Rabbi Moshe of Kobryn told the following story:[*]

"When I was a boy, I was once playing with the other children on the first day of the month of Elul. Then my elder sister said: 'How can you play today at the beginning of the month of preparation for the great judgment, when even the fish in the water tremble?'

"When I heard this I began to tremble and could not stop for hours. And even now as it comes back to me, I feel as if I were a fish in water on the first day of the month of Elul, and like the fish I tremble before the judgment of the world."

Fish is a traditional symbol for abundance and fertility. The legend of the Leviathan, as retold in Louis Ginzberg's classic work Legends of the Bible, tells of a wonderfully made and powerful creature with an impossibly foul smell. From the Apocryphal Book of Tobit we have the story of Tobit's son, Tobias, whose fate is secured by a fish invested with magical properties. The rabbis of the Talmud extoll the benefits of a fish diet and brings us two fish parables from the period following the Roman defeat of Judea.

Prof. Raphael Patai discusses medieval fish charms, remedies and customs in Jewish birth customs, and Prof. Gershom Scholem shares a fish-related story about the 17th-century false messiah, Shabbetai Zevi.

The fish form asserts itself in Judaica art and objects, and in a sensual 1920s painting by Israeli artist Reuven Rubin. Finally, cookbook author Claudia Roden shares with us the history of gefilte (and other) fish enjoyed by Jews and a few recipes, and Dr. Lowin analyzes the fish rootword which crops up in gastronomy, philosophy and theology.



[*] About R. Moshe of Kobryn (d. 1858) writes Martin Buber: "I do not hesitate to count this little-known man among the few late-born great men which the Hasidic movement produced in the very midst of its decline. While he did not enrich the teaching, his life and words and the unity between his life and his words lent it a very personal, refreshingly vital expression." (from Tales of the Hasidim, Martin Buber, with a foreword by Chaim Potok. Schocken Books, 1995.)

FISH Table of Contents



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