One of Michael Steinhardt’s more unique possessions is his group of zedonks, the offspring of a zebra and a donkey that he calls “zonkeys.” Photo by Ben Sales

The billionaire who founded Birthright has a private zoo


When Michael Steinhardt strolls around his 55-acre backyard for 90 minutes every morning, one of his favorite animals to see is the scimitar-horned oryx, whose antlers sweep back from its head like the swords for which they are named. But Steinhardt didn’t much like finding out that a (literally) horny oryx had stabbed a zebra to death during a testosterone-fueled mating season three years ago.

The zebra incident is, thankfully, an outlier on his sprawling estate about an hour north of Manhattan, home to at least 30 species of animals as well as more than 100 birds. It’s been called a “private zoo,” but that’s true only in the sense that St. Peter’s Basilica is Pope Francis’ local church.

I rode north for an hour on a train expecting animals in cages, a few serene ponds with exotic fish, maybe some petting opportunities. I didn’t expect to pass a spiral bamboo climbing structure (for humans), to take a walk across a rickety rope bridge in the middle of a forest, or to find owls squawking at me, Harry Potter-style, in the middle of the day, causing me to re-evaluate whether the expression “night owl” is really even accurate.

Soon after, we come across two century-old tortoises humping, the bottom one slowly crescendoing up on her wrinkled legs as her lover cranes his long neck diagonally downward. The “guy on top,” Steinhardt informs me, is named Sexton — for John Sexton, the past president of New York University. The reason?

“Sexton was the boss of NYU and this guy is the boss of the tortoises,” explains Steinhardt, an NYU trustee.

Then Steinhardt tells me I can ride another tortoise, bareback, a few feet away. Usually I try to remove myself from the stories I cover. But I mount the reptile.

“Tortoise equestrian” is generally not the first phrase that comes to mind when discussing Steinhardt, the hedge fund billionaire who helped create Birthright, the free 10-day trips to Israel for young Jews. But Steinhardt’s zoo, at around 15 years old, is only slightly younger than Birthright – and it reveals a totally different side of the man’s personality.

 

Steinhardt fashions himself as the disruptive Jewish innovator – outspoken about the shortcomings of American Judaism, discussing it in full, extemporaneous paragraphs and ready to put his money where his mouth is. He has embarked on venture after venture – first the free Israel trips, then a network of Hebrew-language charter schools, now a museum of natural history at Tel Aviv University that will open this summer. The museum is a way for Steinhardt to merge his love of fauna with his love of Israel — especially because he says he’s not allowed to import Israeli animals across the ocean.

He is eager to defend all of these programs with statistics proving their worth. And despite his very high profile, Steinhardt says his Jewish initiatives are really about other people – the half-million Jewish young adults who have gone on Birthright, say, or the students who attend the charter schools.

But the zoo is all about Steinhardt himself; he made it solely so he and his family could live among beauty. Steinhardt likes to meander from field to field, introducing visitors to red kangaroos, marmosets or wallabies, an Australian marsupial.

“I decided to do this because I really love animals and I thought that this would create more joy for my family and I than anything else I could do,” he says.

Seconds later, he is back to being a tour guide.

“Directly in front of you is a female ostrich,” he says, pointing. “To the right is a group of guanacos. There are four different varieties of South American cameloids: They are alpacas and llamas and vicunas and guanacos.”

Steinhardt, who takes regular 90-minute strolls around his 55-acre private zoo, enjoys interacting with his tortoises. Photo by Ben Sales

 

Steinhardt’s love of animals began with the parakeets and fish he had as a child, and as an adult he has built an ecosystem of flora and fauna from across the globe. If Steinhardt is a kind of Moses with Birthright, on a mission to bring the Jews (briefly) to Israel, here he is Noah – animals from all over the world now surround him two by two.

He feels a tranquility on the grounds because they are blissfully free of the kinds of problems his philanthropy is trying to solve. In Israel, the Jews fight with the Palestinians. At his zoo, the swan lies with the capybara.

“What we do differently here is we have a variety of disparate animals together,” Steinhardt says. “Even though I’m used to it, it still feels like a treat.”

