There is no reference to the cat in the Old Testament, the domestication of that animal being later than the Bible, except in Egypt, where it was reverenced as a divine being, and probably thus became tame. Victor Hehn ("Culturpflanzen und Hausthiere," etc., Berlin, 1894) even declares that the tame cat was not introduced into Europe until after the invasion of the Huns. There is, however, evidence on Greek vases and Pompeian wall-paintings that the cat was domesticated in Greece and Rome before the common era (R. Engelmann, "Die Katzen im Alterthum," in "Jahrbuch des Kaiserlichen Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts," xiv. 136-143, Berlin, 1900). In the Talmud, on the other hand, there are many references to the cat, which is called , a general name for the "pouncer," though at times it is called (), which is a specific term derived from the Persian (Sachau, in "Z. D. M. G."), and suggests the possibility that the domesticated cats of Syria and Europe were derived from that country.
The destructive qualities of the cat are generally recognized. With its five claws (Ḥul. 52b) it destroys not alone mice (B. Ḳ. 80a), weasels (Sanh. 105a), hens, young birds, lambs, and kids (Ḥul. 53a), but even large birds (Ket. 41b), as well as snakes (Pes. 112b), snake-poison being innocuous to it (Shab. 128b). It is dangerous to babies (B. Ḳ. 80b), who on that account wear a leather bandage (Kelim xxvi. 5; the reading is doubtful). White cats bite worse than black ones (B. Ḳ. 80b). The cat is regarded as a model of modesty, because of its cleanly habits ('Er. 100b); though the reason is also given that these are due to the desire to avoid being detected by mice.
That the cat was tamed in Talmudic times is shown by the statement that it never leaves a home it has once chosen, and therefore need not be watched (Shab. 51b). It bears young in 52 days (Bek. 8a), which nearly agrees with the right period of 55 days. The reason why the cat forgets its master, whereas the dog will always remember him, is stated to be because cats eat mice, which are eminently the cause of forgetfulness (Hor. 13a). This idea has lasted into modern times; for in Russia Jewish boys are not even now allowed to stroke a cat lest they lose their powers of memory. The prohibition does not, however, extend to girls.
In order to see demons, one should burn the fetus of a black cat, which must be the eldest female off-spring of a black cat that is also the eldest female offspring of a black cat, and sprinkle the ashes on one's eyes (Ber. 6a). A woman's blood, offered to a cat, with magic formulas, will deprive a man of his virility (Shab. 75b). If rats kill a cat, the owner has no remedy, on the principle that "the man who is killed by women is no man" (B. M. 97a). Any one may kill a wild (perhaps mad) cat and take its skin (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 266, 4); the pelt, being soft, is used for furs (B. Ḳ. 80b). Of enemies who become reconciled it is said proverbially "the cat and the weasel have made a match" (Sanh. 105a). In Russo-Jewish folk-lore, blood from the tail of a cat is regarded as a cure for erysipelas; while a cat put into a new cradle drives away evil spirits from the baby. When there is a thunder-storm, the cat is put outside in the rain. A black cat in the house is propitious; a white one, unlucky. When a house is built a black cat, among other domestic animals, is introduced into it for luck. In the cabalistic system of transmigration a person whouses the name of God is turned into a cat (Vital Calabrese, "Sefer ha-Gilgulim," ed. Warsaw, p. 125).
- Lewysohn, Die Zoologie des Talmuds, pp. 74-76, 108;
- Hamburger, R. B. T. s.v.;
- Brecher, Das Transcendentale, p. 52;
- Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterbuch, s.v. .