I went with my children this past Sunday to see Rabbi Natan (or Nosson) Slifkin, known as the Zoo Rabbi. Rabbi Slifkin is called that because of his great interest and expertise in zoology and biology, as well as working in the Jerusalem zoo. We took his Zoo - Torah tour, as well as one of his lectures.
Rabbi Slifkin has become a controversial figure, with some rabbi's calling for the banning of his books. (I've previously posted about this here.)
So what's so controversial about Rabbi Slifkin (besides being a rabbi who likes to interact with wild and dangerous creatures)? Well, it seems that it comes down to this...
Which one of these is a 'nesher' (commonly translated from hebrew as 'eagle')?
What Rabbi Slifkin does is learn the Torah, Neviim (prophets), and Talmud, and compare what's said against zoology and biology. Above are pictures of a bald eagle and a condor (a type of vulture). The Talmud says that a 'nesher' is the 'greatest of birds', a bird with enormous wings, with no feathers on it's head, that eats dead animals only. A bald eagle (and all eagles) are not bald (rather a bald eagle has white head feathers) and only eats live prey. Oh, and no eagles of any kind live in the Middle East. Condor's do, they have no feathers on their head (allows them to eat dead animals without getting filthy), they eat dead animals, and they fly to a much greater height than any other bird.
But everyone knows a 'nesher' is an 'eagle', not a kind of vulture (condors are vultures). Contradicting common knowledge is controversial.
Here's some photos: Rabbi Slifkin at the Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey
I learned a good bit from Rabbi Slifkin, such as what's the strength of a lion (the mishnah says to serve G-d like a lion), what's the difference between a group of lions and a group of tigers, and what's the cruelty of ostriches (Iyov - Job 39:14-16)?
He's not the best speaker, but the topic is facinating. He shows that many statements of the great sages had enormous depth and inside, understanding great details of the natural world beyond what one might think. As with much in Torah, the common understandings are commonly misunderstood.
Of course, with lecture titles like this:
The Terror of Dinosaurs: Confronting the Challenges of Creation, Dinosaurs, and the Age of the Universe - Wednesday, June 29th, 8 pm at the Young Israel of Ave. I in Flatbush (1012 Ave. I, near Coney Island Ave.)
it's no wonder he's controversial. But he deserves much more serious consideration than those who freak out at a lecture title rather than content are giving him.
I recommend his lectures, and the animal oriented ones are very appropriate for children 8 or older.
Tagged Topic(s): zoo rabbi, slifkin, turtle back zoo