Monday, January 25, 2010

Mouse rabbis, avodah zarah and segulahs

This is why I'm Modern Orthodox. I just heard about the "mouse rabbi." For those who don't know, one is supposed to put a picture of this rabbi up in their house so that the mice will go away. Why does this remind me of my gram, in her room with her candles and little statues of Catholic saints? See, I stay away from all this stuff. I'm just at a loss in my understanding that one can hang up pictures of "celebrity rabbis" yet, their children must chop the nose off their dolls because otherwise it's avodah zarah. No, without a doubt, I am not interested in being a part of these weird practices of rabbi worship. Modern Orthodox is good. I keep Shabbos. I keep kosher. As a woman, this is the bulk of my requirements. I don't see how I'm required rabbi worship.

Another weird practice is the segulah. I find it utterly similar to witchcraft. What's next? Will we be saying "double, double, boil and bubble, fire burn and caldron bubble" as is the line in the "Scottish Play"? Ok, so, I'm exaggerating. I know many will dismiss me. She's a convert, what does she know? Oh, but, what I do know is that these things are exactly the sort of things I was leaving behind in another religion. Yet I find out that it has the Jewish rubber stamp.

Modern Orthodoxy, thank G-d you're here!


  1. I'm just at a loss in my understanding that one can hang up pictures of "celebrity rabbis" yet, their children must chop the nose off their dolls because otherwise it's avodah zarah.

    Well there actually detailed rules about these things in the Shulchan Aruch, Y"D... and I can't remember the actual siman. However he does define what pictures can and cannot be, as well as where they can and cannot be hung. I must say that it is an area that many Jews are ignorant of. When I was in a Yeshiva that was both for B"Ts and FFBs one of the Rabbis decided to go through the laws of Avodah Zera with us. We came to the part where it defines pictures and says that they can't be hung in a Beit Midrash or a Beit Knesset(synagogue or Yeshiva), and one of the people learning with us, pointed around to all of the pictures in our Beit Midrash(which also serves as a Beit Knesset) and said, "what about all of these." They came down overnight.

    Another weird practice is the segulah. I find it utterly similar to witchcraft.

    It seems similar to witchcraft because the way many are used, viewed and employed today is exactly that, witchcraft. I wrote a blog or two about this.

    What's next? Will we be saying "double, double, boil and bubble, fire burn and caldron bubble" as is the line in the "Scottish Play"

    When you consider how few FFBs know Shakespeare, the possibility definitely exists. Once we figure out what to put in the pot, and translate the line into Hebrew, as well as come up with what it is for, then we too can foist it upon the Jewish world as a valid segula. I know of a few valid segulot, Tefila, Tzedaka, Teshuva for instance. There are a few others. But mostly I find that segulot have their basis in a very practical and rational source, but somewhere in the midst of transmitting them they get changed, deranged, and turned into a virtual avodah zerah that bears little resemblance to the original source.

  2. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret sas:

    To be fair,I know a LOT of Haredim who downright disapprove of the segula craze and who term it exactly as you have--borderline witchcraft with a strong dash of Xianity. Dangerous stuff.

    Objection to creeping avoda zarah is not limited to the Modern Orthodox.

  3. Hahaha, I actually played a witch in that play so, I know the line quite nicely. We originally had plastic toys to throw into the cauldron but, we had trouble to keep from laughing. So, we feigning the objects to throw in altogether. We performed in a church, too... so much irony.

  4. Mekubal,
    What about celebrity rabbis plastered all over your house?

  5. My readers in Israel are awake and I have yet to see the schluffy monster...

  6. What about celebrity rabbis plastered all over your house?

    Would you take issue with children(or adults) collecting baseball cards?

    My understanding of Rabbi pictures within one's house has been as long as the pictures fit within the guidelines of the Shulchan Aruch they are not a problem. Of course this is provided that we have a right understanding of their purpose. That being that they are their to inspire us to strive for the levels of Torah and Kedusha that these tzadikim have achieved.

