Animals of the Bible and Talmud

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ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE AND TALMUD . Although no basic changes have occurred in the faunistic composition of Ereẓ Israel since biblical times, an examination of the names of the animals mentioned in the Bible and in talmudic literature reveals that a number of wild animals have disappeared from the country's landscape in fairly recent times. This applies particularly to cloven-hoofed ruminant wild animals. Of the nine such animals referred to in the Bible as permitted for food, namely, the deer, gazelle, and fallow deer, the addax, bison, and oryx, the wild goat, wild ox, and ibex, there survive today in Israel and in the neighboring countries only the gazelle and the ibex. Whereas the wild ox had already disappeared from the confines of the country in early times, the rest of these wild animals were to be found in Ereẓ Israel and neighboring countries until the end of the 19th century. The main reason for the subsequent disappearance of these animals, which were eagerly hunted for their tasty meat, their excellent skins, and their horns, has been the improved means of hunting, particularly the use of the long-range rifle. This has also led to the elimination of the large carnivorous animals – the lion, the bear, the leopard, and the cheetah (though specimens of the last two have survived in the country). The presence of these carnivorous animals in Ereẓ Israel in biblical times has been interpreted as indicating that the country was then sparsely populated and extensively forested. But these animals were also found in Ereẓ Israel in mishnaic and talmudic times, when the country was densely populated. Their dens were the thickets of the Jordan (Jer. 49:19), the Lebanese mountains (Song 4:8), the Syrian desert and the Negev (Isa. 30:6), from which they descended upon populated places. In Crusader times the lion was still to be found in the Negev. Of the Syrian bear some specimens have survived in Syria and in the Lebanese mountains, from where leopards occasionally make their way into Upper Galilee. Whereas the hippopotamus disappeared from the region in very early days, some *crocodiles survived in the western rivers of Ereẓ Israel up to the beginning of the 20th century. The ostrich became extinct in Ereẓ Israel and in the neighborhood several decades ago, and the last wild asses were exterminated in the Syrian desert at the end of the 19th century.

Most domestic animals were domesticated as early as in the pre-biblical period. Prehistoric engravings of camels and cattle have been found on the rocks of Kilweh in Transjordan, and clay images representing cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs dating from the fifth millennium b.c.e. have been uncovered in Jericho. There were domesticated cats in Egypt in the period of the First Dynasty, and images of cats were discovered in an Egyptian temple at Beth-Shean. The Bible makes no mention of the cat, which was apparently not bred to any great extent in Ereẓ Israel. Even in mishnaic times, when the cat was doubtless known in the country, other animals (the mongoose, etc.) were reared for the purpose of catching mice in the home. Several breeds of dogs appear in ancient drawings uncovered in Ereẓ Israel. It is not clear what strains of cattle were raised in Ereẓ Israel in biblical times, but drawings from the mishnaic period depict long-horned, humped cattle, resembling the present-day Zebu cow. There are pictures dating from the 15th century b.c.e. of the black long-eared goat. The broad-tailed sheep was also to be found in Ereẓ Israel and in the neighboring lands in ancient times. The horse was not much used in the country, the donkey and the mule having been preferred instead. The dove was domesticated in very olden days. The raising of fowl is attested by a seal which dates from the period of the kingdom of Israel and on which a cock is engraved. For royal and princely courts playful and ornamental animals, such as monkeys, elephants, and peacocks, were imported.

There are some 120 names of animals (excluding synonyms) in the Bible, mammals, birds, and reptiles being well represented. (See Table: Animals in the Bible.) Of the 86 mammals, 359 birds, and 76 species of reptiles of Ereẓ Israel about 37, 38, and 12 respectively are specified by name in the Bible. It must be stressed that it is only by chance that animals (and also flora) are described in the Bible. The biblical books were written by men who were close to nature and drew their inspiration from it in the consciousness that all these are the works of the Almighty, the expression of His providence over all creation. The portrayal of nature, although generally poetic and allegoric, is organically associated with the real landscape of Ereẓ Israel. In talmudic literature – the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the two Talmuds, and the Midrashim – there are scores of additional names of animals, but the numbers are small compared with the hundreds of names of plants. The reason for this paucity in the animals mentioned in talmudic literature is that the halakhah mentions them in the main only for the laws of sheḥitah and terefot, while the aggadah employed similes from the animal world of the Bible.

