Jan 31, 2008 — What do dragons, unicorns, and mermaids have to do with Torah? Rabbi Natan Slifkin, affectionately known as the “Zoo Rabbi,” addressed the subject in a lecture as part of Stern College for Women’s first Torah Umadda Week, February 4-6.

Rabbi Slifkin and two other renowned researchers—Nathan Aviezer, professor of physics at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and Edward I. Reichman, MD, professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine—spoke about cutting-edge issues at the intersection of science and Torah. The week’s events were cosponsored by the biology department, Stern College for Women, and the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies, and organized by Harvey Babich, PhD, professor of biology.

Rabbi Slifkin’s lecture, “Sacred Monsters: The Fabulous Jewish Creatures of Harry Potter,” on February 4 was based on his recent book, Sacred Monsters. His talk investigated the bizarre animals that are mentioned in Torah literature, such as dragons, phoenixes, griffins, fireproof salamanders, and mermaids.

“All the famous creatures of myth and legend are to be found in the Torah, Talmud and Midrash,” Rabbi Slifkin said. “But what are we to make of them? Do they really exist? Did the Torah scholars of old believe in their existence? And if not, why did they describe these creatures?”

Rabbi Slifkin is well known for his expertise in the animals mentioned in the Torah. He has authored Nature’s Song; Man and Beast; The Camel, the Hare, and the Hyrax; The Science of Torah; and The Challenge of Creation.

In “On Contradictions Between Torah and Science: The Creation of the Universe” on February 5, Dr. Aviezer, former chairman of the physics department of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, asked whether the beginning of the Book of Genesis can be accepted as a valid description of the origin of the universe.

“Recent discoveries show that the first chapter of Genesis records the events that actually occurred in the past,” Dr. Aviezer said. He said that the big bang theory of cosmology, accepted by all cosmologists, buttressed by a wealth of scientific evidence, “agrees in every detail with the Genesis account of the origin and development of the universe.”

In recognition of his important research contributions, Dr. Aviezer was elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a Research Professor of the Royal Society of London. He has a long-standing interest in the relationship between Torah and science, and is the author of In the Beginning: Biblical Creation and Science (translated into nine languages) and Fossils and Faith: Understanding Torah and Science.

Edward I. Reichman, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and associate professor of philosophy and history of medicine at Einstein, discussed “The Halakhic Approach to New Frontiers in Ovarian Preservation and Transplantation” on February 6. Dr. Reichman’s lecture combined medical history, medical Halakhah [Jewish law], and modern medicine in addressing the preservation and transplantation of the human ovary.

Dr. Reichman, who received his rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1997, teaches Jewish medical ethics at Einstein (of which he is a 1990 graduate). He has authored several articles on Halakhah and medicine.

“Since the field of assisted reproduction began a few decades ago, advances are being made at an astounding pace,” he said. “This field of research poses unique challenges for the Torah-observant Jew.”