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Tales of the Holy Mysticat: Jewish Wisdom Stories by a Feline Mystic

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In early 2007, Professor Rachel Adler, a Jewish feminist theologian, decided her new apartment needed a cat. As she searched through photos from local shelters, one gaunt feline caught her eye. Despite being caged, he retained the spiritual beauty of face and dignity of bearing that mark a great soul. As he settled into his new homeƒ‚‚"ƒ‚‚€ƒ‚‚"purring at the Hebrew volumes in Adler's rabbinic library, nodding attentively to the mezzuzot on the doorposts, and engaging in soulful meditation three times each dayƒ‚‚"ƒ‚‚€ƒ‚‚"it became clear that he was no ordinary kitty. Over the years, these eccentric practices revealed him to be a Hasidic master reincarnated to a higher level in the form of a gray tabby. This whimsical and engaging book began as several years of Adler's Facebook posts describing the idiosyncrasies of her peculiar cat, whom she called the Holy Mysticat. He became a holy teacher of sorts, leading her and her online friends on a journey through thousands of years of Jewish spiritual texts and p

168 pages, Paperback

Published October 6, 2020

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About the author

Rachel Adler

10 books7 followers
Rachel Adler is the David Ellenson Professor of Modern Jewish Thought at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Los Angeles Campus. She pioneered in integrating feminist perspectives into interpreting Jewish texts and law. Her book "Engendering Judaism" (1998) is the first by a female theologian to win a National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Thought. Rabbi Adler has a PhD in Religion and Social Ethics from University of Southern California, rabbinical ordination from Hebrew Union College in 2012, an M.A. in English Literature from Northwestern University, and an MSW from University of Minnesota.

She has published over 55 articles, many of them reprinted in collections. Recent articles include "The Torah, Our Chavruta," in These Truths We Hold: Judaism in an Age of Truthiness edited by Joshua Garroway and Wendy Zierler (CCAR Press, 2020), "Social and Political Rights Irrespective of Sex" in Deepening the Dialogue: Jewish-Americans and Israelis Envisioning the Jewish Democratic State edited by Rabbis Stanley M. Davids and John L. Rosove (CCAR Press,2019), "For These I Weep: A Theology of Lament," (CCAR Journal 2014) and "Guardianship of Women in Jewish and Islamic Legal Texts" with Ayesha Chaudhry in Islamic and Jewish Legal Reasoning: Encountering our Legal Other edited by Anver Emon (OneWorld Press 2017). Books in progress include Pour Out Your Heart Like Water: Jewish Perspectives on Suffering (Oxford) and Gender and Jewish Thought: Theology and Ethics, with Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi.

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Displaying 1 - 5 of 5 reviews
Profile Image for Norm Goldman.
171 reviews2 followers
June 25, 2020
With her Tales of the Holy Mysticat, esteemed feminist theologian, Rabbi Rachel Adler has come up with a creative and novel way to introduce readers to Jewish thought, mysticism, history, prayer, rabbinical teachings, customs, practices, and various other aspects of Judaic traditions.

How does she accomplish this feat? She uses her pet cat Dagesh, who lived with her for eleven years as a holy and scholarly teacher. And as she states in the Preface: “understanding his behavior through the lens of Jewish texts and practice could be a playful way of learning and teaching.” Rabbi Adler further states, “imagine animal fables in which the moral teacher is not Aesop but a cat.” If you recall, Aesop left us with a wealth of enduring and endearing lessons such as one that I vividly remember, the story of the mouse and lion that taught us the rewards of kindness and gratitude.

No doubt, you are probably muttering to yourself, this sounds ridiculous and absurd! Yet, you have to admit that giving human attributes to a cat, particularly when the cat possesses a mystical personality, is quite creative and unique when teaching esoteric subject matters.

At the Los Angeles campus, Rabbi Adler is professor of Modern Jewish Thought and Judaism and Gender at the Hebrew Union College. She was one of the first theologians to integrate feminist perspectives and concerns into Jewish texts and the renewal of Jewish law and ethics. Originally, she had posted her stories about her learned Jewish cat on Facebook, and it was her publisher, Maggie Anton, who had convinced her to make a book of them.