Classification of the Animals in the Bible and Talmud

mammals. The Bible uses two terms to denote a mammal. The usual one is בְּהֵמָה (behemah), which refers to both domestic and wild mammals, seven species of the latter being included among the behemah permissible as food (Deut. 14:5). The other is חַיָּה (ḥayyah), which is a term sometimes incorporating domestic and wild animals (Lev. 11:2). Another passage however speaks of "hunting any beast (ḥayyah) or fowl" (Lev. 17:13), where the word refers specifically to a wild mammal. In talmudic literature ḥayyah, a wild mammal, and behemah, a domestic mammal, are clearly distinguished from each other, with different laws applying to each. Whereas the domestic mammal (if belonging to the category of clean animals) may be offered as a sacrifice, has some prohibited fat (ḥelev), and its blood is not required to be covered after slaughter, the wild animal (even though it is permitted for food) is ineligible as a sacrifice, has no prohibited fat, and its blood must be covered after slaughter. The distinction between a ḥayyah and a behemah applies to forbidden animals also. Thus the sages held divergent views on whether a dog is a ḥayyah or a behemah (Kil. 8:6; Tosef. Kil. 5:7). There was some doubt about which category certain animals belonged to. According to one opinion the כּוֹי (koi, also pronounced kavi or kevi), which is "doubtfully a behemah or a ḥayyah," is a hybrid of both (Ḥul. 80a). Similarly with regard to the shor ha-bar, the wild ox, there was uncertainty whether it had always been a wild animal so that the laws of a ḥayyah applied to it or had originally been a domestic animal which had become wild and to which therefore the laws of a behemah would refer. In later generations a similar question arose with regard to the water buffalo. Among the wild animals prime importance was attached to the permissible cloven-hoofed ruminants, which were the choicest game. Of these the Pentateuch (Deut. 14:5) enumerates seven: the *deer, *gazelle, fallow deer, wild goat, addax antelope, bison (*buffalo), and *antelope. Two additional permitted wild animals are mentioned in other biblical passages: the wild ox (*cattle) and the *ibex. As permitted domestic animals, the Bible names *sheep, *goats, and cattle; as prohibited ones, the *horse, *ass, *mule, *camel, and *pig. The ass was the most valuable work animal, and the camel of great importance in areas adjoining desert regions. The mule was used for riding and as a beast of burden, and the horse only for limited purposes. The fierce beasts of prey, although they did not usually inhabit Ereẓ Israel, sometimes penetrated its populated areas from neighboring countries. The *lion, *leopard, *bear, and *wolf, frequently mentioned in biblical parables and allegories as symbols of strength, cruelty, and