Many of the animals on the estate roam on rolling hills enclosed with wooden fences. The swans and capybaras — the world’s largest rodent — lounge on the bank of a pond among scattered landscaped trees and stones. Some of the more carnivorous animals do live in cages – like a group of serval cats – though the enclosures lead out to small, separate fields. The marmosets, a New World monkey species, live in tall, rectangular cages with a complex branch infrastructure tailored for climbing. Birds flit and perch inside an aviary.

Steinhardt’s zoo includes 30 species of animals, including the red kangaroo, front, and ostrich. Photo by Ben Sales

 

Steinhardt has no method for choosing his animals. Seeing one he likes, he’ll see if he can get it. He has a dealer he trusts, and also will make deals with zoos. The capybaras, for example, were adaptable to the climate, and he liked that they could stay underwater for long stretches. Now he’s negotiating a large donation to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., possibly in exchange for red pandas, though Steinhardt says he has little space to expand.

He is vague about his zoo’s specs – how much it costs to run (Steinhardt ignores the question), how he stays within regulations governing private zoos (it’s all legal, he assures: “The local police are perfectly nice.”) and how many people he employs to tend to the animals (his answer: “1.2 percent of the male population of Nicaragua,” which comes out to roughly 34,000 people. He is kidding.).

At the end of the walk through the zoo, plus a visit to his private strawberry garden, we hop on a golf cart that takes us through much of the rest of the estate – sloping paths through unmanicured forests, water trickling down a rock sculpture, a large, boxy house in a clearing that Steinhardt is building for his daughter’s family.

And then, at the finish of the odyssey, we see the zedonks. Half-zebra, half-donkey – Steinhardt prefers the word “zonkey” – they stand in a trio, brown pack animals covered in black stripes, a puffy black mane and pointy ears sprouting from their necks and heads. Not far away are camels, which we all but ignore. The zedonks approach us warily, intruders in their habitat, and let us observe them.

But by then, Steinhardt is transforming back into the billionaire philanthropist – taking business calls, coordinating logistics for how we would leave. We have been with the animals for more than an hour. Now it is time to return to America, its Jews and their problems.

Summer TV: A host of Jewish stars shine in new and returning shows


PREMIERING THIS SUMMER

David Schwimmer follows “The People v. O.J. Simpson” with “Feed the Beast,” about two friends’ struggle to open a Greek restaurant in the Bronx (AMC June 5 at 10 p.m.; Sundays). Ellen Barkin plays the matriarch of a dysfunctional crime family in the drama “Animal Kingdom” (TNT, June 14 at 9 p.m.; Tuesdays). Winona Ryder portrays the single mother of a young boy who has disappeared in the supernatural mystery “Stranger Things” (Netflix, July 15). Sketch comedy veteran Maya Rudolph joins forces with Martin Short in the variety show “Maya & Marty” (NBC, Tuesdays at 10 p.m.).

Winona Ryder in “Stranger Things”

RETURNING SERIES

Shiri Appleby  in “UnREAL”

Mark Feuerstein stars in the eighth and final season of the concierge medicine series “Royal Pains” (USA, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), with Ben Shenkman and Henry Winkler in supporting roles. Howie Mandel is back at the judges’ table for the 11th season of “America’s Got Talent” (NBC, Tuesdays at 8 p.m.). Scott Wolf deals with thorny personal issues as chief surgeon at a Texas hospital in Season 3 of “The Night Shift” (NBC, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.). Shiri Appleby faces more moral dilemmas as the producer of a “Bachelor”-like reality show in Lifetime’s “UnREAL” (June 6 at 10 p.m.; Mondays). And Rashida Jones reassumes the title role in the spoofy TBS  cop show “Angie Tribeca,” (June 6 at 9 p.m.; Mondays). 

James Wolk in “Zoo”

Michaela Watkins returns in Jason Reitman’s brother-sister comedy “Casual” (Hulu, Season 2’s two-episode premiere on June 7; Tuesdays) and Eric Dane gets a promotion to Chief of Naval Operations in the pandemic drama “The Last Ship” (TNT, June 12 at 9 p.m., Sundays). David Duchovny reprises his role as an LAPD detective investigating Charles Manson in “Aquarius” (NBC, June 16 at 9 p.m., Thursdays). Jill Kargman juggles career and motherhood on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in season 2 of “Odd Mom Out” (Bravo, June 20 at 10  p.m.; Mondays). James Wolk is still dealing with an outbreak of mysterious animal behavior in “Zoo” (CBS, June 28 at 9 p.m.; Tuesdays). 

