Sunday, June 22, 2014

Can I Put These In My Trunk?

One of the crucial principles in identifying the various animals mentioned in Tanach is that they must be species with which the Jewish people were familiar. The animals of the Torah are gazelles and lions and storks. There are no pandas or penguins or parasaurolophuses in Scripture.

One might presume that this translates into the principle that all the animals of Scripture must be native to the Land of Israel and the surrounding region. That is approximately true, but not exactly. It is also possible to be familiar with a non-native animal if it is reported or imported.

The latter case is the scenario in one instance. King Solomon's ships brought him the following riches:
The king had a fleet of trading ships that sailed with Hiram's fleet. Once every three years the ships returned, loaded with gold, silver, ivory (shenhabim), monkeys, and peacocks. (I Kings 10:22)

Elephants and monkeys and peacocks are not native to the Land of Israel, but these items are described as having been sent in by ship.

Now, the goal of the forthcoming Biblical Museum of Natural History is to display the animals of the Torah - live exhibits for the smaller species, and taxidermy mounts for the larger ones. As such, it would be appropriate, not to mention spectacular and awe-inspiring, to display a set of elephant tusks, similar to those that King Solomon received. However, it is absolutely impossible to buy a pair of elephant tusks. Due to the problem of poaching, trade in tusks is highly illegal. The only tusks that are free from legal restrictions are those of mammoths, because mammoths are not in danger of extinction. But mammoth tusks are not suitable acquisitions for my museum for three reasons: they are crazy expensive, they are not Biblical, and they would contravene my mandate not to have anything controversial in the museum.

What to do? I'm traveling to Africa on Wednesday and I just learned of a company there which manufactures museum-quality replica elephant tusks. They look identical to the real thing and are 100% legal. They are fairly pricey, but just within the range of the museum's very tight budget. There's just one problem:

At about 30 pounds each, they are not as heavy as the real thing (which can weigh over two hundred pounds per tusk), but at around eight feet in length, shipping is extraordinarily expensive. I was wondering if I could bring them with me on the plane as an additional luggage item. El-Al's baggage rules don't have a clear policy for elephant tusks. I called El-Al, and they said that it would depend on the agents at Johannesburg airport. But it didn't look good!

Searching around further, I discovered that some slightly inferior but much cheaper replica elephant tusks can be purchased in the US. I have a good connection with El-Al in LA, as well as a greater luggage allowance, so it might be better all around to buy them in the US and to try to bring them on the plane with me when I fly back from LA in August.

Failing that, I'm going to check if any ships from King Solomon's trading fleet are still in business.

* * *

Amidst everything we do, we say Hashem, please help our soldiers bring our boys back home.

(You can support the soldiers in a practical way here.) 


  1. Why not just send them by boat?

    1. I was given a quote of $500 for shipping!

    2. Anybody making aliyah from South Africa who might include them in their lift?

  2. Can we assume that if King Solomon was importing elephant tusks, he would not have been a welcome speaker at the ASPCA?

  3. Being that Wooly Mammoths were the closest relatives of Indian Elephants (closer than African apparently), the tusks would be pretty close replicas to the real thing.

    1. According to Targum, Rashi and Radak this was an "African boat" so the tusks must have been from African elephants. (Ditto with the monkeys and peacocks.)

      (I'm not sure where Rabbi Slifkin got the translation "a fleet of trading ships" from.)

    2. It totally could be an African boat, except that the name tukhi is phonologically close to the old Sinhalese for peacock. So it would seem that the source of those, at least, is Asia and not Congo.

    3. Also, the Congo Peacock was apparently unknown to the Muslim world, and thus certainly unknown to Shelomo.

    4. I wasn't aware of your information. But would the following work?

      They first knew of the Asian peacock and called it tukki from the Sinhalese. Later they learned of the African one and applied the name tukki to it too because of its similarity to the one from Asia. Shlomo got one from Africa either becaused he knew about it before or simply he sent scouts to bring back interesting animals and had no idea what they would come back with.

      You say that since the Congo peacock was apparently unknown to the Muslims it was therefore unknown to Shlomo. Couldn't something known to Slomo become forgotten by the time Islam arose some 13 centuries later? An interesting example of this is found here where R David Gans says that the אופיר to which Shlomo's other boat went was known to him and later forgotten.

  4. You could always have them 3D printed here.

  5. Mammoth tusks look very different from elephant tusks.

    It should be pointed out that some have claimed that the absolutist ban on ivory only makes the poaching problem worse. South Africa has so many elephants that it has to cull them for its own good and actually sells canned elephant meat in supermarkets. They should be able to sell the ivory as well...

    Kashrut issues aside, I don't think I'd be able to eat it. I think even Chazal say that apes, elephants, and marine mammals are a step above other animals in terms of intelligence.

  6. "Can I Put These In My Trunk?"
    Only if you had one the size of an Elephant's.

    1. Why do elephants have such big trunks?
      They need to store clothing and accessories large enough to fit an elephant.


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