to be illusory. For the ralbag, see his peirush al HaTorah and Sefer Milchamos HaShem. For the Rambam (just one example – his whole system rejects wholesale the type of mysticism you present in your comment) see MN 1:7 and 2:6 where he discusses Shedim/Nezikin as Human beings who lack the human quality and where he discusses Angels as dis-attached intellectual forces (such as the force of arousal that cause man to be aroused). There are countless other examples, and as I said, the Rambam leaves out Sheidim/Nezikin from his halachic work altogether. He considered it to be primitive superstition. For the Meiri see Beit HaBehira on Avodah Zara where he is very clear that such things are nonsense (Meiri’s words, not mine)

    >But this whole discussion really does touch upon a broader one – the “Rationalists” v. “Kabbalists” (again not sure why one precludes the other)Are the Ben Ish Chai, R’ Petaya and the Chofetz Chaim insulated, and unworldly “Bnei Brakniks” as well? <

    No. But it might be accurate to see them as pre-modern Jews, or Jews who encountered and rejected modernity. Jews who accepted modernity had no need for such constructs.

    Frankly, I have no strength for such discussions any more. Arguments from authority, begging the question, poisoning the well, are just some of the "debate" tactics that are often implemented in such debates and which have all been used by you in your two posts above. There is little chance to have a fruitful exchange of ideas with someone who will deny that there is an inherent contradiction between the world views of the Ralbag and R' Chaim Vital. Someone who tries to harmonize these systems
    can only do so with the most extremely dishonest readings of their texts.

  6. josh werblowsky says:

    For those interested in the historical development of the concept ofa ‘dybuk’ there is a sefer in Hebrew called ‘Sipurei Dybuk’ besafrus Yisroel’by Gedalia Nigal.’ written in 5754.
    There is no mention of a ‘dybuk’ in the Gemara that I am aware of.
    The sefer ends with a story attributed th the Satmer Rov when asked to remove a ‘dybuk’ from a woman the Rov stated ‘I think she has lost her mind and better that you seek out a psychiatrist.’

  7. lev midaber says:

    Abie Rotenberg’s Journeys III has a cute song entitled “The Atheists Convention in LA”. The atheists’ resounding chorus declares, “That we all once were primates is our motto, and that Big Bang’s not a theory but a fact!”. Problem is, one has nothing to do with the other. They are in two completely different disciplines. One claims to work perfectly fine without G-d in the picture; the other practically reads like Genesis (the physicist’s line, not mine). This reality is lost on most in Bnei Brak or New York. Thing is, the supporters on either side generally have limited actual knowledge of that subject, or of any other under discussion. They have merely imbibed the postion “their camp” takes, something glaringly obvious from the comments to the ID post.

    To paraphrase L. Oberstein – I do give a hoot about dybbuks, I am perfectly open to the notion of a world older than 5,770 years, and can certainly go along with the sun revolving around the earth. (Don’t really know anyone who doesn’t.) And yes, there are probably many in Bnei Brak who will reject me for an old earth, and “moderns” who will reject me for dybbuks. Though I fail to see why these topics go hand in hand.

    Chareidi Leumi – can you please cite specific sources and not just the names of these Rishonim? A search on DBS has no comment from the Rambam regarding a dybbuk or sheidin/mazikin (two different things). Though he does not censor Avos 5:6. Not sure what you mean by “disattached souls” either – all are disattached before or after being in a body, and he certainly discusses the concept of kares. Aside from which, let us not fall into the trap of “absence of evidence, is evidence of absence”. This is a highly esoteric topic, and we do not expect it to be discussded in a work on the Ikkarei Emunah.

    But this whole discussion really does touch upon a broader one – the “Rationalists” v. “Kabbalists” (again not sure why one precludes the other) and by extention those who accept midrash/aggada/ma’amar chaza”l in fact the veracity of whole sections of Torah Shebaal Peh and those who don’t.