    I have pictures of Tzadikim in my own home. Mostly the Abuchatzeiras(which are also family members so they don't quite count), and Rabbis who I have known or who greatly impacted my life through their work. They are my heroes, but it ends there.

  7. The mouse thing is Hungarian.

    Yeshivish Jews (the real ones from Lithuanian background) and Yekkes from Western Europe do not believe in segulah.

  8. There is actually some basis to the "mouse Rabbi". I'm not sure I believe it, but I think I'd probably do it if I needed to. Can't hurt...and maybe there's some chance it might help.
    It actually did help me once. I went to see an apartment. Everything was perfect for me, but there was a pic of the mouse Rabbi on every door. I stayed away, obviously.

  9. The rebbe of Kerestir (the "mouse rabbi") happens to have been a very holy man. I know very many families of Hungarian origin who have a small picture of him (the same picture) either on their refrigerator or somewhere else somewhat inconspicuous. As far as him keeping mice away, I cannot say that I understand it, and honestly the people who have pictures of him never talk about it and never address the issue. As far as other pictures of rabbis in a home, most people only have pictures of rabbis or rebbes that have been instrumental in their own lives, or who serve as some sort of inspiration or guide post for them personally. Litvishe people have pictures of the Chofetz Chayim, Rav Kanievsky, Rav Eliyashiv; Bobovers have pictures of Reb Shlomo zt"l; Belzers of Reb Ahron zt"l, and sometimes the current Belzer rebbe; etc. There is never any sense of the picture itself having holiness or needing/deserving any time of praise or special attention. For many Chasidishe people after the war, a rebbe served as a father figure, and this was sent down to the kids as a gradnfather figure, and so on. So, for most people in the Ashkenazi Chareidi world, these people are literally like part of the family, and it is no different than having a picture of a great-grandfather hanging on the wall. Also, the Torah speaks of how Yosef pictured Yaakov's face, and this helped him to refrain from committing aveiros, so in the same line of thinking, people put pictures of their rebbes (who are often like father figures) so that they can see the rebbe or rabbi's face and possibly refrain from doing aveiros. There is no worship or praise or avodah directed toward the photographs, nor toward the people themselves. If there is, this is wrong.

  10. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    "There is actually some basis to the "mouse Rabbi".--Mystery Woman"

    Oy vey, just don't go saying things like around my rabbi. Or around anyone in my very knowledgeable and very opinionated litvishe-yekkishe congregation.

    But my friend Dvorah Chana Olam can recommend you a nice cat, always a good segula against mice.

    Rabbi Zev Leff has a website, and I've heard him speak very insightfully about the question of segulos. He probably has a characteristically eloquent, scholarly and sane tape on the subject, and he won't actually throw anything at you for expressing an interest in segulos. Unlike the people at my shul...

  11. As many others have pointed out, many people (including rabbis) in the regular orthodox community object, as well. In a recent book, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman spends a while discussing the issue, he has an interesting take on it. Might be worth picking up and reading, if you see it by someone's house.

    As far as having pictures of rabbis in our houses, they're heroes. They are the people we admire, the people we try to emulate (not clone, but learn from). Nothing mystical about it.

  12. "As far as having pictures of rabbis in our houses, they're heroes. They are the people we admire, the people we try to emulate (not clone, but learn from). Nothing mystical about it."

    Sorry, the entire thing is cheesy.

    I never cease to be amazed upon entering a home in which there are no pictures of children, cousins, parents, family or treasured events.... but the walls can be full of pictures of rabbis with whom nobody in the house has ever met, spoken or had any direct interaction. So why are they up there? Because they're "Gedolim"!

    And how do we know? Because everybody says so!

    And what makes them "heroic"? They're Gedolim!

    And what do we gain from looking at their image? Inspiration!

    IMO the whole practice is usually empty, counterfeit and bizarre.

  13. I have pictures of Gedolim in my house of they rosh yishiva that I learned in and of rabbis that I find inspirational. I consider them like family ansestery that you feel a connection to even though you never met them. they are part of the jewish history. how is this similar than putting up a picture of micheal jordan or sport figgure?

