Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post
Ari Zivitovsky is a little like Indiana Jones. But the scientist rabbi is not in search of The Ark of the Covenant; instead, he travels the world looking for kosher animals. Zivitovsky and his partner, Rabbi Ari Greenspan, have come head to head with some incredible and exotic creatures, some of which you may have never even heard of.
Zivitovsky has a PhD in biomedical engineering and is a senior lecturer in brain science at Bar Ilan University. Greenspan is a practicing dentist in Jerusalem.
Zivitovsky and Greenspan met as children in New York and have been going on Jewish adventures together ever since. When they were studying together as teenagers, a slaughterer came to their yeshiva to demonstrate kaparot. The two teenagers were interested in seeing what the insides of a bird looked like. The shochet saw their interest and encouraged them to become shochtim. So they did.
The two newly certified shochtim found themselves asking lots of kosher questions. So they traveled the world in search of answers.
The two men have traveled to four continents on their kosher animal quest. They have been to Turkey in search of the Talmudic Shiboota fish, they have been to Cyprus in search of grasshoppers, and most recently, researched giraffes here in Israel. When a giraffe died in a zoo in Ramat Gan, Zivitovsky was given permission to dissect the dead giraffe to further his knowledge of kashrut. Yes, a giraffe is kosher. It chews its cud, has cloven hooves and it only eats plants. These traits make it a kosher animal. So then, one might ask why we can’t buy giraffes at our local meat market. Zivitovsky explains that they are not endangered, they have no natural enemies, and no one hunts them, so in many ways they are an ideal animal to eat. However, the problem is that giraffes are so strong they could kill an adult lion with one kick. You would need to restrain it in order to kill it in the kosher way. Could you imagine having to restrain a giraffe and then climbing three meters in order to slaughter it? The conclusion therefore is that it is not practical to kill giraffes for food.
What do Zivitovsky and Greenspan do with all of their kosher knowledge? Since 2002, they have been hosting a series of very unique dinner parties, where they introduce weird kosher foods to the diner participants. At the first dinner the menu included pigeon, sparrow, water buffalo, fallow deer and red deer, muscovy duck, partridge and pheasant. â€œNearly one hundred people filled the restaurant to hear over two hours of lectures and eat a thirteen course meal,â€ says Zivitovsky. â€œHad I been cooking, I would have just cooked all thirteen types of birds in one big pot. But we found a master chef, Moshe Basson, who prepared each one differently.â€
And for dessert? Grasshoppers! I was shocked that ten to fifteen percent of the participants actually tried them, said Zivitovsky.