In the ḥasidic enclave of Borough Park, Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch presides over Torah Animal World, part of his Living Torah Museum, which was named “Best Museum in New York” by the Village Voice. The exhibits, all of which are interactive, include displays created from stuffed animals and ancient artifacts with varying degrees of connection to the Bible. Jamie Manelis writes:
[Deutsch’s] interest in using taxidermy animals . . . began with his innate need to teach. On realizing the important roles specific animals played in the Torah, [he] wanted to create a multi-sensory approach to teach children about them. Opening a zoo in Borough Park would be complicated at best. He found a loophole. “We did the next best thing using taxidermy animals. We’ve never killed an animal—I don’t believe in killing animals [other than for food]. I do believe that if they’re already dead and available, let’s use them for education.”
Rabbi Deutsch balances his creative needs with philanthropic endeavors. On top of maintaining [the museum] he runs Oneg Shabbos, a food program for the hungry and homeless. The largest food pantry in Brooklyn, [it] helps feed over 1,100 families on a weekly basis, [r]egardless of . . . religious affiliation. . . . He also runs a burial program for people who can’t afford proper funerals. . . .
Most museums are cold, bright, and almost sterile due to the fragility of art, handled with delicate hands and admired in silence. The Living Torah Museum feels just the opposite. It’s like walking inside of your eccentric grandfather’s living room. Deutsch’s hands-on approach doesn’t only satisfy a historical curiosity; it forces a new connection to items lost in the vacuum of time. Cradling a perfume bottle excavated from King Tut’s tomb cultivates a new sense of understanding—something you could never experience by simply peering through a glass barrier. “Perfume bottle.” Rabbi Deutsch inspects a brown withered object and shakes it. “You hear that? Dried perfume! Here, hold it,” he says, shoving it into my hands.