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.)

Monday, October 7, 2019

Woolly Mammoths and the Jews

In the news today is a story about new research regarding the very last population of woolly mammoths, on a remote Arctic island. Incredibly, these survived until just 4000 years ago - as the story says, "a few hundred years after the Ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramid at Giza." And this is good news for the Jews! Or at least, for this Jew.

As I've explained in the past, I have a skeleton in my closet - specifically, various parts of dinosaur skeletons. They stay in my closet at home, rather than going on display at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, because many of our visitors are from the charedi community and many of them would object to displays of creatures that lived longer than 5780 years ago.

But recently we received two separate gifts of two very special specimens. One is the molar tooth of a woolly mammoth, and the other is a section of mammoth tusk. (Interestingly, while it is completely illegal to trade in elephant tusks, there are no such restrictions for mammoth tusks, because mammoths are not endangered.) The tusk has a particularly fascinating story - it was given to us by a woman who found it while going through the belongings of her late father, who was a US army chaplain in Alaska and acquired it there.

Now, since mammoths existed well into the Biblical period, we can display these amazing artifacts in the museum without any problems! We set up them up as part of a new exhibit titled "Wonders From The Earth." I'm currently working on the signage, and I came up with a great tagline: "When The Israelites Went Down To Egypt... Mammoths Roamed The Earth!" If you're coming to visit the museum, look out for it!

Wishing you all a Gmar Chatima Tova!



Sunday, October 6, 2019

Rationalist Tzedakah

You'd think that a mitzvah as basic as tzedakah, charity, would not have anything to do with the primary topics of this forum - rationalism vs. mysticism. But it certainly can!

There are a number of different communal charity organizations in Ramat Bet Shemesh. Some organizations give hand-outs to the many local desperate kollel families which, while alleviating their current hardship, does nothing to change their long-term situation. This is presumably based on the mystical idea that such kollel study is valuable; perhaps even more so than financial self-sufficiency.

But one of them, Lemaan Achai, is the most extraordinary charity organization that I've seen, and has a different approach. Their motto is "smart chessed." When taking on a family, they first have a case worker assess every aspect of the family's situation. Then their goal is to practice charity according to Rambam's principles, whereby the highest level of charity is to rehabilitate the family such that they are independent.

If you're looking for a good, smart cause for your charity shekels/dollars, please consider Lemaan Achai. You can find out more, and donate, via their website at www.lemaanachai.org.

Attention New York - Biblical Feast!

The Biblical Museum of Natural History is thrilled to invite its patrons to an extraordinary educational and gourmet event:

A Biblical Feast of Birds and Beasts

in Lawrence, New York
Featuring an amazing menu of unusual species and foods eaten in the Bible
Accompanied by presentations by museum director Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin

Sunday, 17th November 2019

Kashrut supervision: Kaf-K

Price: $500 per couple for Museum Patrons and for Exhibit Donors. Click here for details about becoming a museum patron.
Non-patron seats: $500 per person.
Table of ten: $5000 (includes patronage)

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