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Monday, April 07, 2008

Feeling like a monkey's...

... dentist?!

I bet you thought I was going to say 'uncle', right?

Well, it turns out my dentist (who is also a close friend and neighbor), moonlights on the side treating patients over at Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo.  Of course, anyone who knows Dr. Ari Greenspan isn't a bit surprised by this news.

Here is Ari working on one of his patients:


Of course, it isn't until you pull back a bit that it becomes clear he is working on a monkey (actually a 19-year-old mandril monkey named Shiroko):


Considering that the appointment book for Dr. Greenspan's Malcha office is usually full for weeks in advance, one could be forgiven for wondering why he would bother doing this sort of thing.   That is, if one didn't really know Ari Greenspan.

I have been friends with Ari and his wife for over 20 years (and our daughters are friends/classmates), and at this point nothing about him surprises me.

In addition to being a highly sought-after dentist with a showplace office that looks like it could be used to host fancy dinner parties (which it has, by the way), Ari is also a fully qualified Mohel (he circumcised our son Yonah) and a highly skilled Shochet (a person who is trained/certified to slaughter animals in a kosher manner).  As if that weren't enough, he and his wife Shari are also incredibly gifted artists who work with a wide array of media (stained glass, metal, paints, etc.) to create breathtaking masterpieces.

Yes, I know... that's an odd assortment of skill-sets for one person to acquire.  But again, if you knew Ari, it would all make perfect sense.  You see, he simply doesn't understand that mental roadblock in most people's daydreams where we say to ourselves "Hey, wouldn't that be neat?" before going back to our regularly scheduled lives.  He's one of those people who actually says "Hey, wouldn't that be neat?"... and then goes and does it!

Here are a couple of his better known, ""Hey, wouldn't that be neat?" musings that have been added to his list of accomplishments:

1.  Several years ago, Ari and a friend (Dr. Ari Zivotofsky), were discussing the fact that due to the migration of the world's Jewish communities to more concentrated urban and suburban settings, most of the more exotic birds that were technically kosher were no longer being shechted (slaughtered) and consumed. 

Think about it... aside from chicken, turkey (a story all its own), duck and the occasional goose, what other fowl do  kosher Jews eat?  Pheasant? No.  Partridge? No.  Guinea Fowl?  Dove?  No.  Sparrow?  No!  The list goes on, but the answer remains the same; no, no and no. 

Here's the problem.  Unlike large animals and fish where the Torah gives specific 'signs' so we'll know what is kosher and what is not... the kosher birds are actually listed by name.   So what happens when a couple of generations go by without any Jews eating a particular bird... or even calling it by its proper Biblical name?  You got it... once the Jewish community loses the 'mesora' (tradition) of recognizing and eating a particular bird, it can no longer be reliably called kosher.

So Ari and his friend went around interviewing old retired 'shochtim' (ritual slaughterers) from various North Africa and Yemenite Jewish communities.  They showed these old men drawings and photographs... and asked them if they recognized the birds.  If they did, the next questions were 'what is it's name?', and 'did you ever slaughter and eat this kind of bird?'

Once they had collected enough reliable testimony, they organized a series of 'Mesorah' dinners in Israel and the US.  They invited prominent Rabbis and community representatives to come and eat these exotic species of fowl (PETA would have a fit if they knew), so that the tradition of these birds being kosher could be extended for at least another generation.  You can read more about these Mesorah dinners by scrolling down to the 'Mesorah and Kashrut' section of his website.

2.  Another passion of Ari's has been the rediscovery and reintroduction of the Biblical blue dye called Tekhelet.  In the third blessing of the 'Shema' prayer, we find the following: 

"Speak to the Children of Israel and bid them that they make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue (tekhelet). And it shall be for you as a fringe, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d, and do them..." (Numbers 15:38-39)

But after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and exile of the Jews from the traditional dye centers in what is today the coastal areas of northern Israel and southern Lebanon, the source of this special dye was lost.  So, for more than two thousand years Jews have been wearing white fringes on their garments with no blue string.

Ari and several friends spent years playing detective and reviewing sources and leads from previous people who have searched for the identity of the mysterious 'Hillazon' which was the source of the special dye. 

I can't do the story justice here but you can read about their triumphant discoveries here on the Tekhelet site.  Simply put, they amassed an amazing volume of compelling evidence to suggest that the 'Hillazon' was in fact a marine snail called 'Murex trunculus' which is native to the Mediterranean.  One of the more compelling bits of evidence was turned up in archaeological digs in Northern Israel that revealed mounds of 'murex' snail shells with a hole punched in the shell exactly where one would need to access the dye gland... as well as massive dying vats nearby stained a vibrant blue.