English NameScientific NameOrder or FamilyHebrew NameReference
AddaxAddax nasomaculatusRuminantia ArtiodactylaיַחְמוּרDeut. 14:5; I Kings 5:3
AntMessor semirufusFormicidaeנְמָלָהProv. 6:6–8; 30:25
AssEquus asinusEquidaeחֲמוֹרGen. 12:16; 24:35; etc.
עַיִרGen. 32:16; Judg. 5:10; etc.
אָתוֹןGen. 32:16; 49:11; etc.
BatChiropteraChiropteraעֲטַלֵּףLev. 11:19; Isa. 2:20
Bear, SyrianUrsus arctus syriacusUrsidaeרֹּבI Sam. 17:34–7; Hos. 13:8; etc.
BeeApis mellificaHymenopteraרְּבוֹרָהDeut. 1:44; Judg. 14:8; etc.
BeetleCerambyx; CapnodisColeopteraתּוֹלַעַתDeut. 28:39; Jonah 4:7
חִפּוּשִׁיתPar. 9.2
Bison, EuropeanBison bonasusArtiodactyla RuminantiaתְּאוֹDeut. 14:5
תּוֹאIsa. 51:20
Boar, WildSus scrofaArtiodactyla non Ruminantiaחֲזִיר מִיַּעַרPs. 80:14
Buffalo, WaterBos bubalusArtiodactyla RuminantiaמְרִיאII Sam. 6:13; Isa. 1:11
BugCimex lactularisRhynchotaפִּשְׁפֵּשׁTer. 8:2
BuzzardButeo sp.FalconiformesאַיָּהLev. 11:14; Deut. 14:13; Job. 28:7
רָאָהDeut. 14:13
גַּסHul. 3:1
CamelCamelus dromedariusTylopodaגָּמָלGen. 12:16; Lev. 11:4; etc.
בֶּכֶר, בִּכְרָהIsa. 60:6; Jer. 2:23
נַאֲקָהShab. 5:1; Kelim 23:2
CattleBos taurusArtiodactyla RuminantiaבָּקָרGen. 13:5; 18:7; etc.
שׁוֹרGen. 32:6; Ex. 20:17; etc.
אֲלָפִיםDeut. 7:13; 28:4; etc.
אַבִּירִיםIsa. 34:7; Jer. 46:15; etc.
פָּר, פָּרָהGen. 32:16; Judg. 6:25; etc.
עֵגֶל, עֶגְלָהGen. 15:9; Lev. 9:2; etc.
CentipedesScolopendra;Myriapodaמַרְבֵּה רַגְלַיִםLev. 11:42
EraphidostrephusנָדָלMik. 5:3
ChameleonChamaeleon vulgarisChamaelonidae(תִּנְשֶׁמֶת (שֶׁרֶץLev. 11:30
CheetahAcinonyx jubatusFelidaeבַּרְדְּלָסB.K. 1:4; Sanh. 1:4
CobraNaja hajeElapinaeפֶּתֶןDeut. 32:33; Isa. 11:8
שָׂרָףNum. 21:6; Isa. 14:29; etc.
CockGallus gallus domesticusGalliformes? שֶׂכְוִיJob. 38:36
(?) זַרְזִיר מָתְנַיִםProv. 30:31
CoralsCorallium rubrumCoralliacaeפְּנִינִיםLam. 4:7; Prov. 8:11; etc.
CraneGrus grusGruidaeעָגוּרIsa. 38:14; Jer. 8:7
Cricket, MoleGryllotalpa gryllotalpaOrthopteraצְלָצַלDeut. 28:42
Crimson WormKermes biblicusRyncotidaeתּוֹלַעַת שָׁנִיEx. 25:4; Num. 4:8; etc.
כַּרְמִילII Chron. 2:6; 3:14
CrocodileCrocodilus vulgarisCrocodiliaתַּנִּיןEx. 7:9; Jer. 51:34; etc.
לִוְיָתָןJob. 40:25–41:26
Deer, FallowCervus dama damaArtiodactyla RuminantiaיַחְמוּרDeut. 14:5; I Kings 5:3
Deer, RoeCervus capreolusArtiodactyla Ruminantiaאַיָּל, אַיָּלָהDeut. 14:5; Jer. 14:5; etc.
DogCanis familiarisCanidaeכֶּלֶבEx. 22:30; Judg. 7:5; etc.
