Rachel Adler is the author of the new book Tales of the Holy Mysticat: Jewish Wisdom Stories by a Feline Mystic. A rabbi, she is the David Ellenson Professor of Modern Jewish Thought at Hebrew Union College.
Q: You write, "This outrageous book began as a series of stories I wrote to amuse friends about the idiosyncrasies of Dagesh, my peculiar cat." At what point did you decide to write a book about him?
A: I didn’t decide to write a book about him. I was writing little stories that I posted on Facebook as jokey ways to give my students some additional Jewish information and a more playful feel for Jewish tradition. Maggie Anton, who studied the Talmud with me back in the early 1990s and went on to write the Rashi’s Daughters trilogy, kept insisting that there was a book here and eventually I agreed.
Q: How much does a reader need to know about Jewish mysticism to appreciate the book?
A: Nothing! The fictional “Me” in the stories protests loud and long that she doesn’t know anything about Jewish mysticism. That would be largely true of me as well. I know just enough to identify the Holy Mysticat as a Holy Mysticat.
Q: How would you describe the dynamic over the years between you and the Mysticat?
A: We came to love each other dearly and even to understand one another occasionally. The Mysticat was crotchety and opinionated and so am I (although I never bite). The power dynamics are complicated. I suppose each of us assumed we were in charge and were irritated when that did not seem to be the case.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I hope readers will come away with a livelier, more playful way of learning and doing their Judaism. The book includes short but useful appendices on Jewish texts and Jewish history that 1) help readers get the jokes and 2) may enrich their general Jewish knowledge.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am writing a book on Jewish perspectives on suffering that is under contract with Oxford University Press and co-editing a collection of scholarly articles on theology and ethics of gender with Rachel Sabath BeitHalachmi.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb