How do we know that Dr. Yossi Chajes’ “Between Worlds: Dybbuks, Exorcists, and Early Modern Judaism” is of the five best? That’s what a University of Texas professor, Dr. Brian P. Levack, wrote in his annotated list, which was published in the Wall Street Journal in 2013.
“It was very flattering to see it there,” Dr. Chajes said. Dr. Chajes, who grew up in Detroit, lives in Israel, where he is a professor at the University of Haifa. This semester he is on sabbatical at University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.
If it is surprising that the Wall Street Journal recommended books on spirit possession — Dr. Levack, who wrote the column, is an expert on the topic, author of “The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West” — it would probably have surprised those who knew Dr. Chajes as a young day school student that his career would take such a mystical turn.
“The one thing I thought I knew from my day school education was that Judaism had nothing to offer spiritually,” he said.
But after “shopping around in the marketplace of spirituality at the end of high school and my first year of college, I finally found my way back to some sources in the Jewish tradition that made it clear to me there was a spiritual history I was not exposed to growing up. I could have been one of the innumerable Jews who got interested in spirituality and just went to the nearest ashram or Hindu temple. Perhaps because my father told me that we were from a prestigious chasidic family, I explored my devotional aspirations with as much knowledge of Jewish traditional, spiritual sources as I could find.