Saturday, July 5, 2008

Jews and Ostriches

Jews and ostriches... what comes to mind?

Well, there's discussion in the Torah of ostriches - in Vayikra they are listed as being non-kosher, and they are mentioned in the book of Iyov and other places as being cruel.

Then there is the old custom in some parts of the world to hang ostrich eggs in shuls. This is due to the ancient belief that ostriches incubate their eggs by staring at them, emitting energy from their eyes. Accordingly, ostrich eggs were hung in shuls to remind people of the power of kavanah.

But here in South Africa, there's a different connection between ostriches and Jews. At the turn of the twentieth century, ostrich feathers were all the rage in women's fashions. A town called Oudtshoorn in South Africa emerged as the ostrich farming capital of the world, and it was a business that was dominated by Jews. The Jews of Oudtshoorn were very religious, and the town became such a center of Torah that it became known as "the Jerusalem of Africa."

Ostrich feathers have long since fallen out of fashion, and the Jewish community of Oudtshoorn now numbers only fourteen families, all religious. The book pictured above is a commemoration of the remarkable days of the ostrich Jerusalem in Africa.

(Thanks to the Jewish Museum of Cape Town for permission to take this picture.)


Zach Kessin said...

that is very cool.

BTW have you ever done any astronomy? Next time you have some free time in Israel would you like to, I always love showing the night sky to someone new.

Anonymous said...

"Jews and ostriches... what comes to mind?"

Ooh! Ooh!


What did I win? ;-)