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

for him.

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

living creature?"

"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