Michael Rosenbaum in “Impastor”

Moran Atias in “Tyrant”

Power plays and family intrigue continue for Moran Atias in Season 3 of “Tyrant” (FX, July 6 at 10 p.m.; Wednesdays), set in a fictional Middle East nation. Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner are BFF New Yorkers navigating life, love and showbiz in the second season of “Difficult People” (Hulu, July 12). Still on the run from loan sharks, Michael Rosenbaum continues posing as a gay priest in TV Land’s comedy “Impastor” (June 26 at 10 p.m.; Sundays) and Carly Chaikin is back in USA’s cyber-hacking drama “Mr. Robot,” (July 13 at 10 p.m.; Wednesdays). Corey Stoll fights a vampire epidemic in the third season of “The Strain” (FX, Aug. 28 at 10 p.m.; Sundays.).

MOVIES, SPECIALS AND EPISODES

Seeking to escape their ho-hum lives, Adam Sandler and his buddy (David Spade) fake their deaths and assume new identities in the comedy “The Do-Over,” now streaming on Netflix. Comedian Ben Gleib’s stand-up special “Neurotic Gangster” premieres June 3 on Showtime. Paul Rudd plays a writer-turned-caregiver on a road trip with his teenage charge in “The Fundamentals of Caring” (Netflix, June 24).

Elephants show concern, protect their young as Israeli air raid siren sounds


Tony Shaloub, Carl Reiner, Solar Cookers, Green Hadassah, Zoo


Community Kudos


(From left) Mark Ordesky, chair, ADL Entertainment Industry committee; Tony Shalhoub, star of USA Network’s “Monk”; honoree Bonnie Hammer; Ron Meyer, president and COO, Universal Studios; and Amanda Susskind, ADL regional director

What do Hollywood Jews and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have in common?A banquet, at least. The two worlds came together at the ADL’s Entertainment Industry Awards Dinner on June 3. Co-chaired by studio heads Ron Meyer (Universal Studios) and Jeff Zucker (NBC Universal), the annual dinner drew some big names in showbiz and raised $400,000 for the ADL. The casts of “Heroes,” “Monk” and “Psych” didn’t miss the opportunity to fete their boss Bonnie Hammer, who presides over NBC’s cable division. She was lauded for her work with the USA Network shows “Erase the Hate” and “Characters Unite,” which are theme-based programs that deal with issues of prejudice, intolerance and acceptance.


Sylvia Moskovitz congratulates President and CEO Elias Lefferman upon receiving the Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California Mark Meltzer New and Innovative Programming Award.

The best and brightest of SoCal’s Jewish professionals were honored in May by Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California. Elias Lefferman, president and CEO of Vista Del Mar Child & Family Services, was commended for creating the Nes Gadol Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program, which prepares children with special needs for their Jewish rite of passage. Also honored were Lee Rosenblum, director of development for USC Hillel; H. Eric Shockman, president of Mazon; Marla Abraham, senior vice president of endowment and premier philanthropy for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; and Larry Baum, fundraising consultant for Cedars-Sinai.

Joyce Brandman


Ruth Zeigler


Friedland, Elkin

The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) celebrated “An Evening of Visionaries,” honoring four of Jewish Los Angeles’ most prominent philanthropists and community leaders. The sold-out event on June 4 recognized Saul Brandman, the late real estate developer whose wife, Joyce, accepted the honor on his behalf; philanthropist Ruth Ziegler; Molly Forrest, CEO of Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging; and Stephen Elkind, who sits on JFLA’s board of directors.

Movin’ On

From the Hollywood writers’ strike to The Workmen’s Circle, Ann Toback (photo,left) has proven she’s a leader on labor. The former assistant executive director of Writers Guild of America, East, who was front and center on the picket lines during the WGA’s walkout earlier this year, has abandoned Hollywood for Yiddshkayt. On June 9, Toback took over the top spot as executive director of The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring headquarters in New York.


(Bottom row, from left) Jane Golub, Harvey and Hope Schechter and Sandy Levin. (Top row, from left) Renee Cohen, CSUN Hillel Director; Bea Mandel, honorary chair; Ken Warner, Hillel 818 president; Faith and Jonathan Cookler, honorary chairs; Robyn Beresh and Earl Greinetz, dinner chairs; Nomi Gordon, Pierce & Valley Colleges Hillel director

Hillel 818, the marriage of Pierce and Valley Colleges Hillel and CSUN Hillel held its annual dinner celebration at Valley Beth Shalom on May 29 and honored outstanding alumni — the late Sally Golub, Hope and Harvey Schechter and Sandy Levin.

