We know animals can’t speak in language, yet talking dogs are a perennial staple of the best seller lists. Animals are not like us, yet humans still desire to have a connection with them, to
communicate across species. Repeatedly, in the Bible, humans seem to need animals to express what might otherwise be unsaid.
I grew up as a vegetarian in India. However, after I came to the United States, my eating habits changed. As long as I could make a distinction between the meat, fish and fowl on my plate from the cow with a bolt shot through its head, or the fish gasping for breath on the boat deck or the bird with its head cut off and spurting blood, I was able to eat flesh and fish. Once I lost the ability to do this, though, I was drawn irresistibly back to the vegetarianism of my youth.
He was speaking English, but the words just weren’t registering. Here I was, in the inner sanctum, the book and artifact-lined Mount Scopus office of my academic idol, the man I hoped would be my mentor. And he was saying what? “Mr. Epstein, I have been studying Hebrew illuminated manuscripts for over 50 years, and I can assure you that no image of any animal in these works has any significance beyond the decorative.”
Where I come from, people don’t like dogs much. I grew up in Flatbush in the 1950s, in an Orthodox home. My parents were both from Crown Heights, a generation removed from the shtetl. I was raised to be terrified of dogs.
Old joke: A baptized Jew is lambasted by his former yeshiva pal for becoming a goy—“You, the Talmudic prodigy, how could you leave it all behind?!” Replies the apostate: “Moish, relax, I’m still afraid of dogs.”
One day in the fall of 1939, llamas, camels, ostriches, antelopes and foxes scrambled down the alleyways and cobblestone streets of Warsaw’s Old Town. These animals were fleeing, after Nazi bombs devastated the Warsaw Zoo.