Is it an out-of-control Purim gag, or a case for the "X-Files?"
In either event, word of a talking fish in the upstate village of New Square is making a big splash in the chasidic world. Thousands are people are hooked on the story, says Jewish radio maven Zev Brenner, who devoted his "Talkline" program on WMCA-570 AM last Saturday to the subject.
"It’s really amazing how this story has spread so quickly and how many people believe the fish spoke," says Brenner, who has interviewed the New Square fishmonger who claims a carp revealed himself to be a reincarnated Jew named Mishu.
Zalman Rosen initially agreed to discuss his aquatic acquaintance on air, but on the advice of his wife later declined. A daughter told The Jewish Week by phone on Tuesday that Rosen would not discuss the subject, which has also netted large-scale coverage in the Yiddish press and even on Israel Radio.
While the story seems like the set-up for a joke, it’s serious business to those who believe in gilgulim. Literally a wheel, a gilgul is a spirit who lives in a cycle of life and death, to be reincarnated until his or her purpose is fulfilled.
According to Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss of Agudath Israel of Staten Island, who appeared on Brenner’s show Saturday, there is at least one known case of a fish believed to be a gilgul. It’s even buried in a Jewish cemetery in Vienna.
Brenner says he’s skeptical about the story, but took it up on the air because of how quickly it was catching on. "I believe Mr. Rosen believes he spoke to the fish," says Brenner, who says he has no problem with reincarnation. But coming back as a fish is a bit hard to swallow. "From a logical point of view, I have trouble."
Brenner doesn’t discount the notion that the fish story is a Purim hoax.
"You have to remember it’s the month of Adar," a traditionally lighthearted season, he noted. And of course, Mishu could be short for "Mishu nichnas Adar," a mirthful song that heralds the beginning of the festival.
And what does the fish have to say for itself? We’ll never know. Apparently, in all the fuss, Rosen lost track of it in his New Square fish market, and it ended up in a package of gefilte fish.
How’s that for a product with good word of mouth?