Friday, July 11, 2014

Uses For A Dead Giraffe

On the game drives that I did this week in Africa, I was privileged to see many further animals, including springbok and wild dog. I was particularly pleased to see red hartebeest; the bubal hartebeest, which became extinct around a century ago, is (as I shall argue in my forthcoming encyclopedia) mentioned in the Torah under the name yachmor. Here's a better picture than the one that I took:

Yesterday, on the final day of our African adventure, we returned to a giraffe carcass that we had first visited two days earlier. While the bulk of the giraffe had been eaten by lions, there was still some meat left, and we had seen a brown hyena and white-backed vultures at the carcass. But this giraffe carcass was the gift that kept on giving. This time we saw an animal that I had very much wanted to see in the wild: a spotted hyena. Here's a video clip of it feasting:

In these tense times, you never know what to expect with the morning news. Yesterday, I was rather alarmed to see the morning gnus, because they were on the airstrip that our light aircraft would soon be taking off from. Fortunately, by the time that we returned to actually take off, the gnus (also known as wildebeest) had moved away. No gnus was good news.

Good gnus

Bad gnus
At the end of the trip, the wonderful people in my group gave me a very special and unique gift: a tallit bag and tefillin bag made from the hide of a giraffe! Thank you!

After eight plane flights over three countries, it's good to finally come home. Amazingly, I was actually able to bring the elephant tusks, that I acquired for The Biblical Museum of Natural History, on the plane! Getting them to the airport and checking them on was a major challenge, and there were moments in which I (and several other people) doubted my sanity, but it all worked out in the end. (My luggage, on the other hand, didn't make it on the plane.) These tusks will make a great display in the museum, which will hopefully open sometime this fall. Thanks to Rabbi Gavin Michal for helping me get the tusks and transport them to the airport.

If you're interested in joining next year's African adventure, please write to me!


  1. That giraffe hide looks West African to me. :)

  2. So now you have a tachash skin tallis bag! cool! :)

    1. Yeah... except that I no longer think that the giraffe was the tachash... see Sacred Monsters, second edition...

    2. I know I know, hence the smiley face. Although I disagree with your new take on the Tachash. It is just as possible that their leather work was called that because it resembled the giraffe skins. Additionally, it would not take much of a change in nature to have giraffes make a trek out to the midbar. Much less of a supernatural miracle than an unknown species spawning out of nothing in the midbar never to be heard from again, but still a decent fit for the source of the midrashim. [Can't wait for an artscroll to use the giraffe as the tachash, in the same way they relied on you for the bat :) ]

    3. Sea cow, right?

  3. Brooklyn Refugee SheygitzJuly 13, 2014 at 1:53 PM

    you should get a tallis "atara" to match. that would be cool
    even cooler would be rough unfinished giraffe skin tefillin boxes to match (according to the poskim who hold that the batim can be any color). how cool would that be?
    You would be the hit in any shteible...

  4. In nature nothing is wasted. There's always something ready to eat it


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