Jewish Beliefs in Ghosts
29 SEP 2017
Unlike the Bible, Jewish texts like the Talmud are full of ghosts and supernatural beings. Ghosts in Judaism are spirits disturbed by the living or souls of the dead that wander the earth in limbo before proceeding to the "world-to-come," according to Geoffrey Dennis' "Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism." Jewish belief in ghosts was most prevalent in the 16th and 17th centuries, and has since subsided among most modern Jews.
1 Jewish Ghosts
While most Jewish ghosts are limited to appearing in dreams, some spirits haunt graveyards and communicate with the living, believers say. Some ghosts are said to roam the earth freely, while others seek humans to possess as hosts. According to the Talmud, a ghost could be discovered in the home by scattering ashes on the floor before going to bed and in the morning looking for "something like the footprints of a cock."
Jewish folklore refers to a dybbuk as a spirit cursed to roam the earth for sins committed in life. Dybbuks are a kind of soul that can possess humans and only be exorcised by a rabbi, a Jewish holy man. In 16th century Eastern Europe, people suffering from madness or mental illness were often thought to have been possessed by a dybbuk, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
3 Good Ghosts
Not all Jewish spirits are malicious, and some could even be thought of as beneficent. An ibbur, for example, is similar to the dybbuk in that it is a disembodied ghost that inhabits or possesses the living. But the ibbur is a positive force, says Jay Michaelson, executive director of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture & Spirituality, on the My Jewish Learning website. He says an "ibbur is no different from possession by a dybbuk -- but practically speaking, they are polar opposites, as the former is benign and the other sinister."
4 Other Supernatural Beings
Ancient Jewish literature describes many supernatural beings in addition to ghosts that arise out of misspent energy. The Hebrew word "shedim" can refer to a wide range of demons, ghosts and gods, such as the golem. The monster-like being is believed to have been a lifeless object or doll brought to life through charms. Golems carry out the orders of their master or whoever brought them to life, and are considered an inspiration for the monsters in modern Frankenstein tales.