The Rabbi's Bogey-man
: Jewish Fairy Tales And Legends
Rabbi Lion, of the ancient city of Prague, sat in his study in the
Ghetto looking very troubled. Through the window he could see the
River Moldau with the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter clustered
around the cemetery, which still stands to-day, and where is to be
seen this famous man's tomb. Beyond the Ghetto rose the towers and
spires of the city, but just at that moment it was not the cruelty of
the people to th
Jews that occupied the rabbi's thoughts. He was
unable to find a servant, even one to attend the fire on the Sabbath
The truth was that the people were a little afraid of the rabbi. He
was a very learned man, wise and studious, and a scientist; and
because he did wonderful things people called him a magician. His
experiments in chemistry frightened them. Late at nights they saw
little spurts of blue and red flame shine from his window, and they
said that demons and witches came at his beck and call. So nobody
would enter his service.
synagogue. (Page 249).]
"If, as they declare, I am truly a magician," he said to himself, "why
should I not make for myself a servant, one that will tend the fire
for me on the Sabbath?"
He set to work on his novel idea and in a few weeks had completed his
mechanical creature, a woman. She looked like a big, strong, laboring
woman, and the rabbi was greatly pleased with his handiwork.
"Now to endow it with life," he said.
Carefully, in the silence of his mysterious study at midnight, he
wrote out the Unpronounceable Sacred Name of God on a piece of
parchment. Then he rolled it up and placed it in the mouth of the
Immediately it sprang up and began to move like a living thing. It
rolled its eyes, waved its arms, and nearly walked through the window.
In alarm, Rabbi Lion snatched the parchment from its mouth and the
creature fell helpless to the floor.
"I must be careful," said the rabbi. "It is a wonderful machine with
its many springs and screws and levers, and will be most useful to me
as soon as I learn to control it properly."
All the people marveled when they saw the rabbi's machine-woman
running errands and doing many duties, controlled only by his
thoughts. She could do everything but speak, and Rabbi Lion discovered
that he must take the Name from her mouth before he went to sleep.
Otherwise, she might have done mischief.
One cold Sabbath afternoon, the rabbi was preaching in the synagogue
and the little children stood outside his house looking at the
machine-woman seated by the window. When they rolled their eyes she
did, and at last they shouted: "Come and play with us."
She promptly jumped through the window and stood among the boys and
"We are cold," said one. "Canst thou make a fire for us?"
The creature was made to obey orders, so she at once collected sticks
and lit a fire in the street. Then, with the children, she danced
round the blaze in great glee. She piled on all the sticks and old
barrels she could find, and soon the fire spread and caught a house.
The children ran away in fear while the fire blazed so furiously that
the whole town became alarmed. Before the flames could be
extinguished, a number of houses had been burned down and much damage
done. The creature could not be found, and only when the parchment
with the Name, which could not burn, was discovered amid the ashes,
was it known that she had been destroyed in the conflagration.
The Council of the city was indignant when it learned of the strange
occurrence, and Rabbi Lion was summoned to appear before King Rudolf.
"What is this I hear," asked his majesty. "Is it not a sin to make a
"It had no life but that which the Sacred Name gave it," replied the
"I understand it not," said the king. "Thou wilt be imprisoned and
must make another creature, so that I may see it for myself. If it is
as thou sayest, thy life shall be spared. If not--if, in truth, thou
profanest God's sacred law and makest a living thing, thou shalt die
and all thy people shall be expelled from this city."
Rabbi Lion at once set to work, and this time made a man, much bigger
than the woman that had been burned.
"As your majesty sees," said the rabbi, when his task was completed,
"it is but a creature of wood and glue with springs at the joints. Now
observe," and he put the Sacred Name in its mouth.
Slowly the creature rose to its feet and saluted the monarch who was
so delighted that he cried: "Give him to me, rabbi."
"That cannot be," said Rabbi Lion, solemnly. "The Sacred Name must not
pass from my possession. Otherwise the creature may do great damage
again. This time I shall take care and will not use the man on the
The king saw the wisdom of this and set the rabbi at liberty and
allowed him to take the creature to his house. The Jews looked on in
wonderment when they saw the creature walking along the street by the
side of Rabbi Lion, but the children ran away in fear, crying: "The
The rabbi exercised caution with his bogey-man this time, and every
Friday, just before Sabbath commenced, he took the name from its mouth
so as to render it powerless.
It became more wonderful every day, and one evening it startled the
rabbi from a doze by beginning to speak.
"I want to be a soldier," it said, "and fight for the king. I belong
to the king. You made me for him."
"Silence," cried Rabbi Lion, and it had to obey. "I like not this,"
said the rabbi to himself. "This monster must not become my master,
or it may destroy me and perhaps all the Jews."
He could not help but wonder whether the king was right and that it
must be a sin to create a man. The creature not only spoke, but grew
surly and disobedient, and yet the rabbi hesitated to break it up, for
it was most useful to him. It did all his cooking, washing and
cleaning, and three servants could not have performed the work so
neatly and quickly.
One Friday afternoon when the rabbi was preparing to go to the
synagogue, he heard a loud noise in the street.
"Come quickly," the people shouted at his door. "Your bogey-man is
trying to get into the synagogue."
Rabbi Lion rushed out in a state of alarm. The monster had slipped
from the house and was battering down the door of the synagogue.
"What art thou doing?" demanded the rabbi, sternly.
"Trying to get into the synagogue to destroy the scrolls of the Holy
Law," answered the monster. "Then wilt thou have no power over me, and
I shall make a great army of bogey-men who shall fight for the king
and kill all the Jews."
"I will kill thee first," exclaimed Rabbi Lion, and springing forward
he snatched the parchment with the Name so quickly from the creature's
mouth that it collapsed at his feet a mass of broken springs and
pieces of wood and glue.
For many years afterward these pieces were shown to visitors in the
attic of the synagogue when the story was told of the rabbi's