The tome comprises thirty-six essays, and eight very useful appendices including, The Cycle of the Jewish Year, What is Kabbalah? Jewish Perspectives on Sacred Texts, Anatomy of the Talmud, What is Midrash? What is Halakhah, and Why Do Jews Need It? What at the Codes? And a Timeline of the Jewish World. There is also a very helpful glossary that I had to continuously consult to understand some of the terminologies.

All of the stories contain an undeniable cleverness, and some are even comical, yet, they are filled with deeper meanings and never come off as contrive.

One such example is Bikkur Cholim Kitty, where Rabbi Adler explains that bikhur cholim( visiting the sick) is a great mitzvah (an act of grace or good deed) and is one whose reward is limitless. It is listed in Mishnah Peah 1:1. The mishnah is the first major written collection of Jewish oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah." It is also the first major work of rabbinic literature.

Rabbi Adler recounts how one day she was sick with an upper respiratory infection, and the Holy Mysticat had changed his routine so he could be with her. She explains that the sickbed is a holy site, for the Shekinah (English transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning "dwelling" or "settling" which denotes the dwelling or settling of the divine presence of God).

Consequently, the visitor ought to seat himself or herself on a level with the sufferer. No doubt, the Mysticat is fully aware of this practice. He began his visits by reclining on Rabbi Adler's upper chest nose to nose with her. She goes onto recount that “despite the fact that this feline servant of God is exercising special healing powers, fifteen and half solid pounds of cat, directly over the site of infection, is difficult to tolerate.” Amazingly, the cat recites a few prayers for healing, and silently recites 150 psalms, which is an effective practice at a sickbed.

For example, as Rabbi Adler explains, Psalm 119 is an “eight-fold alphabetical acrostic (an important fact to remember when volunteering to memorize psalms). This makes the Mysticat's feat impressive indeed.” Through this short story, we also learn that visiting the sick is also special to the Mysticat because it provides an opportunity to imitate God, who visited Avraham in Genesis 18:1 when our ancestor was recovering from circumcision (Sotah 14a). Rabbi Adler mentions that she is fortunate to have a tzaddik (a righteous or holy person) visit her.

Rabbi Adler's thoughtful short stories can be described as a fulsome sweep through Jewish texts and practice summarized with clarity and detail. The journey is not only instructive, but also fun.

Widely researched, Rabbi Adler certainly knows her territory! To say that I gained a new appreciation and insight into the rich diversity and endless complexity of Jewish practices and culture would be an understatement. And you don't even have to be Jewish to likewise gain the same appreciation.


Profile Image for Rachel.
1,642 reviews15 followers
October 9, 2020
Is there a special connection between Jews and cats? I have plenty of Jewish friends who have dogs, but I don’t recall any book written connecting Judaism and canines. That’s not true of cats, though. There is the delightful graphic novel “The Rabbi’s Cat” by Joann Sfar, which features a talking cat who wants to study mysticism and have a bar mitzvah. That suggests the connection may be between cats and mysticism, which would explain “Tales of the Holy Mysticat: Jewish Wisdom by a Feline Mystic reverently collected by His Humble Assistant Rachel Adler” (Banot Press).
Read the rest of my review at https://www.thereportergroup.org/past...
Profile Image for Sarah.
1 review4 followers
August 30, 2021
I loved this book! I'm very new to Judaism, having just started on my journey of converting.

I love the essays, how the Rabbi uses her cat in order to share many different aspects of Judaism like: holidays, customs, prayers, and even history. The appendices are also very useful, especially the Hebrew one! I am still reading the appendices as I find it very helpful that the information is laid out in a manner that is easy to read.

I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who wants an easy to learn more about Judaism or is Jewish and wants a cute informative collection of essays involving a cat.
Profile Image for manatee .
253 reviews3 followers
March 31, 2021
This is an utterly charming and clever book about a cat who is really a holy being. He teaches his humble assistant all about how to live in a more spiritually connected way. Non-Jewish readers will enjoy following this lovely cat and will learn much by reading all the appendices. ( I do admit that it is quite a commitment to read all of them.) I recommend this book to cat lovers and spiritual searchers.
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