In Jewish folklore and popular belief an evil spirit which enters into a living person, cleaves to his soul, causes mental illness, talks through his mouth, and represents a separate and alien personality is called a dibbuk. The term appears neither in talmudic literature nor in the Kabbalah, where this phenomenon is always called "evil spirit." (In talmudic literature it is sometimes called ru'aḥ tezazit, and in the New Testament "unclean spirit.") The term was introduced into literature only in the 17th century from the spoken language of German and Polish Jews. It is an abbreviation of dibbuk me-ru'aḥ ra'ah ("a cleavage of an evil spirit"), or dibbuk min ḥa-hiẓonim ("dibbuk from the outside"), which is found in man. The act of attachment of the spirit to the body became the name of the spirit itself. However, the verb davok ("cleave") is found throughout kabbalistic literature where it denotes the relations between the evil spirit and the body, mitdabbeket bo ("it cleaves itself to him").
Stories about dibbukim are common in the time of the Second Temple and the talmudic periods, particularly in the Gospels; they are not as prominent in medieval literature. At first, the dibbuk was considered to be a devil or a demon which entered the body of a sick person. Later, an explanation common among other peoples was added, namely that some of the dibbukim are the spirits of dead persons who were not laid to rest and thus became *demons. This idea (also common in medieval Christianity) combined with the doctrine of
From 1560 several detailed reports in Hebrew and Yiddish on the deeds of dibbukim and their testimonies about themselves were preserved and published. A wealth of material on actual stories of dibbukim is gathered in Samuel *Vital's Sha'ar ha-Gilgulim, in Ḥayyim *Vital's Sefer ha-Ḥezyonot, in Nishmat Ḥayyim by *Manasseh Ben Israel (book 3, chs. 10 and 14), in Minḥat Eliyahu (chs. 4 and 5) by *Elijah ha-Kohen of Smyrna, and in Minḥat Yehudah by Judah Moses Fetya of Baghdad (1933, pp. 41–59). The latter exorcised *Shabbetai Ẓevi and his prophet *Nathan of Gaza who appeared as dibbukim in the bodies of men and women in Baghdad in 1903. Special booklets on the exorcisms of famous spirits which took place in Korets have also been published (end of 17th century in Yiddish), in Nikolsburg (1696, 1743), in Detmold (1743), and in Stolowitz (1848). The last protocol of this kind, published in Jerusalem in 1904, concerns a dibbuk which entered the body of a woman and was exorcised by Ben-Zion Ḥazzan. The phenomena connected with the beliefs in and the stories about dibbukim usually have their factual background in cases of hysteria and sometimes even in manifestations of schizophrenia.
Sha'ar ha-Gilgulim (1875), 8–17; Moses Zacuto, Iggerot ha-Remez (1780), no. 2; Moses Graff of Prague, Kunteres Ma'aseh ha-Shem ki Nora Hu (Fuerth, 1696); Moses Abraham b. Reuben Ḥayyat, Sefer Ru'ah Ḥayyim, (1785); M. Sassoon, Sippur Nora shel ha-Dibbuk (1966); Phinehas Michael, Av Bet Din of Stolowitz, Ma'aseh Nora'ah… (Yiddish, Warsaw, 1911); S.R. Mizraḥi, Ma'aseh Nora shel ha-Ru'aḥ (1904); M. Weinreich, Bilder fun der Yidisher Literatur Geshikhte (1928), 254–61; G. Scholem, in: Leshonenu, 6 (1934), 40–41.