Monday, June 30, 2008

New York Tour

I'm traveling to NY in August, and my schedule is open on Tuesday August 5th and Wednesday the 6th. If anyone knows of a camp that would be interested in Zoo Torah multimedia presentations, or a shul that would be interested in an evening lecture, please put us in touch! I am also open to doing a Torah Tour of the Bronx Zoo on the 5th, if a sufficient number of people request it (weekdays tend to be difficult).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wonders of the Animal Kingdom #1: The Long-Eared Jerboa

Very little is known about this rodent from Mongolia. Like all jerboas, it has huge hindlegs for jumping, but it is distinguished from other jerboa species by its enormous ears. Check out the video to see it in action.

Perek Shirah - Rediscovered!

The book Nature's Song on Perek Shirah has been out of print for some time. Funds are currently being raised for its republication, but in the meanwhile it is unavailable in stores. However a recent warehouse clean-out unexpectedly turned up a small quantity of books. You can order it online at the ZooTorah website here.

About Perek Shirah:

Perek Shirah, literally "A Chapter Of Song," is an ancient text that is at least a thousand years old; some ancient commentaries even attribute its authorship to King David! It takes the form of a list of eighty-four elements of the natural world, including elements of the sky and of the earth, plants, birds, animals, and insects, attaching a verse from the Bible to each. The concept behind Perek Shirah is that everything in the natural world teaches us a lesson in philosophy or ethics, and the verse gives a clue as to what that lesson is. The result is the "song" of the natural world, the tapestry of lessons for life that the natural world is telling us. Perek Shirah, a work of tremendous historic value, is itself extremely mysterious and cryptic. However, various commentaries have been written on it over the last five hundred years, which give an insight into what the verse is telling us to learn from the creature.

Thus, for example, Perek Shirah states that "The lion is saying, 'God shall go out as a mighty man, he shall arouse zeal, he shall cry, even roar; he shall prevail over his enemies (Isaiah 42:13)." The lion teaches us of the importance of might and power. This does not mean physical strength; true power is power over oneself. All big cats are aggressive predators and therefore cannot get along even with each other; it is only the lion that is able to somehow control its aggression and live in groups. The lion teaches us of the greatest power, that of self-control.

Nature's Song is the first English explanation of Perek Shirah. It makes use of rare ancient commentaries on Perek Shirah , as well as contemporary insights from the fields of meteorology, zoology and so on. The result is a Biblical encyclopedia of the natural world, synthesizing the ancient with the modern, that enables one to perceive new depths of insight into the natural world that surrounds us.

Guess the Animal #1

Can you guess the identity of this animal, which I photographed at the Sacramento Zoo? Clue: It is famously mentioned in one of the commentaries on the Mishnah. (Note: It is not a sheitel.)

Friday, June 27, 2008


Welcome to the Zoo Torah blog! I'll be posting insights about Judaism's relationship with the animal kingdom and the natural sciences, as well as news updates about books and lectures, travel notes, and whatever else crosses my mind! I hope that this blog will educate, inform and entertain.
Comments in the spirit of the Zoo Torah enterprise are welcome! (Sorry for the comment moderation policy, but due to the controversy over my work there are all kinds of people out there who, given a chance, would take over and spoil this blog. Fortunately for the cause of free speech, there are plenty of other forums on the Internet for them.)