Greening Young Leaders


(From left) Briana Roth, Shaun Bornstein, Laura Mandel, event chair Bryna Hornstein, Enid Zimmerman, Jessica Wacht, Jesse Bornstein (Green on 19 architect), Mandy Berkowitz, Forouzan Khalili, Ainat Kiewe and Michele Goldberg.

Organic food, green appletinis and sustainable architecture comprised “Green Nights: An Evening in the Home of Tomorrow,” hosted by Hadassah Southern California Metro Area Young Leaders Council. The event gave young leaders a glimpse into modern, sustainable living when architect Jesse Bornstein gave a grand tour of “Green on 19,” one of five new townhomes in Santa Monica that embodies green living on every level.

Reiner King of Comedy


Ruth Kraft and Carl Reiner. Photo by Steve Moyer

At a dinner fundraiser for the Westside Center for Independent Living, Carl Reiner told an audience of 120 guests that his improvisation is better than Shakespeare. The actor and comedian was referring to his early days in showbiz, when he ad-libbed a line in “Hamlet” and had the audience in stitches. He regaled the crowd of center supporters with a stand-up routine at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club on June 20.

Mormons and Jews Unite for Darfur


(From left) Rachel Andres, director of the Jewish World Watch (JWW) Solar Cooker Project; Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug, executive director, JWW; Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, co- founder JWW; Elder John Dalton; and Janice Kamenir-Reznik, co-founder and president, JWW. Foreground: solar cooker

After learning of their relief efforts focused on the genocide in Sudan, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) wrote a $25,000 check to Jewish World Watch (JWW). The Utah-based church directed its funds toward JWW’s Solar Cooker Project, an effort designed to reduce violence against women and girls who are often attacked when they leave camp to collect firewood. The availability of solar cookers reduces the risk of encountering Janjaweed terrorists and provides women with training they can parlay into income opportunities. Elder John Dalton, LDS leader, presented the donation to Rabbi Harold Schulweis at the JWW offices.

Feast for the Beast


GLAZA vice chair Gary Kaplan and his wife, Linda, with their son, Mark Kaplan, and his wife, Nicole. Photo by Jamie Pham

In a city with myriad fundraising affairs, the Beastly Ball is consistently one of the most popular and most fun. Never mind that the casual safari collected close to $1.3 million for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association — guests were treated to after-hours animal feedings and viewings, as well as a decadent palette of culinary offerings from 17 L.A. restaurants.

Hot happening? E-mail sceneheard@jewishjournal.com

The Circuit


Choirs Rock the House

Temple Emanuel was rockin’ recently when it hosted the Temple Bryant A.M.E. Church Choir that performed with Emanuel’s choir at a Shabbat Shira Service. The entire congregation and guests were on their feet singing and clapping in joyous rapture.

Behind the Camera

The Peninsula Beverly Hills was filled with aspiring future filmmakers at the Multicultural Motion Picture Association’s (MMPA) 13th annual Student Filmmakers Pre-Oscar Scholarship Luncheon. Actors, cinematographers, writers, and directors came together for the annual luncheon, to show support for the next Spielbergs and Hillers.

Seven students selected for their outstanding achievements, creative vision and technical talent received financial awards toward their tuition, certificates of merit and grants from film providers like FUJIFILMS and Eastman Kodak.

MMPA President Jarvee Hutcherson, said it was “an honor to pay recognition and award scholarships to a particularly fine group of up-and-coming filmmakers this year.”

The scholarship recipients include Vineet Dewan, Dwjuan F. Fox, Margaret C. Kerrison, Nathan D.T. Kitada, Anthony Sclafani Jr., Phyllis Toben and Ashley York.

Readers and Leaders

Third-graders from Maimonides Academy, Los Angeles, recently donated 48 Jester books and 24 Jester dolls to the Pediatric Hematology Oncology Unit of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The philanthropic youngsters read more than 19,000 pages for a penny a page during the one month Jester & Pharley’s Reading to Give campaign and collected additional funds, as well.

