Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mighty Lambs and Evil Beasts

Yesterday, I delivered a lecture at a seminar organized in honor of the 20th anniversary of the new Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. The line-up of speakers was rather eclectic. A leading gynecologist spoke about his role in the successful artificial insemination of an elephant at the zoo; Mayor Nir Barkat spoke about tourism in Jerusalem; an ornithologist for the Nature Reserves Authority spoke about the rampant problem of raptors with tracking devices being captured in neighboring countries and suspected of being Mossad agents; MK Nachman Shai spoke about the Labor Party's plans for Jerusalem; the director of the Amsterdam Zoo spoke about the history of zoos; the Jerusalem Zoo's curator spoke about the fabulous aquarium that will be built there; and so on. I spoke about the identification and symbolism of various animals in the Bible, and afterwards I got into a fascinating discussion with the chief scientist of the Nature Reserves Authority about whether the yachmor of the Bible is the hartebeest, and whether it should be reintroduced to the wild.

One particularly interesting talk was given by Meir Shalev, a prominent Israeli author. He spoke about his childhood memories of the original Biblical Zoo, before it moved to its beautiful new premises. Shalev's family was friendly with the director of the zoo at the time, the late Professor Aharon Shulov (pictured at right with his wife and a friend). Shulov's zoo was a true Biblical Zoo, which exclusively housed animals from the Bible, unlike the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo of today.

Shalev related that Professor Shulov wanted the zoo to feature not only animals from the Bible, but also animal-related scenes from the Bible. In particular, he wanted to exhibit the wolf lying down with the lamb.

(It's funny that everyone thinks that the Bible talks about the lion lying down with the lamb. It doesn't. It speaks about the lion living with the cow. It's the wolf that is described as lying down with the lamb. Now is not the time to get into the medieval Maimonidean dispute about whether this is to be interpreted literally.)

Anyway, the problem with creating a wolf-lamb exhibit was that it would be prohibitively expensive, due to the need to replace the lamb on a regular basis! But Professor Shulov was determined to find a way around this problem, and he did.

One day, said Shalev, he came with his family to the zoo, and he saw a wolf lying spreadeagled on the ground, with a look of abject misery and exhaustion. "What happened?" he asked Professor Shulov. Shulov replied that it had just returned from the new wolf-lamb exhibit.

It turns out that Shulov had decided upon a rather novel solution to displaying a wolf with a lamb. The wolf was barely more than a cub, just eight months old. The lamb, on the other hand, was a strapping two-year-old, well on its way to becoming a ram. It had spent its time together with the wolf using its head and horns to butt it all around the cage!

But it was a different story that Shalev told that I found more interesting. He was describing how, as a child, he read Gerald Durrell's memoir My Family And Other Animals. This is the same book that I read as a child, about Durrell's experiences with wildlife in Corfu. At one point, said Shalev, Durrell describes how his mentor in biology brought him some specimens of anopheles mosquitoes to study. Shalev said that at the time, he was horrified. He simply couldn't understand how Durrell could describe the anopheles mosquito with wonder and interest. The anopheles mosquito was no mere insect. It was the Evil Enemy of Zionism!

In the early days of the State of Israel, children were taught how to identify the anopheles mosquito, evil enemy of Zionism. This was not really an exaggeration. The formation of the State of Israel was not only threatened by political and military forces; it was also threatened by malaria. Malaria, transmitted by the anopheles mosquito, is a terrible disease with no cure. It was rampant in Palestine, and it led to some early settlements being completely abandoned. Entry permits to Palestine warned that "the mosquito is your enemy!" Thanks to intensive efforts to combat it, it went into decline, and was finally eradicated from Israel in 1967. Had this battle not been fought, the State of Israel would probably not have been able to come into existence and survive.

This story helped me to understand something in Scripture. Dangerous animals are often described in Scripture with the term chayah ra'ah, "evil beasts." Yet these animals are certainly not consciously engaging in acts of wickedness. In Jewish thought as well as contemporary zoology, animals do not possess free will such as to make moral choices. I had previously understood the Scriptural description to mean that these animals are evil in the sense of being vicious. But perhaps it's that they are evil in terms of their effects on people. From a contemporary cushy Western perspective, we don't seriously fear the effects of dangerous animals on our lives. But in harsher times and places, lions and leopards and even mosquitoes really were The Evil Enemy.

I even know of one poor wolf who viewed a certain sheep that way.

(I'll be starting my anti-malaria medication soon, as I head out to my safari in Africa. Readers in Johannesburg are invited to attend my lectures on Shabbat July 20th at Beit Yisrael Waverley. If anyone has availability to drive me around on July 18th-19th, please be in touch.)

28 comments:

  1. "In Jewish thought as well as contemporary zoology, animals do not possess free will such as to make moral choices."

    Isn't this actually a major dispute among the rishonin regarding the reason why the animals were punished with the mabul?

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  2. Re: the wolf and lamb exhibit:

    If the wolf was kept well-fed, wouldn't that lessen the expense of replacing the lamb frequently?

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    1. It isn't that the lamb would be eaten. It is because lambs grow rapidly into sheep.

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  3. but should be butt

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  4. How could yesterday have been the 20th anniversary of the Biblical Zoo? I remember taking my kids there in 1990. Or is this the anniversary of the new location?

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  5. "but should be butt"

    I think that that is only if it's referring to a tuchus.

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  6. "Or is this the anniversary of the new location?"

    Yes.

