The Dybbuk (play)

The Dybbuk (play)

"The Dybbuk", or "Between Two Worlds" (Yid. דער דיבוק אדער צווישן צוויי וועלטן) is a 1914 play by S. Ansky, relating the story of a young bride possessed by a dybbuk — a malicious possessing spirit, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person — on the eve of her wedding. "The Dybbuk", is considered a seminal play in the history of Jewish theater, and played an important role in the development of Yiddish theatre and theatre in Israel. The play was based on years of research by S. Ansky, who travelled between Jewish shtetls in Russia and the Ukraine, documenting folk beliefs and stories of the Hassidic Jews.

Plot summary

Act 1: Hannan, a brilliant talmudic scholar, falls in love with Leah'le, the daughter of Sender, a rich merchant. Sender opposes a marriage between the two, as he prefers a rich suitor for his daughter. In desperation, Hannan decides to study the mystical arts of the Kabbalah, in the hopes of finding a way to win back Leah'le, whom he feels is his predestined bride. When Sender announces that he has found a suitable bridegroom for Leah'le, Hannan drops dead in a state of mystical ecstasy.

Act 2: On the day of her wedding, Leah'le goes to the graveyard, for the purpose of inviting the spirit of her dead mother to attend the wedding. She stops by the graves of a bride and groom who were murdered together before their marriage was consummated, and invites their spirits to the wedding. Finally she is drawn to the grave of Hannan, and leaves the graveyard appearing somehow "changed". Under the wedding canopy, Leah'le suddenly cries out to her intended: "You are not my bridegroom!" and rushes to the grave of the slaughtered bride and groom. A man's voice issues from her mouth, saying "I have returned to my predestined bride, and I shall not leave her". She has been possessed by the Dybbuk.

Act 3: Leah'le is brought to the home of a Hassidic sage who is to exorcise the dyybuk from her body. Several attempts fail, and finally the sage calls upon the chief rabbi of city for assistance. The chief rabbi arrives and tells of a dream he had, in which Nisn, the long-dead father of Hannan demanded that Sender, father of Leah'le, be called before the rabbinical court.

Act 4: The room is prepared as a court, and the spirit of Hannan's father is invited to plead its case from within a chalk circle drawn upon the floor. The spirit speaks to the rabbi, and tells him of a pact made between him and Sender, many years ago, that their two children shall be wed. By denying Hannan his daughter's hand in marriage, Sender broke the pact. The rabbis attempt to appease the spirit, and order that Sender must give half of his worldly goods and money to the poor, and say Kaddish over the spirits of Hannan and his father. But the dybbuk does not acknowledge that it has been appeased. Leah'le is left within the chalk circle of protection while the others leave to prepare for her wedding. The image of Hannan appears before her, and she leaves the safety of the circle to unite with her beloved - presumably, in death.


Besides stories, Ansky also collected traditional melodies, one of which he incorporated into this play. When Aaron Copland attended a performance of the play in New York in 1929, he was struck by this melody and made it the basis of his piano trio "Vitebsk", named for the town where Ansky was born. [Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis, "Copland 1900 to 1942".]

Production history

The first version of the play was written in Russian. Ansky presented the play to Konstantin Stanislavski, the legendary director of the Moscow Art Theatre, who praised the play and urged Ansky to translate it into Yiddish so that it could be performed "authentically" by a Jewish troupe. Ansky died on November 8, 1920, and did not live to see the play professionally produced. As a tribute to Ansky, a production of the play was prepared by a troupe of actors from Vilna during the 30-day period of mourning after his death, and on December 9, 1920, the play opened at the Elyseum Theatre in Warsaw. It proved to be the Vilna Troupe's greatest success. A year after the Warsaw premiere the play was produced again by Maurice Schwartz in New York City's Yiddish Art Theatre, and several months later it was translated into Hebrew by H. N. Bialik and staged in Moscow by the Habima troupe, under the direction of Yevgeny Vakhtangov. To this day, "The Dybbuk" remains a symbol of Habima theatre, the National Theater of Israel. The Royal Shakespeare Company staged an English translation by Mira Rafalowicz, directed by Katie Mitchell, in 1992. The most recent UK production was a minimalist, close-focus staging directed by Eve Leigh at the King's Head Theatre in early 2008.