But discovering the truth after all these years wasn't enough for these sleuths.  Once they had identified the source of the dye and established that the Hillazon was the real deal, they realized that they had an opportunity to reestablish the practice of a long-neglected biblical mitzvah (commandment).   So they founded a factory to manufacture the dyed strings (tzitzit) for tying onto ritual prayer shawls (Tallit), and the rest, as they say, is history!

I haven't even scratched the surface of the wacky stuff my friend Ari has gotten involved with over the years... trekking through Spain, Portugal and Morocco in search of historical tidbits about the expelled Iberian Jewish community... searching throughout Europe for information about baking Matzoh (Ari has a matzoh oven in his yard and we bake for our own needs every year a day before Passover)... and on and on. 

I've even drafted him as an assistant beekeper when the kids have been unavailable to help me with my hives, knowing full well that Ari is up for literally anything on a moment's notice!

I keep telling him that he should write a book about his experiences... but the truth is that just the table of contents and index would take up several volumes!

It goes without saying that Ari Greenspan has my full confidence as a dentist (my whole family goes to him), so if you ever find yourself in his chair, forget about the movies or music he has on hand to help his patients to pass the time.  Instead, ask him about his latest adventure.  I guarantee it will be better than any movie or book you've ever read... and it just might make you consider turning your own daydreams into reality.

Here's one more shot of Ari with yet another patient from the animal kingdom...so yes, I suppose you could call him a monkey's uncle:


Like I said... go over to his web site and explore.  I live vicariously through his adventures.

To visit Ari on the web, you can go to his eclectic (to say the least) web site.

To visit him in real life (IRL):

Dr. Ari Greenspan
Gan Technology, Malcha -מלחה , גן טכנלוגי
The Tower floor 5 - קומה 5
Jerusalem - י-ם
02-679-8059 fax
[email protected]

Posted by David Bogner on April 7, 2008 | Permalink


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What an accomplished person. People like him always amaze me (and make me feel a bit inadequate, to be honest).

Does he practise in J-m? He sounds like he's worth the trip for my bi-annual teeth cleaning.

Posted by: Baila | Apr 7, 2008 1:26:16 PM

Baila... Yes, his offices are right across the street from the Malcha mall (the tall green glass building called the Gan Technelogi). You definitely should... if for no other reason than to experience his gorgeous office. It's like a museum!

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 7, 2008 1:37:16 PM

We recently had the incredible luck to be sitting at a Shabbat lunch table with the Greenspans at a mutual friend's bar-mitzva. Ari delighted us with a riveting story of his adventures in Ethiopia, including an amazing tale of the Yom Kippur services there with a wide mix of Jews and non-Jews, as well other equally astounding stories. He and his wife are just about the coolest folks we've met.

Posted by: yonah | Apr 7, 2008 1:46:34 PM

Blimey, that's excellent! Do you know, I find human dentistry absolutely dull and cannot understand how anyone will go through med school to end up with teeth only but veterinary dentistry is fascinating! Isn't that daft? I love, love, love teeth cleaning, such instant satisfaction! There's a book by a British dentist (human but has been working with animals all over the world for years) that i desperately want but it's sold out everywhere.

Oh, lucky him! Please tell him that Portugal now has a fan base and he must, therefore, expand his vet page. I might die otherwise. LITERALLY.

Posted by: Lioness | Apr 7, 2008 2:02:10 PM

I just read about Kosher Tea. Didn't know about it.

Posted by: Rami | Apr 7, 2008 3:26:06 PM

If Ari ever started a blog, the rest of us could retire


(You have left out at least a dozen other hobbies of his...)

Posted by: Jameel @ The Muqata | Apr 7, 2008 3:37:59 PM

yonah... Like I said, I've known him for over two decades and he hasn't had to repeat a story yet. :-)

Lioness... You two would get on famously. Not only would you connect on the animal level (er, meaning he'd find your being a veterinary student fascinating), but one of his deep interests has been researching crypto Jews in Portugal. When you come for a visit, I will have to get you two together!

Rami... Not to worry. The big concern is with flavoured teas. We are going to enjoy the Kenyan tea you brought us. :-)

Jameel @ The Muqata... Luckily he's too busy living life to bother writing about it. Hmm, maybe we're doing something wrong. >:-(

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 7, 2008 4:00:04 PM

Wow. I have know Ari for at least 20 years. I was a shabbat guest in his home when I was in Israel the year after high school (1989 if you must know) because I knew him and his father Colonel Greenspan from when they lived in Elizabeth NJ many years ago.

I am glad you are able to get what you can into written word!

Posted by: Aharon | Apr 7, 2008 4:48:35 PM

Kudos to Dr. Greenspan! Does he take any of the kupot? I like my dentist at Meuchedet OK, but will happily switch if possible.