  14. I've never heard of this mouse rabbi, but he's definitely not one of the many rabbonim we have pictures of in our home. I think the mice come in and look around, figure that we're open-minded enough to include just about everybody, and they call up all their friends to come over.

  15. chev, It's about time you commented on my blog!

  16. Is there also a 'rat rabbi? a 'roach rabbi'?

  17. Wingate - people have been saying pretty much those same words since the time that Dasan and Aviram mocked Moshe Rabbeinu.

    Both in general, and in particular. You've said nothing new.

    I hope that you're simply repeating what you've heard from others, and that those aren't actually your opinions...

  18. as a chareidi jew who descends from some gedolim I must agree with wingate and express my disgust at today's gedolim industry
    while r' chaim of valozhin complained of the lack of acountability he felt cetain chasidic rebbe's had, it has nothing on todays gedolim industry.
    as recently as my great grand father who passed away 23 yrs ago, virtualy every gadol had some yardstick to be measured and yet people accepted and rejected.
    now chareidi media appoints the gedolim according to who allows himself to be run by his 'assistants' easier, and if we dare question the medias decision that said gadol was ok with we are labeled dasan and aviram.
    the most heated chasid never behaved this way in years gone by!

  19. Deborah Shaya:

    1. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn tz”l, known as, ‘The Rebbe,’ was NOT the Mashiach.

    Those who erroneously believe him to be the Mashiach that Am Yisrael is waiting for today, are bordering on Christianity, and committing the grave sin of Avodah Zarah, Idolatry.

    Idolatry is forbidden in the Torah, and is the Second of the Asseret Hadibrot.
    Similarly in the case of Breslov with Rav Nachman tz”l.

    2. There should be NO MEDIATOR between a person’s tefillot and Hashem.

    If a person chooses to use intercession instead of praying directly to Hashem, this is completely Assur.

    If the leaders of Lubavitch/Chabad encouraged people to use the “Igrot” /(“Igros”) - including Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, tz”l - they were wrong. Using the Igrot is using intercession. Similarly the practices of

    (1) "reading out the Igrot request to a PICTURE of Rabbi Schneersohn tz"l" is direct Avodah Zarah. We are only allowed to pray to Hashem.

    (2) sending faxes to the Bet HaChaim should be stopped immediately.

    (3) Praying directly to the Tzaddik at the Bet HaChaim is wrong. It causes tremendous tsaar to the Neshamah of the Tzaddik in Shamayim.

    We pray only to Hashem – directly ourselves. NO mediator is permitted.

    These practices are abhorrent and against the Torah. They are assur and forbidden, and should all be stopped.

    If the tzaddik advised that people do this in his lifetime – he was wrong. And this must be corrected. Speedily.

    TESHUVAH to Hashem should be done speedily instead - by the whole of the Lubavitch organisation especially. The whole of the Lubavitch organisation is currently all refusing to do Teshuvah.

    Similarly in the case of Breslov, with those who go Uman to pray directly to the Tzaddik – instead of directly to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. “Intercession” and “mediation” is against the Torah.

    The Torah cannot be mixed with Avodah Zarah. This is twisting the Torah, and the Torah must remain straight.

  20. The Kotzker who was a chasid, would agree with many of the above comments. Many decades before the 'gedolim industry', he was worried about people, including rebbes, taking themselves too seriously as intercessors and promising miracles, and worried as well about those who wanted rebbes to be this way. While his larger model may not be exactly appropriate for today, his worries seem to be quite on target.

  21. Yitzchak From BC says:

    The origin of the nonsense about the Kerestirer and mice is one of the few "segula" stories that is not outright idolatrous. What happened went something like this:

    Someone took a photograph of the Kerestirer in his younger years. Allegedly, the picture made him look vaguely like a cat (maybe it was a partial beard, IDK) which gave everyone a good laugh. Years later some chossid went to him for a brochah to keep mice out of his warehouse or something and he gave him a copy of this picture. This was before cheap negatives and easy duplication, so this was a pretty impressive gift. Whether it worked or not, it had to have worked cuz otherwise the Rebbe industry would have collapsed.

  22. Problem with that.... they smell the cat not see it.