JACKAL (Heb. שׁוּעָל, Shu'al; av, jps "fox"). The jackal, Canis aureus, is the most prevalent beast of prey in Ereẓ Israel. Being omnivorous, it is encountered most commonly near inhabited areas, where it feeds on fruit, vegetables, offal, and carrion, whence the phrase "to become a portion for jackals" (Ps. 63:11). It also preys on small animals. The howl of packs of jackals used to pierce the night air near settlements in Israel. The damage they caused to vineyards and vegetables and the danger of their infecting dogs with rabies resulted in efforts to exterminate them by means of poisoned bait. The biblical name for a jackal is a complex problem. Given that Akkadian zību means jackal, it is possible that Hebrew zeʾev has the same sense. Most of the passages that speak of shu'al apparently referto the jackal and only some of them to the *fox, which usually lives in isolated places far from human habitation. Given the oft-cited classical parallel in Ovid (Fast, 4:679ff.) that Romans sent out foxes with torches burning in their tails at the festival of Ceres, the 300 animals that Samson caught (Judg. 15:4) were probably foxes. The jackal is a cowardly nocturnal animal that usually shuns humans, being only dangerous to human beings when rabid. Hence the reference to "the bite of the shu'al," which is attended with grave peril (Avot 2:10). It is very closely related to the dog and sometimes the two mate. The Mishnah states that they are heterogeneous (Kil. 1:6), i.e., that it is forbidden to interbreed them. In modern Hebrew the jackal is called tan, but this word, mentioned several times in the Bible, refers there to an animal that inhabits deserts and ruins (Isa. 13:22; Micah 1:8); associated always with nocturnal birds, it designates a species of *owl.
J. Feliks, Animal World of the Bible (1962), 36–37; idem, Kilei Zera'im ve-Harkavah (1967), 122–3. add. bibliography: cad z, 106.
jackal, name for several Old World carnivorous mammals of the genus Canis, which also includes the dog and the wolf. Jackals are found in Africa and S Asia, where they inhabit deserts, grasslands, and brush country. They are similar in size to the North American prairie wolf, or coyote, and like the coyote, they howl and yap before the evening hunt. Renowned as scavengers, jackals also hunt small animals such as rodents and gazelle fawns. Pairs generally mate for life; they forage by night and spend the day in holes or with a litter hidden in brush. The black-backed jackal, Canis mesomelas, the simian jackal, C. simensis, and the side-striped jackal, C. adustus, are found only in Africa; they are territorial and form complex social groups. The golden, or Asian, jackal, C. aureus, is found in S Asia and parts of N Africa; they usually hunt in small packs. Jackals are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Canidae.
See J. L. Gittleman, Carnivore Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution (1989).
jack·al / ˈjakəl/ • n. a slender, long-legged wild dog (genus Canis) that feeds on carrion, game, and fruit and often hunts cooperatively, found in Africa and southern Asia. Four species include the black-backed jackal (C. mesomelas).
The name is recorded in English from the early 17th century; by the end of the century, it was used to denote a person seen as behaving like a jackal, especially one in a subservient relation to another. More recently, it has acquired connotations of cunning and treachery.