VERSIONS OF THE DYBBUK
There are a large number of versions of The Dybbuk, both authorized versions and unauthorized adaptations in a large number of languages, both published and unpublished. I will deal here with the four I consider the most relevant to the purpose at hand: the published Yiddish version, also available in a number of different English translations; the Russian censored version, available in Russian and in English translation; Bialik's Hebrew translation, available in book form and online. To the best of my knowledge, there is no available English translation of the latter, so I have endeavored to produce one: CLICK HERE. Finally, there is the revision of Bialik's translation utilized in Habima's classic productions of the play, (not easily) available in Hebrew and English.
There has been considerable discussion as to whether An-sky first wrote the play in Russian or in Yiddish, although it is obvious sensus that Bialik drew on both these previous versions for his Hebrew translation. I believe that some light can be thrown on this question by looking at the plot of The Dybbuk, as it unfolds episode by episode throughout the play. An “episode” can mean an event, conversation, song, dance, etc. Which of these episodes occur in each version is indicated in the table titled "Comparison of Episodes in Four Versions of The Dybbuk.” It will be seen that most episodes occur in all four versions. This is unsurprising, for after all, we are dealing with the same play. It is also apparent that the later the version the shorter it is. (I assume the following chronological order for the four versions: Russian, Hebrew, Bialik, and Habima.)
It is very clear that over time the play was shortened. The number of pages (computerized in 12-point type with 1-inch margins all around) for each is as follows: the Russian version 66, the Yiddish 47, the Bialik 38, and the Habima 17. An-sky or others cut out what they considered superfluous material and shortened episodes, so that the manuscript became more and more like a play rather than something to be read, thus making the action more continous and faster flowing. Stage directions also tend to be shortened. If we didn’t know that the Russian version (at least the Russian version discussed here) preceded the Yiddish one, we could tell that from the fact that the Yiddish version left much out, especially long narrations by the protagonists. For example, we could cite the long (four page) Prologue and some legends in the Russian version. Then there is the recitation of the Tale of the Besht and the Prophet Elijah, a long tale about how the Besht defeated an evil local landowner, a song Leah’s old midwife) sings, and an episode where Leah gifts her a shirt in accordance with the wedding custom. It is unreasonable to expect that if the Russian version were later than the Yiddish, that An-sky would have added these long, quite unnecessary dialogues, especially since he was being criticized for producing a manuscript that seemed to be more designed to be read than performed. The song “You” in the Russian version also does not appear in the Yiddish, so it is unreasonable to expect that An-sky would have added all this material to a later version. “You,” however, was put back into the play when Bialik translated it into Hebrew, showing that he indeed had access to the Russian manuscript as well as the Yiddish.
It is suprising how little of the Yiddish version was left out of Bialik’s translation: Leah discussing the martyred bride and groom; Mikhoel and the Old Hasid discussing Leah’s possession. Rather, the episodes have been shortened. The characters are less verbose. Much more was left out of the Habima version: twenty-nine episodes that appear in earlier versions. Although it has been reported that Vakhtangov, not knowing either Yiddish or Hebrew, worked from the Russian version, the Habima version he molded is much more similar to the Yiddish and Hebrew versions than to the Russian. It would be interesting to know how he managed this.