    I phrase it specifically in those terms, because I have yet to encounter someone in the “MO” world who rejects Kabbalah, including its Halachic ramifications, who does not also, when pressed, reject Midrash, Aggada in Talmud, and anything that doesn’t quite fit in his acceptable world from Tanach as well. They are as bothered by the notion of Og and a “large stone” over our heads, though a mishna, quoted by Rashi (Oh, He’s not p’shat!) and beautifully explained by Gur Aryeh (that Rationalist, or was he a Kabbalist?) as they are by Eliyahu HaNavi being alive, though he shows up all over the Talmud, and Divrei Hayamim has him writing a letter to Yehoram after his supposed demise (must be d’rash on Ezra’s part), and myriad other issues. But again, the rejection is generally prefaced with, “I really haven’t studied those sources as much as you probably have, but…”

    I don’t know if this new dybbuk episode is true or not, I simply have no notion of the details, and am maintaining a healthy skepticism. But why does every minor episode have to be a referendum on the entire concept? If nebech, this yid has mental illness, does that grant license to throw out Shaar HaGilgulim and all the other sefarim that follow (and those before) all the way to R’ Chaim Petaya’s Minchat Yehuda with his detailed first-hand accounts? Are the Ben Ish Chai, R’ Petaya and the Chofetz Chaim insulated, and unworldly “Bnei Brakniks” as well?

    As Rabbi Wein has quipped, we’ve picked up a lot of bathwater during our years in Gallus, but let us nevertheless be wary of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  8. L. Oberstein says:

    There is a real gulf between those whose ideas are grunded in science and who feel comfortable with the modern world and the increasingly large element that is dismissive of anything alien to their culture.Contrary to logic, the second element seems to be taking over.
    The Slifkin affair brought it to a head and I have never felt the same since then . If, as some writers seems to say, one must believe that scientific evidence is irrelevant to truth, the only important thing is to accept that Chazel were right, othrwise the system will collapse, then maybe the system deserves to collapse. Who can base emes on sheker?
    If I don’t give a hoot about dybbuks, if I believe that the world has been around for millions of years and that to believe otherwise is willfull ignorance, if I believe that the sun does not revolve around the earth, even if the Rambam believed otherwise, then am I still kosher or am I irretreivably outside the camp and deserving of shunning.
    How did we get to this situation? Is it the fault of the people who never believed in accepting modernity or of the putative modern orthodox who have somehow lost the battle, at the moment.If the anti-science elements rule,then it means the majority have given up the fight.What does that bode for Klal Yisroel.

  9. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >Which Torah observant Jew denies the reality of dybbuks?

    The Rambam, Rav Avraham ben HaRambam, Rach, Ralbag, Meiri, and the Kuzari according to the translation of R’ Kapah (Evven Shmuel believed that the Kuzari believed in the concept of sheidim and disattached souls but the appropriate translation of the Arabic does not support his view).

    The Rambam completely ignores any halachot that the gemara derives due to its belief in the existence of sheidim and such. For example the Rambam completely leaves out of the Yad the din from Gittin 67 where the Mishna writes that someone who is compelled by a spirit to give his wife a get did not accomplish anything of legal significance.

    The Rambam also sometimes changes the reasons for such Dinnim. For example, In Hilchot Rotzeach 12:5 where he discusses the Din that one should not put food under one’s bed which the Gemara explains is dues to danger from an evil spirit, the Rambam explains the reason as due to concern that a dangerous item will fall into the food.

    So I ask you, were any of these rishonim not “Torah observant Jews” ?

  10. A Bloome says:

    Which Torah observant Jew denies the reality of dybbuks?

    A dibbuk is explicitly mentioned in Eruvin 41b:

    מי שהוציאוהו נכרים או רוח רע
    “One who is taken out [of the techum] by heathens or an evil spirit…”

    Rashi says that the case is one of an evil spirit that entered a person, disturbing his mental faculties to the point that he is no longer fully liable for his actions.

    The Mishna in Gittin is more explicit discussing the case of one who tries to initiate a divorce while under the influence of the kurdyakos. Gittin 67b tells us that the kurdyakos is a type of spiritual entity that could overpower a person. Meforshim, including Rashi, Rav Ovadya Mi-Bartenura, the Tos. Yom Tov, Shiltei Gibborim, Ran, and Tos. ha-Rid, explain this as possession by a malicious spirit.

    The Zohar (Vayikra 70) teaches that the neshomos of reshoim become the evil spirits of this world. This is to say that some of the spiritual entities the Gemora speaks of are, in fact, the souls of the deceased.

    To summarize the hakdamos of Rabbi Chaim Vital, the Zohar to Parshas Mishpatim, Rabbi Menasheh ben Yisroel in his Nishmas Chayim, and the Sefer ha-Bris:

    There are certain people who, upon their death, depart this world while their souls are in a “malfunctioning” state. Sometimes, the soul may be reincarnated in order that it repair the flaw. Sometimes this soul must undergo gehinnom for its purification. Yet, some neshomos are not admitted either option. These souls must return to the world, bodiless, to find their tikkun, their repair. This bodiless return is something specific to that particular soul, something that neshoma needs. Sometimes, that neshoma required the assistance of a talmid chochom/tzaddik to attain its perfection.

