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Do Jews Believe in Exorcisms? Maybe.

By January 11, 2010

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fragmentExorcism isn't the sort of thing one usually associates with Judaism, but an 18th century manuscript recently discovered among the University of Manchester's collection of 11,000 text fragments is giving researchers a glimpse into the world of the Jewish occult.

The 150-word text fragment contains the second half of a ritual performed in the presence of a minyan (a gathering of ten adult males) for the purpose of banishing the spirit of a woman's dead husband. At one point in the Hebrew text the rabbis ask the ghost to "leave this woman, Qamar bat Rahmah, [and forgo] all authority and control that it has over her."

The fragment was discovered by Dr. Renate Smithuis from the Centre For Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester, who says that there are many stories about Jewish exorcisms dating back to the mid 16th century, primarily in North Africa and Palestine. "But this fragment is so exciting because it's not a story, but the record of a real event using a prayer which was actually recited in a synagogue," he said.

This connection between Judaism and exorcism comes as a surprise to many modern Jews, but according to the Jerusalem Post if you ask certain kabbalistic figures in Israel you'll discover that exorcisms - known as "removing the dybbuk" - occur fairly often.  "My father has performed several of them in the past few years," said Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri. There is even a video on the Internet showing Batzri performing an exorcism on a man in America via the Internet just two weeks ago. You can read more about this exorcism and others Batzri has performed in this JPost article.

Yet the text fragment being has "little distinctively mystical or kabbalistic phrasing," making it even more of a curiosity for researchers. An article about the finding will soon appear in an upcoming book from Oxford University Press.

Related About.com article: Do Jews Believe in Satan?

Image via The Forward

January 12, 2010 at 4:04 am
(1) Rabbi S says:

Nice article that should generate discussion or at least some interest in the Jewish paranormal.

There are many recorded cases of exorcism through the ages, and not only in the Middle East and North Africa, I believe there are accounts from Eastern Europe too.

The Talmud is also full of references to demons and their interactions with humans (see the first chapter of the Talmud Berachot for example).

BUT, Judaism doesn’t believe that demons possess people. We believe that a “lost” soul can temporarily attach itself to a person to attract attention to its spiritual plight, in the hope that a righteous individual will succeed in releasing it so it can enter Paradise. In other words, the rabbi doesn’t exorcise the ghost, he assists it to break free of its after-life punishment so that it can progress spiritually. When the soul is relieved of its spiritual burden, it leaves the body it had attached to.

Accounts of the “possessed” person writhing and frothing are usually exaggerated for dramatic effect. A soul-possession can happen without the host even knowing that it’s happened.

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