In the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch runs two museums side by side on the corner of 41st Street and 16th Avenue. Torah Animal World and the Living Torah Museum are some of the most off-the-beaten path museums in New York City you can find. In fact, the off-beat Village Voice called Torah Animal World “one of the weirdest and most glorious museums this weird and glorious city has ever seen.” These quirky museums are featured in our guidebook Secret Brooklyn.
Torah Animal World, filled with at least $1.5 million in taxidermied animals, aims to have every animal and bird mentioned in the Torah on exhibit. All the animals died naturally in zoos or gaming reserves and are shown in “true-to-life” poses. Animals on display include lions, giraffes, a zebra, a black bear, a llama on skis, a penguin, bison, fish with incredibly scary teeth and much more. There are technically separate exhibitions, organized by Rabbinic literature — animals of the Mishna, the tiny animals of the Sheratzim within the Torah, and animals mentioned in prayers. Another location of Torah Animal World is in the Catkills, featuring animals of the Mishna and animals of the Talmud.
The aim of both Torah Animal World goes beyond the bizarre. Deutsch started the museum as a way to teach children with dyslexia and learning disabilities about the Torah visually. He suffered from dyslexia himself as a child but can read numerous ancient languages. He thought that if children could touch things, they would be able to remember them differently. “We believe that if you can touch history, history will touch you,” he says. Everything in the museum can be touched, the visitors who come to the museum can actually hold some of the animals as well.
Connected to Torah Animal world is The Living Torah Museum, full of antiquities. There’s a Mesopotamian clay cuneiform tablet from around 2037 B.C.E., a 3000 year old wooden stylus, a 2,300 year old Greek soldier’s helmet and sword, Egyptian headrests, a Persian King’s scepter, and even an ancient Egyptian beer jug. Additional artifacts come from the era of the Mishna/Talmud, from about 200 to 500 C.E.
World’s Smallest Torah
The Living Torah Museum also has the distinction of holding the world’s smallest torah, created much more recently in about 2009. The scroll, made by Y. Chatzkelson Silversmiths, is only two inches tall. The rollers are made of sterling silver and the text is 1/32 of an inch high, painstakingly written on the vellum parchment with the help of a magnifying glass. The Torah comes in a silver ark and bima, with a magnifying glass included. The miniature Torah took several years to make and is certified by an Israeli verification expert. It was originally commissioned by a man in upstate New York, who worked with different artisans to create the final product.
The Torah was sold at an auction for $150,000 and then donated to the Living Torah Museum. As a testament to the “living” part of the museum’s name, the mini Torah is used every week for afternoon prayer during Shabbat, read by someone with 20/20 vision.
The Living Torah Museum and Torah Animal World are open for visits by appointment.
Here are additional photographs from the museum: