Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dybbuk in Brazil

So this link should connect you to the dybbuk story in English, which is reporting on another story in Hebrew on

Though endlessly entertaining and fascinating as it is to look through this story and the comments, sadly, it has all the earmarks of an urban legend. Learn these earmarks and you too can vet a story before forwarding it as an urgent email to everyone you care about. Let's look at it in detail.

1) The Yeshiva News starts and ends by calling it a "bizarre" story and one that they cannot verify. HUGE RED LETTERS.

2) There are very specific details in the story, but no specific sources, nor even indication of sources that wish to remain anonymous.

3) The story is clearly trying to persuade us to a particular viewpoint, namely, that the dybbuk possession is real. A real news story usually at least pretends to be objective about presenting the facts of the story.

4) This story relies partially on "appeal to authority". Were they writing this as a report, they would doubtlessly have gone to those authorities or their spokesman. Then we would have an official statement and possibly clear statements on other issues around the main issue. Given the stature of the authorities, this story would not be hard to verify, were it real. This is similar to "Microsoft says its a very dangerous virus" or "snopes says it is real", and such in urban legend circulation.

5) The story does not even name the synagogue, anyone involved, or even the city. I would think that "who, what, when, where", the basics of a news report, might be in the story somewhere, or at least the claim that someone demanded that they be withheld. This is just a silly story somewhere in Brazil, about some shul, where something happened, possibly regarding someone yelling insane things at the kehila. Some Rabanim are referenced, but we do not have any statement from them or their spokesmen, nor any claim that they declined to comment or couldn't be reached for comment.

As fabulous as it would be to poke endless fun at this story and the flaky fundies who would support the truth of the story based on the fact that "we do not know everything", as terrific a proof as that is, we'll have to heap it in with the myriads of other urban legends and not give it any heed. However, a You Tube spoof of Israeli psychic (oh sorry, it seems in Israel they call them "mekubal") Rabbi Batzri doing a song and dance seance would definitely be appropriate.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Dishon or Dishan

I was frustrated by research of the genealogy given in parshas Vayishlach for Seir Hachori. It lists the sons and grandsons in order from 36:20, but it seems that 36:26 is a mistake in the "maleh v'chasar". There are two sons with similar names Dishon (spelled chasar or maleh vav) and Dishan (spelled maleh yud, chasar vav). Both v 26 and v 28 mention Dishan's sons, giving a different list. According to the order of the verses in context, it is clear and obvious that v 26 should list "Dishon" and not "Dishan". In one of the verses it has the name Dishon by the punctuation "Etnachta", so that cannot serve as an answer.

The parallel genealogy in Divrei HaYamim has it as Dishon, as we would expect. One later mefaresh indicates that Dishan died, and in his honor, Dishon changed his name to Dishan. (This is a bit like marking the bottom of box "TOP" to avoid confusion, but they are not responsible to make our learning easier, I suppose. This answer gets an "A" for creativity.)

The best answer I have is that the Masoretic text has a scribal error here of the type conceded by the Gemorrah, and the traditional voweling followed the errant spelling. However, if we ask a ba'al koreh, he will probably tell us that he reads it "Dishan" anyway.