Dybbuks are best known today by virtue of An-Sky’s play of the same name, and so they are usually associated with nineteenth century Eastern European Jewish culture. But the phenomenon had its heyday centuries earlier. This impressive work of scholarship studies Jewish accounts of spirit possession from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Chajes frames these stories in several contexts, including the proliferation of similar possession stories and learned discussions about them in Christian society during the same period. Another important context he provides is the development of Kabbalah in Safed and its impact on the beliefs and practices of Jews throughout the Mediterranean. On the conceptual level, Chajes incorporates recent theoretical discussions of magic language, gender relations, and mental health. The book is written in rich prose, studded with references to twentieth century music and culture. Now released in paperback, Between Worlds deserves a place in any collection with an interest in Jewish culture.
Pinchas Roth (PR) is a post-doctoral fellow at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.