DoveColumba sp.ColumbiformesיוֹנָהGen. 8:8; 8:12; Isa. 38:14; etc.
EagleAquila sp.FalconiformesעַיִטGen. 15:11; Isa. 18:6; etc.
EarthwormLubricus sp.VermesתּוֹלַעַתIsa. 14:11; 41:14; etc.
Elephant, IvoryElephas africanusProboscidaeפִּילKil. 8:6
שֶׁנְהָבI Kings 10:22; II Chron. 9:21
שֵׁןI Kings 10:18; 22:39; etc.
FishPiscesPiscesדָּג דָּגִיםGen. 9:2; Jonah 2:1; etc.
דָּגָהGen. 1:26; Ex. 7:18; etc.
FleaPulex irritansAphantipteraפַּרְעֹשׁI Sam. 24:14; 26:20; etc.
FlyMusca domesticaDypteraזְבוּבIsa. 7:18; Eccles. 10:1
Fly, DrosophilaDrosophilaDypteraיַבְחוּשׁNid. 3:2
FoxVulpes vulpesCanidaeשׁוּעָלLam. 5:18; Ps. 63:11; etc.
FrogRana esculentaAmphibiaצְפַרְדְּעַEx. 7:27; Ps. 78:45; etc.
GazelleGazella sp.Artiodactyla RuminantiaצְבִיDeut. 12:15; Song 4:5; etc.
GeckoHemidactylus; PtyodoctylusGeckoidaeאֲנָקָהLev. 11:30
שְׂמָמִיתProv. 30:28
GnatCulex; AnophelesDypteraעָרוֹבEx. 8:17; Ps. 78:45; etc.
GoatCapra hircusArtiodactyla RuminantiaעֵזLev. 7:23; Song 4:1; etc.
שָׂעִירGen. 37:31; Lev. 4:28; etc.
תַּיִשׁGen. 30:35; Prov. 30:31; etc.
עַתּוּדִיםGen. 31:10; Jer. 50:8; etc.
Goat, WildCapra aegagrusArtiodactyla RuminantiaאַקּוDeut. 14:5
GooseAnser anser domesticusAnseriformesבַּרְבּוּרI Kings 5:3
אַוָּזBek. 7:4; Shab. 24:3; etc.
Grasshopper, LonghornedTettigonidaeOrthopteraחַרְגּוֹלLev. 11:22
Grasshopper,AcrididaeOrthoptera OrthopteraחָגָבNum. 13:33; Isa. 40:22; etc.
ShorthornedסָלְעָםLev. 11:22
GullLarus sp.LaridaeשַׁחַףLev. 11:16; Deut. 14:15
HareLepus sp.LeporidaeאַרְנֶבֶתLev. 11:6; Deut. 14:7
HawkAccipiter nissusFalconiformesנֵץLev. 11:16; Job. 39:26; etc.
HeronEgretta sp.; Ardea sp.ArdeidaeאֲנָפָהLev. 11:19; Deut. 14:18; etc.
HippopotamusHippopotamus amphibiusArtiodactyla non RuminantiaבְּהֵמוֹתJob. 40:15–23
HorseEquus caballus orientalisEquidaeסוּסGen. 47:17; Ex. 9:3; etc.
פָּרָשׁIsa. 28:28; Ezek. 27:14; etc.
HyenaHyaena hyaenaHyaenidaeצָבוֹעַI Sam. 13:18
Hyrax, SyrianProcavia syriacaHyracoideaשָׁפָןLev. 11:5; Ps. 104:18; etc.
IbexCapra nubianaArtiodactyla Ruminantiaיָעֵל, יַעֲלָהPs. 104:18; Job 39:1; etc.
JackalCanis aureusCanidaeשׁוּעָלJudg. 15:4; Ps. 63:11; etc.
(?) אִיִּיםIsa. 13:22;
KestrelFalco tinnunculusFalconiformesתָּחְמָסLev. 11:16; Deut. 14:15
KiteMilvus sp.FalconiformesדָּאָהLev. 11:14
דָּיָּהDeut. 14:13; Isa. 34:15
LeechHirudo; LimnatisHirudinaeעֲלוּקָהProv. 30:15
LeopardFelis pardus tullianusFelidaeנָמֵרIsa. 11:6; Jer. 13:23; etc.
LionFelis leoFelidaeאֲרִיIsa. 38:13; Amos 3:12; etc.