The play has also been adapted into a Yiddish-language feature film, one of the few that now exist. In 1937, the play, with some changes in the plot structure, was filmed by director Michał Waszyński in Warsaw, starring Lili Liliana as Leah, Leon Liebgold as Hannan (Channon, in the English-language subtitles), and Avrom Morevski as Rabbi Azrael ben Hodos. The film adds an additional act before those in the original play: it shows the close friendship of Sender and Nisn as young men. Eve Sicular has remarked that their relationship is redolent of same-sex attraction [Paraphrased in George Robinson, [ Double Identity] , "The Jewish Week", 14 January 2005. Accessed online 24 March 2007.] and that Waszyński "was himself quite flamingly gay". [Eve Sicular, [ "Farlangen" (Longing) by Metropolitan Klezmer] (commentary on her version of a song from the film), "The Scholar & Feminist Online", Volume 5, Number 1, Fall 2006. Accessed online 24 March 2007.]

Besides the language of the film itself, the picture is noted among film historians for the striking scene of Leah's wedding, which is shot in the style of German Expressionism. The film is generally considered one of the finest in the Yiddish language.

Leonard Bernstein composed a ballet based on the play.

Notes and references


Shmuel Werses.S. An-ski's "Between Two Worlds' (The Dybbuk): A Textual History." in Studies in Yiddish Literature and Folklore. Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1986

External links

* [ Jewish Heritage Online article on The Dybbuk]
* [ Internet Movie Database entry on "Dybuk"]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Dybbuk — For other uses, see Dybbuk (disambiguation). Hanna Rovina as Leah le in The Dybbuk, ca. 1920 The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds (Yid. דער דיבוק אָדער צווישן צוויי וועלטן, Der dibuk oder tsvishn tsvey veltn) is a 1914 play by S. Ansky,… …   Wikipedia

  • The Dybbuk (film) — Infobox Film name = The Dybbuk image size = caption = director =Michał Waszyński producer = writer = Sholom Ansky (play), S.A. Kacyzna (writer) narrator = starring = music = cinematography = editing = distributor = released = runtime =125 minutes …   Wikipedia

  • The Dybbuk — (Der Dibuk, 1937)    One of the best known examples of the flourishing Yiddish cinema in Poland before 1939 is the Yiddish classic The Dybbuk, directed by Michał Waszyński and photographed by Albert Wywerka. The film is an adaptation of a popular …   Guide to cinema

  • Dybbuk (disambiguation) — A Dybbuk is a malicious possessing spirit in Kabbalah and European Jewish folklore. Dybbuk may also refer to: Dybbuk (Dungeons Dragons), a role playing game monster The Dybbuk (play), a 1914 play by S. Ansky A Dybbuk, Tony Kushner s 1997… …   Wikipedia

  • The opera corpus — is a list of nearly 2,500 works by more than 775 individual opera composers. Some of the works listed below are still being performed today   but many are not. The principal works of the major composers are given as well as those of historical… …   Wikipedia

  • Dybbuk (ballet) — This article is about Robbins 1974 ballet. For Robbins 1980 version, see Suite of Dances (from “Dybbuk Variations”). Dybbuk is a ballet made by New York City Ballet balletmaster Jerome Robbins to Leonard Bernstein s eponymous music and taking S.… …   Wikipedia

  • The Neighborhood Playhouse —    In 1915, Alice and Irene Lewisohn built the Neighborhood Playhouse on New York s Grand Street in tandem with the Henry Street Settlement House, which tended to the needs of the neighborhood s immigrant population. Its goal, like those of the… …   The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater

  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play — The Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play was first awarded at the 1974–1975 Drama Desk Awards and has been awarded every year since. Before the 21st Drama Desk Awards, directing awards were given without making distinctions between …   Wikipedia

  • DIBBUK (Dybbuk) — 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… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play — The Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play is presented by the Drama Desk, a committee of New York City theatre critics, writers, and editors. It honors performances by actors in supporting roles in productions staged on… …   Wikipedia