    Now, there are some living people who lust after certain sins with tremendous desire. This lust can become pathological, contaminating the very soul and being of the individual. A living soul can thus develop a pegima, an imperfection, that requires a tikkun as well. When a person is a slave to this imperfection, he cannot free himself without the help of another. After all, the Gemora tells us that a prisoner cannot free himself from his imprisonment – he must have assistance.

    By dint of sharing the same flaw, the same desire, and requiring similar rectification, the disembodied soul and the living person unite for mutual benefit. Having a body, the dybbuk, or clinging soul, can now attract the attention of one who can help it achieve its tikkun. And this must be understood: “exorcism” of a dibbuk is a misnomer. The removal of a dibbuk is the repair of the flaw of the dybbuk’s soul. When the soul has been assisted in its rectification, only then can it depart from the possessed.

    This means that disembodied soul only becomes a dibbuk when attachment to the living will assist it in its tikkun. If attachment will accomplish nothing, then the disembodied soul is not permitted to become a dibbuk. Thus, dibbukim only happen when there is a talmid chocham in that generation who is capable of assisting it. By the converse, if a Rabbi is unsuccessful in exorcising a dibbuk, this implies either that: A) The dibbuk is not a real dybuk, or B) That the wrong person is trying to “exorcise” it.

    Possession benefits the possessed because, as the tzaddik/talmid chocham seeks to repair the dibbuk neshoma, he also assists the soul of the possessed in his own rectification. So we see, again, that possession of the living is only permitted to the wandering neshoma if it is ultimately of benefit to both.

    All in all, possession and the attendant “exorcism” exist as chasadim, as kindnesses, for the sake of both the living and the deceased.

  11. Garnel Ironheart says:

    > How is a Dibbuk any different (from a rational perpsective) than a Neshamah? Even God?

    The Tanach mentions both of the latter in copious amounts. Same for the Gemara. How many mentions of a dybbuk?

  12. DF says:

    Gershon Josephs, a neshama (and, of course, God) we take as granted that they cannot be seen. That’s not a question. But a dibbuk supposedly can be seen. The problem is that no modern people – like Americans, or yekkishe Jews – have ever seen such things. Strangely they only seem to appear to lesser educated people, and whenever they are actually captured on film or tape, for people to actually scrutinize, they always prove to be fakes. Not unlike the pixies and fairies of 100 years ago, actually.

    You say that they used to have them, or that the Chafetz Chayim supposedly had one? Gershon, ever wonder how is that people used to see the Loch Ness Monster, too? But for the past 25 years – ie, since camera and recording equiptment have become cheap and ubiquitous and avaialable 24/7 – suddenly no one sees it anymore. The answer, of course, is that there never was such a thing as a Loch Ness Monster, it was just easier to spread such stories in earlier times.

    And that’s why, to answer your question, virtually all rational people will tell you there’s no such thing as a dibbuk.

  13. Tal Benschar says:

    “If some are encouraged (receive chizuk) by this, why not tell?”

    The more basic problem with this is, simply, what kind of chizuk is this?

    Maybe I am too much of a rationalist, but for the life of me I find it hard to understand what “chizuk” a person could possibly obtain from hearing about the dybbuk? What was weak before that suddenly became “nizchazek” now? What exactly is being strengthened?

    I can understand how a person can receive chizuk from a mussar shmooz (which reinforces his yiras shomayim), or from an event which demonstrates Hashem’s hasgocha pratis, or from an event which demonstrates Hashem’s justice. For an example of the latter, see Parshas Yisro, where Yisro is impressed by the fact that the Mitzrim were punished in the very thing they planned to perpetrate evil against Bnei Yisroel — ki ba davar asher zadu aleihem.

    Believing in Dybbuk’s is not an ikkar in emunah or a yesod in Avodas Hashem. Of what difference is it to the life of a Ben Torah whether or not they exist?

    Perhaps what R’ Elyashiv meant is that some people doubt the words of Chazal or our later Sages (are dybbuks mentioned in the Gemara or other classical sources of Chazal?) and so this reinforces their belief in the words of our Sages. But given that this case, at least, is apparently, one of mental illness, how is this a “chizuk” of that kind when, acc. to the gedolei yisroel, it isn’t really a dybbuk.