אַרְיֵהGen. 49:9; Job. 4:10; etc.
כְּפִירEzek. 19:3; Job. 4:10; etc.
לָבִיאGen. 49:9; Isa. 5:29; etc.
לַיִשׁJob. 4:11; Prov. 30:30; etc.
שַׁחַלHos. 5:14; Job 4:10; etc.
LizardLacerta sp.LacertidaeלְטָאָהLev. 11:30
Lizard, DabUromastix aegyptiusAgamidaצָבLev. 11:29
Lizard, MonitorVaranus griseus niloticusVaranidaeכּׁחַLev. 11:30
LocustSchistocerca gregariaOrthopteraאַרְבֶּהEx. 10:11–19; Deut. 28:38; etc.
גָּזָםAmos 4:9; Joel 1:4; 2:25
גּוֹבַיAmos 7:1; Nahum 3:17
חָסִילI Kings 8:37; Joel 1:4; etc.
יֶלֶקJer. 51:14; Joel 1:4; etc.
LouseAnopturaRhynchoidaeכֵּן כִּנִּיםIsa. 51:6; Ex. 8:12
כִּגָּםEx. 8:13–14; etc
MackerelScomber scomberScombridaeקוֹלִיאַס הָאִסְפַּנִיןShab. 22:2
MaggotLucilia sp.; Drosophila sp.DypteraרִמָּהEx. 16:24; Job 7:5; etc.
Mole RatSpalax ehrenbergiRodentiaחֲפַרְמַּרוֹתIsa. 2:20;
אִשּׁוּתKelim, 21:3; M.K. 1:4
MongooseHerpestes ichneumonViverridaeנְמִיָּהB.B. 2, 5
MonkeySimiaAnthropoideaקוֹףI Kings, 10:22; II Chron. 9:21
Moth, CarpenterCossidaeLepidopteraנסֵס ׁIsa. 10:18
Moth, ClothesMicrolepidopteraLepidopteraסָסIsa. 51:8
עָשׁIsa. 50:9; 51:8; etc.
MouseMicrotus guenthri MusRodentiaעַכְבָּרLev. 11:29; Isa. 66:17; etc.
MuleEquus asinus mulusEquidaeפֶּרֶד, פִּרְדָּהIsa. 66:20; I King 1:38; etc.
(?) רֶכֶשׁMic. 1:13; Esth. 8:10; etc.
NightingaleLuscinia megarhynchos;Passeres PasseresזָמִירSong 2:12
Onager, Arabian WildEquus hemionus onagerEquidaeעָרוֹדJob. 39:5
Onager, Syrian WildEquus hemionus hemihippusEquidaeפֶּרֶאJer. 14:6; Job 6:5; etc.
OryxOryx leucoryxArtiodactyla Ruminantia(?) זֶמֶרDeut. 14:5
OstrichStruthio camelusStruthionidaeיָעֵןLam. 4:3
כְּנַף רְנָנִיםJob. 39:13–18
Owl, BarnTyto albaStriges(תִּנְשֶׁמֶת (עוֹףLev 11:18; Deut. 14:16
Owl, EagleBubo bubo aharoniiStrigesאׁחַIsa. 13:21
Owl, Eagle Desert DarkBubo bubo ascalaphusStrigesבַּת-יַעֲנָהLev. 11:16; Isa. 34:13; etc.
Owl, Eagle Desert PaleBubo bubo desertorumStriges(?) תַּנִּיםIsa. 34:13; Mal. 1:3; etc.
Owl, FishKetupa zeylonensisStrigesשָׁלָךְLev. 11:17; Deut. 14:17
Owl, Little DarkAthene noctua glauxStrigesכּוֹסLev. 11:17; Ps. 102:7; etc.
Owl, Little DesertAthene noctua saharaeStrigesקָאָתLev. 11:18; Isa. 34:11; etc.
Owl, LongearedAsio otusStrigesיַנְשׁוּףLev. 11:17; Isa. 34:11; etc.
Owl, ScopsOtus scopus ScreechStrigesשָׂעִירIsa. 13:21; 34:14
Owl, ShortearedAsio flammeusStrigesקִפּוֹדIsa. 14:23; Zeph. 2:14; etc.
(?) קִפּוֹזIsa. 34:15
Owl, TawnyStrix alucoStrigesלִילִיתIsa. 34:14
