On a rather ordinary Thursday morning I settled into my office in O’Connor House — throwing my jacket in the corner, pushing aside towering book stacks and reaching for my bujo (bullet journal) — when I heard a shrieking yowl down the hall. I rose to investigate and followed the sounds to the locked door of another office. I leaned close and heard the rumbling refrain of a creature languishing near the door.
“Could that be Moxie?” I wondered.
Quickly, I dashed for the building’s secret master key and let myself into the office, bracing for what I would find. Out dashed Moxie. The professor of said office must have locked the door without realizing he had crept inside. I dutifully guided Moxie out of O’Connor and watched him scamper off.
On April 11, the Collegian published a feature on Moxie, the “Beloved College Cat,” which included a short video segment interviewing Moxie’s owner, Pastor Susan Stevens. The interview takes place on none other than the porch of O’Connor House. At one point Stevens sees the now-iconic sign posted near all O’Connor doors, which reads, “PLEASE! If you see this black cat, DO NOT let it in the building.”
“That is hilarious,” Stevens jovially remarks, leaning in for a closer inspection of Moxie’s mugshot.
While Stevens took the Moxie ban in jest, others have reacted with accusations: “I hear you’re coming for Moxie” and “Why do you hate Moxie?” Today, I am confessing to the Kenyon community that it is I, along with the design skills of our administrative assistant Andrea Lechleitner, who instigated the O’Connor Moxie Ban (hashtag pending). But we did so not out of malice for Moxie but because that very morning Moxie had spent the night locked in an office. What if it had been the weekend? What if the unsuspecting professor had returned days or weeks later to discover Moxie’s emaciated body?
I am struck by the negative interpretations of the Moxie ban. As Kenyon’s Jewish studies professor, I hear in the negative perception of Moxie’s ban a similar logic to that of ancient Christians and biblical law. The apostle Paul in Romans 4:13-17 argued that biblical law was an instrument of wrath, which faith in Christ replaced for the better. This negative perception of biblical law carries throughout the New Testament and into the writings of early Christians, defining what makes Christians different from ancient Jews: Jewish law brings wrath, while the spirit of God through Christ brings life.
Rabbinic Judaism had a different response to law. The rabbis took the 613 commandments listed in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) and expanded them into volumes and volumes of legal interpretation. Rather than reject the Law, they leaned into the Law and constructed “fences” of protection. The classic example of this protection is the rabbinic ban on mixing meat and dairy. In the Bible, the prohibition against “boiling a calf in its mother’s milk” appears three times (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, Deut 14:21). The rabbis raised a number of questions: why does this ban appear three times in the Law? What exactly is prohibited? As a solution to the vague biblical language, the rabbis simplified the prohibition and ruled that one should not cook or eat meat and milk together. This prohibition is still practiced today by Jews who observe kashrut (kosher laws).
On the surface, the rabbinic ruling seems restrictive. One might say, “The rabbis are coming for your cheeseburgers!” But at the root of their ruling is the notion that the Law was a gift from God. By making a fence around the biblical law, the rabbis hoped to make it easier for people to observe God’s Law. The Law for them was not at all wrathful, but rather a source of life and inspiration.
Returning to our own law regarding Kenyon’s favorite cat, the wrath of the O’Connor Moxie Ban has sent ripples of humor and dismay through the Kenyon community. Yet the ban was never intended as a ban of wrath, but rather as a law for the protection of Moxie’s life. Yes, the ban is restrictive on the Kenyon community — no more Moxie snuggles in the Women and Gender Studies lounge and students must watch their feet while they enter the building lest he dash in — but the Law provides the assurance of life for Moxie. We would do well to remember a rabbinic maxim before assuming wrath within the law: “On three things the world stands: on the Law, on service, and on acts of loving kindness” (Mishnah Avot 1:2).
Krista Dalton is an assistant professor of religious studies. You can contact her at email@example.com.