    [YA – I believe that the chizuk is in the confirmation of the afterlife. The dybbuk is a neshamah of a deceased person still very much active]

  14. Joseph says:

    In response to Gershon Joseph’s comment above, claiming that a dibbuk exists is very different from claiming that neshamas (souls) and G-d exists for two key reasons:

    Unlike the Dybbuk, the concepts of the soul and G-d are crucial ones in Judaism, in the sense that Judaism itself is philosophically based on these concepts. The dybbuk, however, plays no important theological or philosophical role within Judaism, and is something virtually any contemporary psychiatrist would deem mental illness (more specifically: Dissociative Identity Disorder.

    The soul and G-d, however, being outside the realm of scientific jurisdiction per-se, can not be explained away by any scientific theory. On the contrary, many contemporary philosophers of mind and neuroscientists concede that the mind (i.e. the soul) cannot be fully explained through science and that there must be some metaphysical features which explain these phenomenon. The dybbuk is neither philosophically/theologically important nor a cogent rational theory of behavior and as such there is no discernible good reason to accept that they exist.

  15. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    There are some real problems, as we can all see, with the “chizuk in BB, recipe for off-the-derech in CA” situation. The writers of pashkevilim and off-the-wall columns in hareidi newspapers evoke expressions of glee from their fellow scribblers at Haaretz, NYT and Forward. Here is the “proof” that Orthodox Jews are really superstitious fools and not the rational individuals that a Rosenblum or an Adlerstein “pretend to be” for the modern audience. You want to quiet down the noisy pashevilim but they are just overjoyed to have the spotlight and they do it all the louder. The opposite side of the equation occurred in the Oslo Rabin government when Shas was a vital component of the coalition, but the leftist journalists couldn’t resist quoting R. Ovadia Yosef every time he said something politically incorrect “down home” in Beit Knesset Yazdim or somewhere like that. They ended up sawing off the branch they were sitting on. IMHO this will continue at increasing decibel counts until Moshiach. Grin and bear it and learn to live with it. It is the price of free will and free speech. Truth wins in the end, but in this imperfect world it will be on points rather than a knockout.

  16. Shira says:

    How do you provide the proper chizuk in Bnei Brak while not alienating the Californians? Or are you suggesting that those in Bnei Brak need to forgo such chizuk in benefit to the Californian realities?

    Maybe the term of chizuk is being used more broadly. Like how many things that us Americans consider “mundane” get reclassified as having spiritual meaning. I think we would say something more like “if people are interested, and they find it gives them some religious food for thought, why not?”

    Also I don’t know if I’d say it’s outright “good” for Bnei Brak. Many have criticized the public nature of the attempted exorcism – for those of us who see spirituality as a more private matter, an internet show seems to scream “fake!” Here I’d phrase it more like “what blends into the religious experience in Bnei Brak may be toxic here” – so perhaps Californians reading the story should realize they are coming from a different culture, and it might be appropriate to wave the whole thing off and forget about it.

  17. Gershon Josephs says:

    I don’t understand the people above who assume that Dybuks are automatically nonsense. How is a Dibbuk any different (from a rational perpsective) than a Neshamah? Even God? All are super-natural entities for which no scientific evidenxe exists, yet faithful Jews have traditionally believed in all 3. R Adlerstein’s approach (from his faith-based perspective) is at least somewhat consistent.

  18. Aaron says:

    “his more notorious gatekeepers, who are known to color, filter, and distort.”

    If a scientist knowingly had assistants who were known to distort his input data, any conclusions uttered by this scientist would be reasonably suspect. It would further trouble me that the scientist didn’t summarily dismiss his colorers, filterers and distorters. If that same scientist kept that staff around, no matter the intellect, it would reasonably taint everything published or uttered.

    At times, when I’ve asked for a psak and gotten a response that doesn’t seem to resonate “true”, I usually find that in my ignorance I’ve failed to give a posek all that was necessary to pasken. Going back and presenting the additional issues has, to date, always resolved what initially seemed to “feel” wrong. In computing, we use the acronym GIGO: “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. A posek paskens based on input, too. While a psak might be technically correct, unless the observer has access to the inputs and the algorithm used to process it, it can be difficult to accept the conclusions.

    Given contemporary technology, it is difficult to accept that anyone cannot do better at presenting their own statements and to dramatically reduce the incidence of being taken out of context.