Ox, WildBos primigeniusArtiodactyla Ruminantiaרְאֵם; רִיםNum. 23:22; Job 39:9–10; etc.
Partridge, ChuckarAlectoris graecaGalliformesחָגְלָהNum. 26:33; 27:1; etc.
Partridge, See-seeAmmoperdix heyiGalliformesקרֵא ׁI Sam. 26:20; Jer. 17:11
PeacockPavo cristatusGalliformesתֻּכִּיI Kings 10:22; II Chron. 9:21
PorcupineErinaceus; HemiechinusErinaceidaeקוּפָּדKil. 8, 5; Shab. 5, 4
QuailCoturnix coturnixGalliformesשְׂלָוEx. 16:13; Num. 11:31; etc.
RatRattus rattusRodentiaחֹלֶדLev. 11:29
חוּלְדָהKelim 15. 6; Par. 9.3
RavenCorvus sp.CorvidaeעוֹרֵבGen. 8:7; Lev. 11:15; etc.
SardineSardinella maderensisClupeidae ClupeidaeטָרִיתNed. 6, 4; Av. Zar. 2.6
Sardinella auritaחִילָקAv. Zar. 2.6
ScorpionScorpio sp. Buthus sp.ScorpionidaeעַקְרָבDeut. 8:15
SheepOvis vignei platyuraArtiodactyla RuminantiaצֹאןGen. 4:2; I Sam. 25:2; etc.
אַיִלGen. 22:13; 31:38; etc.
רָחֵלGen. 32:15; Isa. 53:7; etc.
כֶּבֶשׂ, כִּבְשָׂהEx. 12:5; Lev. 14:10; etc.
כֶּשֶׂב, כִּשְׂבָהLev. 3:7; 5:6; etc.
טָלֶהI Sam. 7:9; Isa. 65:25; etc.
Sheep, WildOvis musimonArtiodactyla Ruminantia(?) כּוֹיBik. 2.8; Bek. 1.5; etc.
SkinkEumeces sp; Chalcides sp.SkincidaeחֹמֶטLev. 11:30
SnakeOphidiaSerpentesנָחָשׁGen. 3:1; Amos 5:19; etc.
SparrowPasser domesticus biblicusPloceidaeצִפּוֹר דְרוֹרLev. 14:4; Ps. 84:4; etc.
SpiderAraneida; SolifugaeArachnoidaeעַכָּבִישׁIsa. 59:5; Job 8:14
עֲכְשׁוּבPs. 140:4
StorkCiconia ciconiaCiconidaeחֲסִידָהLev. 11:19; Jer. 8:7; etc.
SwiftApus sp.ApodidaeסִיסIsa. 38:14; Jer. 8:7; etc.
SwineSus domesticaArtiodactyla non RuminantiaחֲזִירLev. 11:7; Prov. 11:22; etc.
TahashDugong; Giraffa?תַּחַשׁEx. 36:19; Num. 4:6; etc.
Turtle doveStreptopelia turturColumbiformesתּוֹרGen. 15:9; Jer. 8:7; etc.
Viper, CarpetEchis sp.ViperidaeאֶפְעֶהIsa. 30:6; Job 20:16; etc.
Viper, HornedCerastes sp.ViperidaeשְׁפִיפוֹןGen. 49:17
Viper, PalestinianVipera palaestinaViperidaeצֶפַעIsa. 14:29
צִפְעוֹנִיIsa. 11:8; Jer. 8:17; etc.
Vulture, BeardedGypaetus barbatusVulturesפֶּרֶסLev. 11:13; Deut. 14:12
Vulture, BlackAegypius monachusVulturesעָזְנִיָּהLev. 11:13; Deut. 14:12
עוֹזKelim 17, 4
Vulture, EgyptianNeophron percnopterusVulturesרָחָם; רָחָמָהLev. 11:18; Deut. 14:17; etc.
Vulture, GriffonGyps fulvusVulturesנֶשֶׁרLev. 11:13; Deut. 32:11; etc.
WaspVespa orientalisHymenopteraצִרְעָהEx. 23:28; Deut. 7:20; etc.
WhaleBalenoptera; PhyseterCetaceaלִוְיָתָןPs. 104:26; Isa. 27:1; etc.
WolfCanis lupusCanidaeזְאֵבIsa. 11:6; Jer. 5:6; etc.