“I’m delighted by the incredible efforts of Maimonides Academy students to help ill children at Cedars-Sinai Hospital,” said Barbara Saltzman, executive director of The Jester & Pharley Phund. “Many people talk about how important it is to help others, but Maimonides students and their families have demonstrated what it really means to actually do something to help others, something that will make a difference for many years to come.”

A Big Step

Beit T’Shuvah held its annual “Steps to Recovery” gala dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel recently.

Young and In Charge

A new generation of Jewish leaders is taking the reins of philanthropy and making a difference through its efforts. Young WIZO, an organization dedicated to helping battered women and children in Israel, has brought together young Jewish professionals and business leaders across the L.A. area.

Bernard Hoffman, Lisa Gild, Joyce Azria-Nasir, Sabrina Wizman and many others have found that focusing their energy on Jewish community leadership brings profound meaning and unequivocal fulfillment to their day-to-day lives.

Through participation in organizations like The Jewish Federation, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Young WIZO, they are realizing their goals of helping to build a vibrant, thriving Jewish state.

If you are between the ages of 21-40 and would like to know more about upcoming events, contact Sabrina at Sabrina@mdpropertiesla.com or call (310) 278-8287.

Animal Crackers

Philanthropist Suzanne Gottlieb, and her company, Greenview Inc., gave the Greater Los Angeles Zoo $2 million for expansion and renovation of zoo. Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Zoo officially christened the zoo’s veterinary facility the Gottlieb Animal Health and Conservation Center, in honor of Gottlieb and her late husband, attorney Robert J. Gottlieb. With Gottlieb, is GLAZA trustee and animal activist Betty White.

Friends in Israel

Women’s Alliance for Israel (WAIPAC) welcomed Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Consul-General of Israel Ehud Danoch at a reception hosted by Michal and Danny Alpert and Barbara and Jeff Scapa. WAIPAC is a bipartisan pro-Israel political action committee that supports candidates for and members of Congress who believe that Israel, an important ally and friend, deserves American friendship and support.

 

Koala Makes Aliyah


Ben-Gurion Airport welcomed a new Israeli, and a rather furry one at that.

Didgee, a koala, made aliyah from Melbourne, Australia, but he won’t be the only Aussie in his new home. Cindy and Mindy, two cute koala girls who made aliyah from the Melbourne Zoo in February, already have been resettled in the park.

Upon his arrival, Israeli authorities put Didgee in quarantine for six weeks. When his isolation ends, he will meet his prospective mates, and they can kick back in the Beit Shean valley and talk about the old days in Sydney and Melbourne.

It’s estimated that Didgee has been photographed more than 10,000 times by enthusiastic tourists in Australia. He will have some time to rest and recuperate from his trip before delighting the 80,000 annual visitors to Gan Garoo, a four-acre park fully recognized by the Australian Wildlife Authority. Gan Garoo is a little slice of Australia in the middle of Israel, which even has a plaque in memory of the Australian athletes who lost their lives when a bridge collapsed during the opening ceremony of the 1997 Maccabiah Games, said Gan Garoo administrator Yehuda Gat, who started the park.

Australia does not export many koalas and they need special care, said Chandi De Alwis, Melbourne Zoo’s native mammal expert.

"However, they have bred very successfully overseas and I hope Gan Garoo will be home to many generations," De Alwis said. "They are delightful animals, loved by park visitors. In these difficult times, I hope they will bring some joy to the troubled Israelis."

Koalas are not really bears but rather marsupials, like kangaroos. They are born after 34 days gestation, and live in their mother’s pouches until they are almost 6 months old.

However, Didgee will be a little confused: In Australia it’s spring, the koalas’ mating season, but it’s autumn in Israel.

"They will adjust and when spring comes round, Cindy and Mindy should have no worries, mate," De Alwis said.

Didgee is looking forward to the day he can leave the quarantine cage to snuggle up with his two Sheilas in the shade of a eucalyptus tree, and learn to say "Shalom" as well as "G’day."

Zoo Rebbe


When Natan and Tali Slifkin were married in Los Angeles last year, their friends turned up in Disneyland animal suits. It was not your classic Orthodox wedding.

When Natan Slifkin was a child in England 20 years ago, his parents said he could keep any pet he liked as long as it was in a cage. They drew the line, he said, at tarantulas and snakes. So he kept those hidden in his room. One day, a giant monitor lizard escaped and was found in his mother’s bed.