    To me, one useful example is set by Rabbi Zev Leff who has scores of questions which are asked and answered in his own voice on a website for anyone to hear directly.

    Is it not long overdue to establish and document the provenance of halachic inputs and outputs? Is it not relatively easy to do so now… except that it would thwart the power of “colorers, filterers and distorters”?

  19. joel rich says:

    R’YA, I understood why you said what you said, but I would like to know what R’YSE thinks himself. BTW one approach to this could be they existed when people believed in them (there’s an approach that states that this is why the Rambam rejected “magic”, he knew it worked but only when people believed in it, so if he told people it didn’t exist, then it would stop working because they didn’t believe in it- Sounds fishy to me but that’s what acharon x said) Then you could say it doesn’t exist now without contradicting prior generations.
    KT

    [YA – Look at R. Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l’s Emes Le-Yaakov on this week’s parshah for a similar thought.]

  20. Ari says:

    >Why should I have to say that gedolim X,Y, and Z must have been wrong about dybukkim, and only believed in them because they did not know what we know about mental illness?

    To give chizuk, and I’m not joking. Plenty of rational hamon amim would like confirmation from their rabbis that they are not themselves crazy, wicked or heretical.

  21. BD says:

    How about the Chartumim in this week’s parsha – Va’Eira. Rashi learns it to be true kishuf. The Sforno downplays that and says it may have been sleight of hand. The reason that Moshe’s stick swallowed the other sticks is to show that Moshe’s stick was actually alive.

    Si I think the conversation is very apropos for this week.

  22. Harry Berkowitz says:

    It is important to note that even those authorities (i.e. Rav Shternbuch et al) who state that this was not a case of a dibbuk, do acknowledge that dibbuk’s are a reality that have existed in even modren times.

  23. Joe Hill says:

    “What is right in Bnei Brak is toxic here.”

    These days you can’t treat this issue one way in Bnei Brak and another way in California.

    How do you provide the proper chizuk in Bnei Brak while not alienating the Californians? Or are you suggesting that those in Bnei Brak need to forgo such chizuk in benefit to the Californian realities?

  24. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    I will respond to several comments, published and not, that took me to task for not coming out and saying that dybbuks are nonsense. Another reader, a rov on the West Coast, put it differently. “Just one question: Why would you not just come out and say clearly, the dybbuk is a fake, you don’t need to ‘believe in dybbuks’ to be a Frum Jew etc…?” It is important to realize that this is not one question, but two. I have no problem clearly stating that you can be a frum Jew while rejecting dybbuks,magic, superstition, etc. I will not come out and say that the dybbuk is a fake – even though that would be my inclination. How do you prove the non-existence of something, the null hypothesis? All the more so when important voices in the past have championed all kinds of beliefs that I am not so eager to embrace. Why should I have to say that gedolim X,Y, and Z must have been wrong about dybukkim, and only believed in them because they did not know what we know about mental illness? Is that true? They had plenty of experience with mental illness, even if they didn’t have our tools of evaluating causes and treatment. Is it true that the notion of a dybbuk – of a neshamah that hasn’t quite found its place evem in gehenom (see Michtav M’Eliyahu’s beautiful treatment of this regarding the gemara about the two girls who came out of their graves to take a walk, and one forgot her comb) – runs counter to all acceptable traditional beliefs about the neshamah after death?

    I have my leanings, and everyone comes up with criteria of truth for themselves, even for the null hypothesis. But what chutzpah it would be to impose them upon others! Whenever talmidim would ask about magic, shedim and the like, I would repeat the magic formula that answers almost any question in life: Machlokes Rishonim. Why would I want to teach that the Rambam was correct about magic, to the exclusion of any other opinion? Is it proper to say that the Rashba was wrong? I have always taught about these issues that “Rishon X said A, while Rishon Y said B.” If pressed, “But what do you believe?” I would repeat: “Rishon X said A, while Rishon Y said B.” (Depending on my mood, I might also throw in a position I always thought was intermdediate between the two, that of Ramchal in Derech Hashem. IIRC, he argues that HKBH deliberately left a small number of phenomena that had no natural explanation so that Man would not be so smug as to think he could explain everything with his Reason. He wanted people to have access to a small window of the spiritual that lies at the root of the physical.)

    Should be replace a tyranny of the impropbable, metaphysical and unsupportable with forced conversions to the extremes of skepticism?

