Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Which Threat Is Scarier?

My two youngest children, ages 10 and 6, had a scary day at school in which everyone was talking about the missiles falling in various parts of Israel. After school, as they were walking home from the bus-stop, a car alarm went off. Unfortunately, they thought it was a missile alert siren. Terrified, they ran to a nearby shul, but it was locked. They stood next to the shul, shaking in fear, until they finally saw people in the streets and decided that it was safe to come home. My wife and I spent the last few hours trying to calm them down and put them to sleep; they are deeply traumatized.

I am crying inside for my children's pain. But personally, I don't feel so scared about missiles, because Beit Shemesh is in a relatively safe region, and in the unlikely event that there is a siren, we will go to our protected room. Furthermore, Israel's massive military advantage means that not only do we have early-warning systems, but we also have ways to shoot missiles down.

I'm personally much more scared about the headline on the front page of The Jerusalem Post today: "Israel Under Threat." Published before the missiles started falling, it's speaking about a different and broader threat: the fact that a rapidly expanding portion of the population does not receive any kind of meaningful secular education. This does not only affect the economy; it will also result in Israel no longer possessing a military advantage. Here's the money quote:
“Being situated in one of the planet’s most dangerous regions, Israel requires a first-world army to simply continue to exist. Maintaining a first-world army requires a first-world economy. But roughly half of Israel’s children (not just the ultra-Orthodox) are receiving a third-world education, and they belong to the fastest growing population streams. As adults, they will only be able to maintain a third-world economy, with all that this entails regarding Israel’s future physical existence."

This is a grave long-term threat to Israel. And it's very difficult to address, because the charedi community is so resistant to providing an education to their children, and because as the charedi community grows, so does their government power.

There is no single or simple solution to this very serious problem. I do have a strategy to partially address some aspects of it, and if there are serious people out there with the resources and desire to do something about it, I would like to meet with them. If you fall into that category, please be in touch; I am flying to the US tomorrow.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Be Our Friend!

Great news for people in the NY/NJ area! We have decided to do a special event in Teaneck, a week from Sunday:

This is an event for those who join the Biblical Museum of Natural History as Friends or Patrons, and I will be presenting various fascinating topics relating to Biblical Natural History, as well as revealing some behind-the-scenes secrets of the museum! (And, yes, there will be some small but very special exotic edibles, though this is not a "food" event.) Please RSVP to office@BiblicalNaturalHistory.org. I look forward to seeing you!

(If there's interest, we might also repeat the event the next night, in the Five Towns.)

And even if you can't make it, perhaps you'd like to become a Friend or Patron of the Museum? It's a way to really make a difference. Sign up, and I'll give you a call!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Is Rationalist Judaism Going Extinct?

A few readers asked if Rationalist Judaism is going the way of the woolly mammoth and the dinosaur. They weren't referring to the rationalist school of thought, but rather to this website. As you may have noticed, there has been a virtual absence of posts over the last few weeks.

It's not that I don't have anything to write about. On the contrary; there are a very large number of topics that I would like to write about, including recent claims of heresy-hunting regarding certain educators, new sources regarding science and Torah that have come to light, and much more. In fact, I have an entire folder of ideas and raw material for posts.

The reason for the sharp decline in output is simply this: my responsibilities as director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History, in particular with regard to our impending move to our magnificent new home, are overwhelming! It's an incredibly momentous project, which takes up a lot of time, and even more so, my mental and emotional energy.

We are trying to figure out how to expand the team so as to be able to transfer some of what I do, especially the fundraising work (which I find especially taxing), to others. If and when that happens, hopefully I will be able to return to writing more in this forum. Alternately, perhaps there is a way to make my writing this blog more directly beneficial to the museum - I would welcome ideas regarding that.

Meanwhile, if you've appreciated the 1500 posts that I've written over the last ten years, and/or you would like to participate in the amazing work that we are doing at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, please make a contribution at this link: https://www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/donate/ We are especially keen to expand our society of Friends and Patrons - the people whose annual donations help with our ongoing subsidized educational programs for many thousands of schoolchildren from across the spectrum of society. Please see https://www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/support/ for details!

If you're interested in making a more significant impact and dedicating an exhibit at the museum, please write to me at director@BiblicalNaturalHistory.org - we have some amazing and unique opportunities available!

Note that I will be coming to New Jersey/ New York and then Los Angeles at the end of next week, and I am available for meetings with donors - if you are interested in such a meeting, please be in touch. There will also be an event in Teaneck (and possibly also the Five Towns) for Friends and Patrons of the Museum.

We are also looking to expand our Board of Directors (both for our US and Israel foundations) with serious individuals who would like to contribute resources, guidance and passion to this groundbreaking project. And I would also like to ask all of you for any helpful ideas and suggestions that might have for the development of the museum.

Thank you for your support!

(And if you'd like to be updated as to when the posts here pick up again, you can register by email on the side of this page to receive all posts to your inbox, or write to me and I will register you.)

Friday, November 1, 2019

Riddle Me This

Question: What's fifty cubits wide, thirty cubits high, a hundred cubits long, and is a Biblical home for all kinds of animals?

Answer: The new building of the Biblical Museum of Natural History! (Noah's Ark was three hundred cubits long, not one hundred. But the width and height are identical!)

