Between Worlds
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Between Worlds
Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism

J. H. Chajes

288 pages | 6 x 9
Paper 2011 | ISBN 9780812221701 | $26.50s | Outside the Americas £19.99
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Jewish Culture and Contexts
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"An exciting, persuasive, and well-written study and another key addition to a subject central to early modern religions."—Jewish Quarterly Review

"Chajes's excellent new book . . . succeeds in demystifying the subject of Jewish spirit (i.e., "dybbuk") possession by placing it within a broader cross-cultural and historical context, a s sophisticated methodological approach he calls a 'historical anthropology of spirit possession.' . . . His work is both a history and a phenomenology of Jewish spirit possession during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."—Choice

"This is a major contribution, not only to early modern Jewish studies but to the subject of spirit possession broadly conceived in the Christian world."—Edward Peters, University of Pennsylvania

After a nearly two-thousand-year interlude, and just as Christian Europe was in the throes of the great Witch Hunt and what historians have referred to as "The Age of the Demoniac," accounts of spirit possession began to proliferate in the Jewish world. Concentrated at first in the Near East but spreading rapidly westward, spirit possession, both benevolent and malevolent, emerged as perhaps the most characteristic form of religiosity in early modern Jewish society.

Adopting a comparative historical approach, J. H. Chajes uncovers this strain of Jewish belief to which scant attention has been paid. Informed by recent research in historical anthropology, Between Worlds provides fascinating descriptions of the cases of possession as well as analysis of the magical techniques deployed by rabbinic exorcists to expel the ghostly intruders.

Seeking to understand the phenomenon of spirit possession in its full complexity, Chajes delves into its ideational framework—chiefly the doctrine of reincarnation—while exploring its relation to contemporary Christian and Islamic analogues. Regarding spirit possession as a form of religious expression open to—and even dominated by—women, Chajes initiates a major reassessment of women in the history of Jewish mysticism. In a concluding section he examines the reception history of the great Hebrew accounts of spirit possession, focusing on the deployment of these "ghost stories" in the battle against incipient skepticism in the turbulent Jewish community of seventeenth-century Amsterdam.

Exploring a phenomenon that bridged learned and ignorant, rich and poor, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, Between Worlds maps for the first time a prominent feature of the early modern Jewish religious landscape, as quotidian as it was portentous: the nexus of the living and the dead.

J. H. Chajes teaches Jewish history at the University of Haifa.

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