Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is an enigma; on one hand, it infects and persists in latent form in the vast majority of the global population, causing relatively benign disease in otherwise healthy individuals. On the other hand, EBV represents the first identified oncogenic virus, capable of causing ≥7 different types of malignancies, usually in immunocompromised individuals. Furthermore, some individuals with defined inborn errors of immunity exhibit extreme susceptibility to EBV-induced disease, developing severe and often fatal infectious mononucleosis, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, lymphoproliferative disease, and/or EBV+ B-cell lymphoma. Thus, host and pathogen have coevolved to enable viral persistence and survival with minimal collateral damage to the healthy host. However, acquired or genetic disruptions to host defense that tip the balance in favor of EBV can have catastrophic effects. The study of primary immunodeficiencies has provided opportunities to define nonredundant requirements for host defense against EBV infection. This has not only revealed mechanisms underlying EBV-induced disease in these primary immunodeficiencies but also identified molecules and pathways that could be targeted to enhance the efficacy of an EBV-specific vaccine or treat severe EBV infection and pathological consequences in immunodeficient hosts.