The Biblical Natural History Museum is the project of Rabbi Natan Slifkin. Rabbi Slifkin is affectionately known as ‘The Zoo Rabbi,’ for his great love and dedication to the animal kingdom from a Jewish perspective. It’s located in Beit Shemesh, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, so it’s easy to work into many itineraries.
A visit to the museum takes about an hour, and is by reservation only. A visit includes a talk from Rabbi Slifkin, followed by a ten minute movie of his encounters with various animals and a walk around the museum. Rabbi Slifkin is a fun and engaging guide, as well as a skilled educator.
The museum is really half museum, half zoo. The exhibit area includes many animals that have been stuffed and mounted, as well as cages with live animals, many of which are brought out during the tour and can be handled by the participants, including a boa snake and a hedgehog, among others.
So what is ‘Biblical Natural History?’ Rabbi Slifkin explains that the concept includes any animals which are relevant to the Bible. Usually this means animals that live (or lived) here in the Land of Israel, but sometimes refers to animals used as part of stories of metaphors in the Bible but don’t live here, using an elephant as one example.
During the tour Rabbi Slifkin explains many facets relating to animals and Jewish law, such as which animal horns are ideal for making a shofar and why, and how to tell if an animal is kosher to eat or not. He also clears up many common misnomers. For example, many people refer to the Tzvi (pictured) as a deer, because this is what they are familiar with in Europe and North America. But in fact it’s a gazelle.
This new attraction is not on the standard tourist map yet, but it should be. It leaves the visitor with a much greater appreciation for and understanding of the animals mentioned in the Bible and the integral part they played in the life of human beings here at that time.