At Manchester Jewish Grammar School, he always said he wanted to work in a zoo. “People said that’s ridiculous,” he recalled. “They thought I would be a good Jewish boy and go into computer programming.” He wasn’t put off that easily.

Now, 25 and living in Israel, Slifkin not only works as a guide and lecturer at the ambitious, landscaped Tisch Family Zoo, he teaches a course on zoos and Jews at the Ohr Samayach outreach yeshiva. He is modern Hebrew “Natan” at the zoo, Yiddish “Nosson” at the yeshiva.

With the punning delight of a Talmudic prodigy, he calls his enterprise “Zoo Torah” (zu is Hebrew for “this is”). At a recent party to launch a slim volume he wrote on “Biblical perspectives on the zoo,” a boa constrictor he was fondling struck at Uri Lupoliansky, the ultra-Orthodox deputy mayor of Jerusalem and founder of the Yad Sarah medical charity. Happily, it missed.

After high school, Slifkin studied in yeshivas in England and Israel. “In Jerusalem,” he said, “I started looking for what the Torah and the Talmud say about nature. I was overwhelmed by how much there was and how profound. It deepened my appreciation of the natural world.”

At the same time, the slender, loquacious, ever-curious yeshiva bocher took a course for volunteer guides at the zoo, which was known in an earlier incarnation as the “Biblical Zoo” and still cites scriptural texts on the labels adorning its cages and enclosures.

“I suggested expounding the biblical theme of the zoo more,” he said. “I wanted to show religious perspectives on animals, that each animal teaches us a different lesson.”

Asked for an example during a stroll through the zoo on a chilly, sunny winter morning, he quoted the Talmud: “Had the Torah not been written, we would have learned modesty from the cat and the prohibition against stealing from the ant.” God uses the massive but grass-eating hippo to teach Job humility.

Warming to his theme, Slifkin pointed to laws about treating animals kindly. For instance, before taking eggs from a nest, you have to scare away the mother bird to avoid causing her distress. The Torah forbids yoking two different species to the plow because the slower one might suffer. Before sitting down for lunch, you have to feed your animals.

The zoo rebbe has a talmudic answer, too, for skeptics who ask why we should bother saving the lesser spotted toad: “The tradition teaches that everything in the world has a purpose, even if we don’t know what it is,” Slifkin said. “There is a beautiful midrash that when God created Adam he showed him round and said, ‘Look at this beautiful world I’ve created. Take care not to damage it.'”

Slifkin is a self-taught zoologist. He reads everything he can lay his hands on and sees no need to pursue his study at university, not that he is averse to secular learning. His father, Michael, is a physics professor at Machon Lev, a Jerusalem college that combines high tech and Talmud.

The younger Slifkin makes a living giving “Zoo Torah” tours to students and adults. Last year a Jewish day school in San Diego invited him to run a two-week program for the community there. This spring, he will be lecturing in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, and again in San Diego.

He has also written three books, all published in English by the religious Targum press of Jerusalem. The first was “Seasons of Life,” a naturalist’s guide through the Jewish year. Then came the zoo book, “In Noah’s Footsteps.”

This month, Targum brought out “The Science of Torah,” in which Slifkin tackles the thorny issues of evolution and religion. Unlike many in his ultra-Orthodox world, Slifkin contends that they can be reconciled. In his study in Jerusalem’s religious Har Nof suburb, he proudly displayed a dinosaur’s tooth.

Without giving too much away, he explained: “There are eight different concepts of evolution. I discuss them all, and the age of the universe. Are all living creatures descended from a single ancestor? If so, how did it happen? Darwin said we have a common ancestor. I’ve got an explanation.”

When I protested that B’reishis (Genesis) details the creation of different species, day by day, one after the other, he put me right: “Maimonides says that B’reishis should not be taken at face value. There’s little in evolutionary theory that contradicts Judaism.”

Maybe, but his hillside apartment is strangely bereft of beasties. Tali, his bride of a few months, put her foot down. Animal pictures, yes. Stuffed animals, yes. A fish tank, maybe. But no cats, no dogs, let alone tarantulas, snakes or monitor lizards.

For more, see the Zoo Torah Web site: www.zootorah.com