agility, consort with domestic animals in Isaiah's vision of eternal peace (Isa. 11:6–7). The wild beasts include the *dog. The *fox and *jackal are types of creatures that inhabit ruins and deserted places. Of the small mammals, the hyrax and *hare are mentioned among the animals prohibited as food, the statement that they chew the cud (Lev. 11:5–6) being due to their having characteristics similar to those of ruminants. An animal whose identity is uncertain is the *taḥash. To the mammals belong also animals included in the Bible in other groups. Thus, for example, the Pentateuch mentions, among the unclean birds, the *bat (Lev. 11:19); among the swarming things, the *mouse and the *rat (Lev. 11:29) which by reason of their short legs appear to creep along the ground. The term "leviathan" sometimes refers to an aquatic mammal, while the "great fish" that swallowed Jonah may have been intended by the author of the Book of Jonah to denote a species of whale (see *Leviathan).


Of the birds, which are called by the collective name of צִפּוֹר (ẓippor) or עוֹף (of), there are more than 350 species in Israel, some of them non-migratory, remaining in Israel all year round, others migratory, remaining only in winter or summer, and others transmigratory, staying no more than a short time. The Talmud (Ḥul. 63b) declares that "there are innumerable species of clean birds," that is, the overwhelming majority of the birds of Ereẓ Israel are permitted, which is the reason given for the fact that whereas the Pentateuch enumerates the clean mammals, of the birds only the unclean ones are listed (20 in Lev. 11; an additional one in Deut. 14). Constituting as they did an important source of food, birds were much hunted, for which purpose various types of hunting equipment were used. The snaring of birds is frequently referred to in the Bible in an allegorical representation of someone who becomes entangled in difficulties. The eggs of wild birds were also collected for food (cf. Deut. 22:6; Isa. 10:14). The Bible makes no mention of the breeding of birds except *doves, which together with *turtledoves and *sparrows were used as sacrifices (the last in the purification rites of the leper (Lev. 14:4)). Descriptions, parables, and allegories taken from bird life occur in the Bible: mention is made of the exact timing of the migrations of the *stork, turtledove, *swift, and *crane; the beauty and purity of the dove are portrayed, as are the cruelty of the *eagle, and the concern for its young shown by the griffon *vulture; desolation and destruction are symbolized by the *owl, a species designated by many names; the strange habits of the *ostrich receive special attention. To the 37 birds mentioned in the Bible, the Talmud adds many more, in particular in a discussion of the features which determine their ritual fitness as food. The post-biblical period saw the increased breeding in Ereẓ Israel of poultry, fowl, geese, and ducks in addition to several species of doves, while in wealthy homes ornamental birds – *peacocks and *pheasants – were raised.

