Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Paranormal Skills of the "Mousser Rebbe"

Near the small town of Bodrogkeresztúr, Hungary, on the crest of Dereszla hill and overlooking a sea of vineyards, stands a small building housing the gravesite of Rebbe Yeshaya Steiner. Founder of the Kerestir Chassidic dynasty, Rabbi Steiner is also acknowledged as a "wonder worker," i.e. a "practical kabbalist." This very humble Hungarian Rabbi was born in Zbarav in 1851, and always referred to himself as "Shayale." The appellative stuck and to this day the good Rabbi is similarly referred to by those who remember him with great affection. Yet, whilst he may have considered himself in the diminutive, Reb Shayale was a very remarkable individual who was gifted with great "wonder working" skills.

One report has it that a certain Yechezkel Taub consulted the Rebbe about the scarcity of fish in the nearby River Bodrog, especially since this was negatively impacting the lives of those who were making a living from fishing. We are told that the good Rabbi informed his visitor not to fear, and that there will be lots of fish the following day. The next day there were indeed lots of fish in the nets. We shall never know whether the Rabbi personally affected the sudden increase of fish, or merely displayed remarkable oracular skills.

However, Reb Shayale’s current fame is not based on perceived "paranormal skills," or on the fact that he is the founder of an important Chassidic dynasty, but rather on a single photo of himself which is currently popularly hung on the walls of private homes as an amulet against vermin, i.e. mice and rats. Called the "mousser rebbe," it is reported that an individual who earned his living supplying food to his local community, was seeking the urgent advice of the Rabbi regarding an infestation of mice wreaking havoc in his granary, and destroying other foodstuffs in his warehouse.

There is a "twist" in the tale, which, according to some reports, pertains to the local pastor of the town, or, according to others, a local nobleman. Apparently this individual was particularly harsh and unkind to the local Jewish community, hence it is said Rabbi Steiner told his visitor to return to his warehouse where he was to order the vermin in the name of Reb Shayale to depart to the estate of the pastor/nobleman. The saga concludes with the mice racing away, and the Jewish businessman being spared further destruction of food commodities by vermin.

It is said that since this episode people have employed the photo of the Rabbi as an amulet to ward off mice and rats. It seems to work for some and not for others, and in this regard there have been a number of interesting, some quite amusing, reports doing the rounds on the world wide web. One individual mentioned that a friend had difficulties with rats on a boat, which ceased after he displayed on board a photo of Reb Steiner. Another tells of how he tried to rid his apartment of a pesky mouse, by running after it with the picture of Reb Shayale. In this instance the mouse won the day and stayed put.

Now, I believe everybody missed the boat as far as their faith in the Kerestirer Rabbi’s photo is concerned. In fact, the good Rabbi wrote amulets to rid a residence/warehouse of vermin. A pair of Kameot composed by Reb Steiner for this very purpose was displayed in an exhibition held in the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem, and they were simply variants of the following "house Kamea" addressed by Yehudah Rosenberg in "Sefer Rafael ha-Malach":

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