    No, I am not going to say that dybbuks don’t exist, even if I cannot imagine the circumstances in which you would get me to believe that I was observing one.

  25. Yossi Ginzberg says:

    How can falsehoods and lies possibly be good, even if they provide Chizuk?

    This isn’t a “small” untruth, like maybe in extreme purposes might be okay for shalom bayis, this is opening the door to outregeous abuses.

    The Sign of Hashems presence is Emes. That’s a given, with hundreds of primary sources. Let’s not let it be scarred by alleged offhand comments, even by a Gadol.

  26. Garnel Ironheart says:

    We ridicule other faiths for crazy beliefs like thinking a guy nailed to a cross would come back to life three days later and then we talk about dybbuks!

    Let’s make a few things clear: an acute psychotic break, either as a first episode of schizophrenia or as a consequence of another mental illness, is not possession by a dybbuk. Just as the world is not a giant disc floating through the ether on the shell of a giant turtle and solar eclipses aren’t some giant celestial dragon temporarily sucking up the sun only to excrete it a few minutes later, there are no dybbuks.

    We would look at anyone who insisted on the giant turtle theory as an ignorant fool. Why should idiocy like this be given any more respect?

  27. Ori says:

    Isn’t there something incredibly arrogant in deciding what people need to hear about, based on what you think it will do to them? I assume we are talking about adults, who should be making their own decisions.

    Also, would it even work? Don’t people from different communities communicate?

  28. DF says:

    I am shaking my head in disbelief. If I read this correctly, Rabbi Adlerstein says its OK to spread stories about demons and goblins in Bnei Brak, because a) people there beleive in such things, and b) they are not exposed to media or literature that might actually scrutinize the stories, and so they will probably never learn the truth anyway.

    We are taught that the signature of God is truth. We are taught to stay far away from flasehood. We are taught that ignorant ancient people also received chizzuk from seeing the magicians and priets making the idols bleed and cry. Yet here we read today that the uneducauted masses should be taught about leprechauns and demons – the kind of arrant nonsense that causes a chillul hashem – because, “why not, it’s a chizzuk?” Please tell me I’ve somehow misunderstood your article, because that’s sure what it looks like to me.

  29. Avi says:

    “(My own practice is to follow his own directive, and assume nothing quoted in his name is accurate, unless heard directly from him.”

    This is going to sound like a snide question, but I mean it in all sincerity: How did you verify that the above directive came from R’ Elyashiv?

  30. Baruch Pelta says:

    (My own practice is to follow his own directive, and assume nothing quoted in his name is accurate
    Where’s the mekor where he stated that?

    [YA – I heard it from one of the gatekeepers. :-) ]

  31. Ari says:

    Does anything go in the name of chizuk? For example, if there is a community who would derive chizuk from the opinion that Moses Mendelssohn was not a rasha, but was in fact an outstanding example of a Torah U-madda approach and lifestyle, who was well regarded by many great men in his time and later, is that ok? What about Saul Lieberman? Louis Ginzberg?

  32. joel rich says:

    WADR it reminds me of the line in A Few Good Men – Col. Jessep: [shouts] You can’t handle the truth!

    Do we believe that Dybbuks exist, can they be evicted back to dybbuk central? Is it possible that earlier generations were describing mental illness that they could not treat in any other way?

    I don’t know the answers that R’ Elyashav would give to these questions, but I would suggest that addressing them would be of great value.

    KT

  33. Menachem Lipkin says:

    The real lesson, I believe, is an old one that is often ignored. The needs and realities of the Torah community in Israel are not identical with those here. What is right in Bnei Brak is toxic here.

    Modern technology, mostly the internet, has made it such that there is no longer a “here” and a “there”. A Pashkeville posted in Meah Shaarim or Bnei Brak can be transmitted around the world within hours, sometimes minutes, of its posting. What may have made sense for the local community is seen as bizzare in the greater community. This feeds into a vicious cycle that demeans both these communities and their leaders.

    An insular community may be able, to some extent, to keep the outside world from coming in, but it’s virtually impossible to keep the outside world from looking in. To the extent that many of our revered Torah scholars are ensconced in these communities their reputations often hinge what the onlookers perceive.

    I don’t think that the answer lies as much in the realization of the onlookers that there’s a “here” and “there” as much as there’s a growing need for the leadership in these communities to understand and internalize the fact that, whether they like it or not, everything they do and say can and will be scrutinized by the broader worldwide community. The toxicity must be cut off at its source.