”Tales of the Holy Mysticat: Jewish Wisdom Stories by a Feline Mystic” by Rabbi Rachel Adler— The Wisdom of the Feline

Adler, Rachel. ”Tales of the Holy Mysticat: Jewish Wisdom Stories by a Feline Mystic”, Banot Press, 2020.

The Wisdom of the Feline

Amos Lassen

After years of having dogs, I recently became a cat owner (or better said, I now have a cat that owns me). My Schatzi is fourteen-years-old and would have been put down if someone did not adopt her and I could not have that happen. Before I got her, she had lived in the same non-Jewish home for thirteen years and since Judaism is important to me, I realized that she might find it strange living in a Jewish home. But then, what do cats know from Jewish? We will see.

When feminist theologian Rabbi Rachel Adler, moved into a new apartment, she decided that the new place needed a cat and she visited local shelters where she noticed a cagedmale cat that seemed to be full of dignity and spiritual grace and beauty. That cat went home with the rabbi  and was soon named “Dagesh”. It turns out that this is a very special cat who felt right at home in the  library filled with Judaic and Hebrew books. He would even acknowledge the mezzuzot that hung on the doorposts of the apartment. Dagesh even meditated three times each day. He was “an old soul with many lifetimes of Jewish wisdom to impart, reincarnated to a higher level in the form of a gray tabby–the Holy Mysticat.” My Schatzi, however, sleeps through it all.

In the preface, Rabbi Adler tells us that Dagesh taught her “more about the faith limits of my own Jewish knowledge and the rich possibilities of a playful imagination” and we certainly see that in this delightful read. He was always there when she was learning (as rabbis do) and she sensed that the mysticat was aware of the different rhythms and rituals of the Jewish home. It got to the point that Dagesh was not only a mystic but one who was both scholarly and holy and that he depended on the rabbi for just his physical needs. He was also  a traditionalist who was well aware of Jewish mysticism, much more than his master.

The book is a collection of fables in which as Adler says, Aesop is replaced by a feline. The stories are outrageous as is the idea of a mysticat. The importance here, however, is that the rabbi and the cat learned together.

I truly enjoy reading Jewish texts and even before the virus, I studied for three yours a day and many times restudied things I had done before. While I gain great personal pleasure from this, I can honestly say that I had a wonderful time studying this book. (I also felt badly for the Jewish illiteracy of my cat). I love the illustrations and even though I have dabbled in Jewish mysticism, I never really got it or understood it until Dagesh filled in some of the gaps in my own thoughts.

The prose is gorgeous and engaging, the stories are fun and there is so much to be gained here about humanity, life and Judaism. As strange as it might seem to read about a cat’s morning and evening mediations and prayers, it all becomes very real.

For those who are not aware of Jewish holidays, terms and observances, there is an extensive glossary. In closing, I have just asked Schatzie to come sit with me as I study this week’s Torah portion but she let me know that she would rather sleep.