ashes and snow

I don’t know, but at least it gives me some reason to post about this amazing article on elephants in the NYTimes (very long, very worth it). Between social structure, funeral rites and reactions to psychological trauma, elephants, on top of being sublimely beautiful creatures, have so much more human-like complexity than I ever really thought to imagine.

However, due to poaching, culling and habitat loss, the intricate elephant social structure, which works like a tribal village, is breaking down. As a result, elephants, particularly those who witness the killing of a parent or other traumatic event, are starting to behave more and more like humans with post traumatic stress disorder and lashing out at captors.

As a Jew soon traveling to regions where transportation by domesticated elephants is not only a popular tourist activity, but in some cases, the only way to get somewhere, it raised certain ethical issues.

In Judaism, our relationship to animals is an important, albeit rarely discussed issue. If you want a good read on the subject from a Torah perspective I hear this one from controversial evolution-is-compatible-with-Judaism “Zoo Rabbi” Natan Slifkin is a good one.

The above photo is taken from an exhibit of The Nomadic Museum called Ashes and Snow. If it comes to an area near you, do not let anything keep you from seeing it.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • A quote from the article: “They’d just throw hand grenades at the elephants, bring whole families down and cut out the ivory.”.

    I had to pause and read that part again. Those people are actually throwing grenades at elephants to get ivory… Even if the elephants would explode in a rain of pure diamonds and gold nuggets, it would still be madness.

    Currently there are programs to listen for transmissions from outer space, with the hope of grabbing an alien message which we would then decipher. While we wait for such a message, maybe it would be good to practice with deciphering the “speech” of elephants and dolphins and other smart mammals.

  • Natan Slifkin’s writings are wonderful reads. We spent hours and hours talking about him last Shavuot. I would recommend them for anyone pondering evolution and Judaism. I personally have no issue, there is a line I am well aware of there I go from science to faith and back again. Science = proof ; faith = hope.

    My dad has a thing for Indians, goes on and on about the land and the animals this and the land and animal that. I remind him, almost point for point; we have the same lore (just monotheistic!). He vents about how we are so abstracted from all this (and he lives in Maine, nowhere near a city). I remind him that, again, the lore is there, and it is up to him to revive and enact the land loving parts of his faith. I even called him Friday to point out he should be celebrating the harvest and dig into the lore Sukkot. I don’t know if I made a dent. It is almost like being an atheist is easy, it take no work to do nothing.

    Tikkun magazine/site has articles dealing with ethical kosher and eco-kosher. The site only has some articles for free, this one is:

    It would seem to me we have a lot to think about regarding animals and the environment in general and our abstraction from it is not unlike that general abstraction in “The West”. Raise your mouse if you have ever killed something warm blooded to eat for a meal. Not too common. I have a hunch that if more people knew where and how the get the food they eat they would be a lot nicer to animals.

  • Some people have tried to answer your question…

    Ignoring idealism, there was a small but statistically significant correlation between misanthropy and support for animal rights…

    (found at an East Carolina Univ. prof’s page, third link down.)

    …but there was no relationship among people who are idealistic in general. The Elephant Sanctuary it mentions is a very cool place.