Also - those monkey's are so cute! Made my day to see the picture of Ari holding that adorable little guy in the wee white sweatshirt.

Posted by: Sarah | Apr 7, 2008 8:05:54 PM

Very cool! I had read about the "kosher Mesorah" dinners in one of the local Jewish Magazines (Jewish Observer?), and enjoyed the article immensely (PETA, nothing... IIRC, some of the birds served at the dinner were on the "endagered species" list, and required a special governmental waiver to serve). Dr. Zivotofsky is a pretty eclectically well-versed individual as well; if memory serves, he used to write a regular feature on "halachik myths" that I read regularly.

Of course, I couldn't let your note about R' Greenspan being a dentist, a shochet, and a mohel pass by without noting that my original reaction was "boy! I hope he never gets those tools mixed up!"

Posted by: efrex | Apr 7, 2008 8:15:37 PM

You seem to be cut out of the same cloth (i.e. someone who comes up with ideas and actually implements them). You may have always been this way, but it seems to me like you've really blossomed (right word for a guy?) when you got to Israel.

Posted by: mata hari | Apr 7, 2008 9:24:19 PM

A renaissance man! Wow, what a privilege to have him as a friend, and yes an inspiration for the rest of us to get off our derrieres and do something more with our lives.

Posted by: Noa | Apr 7, 2008 9:37:04 PM

It's a second generation Monkey thing. Ask Ari about his father an the monkey at YU.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Apr 8, 2008 12:19:55 AM

Ari also plays guitar. And BTW, his wife is a beautiful singer.

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Apr 8, 2008 12:21:40 AM

Oh yeah, he also is a magician.
And has done some research on the Kosher forms of Sturgeon

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Apr 8, 2008 12:23:10 AM

What a beautiful piece you wrote about him. I was inspired enough to watch the video about The Mystery of Tekhelet, which was amazingly interesting. I remember way back my rabbi discussing why we don't have the blue in our tzitit and wondering exactly why and my thinking there has to be a way to get it. What I would have given to be a part of that. And everything else! He is the definition of freedom! I could feel a bit intimidated by all that, but I think I am going to be motivated to do (actually) something instead.

Posted by: arrrteest | Apr 8, 2008 1:29:34 AM

Well, I'll say it - I'll be a Monkey's uncle - darn if right before I visited your blog, I was checking out online the Monkey park - Afrikef.

I'm hoping this adorable park isn't related to the controversial - Monkey Farm.

Posted by: Jaime | Apr 8, 2008 2:56:03 AM

This is the link to the factory ...


Posted by: Jaime | Apr 8, 2008 3:25:43 AM

Wow. Talk about closing circles.

I work next to Shari.

And... those who know me, if you listen carefully to the narration on the Tekhelet video, the narrator's voice may sound familiar. :-)

Posted by: Rahel | Apr 8, 2008 1:38:00 PM

Aharon... Yes, while his parent snow live here in Israel, I first met them when they were living in Fairfield CT not too far from us.

Sarah... I don't think he is associated with any of the Kupot, but a call to his office would be a quick way to find out for sure.

efrex... Funny, when we were standing next to each other before he performed Yonah's 'bris', I whispered to him "You brought the right knife right?" :-)

mata hari... I would n't go that far, but I will say that more often than not, when I feel myself pulling back from something that could turn out to be a real adventure I like to ask myself what Ari would do.

Noa... Well said.

Jordan Hirsch... So you're saying the monkey doesn't fall far from the tree? ;-)

arrrteest... As you can see from her comment, one of my fellow bloggers (Rahel) provided the voice you hear on the Tekhelet video. Small world.

Jaime... I couldn't say.

Rahel... They didn't ask you to provide music for the soundtrack too? :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 8, 2008 2:47:56 PM

This is very interesting. My father is a frum Veterinarian in the Greater Washington DC area. I will be sure to share this post with him. He will most definitely be interested...

Posted by: Ibn Mordechai | Apr 9, 2008 9:11:53 AM

Oh also, he was my parents dentist as well. They LOVED him!!!

Posted by: Jordan Hirsch | Apr 10, 2008 2:38:33 AM

Hey - he's almost as interesting as the mohel for your older son, Gilad!

Just kidding...

Hope you guys are doing well,


Posted by: Zev Zions | Apr 14, 2008 7:42:16 PM

COOL! What an amazing man! I'm particularly fascinated with the punctured snail shells that were found.

And... COOL! The woman in the surgery photos is my cousin, Dr. Elizabeth (Elisheva) Kaufman, a wildlife vet at the Biblical Zoo! Makes me wonder how many frum, female, wildlife veterinarians there are in the world ;)

Posted by: Alissa | Apr 17, 2008 4:39:03 AM

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