Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Zoo Torah: The Movie

Twelve years ago, at the dawn of the DVD era, my wife bought me a present from Mea She'arim: a DVD on my favorite chapter of Tehillim, Barchi Nafshi. It turned out to be a montage of clips relating to the verses, many of which were pirated from National Geographic videos, with a voice-over reciting the verses of Barchi Nafshi. There was also amazing background music, which I eventually identified as the soundtrack from Last Of The Mohicans. A charming effort, but it wasn't going to be winning any Oscars for Best Documentary.

More recently, I was given another DVD about animals and Torah. This one at least featured original content in the voice-over, with explanations about the identities of various animals in the Torah. However, it suffered from several drawbacks. The explanations were rather poor, from a rationalist/ academic standpoint, in that they fell into the error that I have discussed previously: not appreciating that the Rishonim of Europe were not familiar with the animals of the Land of Israel. The footage was, again, pirated from National Geographic, along with BBC's Life series. True, this is amazing footage; but aside from the ethical/halachic issues in using such footage, it actually makes it harder to concentrate on the Torah material being presented. Another drawback was that the soundtrack was abysmal, and made me pine for Last Of The Mohicans.

Several years ago, I myself was featured in a big-budget TV special, Beasts of the Bible for Animal Planet. It was a very high-end production, with dazzling visual effects, filmed on location in many places. Still, it was unsatisfactory from my perspective, because it was simply too sensationalistic, and spent more time on strange cryptozoological theories than on actually imparting useful information.

With all these videos being disappointing, I've long wanted to produce my own video about Torah and the animal kingdom (previously, I've just done a few short segments of middling quality for my lecture presentations, some of which can be viewed at www.zootorah.com/videos). And now, the opportunity is finally presenting itself!

The wild animals that are featured in the Torah are no longer found in Israel - today, one gets a better picture of Biblical wildlife by visiting Africa. I'm going there tomorrow night, teaching on a safari that will travel through South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. But I'm arriving a few days before my group comes, and I'm using the extra time to film footage for an educational video, tentatively titled Zoo Torah: The Animal Kingdom in Jewish Thought. Arrangements have been made to visit a ranch where there are tame lions, leopards, hyenas and other animals that are used for filming. (Well, as tame as these beasts can be; just this week, Adam Sandler revealed that he was attacked by a "tame" cheetah at one such ranch in South Africa.) This will be supplemented by footage that I'll film in Israel when I return. The plan is to produce a DVD documentary of high quality that is both educational and entertaining.

All this is extremely expensive; apparently, the ranch with the "tame" predators has very high insurance premiums! Plus, there are many other expenses, especially if I'm not going to simply use the soundtrack from Last Of The Mohicans. If you'd like to help sponsor this production, that would be gratefully appreciated by myself and all the viewers. Donations are tax-deductible (in the US) and can be sent to The Torah and Nature Foundation; details at this link. Smaller donations can be made via PayPal:

If you have any ideas or suggestions regarding the video, please write them in the comments! As always, I can be reached at zoorabbi@zootorah.com.


  1. Why not do a kickstarter?

  2. Because they take a commission, there's very little benefit in this case, and I don't think that Kickstarter donations are tax-deductible.

  3. So what then are you doing for music, do you need someone to compose an original soundtrack? (Would you use a talanted chareidi for this?)

  4. Definitely use kickstarter or indiegogo...

  5. I can't believe it, NO respite in taking your slices at Chareidim.

  6. gh500 said, "I can't believe it, NO respite in taking your slices at Chareidim."

    Puh-lease! Are you referring to Rabbi Natan's all too gentle pokes at the little "borrowings" by Hareidi "artists"? Well, here's more on that. Temujin has giggled and cringed over plenty of cheesy kiruv "productions" by self-proclaimed "videographers," "directors" and "producers," some of them apparently rabbis, who shamelessly rip-off copyrighted work and have it assembled...or more precisely ungapatchked... by their teenage nephews on pirated editing software. This man has even had his own humble illustrations "recruited" into service, as it were, and the rascals wouldn't even acknowledge his polite emails requesting at least a mention. Had they only asked, this man would have graciously granted permission. Perhaps too busy or important to bother with such annoyances, but not too busy to obscure or obliterate one's signature. But Temujin is not bitter over that. He is shocked and saddened at this kind of shande, at such blatant theft from big sources and small ones. Yes, theft. And that theft of others' work or property is involved in the promotion of Torah values is what should shock you into taking at "slice" at this practice. 'Nuff said about that.

    Temujin wishes our dear Rabbi Slifkin a pleasant, safe and rewarding journey and regrets that he cannot accompany him to ride point, arrow drawn and nocked, under the bright blue firmament through the yellow grass seas of the awesome veldt. One day, perhaps, God be willing.

  7. Temujin, I agree with you regarding your condemnation of piracy (which is also happens to be a Torah transgression according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Elyashiv...).

    What I do object to is the habit of RNS to use the views and actions of individual Chareidim and (explicitly or inexplicitly) attribute them to Chareidim as a whole. That's a bad thing even without taking into account that we're talking about a broad spectrum, where many members are just by social affiliation -- making the individual member even less representative of the underlying tenets of the spectrum as a whole. Furthermore piracy is sufficiently a problem in the MO community (at least on the individual level), קשוט עצמך ואחר כך קשוט אחרים.

  8. Temujin,

    While we're on the the topic, what was Temujin thinking when he took/constructed the picture of whatever it was with the bunny ears that showed up in a recent post here? For some reason, that I can't put a finger on, that picture was disturbing :). If that was your intent, you accomplished it.

  9. gh500, Rav Slifkin was describing specific videos used in religious education. Temujin has watched many such works in group situations and has noticed that Hareidi kids and adults, who only watch such permitted videos assume that the music and the visuals, which are rarely credited, are all products of the organization and are duly impressed with the talents in the Hareidi community. One finds it hard to believe that this is accidental. He has yet to see such blatant examples by MO producers. Whether this is due to higher standards or the knowledge that the viewers, who are more familiar with secular productions, are likely to be offended at being taken for idiots is another question.

    Ah, hello, David! First, to allay any concerns; no animals or children were hurt in Temujin's illustration. And, tsk-tsk, you should know by now that the odd-looking creature is the notorious hyrax. The fake bunny ears and the cigar were photoshopped in. With an older, but legal version of Photoshop, and with images under common license for non-profit educational purposes, one may add. The illustration was submitted by this man with a suggested caption, "The Rabbit discovered in the wilds of Judea," or something to that effect, but our Rabbi forgot to include it. The montage related thematically to the Dr Betech claim that the rabbit must have been indigenous to the Land of Israel. Temujin, as you may have noticed, likes to often take the approach humorous/ludicrous in the belief that it lightens tensions in serious and important discussions and facilitates better communication among disputants. It's an approach that admittedly lands him in frequent trouble in his own yurts with his kith and kin, but seems to be tolerated a little more in the blogosphere. He is not always successful, but such is the nature of this proverbial beast. One is sorry that a hyrax with fake, children's pink bunny ears and a cigar creeped you out, but one understands that the hyrax is a rather small, silly-looking and relatively harmless animal.

    Not all of Temujin's creations...two for this site so far... pass Rabbi Slifkin's standards; a recent one, relating to this post didn't pass the grade. That's a fifty percent success rate which is nothing to crow about. However, Temujin is a brave and tenacious warrior and will continue to make and submit silly creations when the mood strikes him and time permits.

  10. A charming effort, but it wasn't going to be winning any Oscars for Best Documentary.www.123moviestube.io


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