The Symbiotic Relationship between Jews and Cats

There have long been questions concerning what Jewish religious law observes about pet ownership. There are indeed certain passages in the Talmud concerning neutering, animals’ muktzeh status during Shabbat, etc. which give some Orthodox Jews pause concerning welcoming dogs and cats into the home.

Ancient Jewish wisdom on all things considered, nevertheless, Homo sapiens everywhere has woven some powerful and age-old symbiotic relationships — mutually beneficial collaboration between species — with more than a few genera of plants and animals. Wheat, corn, rice and potatoes didn’t naturally clear forests, drain swamps, terrace mountains and cross oceans to dominate mind-boggling acreage on the face of the planet. That required the axes, plows, shovels and engines of their primate partners. The humans, of course, got sustenance out of the bargain.

Among the higher orders, every culture has maintained a number of ancient symbioses with dogs, horses, camels, sheep, cattle, pigs and many other species. There is mutually beneficial give and take in all these partnerships, as would be the potential advantage to Israelis should halachic law be interpreted permissively enough to permit cat fancying.

There are scientific studies, for example, whose findings point to the real health benefits of owning a cat. These include reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease (including stroke), lowering of blood pressure, and relief of anxiety. Few peoples beside Israelis should put more of a premium on such stress-reducing solace, considering the hundreds of United Nations condemnations of the Jewish state over the last decades sent their way — from the General Assembly, Human Rights Council, UNESCO, to the World Health Organization, and everywhere between.

Jews also might glean something from observing cats so used to getting their way with their human caretakers. There are scientific studies which indicate that feline meows actually have in some way been influenced to mimic infants’ cries. There could be an Israeli connection here too, what with well over a fifth of all Nobel Prize laureates having been Jewish and the global community repaying that debt with boycotts, sanctions, disinvestments, and censures. If that isn’t tantamount to stealing milk from babies, it’s certainly close enough.

And if it’s wondered how Israel can have been under attack ceaselessly for the last three-quarters of a century, while the attackers are praised and the defenders scolded, again one may look to cats for an appraisal of how Jews might make sense of the insensible.

A recent study published in the journal “Animal Cognition” in 2013 found that cats fully recognize their owners’ voices calling at them, and may simply opt to ignore acknowledging. Such feline arrogance and self-interest obviously hasn’t remained just with cats; it’s rubbed off on certain groups of people as well. Israel keeps pointing to the thousands of rockets, slingshot, Molotov cocktails and other missiles fired and hurled across its borders onto civilian targets, while the family of nations keeps lackadaisically looking the other way, pretending not to notice, much of the world behaving just like cats.

Indeed, there is much Jews might learn from felis catus. There is no other companion of humankind who has given so little and received so much in return. Instead of reaching out, giving, providing, compromising, yielding, complying and conceding, perhaps Israelis might bring felines into their homes and observe a creature that has managed to mesmerize the over-arching, most powerful force of nature on the planet—the human race.

Cats haven’t managed that feat simply by accident and neither have they accomplished it by submitting to their primate care-givers. To the contrary, felines get what they want because they put themselves first, and always.

Israelis, perhaps more than any other people, might be well-served by having cats in the domicile, taking note of how the feline masters of self-importance survey their surroundings. “In a cat’s eye all things belong to cats,” declares the English proverb. For a country that occupies only the smallest sliver of land area compared to the nations of Earth—and yet struggling mightily to maintain their flag flying over such hardly vast dominions—perhaps a bit of the cat’s pride and brashness is just what the doctor should order.

About the Author
David Nabhan is a science and science fiction writer. He is the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three other books on seismic forecasting.
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