reptiles and "creeping things."

The Pentateuch defines reptiles as "every swarming thing that swarmeth upon the earth… whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all fours" (Lev. 11:41–42). This embraces all species of reptiles, including *snakes, crocodiles, as well as species of the lizard, gecko, skink, chameleon, and monitor. Of these last five genera, the Pentateuch enumerates six species of swarming things to which particularly severe laws of uncleanness apply (Lev. 11:29–39). Among the reptiles, the crocodile and snakes are extensively described. Although all reptiles are forbidden as food, they are an important source of proteins for the Bedouin who also eat their eggs. The Talmud distinguished between the egg of a reptile and that of a bird, the former being rounded at both ends with the white and the yolk mixed (Ḥul. 64a). Several times the Bible mentions gigantic legendary animals named tannin and livyatan that were said to have rebelled against the Creator who was compelled to declare war upon them and kill them (cf. Isa. 51:9; Ps. 74:13–14; Job 7:12; 3:8). The Midrashim preserve such legends which are common to the myths of people of the east and which may have been suggested by the remains of bones belonging to species of prehistoric reptiles that stirred the imagination of the aggadists.

fish and amphibia

Fish are often mentioned in the Bible, where they are referred to by the collective terms of דָּגָה (dagah) and by its plural דָּגִים without specifying any by name. A distinction is made only between those that have fins and scales and are therefore permitted as food and those without these features (see *Dietary Laws). In Ereẓ Israel, with its seashores, fish constituted an important food, reference being made to their increasing number in the "Great Sea" (Ezek. 47:10). In Jerusalem one of the gates was called the Fish Gate (Zeph. 1:10; Neh. 3:3). Egypt is rich in fish, these being mentioned among the food for which the Israelites longed when wandering in the wilderness (Num. 11:5). The rapid multiplication of fish gave rise to a verb dagah (דָּגָה; "to teem"; Gen. 48:16). Although it does not mention any fish by name, the Bible has more than a dozen terms for fishing implements. The importance of fish in the economy of Ereẓ Israel is reflected in Ezekiel's vision of the desalination of the waters of the Dead Sea: "And it shall come to pass, that fishers shall stand by it from En-Gedi even unto En-Eglaim; there shall be a place for the spreading of the nets" (Ezek. 47:10). In describing the destruction of the earth, prophets spoke of the extinction of fish (Hos. 4:3; Zeph. 1:3). Talmudic literature contains the names of dozens of fish, these being mentioned particularly in the Babylonian Talmud, since fish were plentiful in the Euphrates and Tigris. Seven species of amphibia are found in Israel, of which only the *frog is mentioned in the Bible. The aggadah refers to the salamander as a remarkable creature unaffected by fire (Ḥag. 27a; Sanh. 63b).


This is the richest group of animals in the number of its species and in the variety of their forms. The vast majority of them are small animals. Although they occupy a comparatively meager place in the ancient literature, except for insects which are frequently mentioned in the Bible and talmudic literature, the insects comprise almost three-quarters of the species in the world. The great majority of them are injurious to vegetation and carriers of diseases. Of the insects, the most important place in the Bible and in talmudic literature is occupied by the Orthoptera, to which belong the *grasshopper and the *locust. Notorious for the ravages they cause to agriculture, they were also permitted as food. Among the common agricultural pests are mentioned insects that belong to the species of beetles, fruit flies, and *ants. Species of the *moth are injurious to clothing; troublesome to man are the *fly, *gnat, *louse, and *flea (to which talmudic literature adds the bug and mosquito). The *hornet and the *bee were regarded as dangerous to human beings, who however benefit from the latter's honey. From the *crimson worm, a prized dye was extracted. Of the other Arthropoda, "whatsoever hath many feet" are mentioned: centipedes and millipedes, the *spider, and the *scorpion; of the Mollusca, the snail. The gland in the body of purple snails (murex), yielded blue and purple dye (see *tekhelet). Of the Vermes group, the *worm is mentioned, the Hebrew for which, תּוֹלַעַת (tola'at), refers to various insects, and also to the earthworm. The *leech is mentioned only once in the Bible (Prov. 30:15) and several times in the Talmud. Creatures lower than the invertebrates that were known to the ancients were the *corals, which however they thought to be wood.

The identification of the animals in the Bible has given rise to divergent views, some contending that it is possible to identify them in a few cases only. Others, however, hold that this can be done in most instances. While the problem of their identification has been raised in the separate articles on them, the above list gives only the most probable identification of the animals mentioned in the Bible and in the Mishnah.


F. Hasselquist, Iter palaestinum (Stockholm, 1757); Tristram, Survey; Tristram, Nat Hist; Lewysohn, Zool; S. Bodenheimer, Prodromus faunae palaestinae (1937); idem, Animal and Man in Bible Lands (1960); J. Feliks, The Animal World of the Bible (1962); S. Avrahamoviẓ, Toledot ha-Teva (1862); Y. Aharoni, Torat ha-Ḥai (1924); idem, Zikhronot Zo'olog Ivri (1943); J. Margolin, Zo'ologyah, 2 vols. (1943–48); M. Dor, Leksikon Zo'ologi (1965).

[Jehuda Feliks]