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 email@example.com.