When you come across the Torah Animal World exhibit, you may find it looks similar to a zombie version of Noah’s Ark. It consists of 350 animals that have have been crowded into a row house museum in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. The animals consist of at least one of each species mentioned in the first five books of the Bible. These animals are not alive – they’re actually stuffed.
But the museum looks like it has seen better days. Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch has stated that he needs at least one million dollars to keep the museum open in Brooklyn, otherwise, he will have to relocate it to the Catskills in rural New York.
An animated Deutsch said that he wanted to change the way people learn about the Bible, as he was handing ancient artifacts to a couple of women who were touring displays. He added that he believed that if you touch history, history would touch you. The rabbi added that museums were boring because everything was placed behind glass.
For him, it is all about making the beloved and old stories about the bible come alive for present day audiences, especially children. The 47-year-old bearded rabbi has several attached homes in Brooklyn. One houses a collection of artifacts from pre-modern Israel, another the living Torah museum and the other is his home.
For many years, Deutsch’s fellow rabbis have been telling him how students were excited by the citations of a variety of animals in the Talmud and in the Torah. Rabbi Shaul was fed up with the system of teaching students by reading and listening. As a result, he started a taxidermy collection and opened his doors in 2008. He swears all of his specimens died of natural causes instead of being hunted in the wild. He says that he uses his specimens for education, saving them from being turned into fur clothing. A large percentage of the animals are easily recognizable from the Bible. Examples are an antelope, lamb, ox, ram and serpent.
Apart from these, the rabbi also has species that may not immediately come to mind when a person thinks of the Bible. A good example is the wolf, whereby in Genesis, Benjamin is compared to a ravenous wolf. Another example is the Arabian oryx, which may be the source of the biblical reference to a unicorn. Obviously, the rabbi does not mind pushing boundaries of his collection beyond the strict Torah reading. He has included creatures in other books present in the Hebrew Bible.
The presence of a giraffe may seem to be a bit of a stretch. All the same it may seem to be creepy or fun depending on an individual’s point of view. It has been said to be the modern day’s version of the kosher in case you were wondering. The peacocks and 29 other stuffed animals on display are also considered to be kosher. Funny enough, there are not dinosaurs or pigs. The pig part you can understand, but as for the dinosaurs, no one can explain. According to the rabbi, he prefers to avoid them and does not want to get into that whole debate.
The rabbi says that his financial problem started with the 2008 recession that marginally reduced his donor base. This was the same problem that was experienced by everyone who had expanded in previous years when times were good. He soon found himself running annual deficits and overextended. Additionally, the place is quite small and can only manage to accommodate almost 100 visitors on a good day. The rabbi stated that he still has hopes for the place as he still believes in miracles.