The Zoo Rabbi

Because of our interest in Public Space Judaism and the opportunities it provides the Jewish community to reach people where they are, we are always looking for new venues to explore that might be appropriate for such an approach. We also like to recognize those who have creatively taken Judaism out to where people are, so that they can “stumble over it,” an important criterion that we have identified for Public Space Judaism.

That is why I was particularly interested in the work of Rabbi Natan Slifkin, better known as “the Zoo Rabbi.” In a recent article about him in the Washington Jewish Week, he says that while studying to become a rabbi:

“It occurred to me one day to see what the Torah has to say about animals…. I found a wealth of materials, and I found that the zoo is a great place to teach it.”

The article explains how he is able to find a Torah teaching about seemingly every animal and incorporate it into his tours of the National Zoo. While Rabbi Slifkin’s interpretations of animal life in the Jewish tradition are sometimes challenged within the Orthodox community—for whom many of his tours are arranged—we still recognize the opportunities implicit in them for reaching people on the periphery as well.

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