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  7. "f the wolf was kept well-fed, wouldn't that lessen the expense of replacing the lamb frequently?"

    No. They kill lambs instinctively, even if they are not hungry.

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  8. butt
    verb /bət/ 
    butted, past participle; butted, past tense; butting, present participle; butts, 3rd person singular present

    (of a person or animal) Hit (someone or something) with the head or horns
    - she butted him in the chest with her head

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  9. butt3 [buht] Show IPA
    verb (used with object)
    1.
    to strike or push with the head or horns.
    verb (used without object)
    2.
    to strike or push something or at something with the head or horns.

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  10. "I think that that is only if it's referring to a tuchus."

    I actually think that the butthead is right.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/butt

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  11. "Yet these animals are certainly not consciously engaging in acts of wickedness. In Jewish thought as well as contemporary zoology, animals do not possess free will such as to make moral choices."

    Actually there is a whole literature on that subject. [without doubt you know this, and momentarily forgot.] There are several incidents in the Torah of dogs being rewarded for good deeds, as though they did them consciously. It's a discussion among rishonim and early achronim.

    On that subject, I wanted to ask you: In Temurah (28b) the Gemara says that Rove'ah and Nirvah are killed, and calls this "naa'seh oness ki-ratzon", ie, the involuntary act (nirvah) is on a par with the voluntary (roveah.) That got me wondering - can reoveah really be called "ratzon?" The general rule, as stated in Yevamos, is that a man cannot be forced into intercourse, as arousal can only be but voluntary. Is it different for male animals?

    Is this topic (roveah nirvah) addressed in your encyclopedia, or do you discuss it elsewhere?

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  12. "Actually there is a whole literature on that subject."

    Including an entire chapter in my book Man & Beast.

    Not much discussion of rovea, though.

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  13. I'm sure the curators at the Biblical Zoo know this, but farmers routinely have dog pups (of a herding type) suckled by sheep. They then identify with the sheep and protect them.

    My guess is that the dogs are bred to have a herding instinct, whereas the predatory instinct in wolves is too strong to be overcome.

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  14. "In Jewish thought as well as contemporary zoology, animals do not possess free will such as to make moral choices."

    How can rule on something so subjective? In zoology humans do have free choice?

    GH 500

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  15. Seems to me the Rovea topic cuts across two of your interests: 1) the animal world, and 2) changes, or differences, between the world of chazal and the world of today.

    Consider: the Gemara in Temurah I quoted indicates an animal might desire a woman for sexual purposes. There are passages in Shabbos (IIRC) discussing snakes who wish to pursue women for lust. There is an account in Yevamos of a dog who attacked a woman for such purposes. I am no Dr. Doolitle, but I dont think anyone today sees animals lusting after women. Never seen anything addressing the topic, tho.

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  16. DF: "There are several incidents in the Torah of dogs being rewarded for good deeds, as though they did them consciously. It's a discussion among rishonim and early achronim."

    My understanding is that reward and punishment as a form of behavior modification, as in "behaviorism," does not imply internal states of free will.

    I'm not saying that I totally agree with this in the case of the most intelligent animal species, but that giving reward and punishment does not necessarily imply internal states of consciousness.

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  17. I've seen many examples of animals that are thought to be natural enemies get along.

    There are countless videos on youtube of these cases. Here's a few:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWhD5bc6Fmg
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcU1OsDMWBQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1BSvoz96po
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JiJzqXxgxo
    http://www.wimp.com/foxfriends/
    https://vimeo.com/24052527
    Also this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2214501/Will-mummy-Merciful-lioness-takes-pity-antelope-calf-killing-mother.html

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  18. Can you post more info on your lecture schedule in Johannesburg? Where, when and what will you be speaking on? Looking forward

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  19. Shabbat July 20th at Beit Yisrael Waverley, and a Motzai Shabbat program to be announced. Feel free to email me - zoorabbi@zootorah.com

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  20. You should check out Shalev's book "הדבר היה ככה" (translated as "My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner"). It's one of the funniest things I've ever read.

    It's so great that they got you all to speak! Are there recordings? Can you fill us in on your speech and the subsequent discussion?

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  21. You know, your posts are SO much more enjoyable when your focus isn't on machlokes!

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  22. 50% educational, 50% amusement:
    Here might be the reasons why many people think the lion lies with the lamb:
    “Only in art will the lion lie down with the lamb, and the rose grow without thorn” (Martin Amis)

    – “No absolute is going to make the lion lie down with the lamb unless the lamb is inside.” (D.H. Lawrence)

    – “The lion will lay down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.” (Woody Allen)

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  23. "In Jewish thought as well as contemporary zoology, animals do not possess free will such as to make moral choices."

    I meant to write, how can zoology rule on something so subjective.
    gh500

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  24. "Lion" and "lamb" go together because of the alliteration. Another example from world literature:

    "Lord who made the lion and the lamb/ You decreed I should be what I am/ Would it spoil some vast eternal plan/ If I were a wealthy man?" -- Sheldon Harnick

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  25. But perhaps it's that they are evil in terms of their effects on people

    IMO, that's the *only* way to look at the term "chaya ra'ah". An animal is no more morally bad than a land ("eretz tova") is morally good. The term "ra" means that which is harmful to people, detracts from bracha/the ability to thrive, and the term "tov" means beneficial to people, conducive to bracha.

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  26. RNS you never responded to my Q about how zoology would know if animals have free choice.
    500

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