Lecture Series: Zoology, Science and Judaism

These presentations are of around one hour in duration (except the topics in the "Torah and Science" section which are best done over a longer period). Many have source sheets that can be used to enhance the presentation; both English and Hebrew source sheets are available (there are usually around 10-20 sources for each topic). Several of the lectures are also accompanied by multimedia presentations, including fascinating video clips of the animals being discussed.

I. Man and the Natural World ↑ Back to top

  1. Zoology and ZooTorah
    An introductory lecture that gives an overview of all the various aspects of the interaction between Torah and the animal kingdom (drawing inspiration from the wonders of nature, identifying animals in the Torah, their symbolism, the laws and principles governing man's interaction with them, and resolving conflicts between Torah and zoology). This is an entertaining talk that is ideal for a one-off lecture.
  2. Man versus Animals
    An important discussion of man's status vis-a-vis the animal kingdom. What does man have in common with animals, and what is it exactly that distinguished him from them? Given the latest insights from zoology, the answer is not as simple as it may seem.
  3. The Jewish Conservationist
    Why is it important to save animals from extinction? The normal reasons about the global ecosystem do not apply to animals in isolated ecosystems. This presentation analyzes Jewish perspectives on this topic and ends up with a surprising conclusion.
  4. Animal Lovers
    If being kind to animals makes you into a better person, why do we see animal lovers who are not good people? This presentation explores several aspects to this problem, as well as the opposite question of why there are religious Jews who are not kind to animals.
  5. Laws of Sensitivity to Animals
    A study of the nineteen Scriptural commandments that relate to sensitivity to animals in different ways - sensitivity to physical pain, emotional distress, the value of animal life, and the role of animals in our own lives.
  6. Jewish Pets
    Does Judaism approve of keeping pets? What factors are there to consider? And when keeping a pet, what are the relevant laws and principles that apply?
  7. Is a Good Jew a Vegetarian?
    A balanced and comprehensive study of vegetarianism in Jewish sources.
  8. Animals on Trial
    Can an animal commit a sin? An analysis of the philosophy behind the practice of sentencing animals in Torah courts.
  9. Utilizing Animals
    When are we allowed to inflict pain upon animals, and why? Can we hunt them? Experiment on them? Exterminate them? Wear their fur or skin?
  10. Kosher Conundrums
    A survey of the principles governing which animals and birds are kosher, with a special look at the intriguing cases of giraffe, buffalo, and turkey.
  11. Exotic Shofars
    A halachic discussion of the laws of shofar, using examples from a wide variety of species.

  12. II. Animals of the Torah ↑ Back to top

  13. Perek Shirah: Nature's Song
    A look at Perek Shirah, the ancient midrash that assigns verses from Scripture to various elements of the natural world, thereby teaching lessons on life and the universe.
  14. The Amazing Elephant
    Insights into the characteristics of these extraordinary creatures as reflected in Jewish law and thought.
  15. Behold the Behemoth
    A profound look at the symbolism of the hippopotamus in the Book of Job.
  16. The Legend of the Unicorn
    An exploration into different unicorns that seem to be described in the Torah, including the re'em, the tachash, and the keresh, and their real-life possible identities.
  17. Beware the Bear
    The significance of the bear as it appears in Scripture and Midrash, with the latest zoological studies shedding light on the centrality of the bear to the Purim story.
  18. Day of the Hyena
    A look at the redeeming features of this much-maligned creature. Its portrayal by Disney is contrasted with its portrayal in the Talmud.
  19. The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax
    An detailed analysis of the topic of animals with one kosher sign, which is used by some as evidence for the Torah's divine origins and by others as evidence against it.
  20. The Birds
    The symbolism of ostriches, ravens and other birds in Torah literature, and a look at the laws of kosher eggs. Why is an egg of a kosher bird permissible as food, and why do we never see a hechsher on eggs to certify that they come from kosher birds?
  21. Quail and the Nature of Miracles
    The Biblical episode of the quail sheds important light on the nature of miracles in general, and modern zoology in turn sheds much light on this.
  22. The Secret of the Stincus
    The "Stincus Marinus" is a bizarre creature cited in medieval halachic literature as a challenge to the Talmud's laws of kosher fish. What is this creature, and does it indeed present a problem?
  23. The Frogs of War
    The deeper significance of the frog plague in Egypt... and why they might not have been frogs at all. Some extraordinary herpetological facts give this a unique perspective.
  24. Locusts
    A practical kashrus guide! There are some Jewish communities that eat locusts - why and how do they do this, and why do others refrain? Is it permissible for someone to adopt their custom?
  25. The Amazing Ant
    A fascinating exploration into what is probably the most amazing of all animals. This presentation shows how something that appears so lowly and mundane can be a source of tremendous inspiration.
  26. Sacred Monsters
    A fascinating investigation into the dragons, griffins, phoenix, centaurs and mermaids that are discussed in the Talmud and Midrash. Are these creatures real, and if not, what are we to make of them?

  27. III. Science and Rationalism ↑ Back to top

  28. The Challenge of Dinosaurs
    A unique presentation on Judaism, dinosaurs, and the age of the universe.
  29. Untangling Evolution
    An original and analytical approach to a famous topic, very different from any other. This is a complex and lengthy presentation that is best done in two or three sessions.
  30. Gigantic Giants and Diminutive Dwarfs
    The height of Og is given by various authorities as anything from nine to nine hundred feet. Moses is said to be fifteen feet in height, and Pharaoh just eighteen inches. What are we to make of all these views, especially since they cannot all be relegated as allegories?
  31. Spontaneous Generation
    Are there mice that grow in the mud? Or lice that develop from dust? What about creatures that grow on trees? This presentation explores these and other cases of spontaneous generation in Torah sources.
  32. The Case of the Jumping Elephant
    Can an elephant jump? This question launches a discussion into the controversial area of rabbinic science.
  33. Rationalist Judaism
    An important study of the vast differences between the rationalist and mystical approaches to Judaism, and a look at how the latter has overtaken the former.
  34. The Challenge of Ptolemy
    Did the Sages of the Talmud believe the world to be flat? In the Talmudic era, the rabbis faced a challenge from Ptolemy in astronomy. The way that they coped with it is remarkably different from how it is commonly portrayed.
  35. The Challenge of Copernicus
    It was not just the Church that felt threatened by heliocentrism - in the Jewish world, there was also vehement opposition, and with good reason. A look at the reaction to the "new astronomy."
  36. Worlds in Collision: The Dynamics of a Ban
    An analysis of the theological and sociological factors at work in the controversial ban of three of my books.