This is the most amazing thing that I have ever realized!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Behold the Flying Behemoth!

Have you ever seen a hippopotamus soar through the air? The Biblical Behemoth returns to its historic homeland of the Land of Israel, as our new exhibit was loaded yesterdaby crane into the new Biblical Museum of Natural History building. (If you would like to dedicate the Behemoth exhibit, please be in touch!)

(Note that if you receive these blog posts via email, you will not be able to watch the video - you will have to watch on YouTube.)

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Are Mammoths Kosher?

There were some fascinating comments that came in, both online and by email, to my previous two posts on mammoths: Woolly Mammoths And The Jews, and The Rabbi And The Mammoth. One particularly intriguing email suggested that, according to some rabbinic opinions, you could actually eat mammoth!

Unlike dinosaurs, which only ever exist today in fossilized form, mammoths are sometimes found preserved whole and frozen in permafrost - including flesh and fur. While the famous story of 250,000 year old mammoth being served at the Explorer's Club in 1951 was a hoax - it was actually turtle meat - it certainly is possible to find such meat, and it seems that people have sometimes eaten it. While it's probably not too healthy, it would certainly be a unique gastronomic experience, like the legendary exotic dinners that we prepare at the Biblical Museum of Natural History (and we are doing one in New York next month!) Might there be a case to be made that it is actually kosher?

The logic goes as follows. Mammoths do not, of course, have split hooves or bring up the cud. But according to some Rabbinic opinions, such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the explanation as to why the world appears to contain the remains of prehistoric creatures from before 5780 years ago is that when Hashem created the world, 5780 years ago, He created it complete with these remains. Thus, dinosaurs skeletons are not actually the remnants of dead dinosaurs; instead, they were created by Hashem as skeletons. This view was endorsed by Rabbi Reuven Schmelzer - one of the engineers of the ban on my books - as a "gantz gut pshat," along with others such as Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb of Ohr Somayach.

Accordingly, while the remains of mammoths from 4000 years ago are actually from real mammoths that once walked the earth (and are certainly not kosher), the apparent remains of mammoths from 250,000 years ago are not actually the remnants of creatures that once lived, but were instead created as we see them. In which case, they are not dead animals, they are just like rocks, and they are kosher!

Now, of course, one can come up with a number of rejoinders to this. But I think that the most fundamental reason as to why no anti-science rabbi would take this position regarding mammoths is as follows.

There is a basic difference between Orthodox Jewish young-earthers and Christian young-earthers. Christian young-earthers have a developed doctrine. As mistaken as they may be, they believe that they have a proper scientific case regarding the world being just a few thousand years old. And they develope it and teach it. They go digging for dinosaurs. They even have "creation museums" in which they have models of people and dinosaurs coexisting. This is their position and they are not afraid or ashamed of it; they want to study it and teach it.

The Orthodox Jewish young-earthers are entirely different. They don't want to confront the issue at all. They'll toss out a vague rejoinder to science, such as that the world was created to look old, or that the laws of science were different back then, but they don't really want to delve into any of these positions and have to develop them, and they are not particularly committed to them. That's why in Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's 800 page book about Torah and science, he doesn't even present any suggestion as to when the dinosaurs lived.

And so regarding mammoths, although a rabbi might say that the world was created to look old, complete with fossils, he's not so committed to that view, he's just saying that to have some kind of rejoinder. He's just as ready to say that scientists don't know what they're talking about, or that the laws of science have somehow changed in such a way as to make things look older than they are, or whatever - he's not interested in actually developing a full-blown approach and certainly not in dealing with the actual available evidence.

So you can forget about getting any hechsher on frozen mammoth!

See too this post: Confronting Dinosaurs

Don't forget to visit the Biblical Museum of Natural History this Sukkot, where you can check out our mammoth tooth and tusk! (And there's also a tour tomorrow morning at 11am). Book at www.BiblicalNaturalHistory.org.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Rabbi and the Mammoth

I can't believe it. In my last post, "Woolly Mammoths and the Jews," I forgot to mention the best bit!

As I wrote, the mammoth tusk that was donated to The Biblical Museum of Natural History came from a woman who found it while going through the belongings of her late father, who was a US Air Force chaplain in Alaska and acquired it there. He was a fan of my work, and therefore she thought it appropriate that it be given to my museum.

But I forgot to mention the best bit!

The other reason why she thought it would be very poetic to give it to the museum is that her father was Rabbi Joshua Wachtfogel. That last name will ring a bell for long-time followers of my work. Rabbi Joshua Wachtfogel was the cousin of none other than Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, one of the primary forces behind the ban on my books, and someone who insists that the universe is 5780 years old!

Luckily, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel can visit the museum and see his cousin's gift without objection, since mammoths lived only 4000 years ago! (We won't tell him that this particular tusk is from Alaska, where mammoths lived much, much longer ago.)

(By the way, I don't believe that it is appropriate to feel smug or make fun of those who prefer to ignore or deny the existence of prehistoric eras. Many, many people choose to ignore facts or scholarly consensuses when these are disturbing to them and go against their worldview.)

Which Threat Is Scarier?

My two youngest children, ages 10 and 6, had a scary day at school in which everyone was talking about the missiles falling in various par...