The Dybbuk of Boiarka

Main Piece: A dybbuk is not exactly a ghost. It is the evil spirit of a sinner who takes the form of a deceased loved one to play tricks on the innocent. Shlomo was a poor tailor who lived in the small shetl of Boiarka with his wife Miriam. In one of the stormiest Sabbaths that Boiarka had ever seen, Shlomo came home with Rabbi Gorkshev. He told his wife that he had invited the Rabbi for soup for the Sabbath, as he had helped the Rabbi to get out of the temple on that stormy night. Miriam was overjoyed. It was very uncommon for these low standing people to be honored with the visit of a Rabbi. When their eldest daughter Teibel entered the room and saw the Rabbi she turned as pale as ghost. Miriam and Shlomo asked her what the matter was, and she told them that there was a dybbuk in their house. They asked her where, and she pointed directly to the Rabbi. Everyone started laughing at her remarks; how could the beloved Rabbi be a dybbuk. Yet, Teibel claimed that the Rabbi had been dead for months. See, Teibel was set to be married to one of the Rabbi’s pupils, and though him she found out about his death. The Rabbi explained that the girl must have been confused, as he did in fact fall severely ill, but he got better in time. Teibel was not convinced of this, so he asked the Rabbi for his pupil and her soon-to-be fiancée’s name. The rabbi could not remember, because he said he was very old and he had been very ill, so his memory was not what it used to be. This was enough for Teible. She picked up a a kitchen knife and stabbed Rabbi Gorkshev in the chest. The Rabbi ran out of the house and wandered through the streets in the storm. His parents told her “You have cursed us”, to which she answered, “He was a dybbuk. God had already cursed us”. And so the family was cursed for eternity. If it was because the daughter killed a Rabbi or because a dybbuk entered their home, no one knows. Even so, the villagers of Boiarka say that in stormy nights, they can still hear the screams of Rabbi Gorkshev wandering through the streets.

Background information about the piece by the informant: Ethel Soriano was born to Jewish parents from the Ukraine, where the town of Boiarka still stands. She says her dad used to tell the story to her at nights to scare her, but only made her interested in Jewish folk stories. She visited Boiarka herself because of her fascination with the legend.

Context on the piece: According to Ethel, the villagers of Boiarka tell the story to their children to scare them so that they will stay out of the streets, as the dybbuk still roams them according to legend.

Thoughts on the piece: I think the story lends itself more to simply being a tale for kids to stay out of the streets. The fact that the family never knew if he was actually a dybbuk is fascinating, as their curse could have been a self fulfilled prophecy by the daughter. With her believing that God had cursed them, she stabbed the Rabbi, which could have been the cause of their curse. This could send the message of not jumping into conclusions, but if the Rabbi was actually a dybbuk, the message could tell us not to be so trusting of good faces like Shlomo was. It’s a story where the meaning is dual and even ambiguous, which is unusual for legends in other culture. It follows the Jewish tradition of the public taking out their own meaning form it.

The Coeb Borthers reference a version of this legend in the opening scene of their film ‘A Serious Man’ (2009).