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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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—Biblical Data:

The general designation for winged animals is "'of" (, Hosea 9:11; Isaiah 16:2) or "'of kanaf" (, Genesis 1:21), "ẓippor" (, Genesis 15:10), or "ẓippor kanaf" (, Deuteronomy 4:17; Psalms 148:10), or "ba'al kanaf" (, Proverbs 1:17). The expression "ẓippor," however, denotes an individual bird in distinction from "'of," the generic term. "'Ayiṭ" (, Isaiah 18:6; Genesis 15:11) denotes birds of prey; compare "ayyah" (, Leviticus 11:14; Deuteronomy 14:13).

Domesticated Birds.

The frequent mention of birds in the Bible shows that they abounded in Palestine, in which country many birds are found at the present time. The only domesticated birds among the Israelites were the dove ("yonah," ) and the turtle-dove ("tor," ). Endeavors were probably made to lure the shy rock-pigeon to the neighborhood of dwellings and tame it by providing suitable nesting-places. Neither the Hebrews nor the Egyptians knew of poultry until the contact with the Medes and Persians, who in their advance toward the west introduced the breeding of chickens. At the time of Jesus chicken-breeding was quite common in Palestine (compare Matthew 23:37, 26:75; Luke 13:34).

Though representations of ducks are found on Egyptian monuments, it is doubtful whether the Israelites knew of them; and the meaning of "barburim abusim" (, 1 Kings 5:3 [A. V. 4:23]), "fatted fowl," which is sometimes explained as "ducks," may be questioned. Sparrows evidently were as numerous in olden times as today, although the term "ẓippor," by which they were designated, also means small birds in general (compare στρουθίον, Tobit 2:10). Then, as now, the sparrow was used as food (Matthew 10:29; Luke 12:6). The partridge ("ḳore" [], 1 Samuel 26:20; Jeremiah 17:11) also abounded, or, to be more exact, the ptarmigan, a species of the red-legged partridge which lives in mountains and waste places.

The following migratory birds are mentioned (1) The swallow ("sus," , perhaps , Isaiah 38:14, for which Jeremiah 8:7 has . Since in the Septuagint is missing in both passages, the word is perhaps only an explanatory gloss. It may also be questioned whether "deror" (, Psalms 84:4; Proverbs 26:2) means the swallow. Whenever the latter is mentioned as a migratory bird, the swift is probably meant. (2) The quail ("selaw," ), which in September and October gathered in immense flocks on the shores of the Mediterranean, in order to migrate to the warmer regions of Asia and Africa. In early spring it returned northward, flying mostly with the wind (Exodus 16:13; Numbers 11:31; Psalms 105:40). (3) The stork ("ḥasidah," ), mentioned as a migratory bird (Jeremiah 8:7) which nests on the cypress-tree (Psalms 104:17; compare Job 39:13 et seq.; Zechariah 5:9). (4) "Anafa" (, Leviticus 11:19; Deuteronomy 14:18), which means perhaps a heron, or is a generic name for the different species of heron.

Birds of Prey.

The following birds of prey ("'ayit") are mentioned: (1) "Shaḥaf" (, Deuteronomy 14:15), according to the Septuagint and the Vulgate, the gull (larus), which abounded in different species. But perhaps a kind of hawk or falcon is meant, which the Arabians call "sa'af." (2) The eagle ("nesher," ), which is often mentioned because of the lightning-like rapidity with which it pounces upon its prey (Hosea 8:1; Habakkuk 1:8). Sometimes the word "nesher" includes also the vulture, which is as large as an eagle, and which in the East is found much oftener than the eagle. Micah 1:16 refers probably to the vulture, perhaps to the carrion kite (Vultur percnopterus; compare Matthew 24:28; Luke 17:37), distinguished from the eagle by its bald head and neck. The lammergeier is perhaps meant by (3) "peres" (, Deuteronomy 14:12; compare Tristram, "The Fauna and Flora of Palestine," p. 94). Some take it to signify the sea-eagle, which the Septuagint and the Vulgate identify with (4) "'azniyyah (, ib. 12), also a species of eagle or vulture. (5) "Raḥam" (, Leviticus 11:18), "raḥamah" (, Deuteronomy 14:17), which is certainly the carrion-kite (Vultur percnopterus). (6) "Da'ah" (, Leviticus 11:14) or "dayyah (), which is possibly the kite, chiefly the black kite (Milvus migrans). (7) "Ayyah" (, Job 28:7) which denotes probably the falcon. (8) "Neẓ" (, Leviticus 11:16), perhaps a name for a hawk, including probably some species of falcon (compare Job 39:26). (9) "'Oreb" (, Genesis 8:7), the raven or birds of that order, as the hooded crow, roller, daw, magpie, etc. (10) "Yanshuf" (, Leviticus 11:17; Deuteronomy 14:16), probably a species of owl, perhaps the eagleowl. (11) "Tinshemet" (, Leviticus 11:18; Deuteronomy 14:16), probably also a species of owl. (12) "Kus" (, Leviticus 11:17; Deuteronomy 14:16), which likewise belongs to the owl order; it is perhaps the wood-owl or the little owl, which lives among ruins. (13) "Shalak" (, Leviticus 11:17; Deuteronomy 14:17), probably the cormorant, which pounces upon itsprey from cliffs or rocks or from a height in air. (14) "Ḳat" (, Leviticus 11:18; Deuteronomy 14:17), which, according to the translators, is the pelican; but this is doubtful (see Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14). Among the birds was also included the "aṭalef" (), the bat, of which several species are found in Palestine, where it abounds, as it does generally in the south.

Since some of these birds were eaten, the Law naturally separated them into clean and unclean (compare Leviticus 11:13 et seq.; Deuteronomy 14:20 et seq.). For the sacrifice the dove ("yonah" or "tor") only was used (compare Leviticus 5:7; 12:8; 15:14,29). Whether, however, the Israelites, like the Chaldeans, practised see see AUGURY, we have no means of knowing.

Mode of Capture.

Birds were caught in two ways: either by (1) a spring-trap ("paḥ") or by (2) a sling with a wooden or stone projectile, by which the bird was brought down (compare Amos 3:5; Hosea 7:12, 9:8). Seven different kinds of bird-snares are referred to in the Old Testament, the chief of which are the throw-stick, springe, clap-net, the trap, and the decoy-bird. All are used at the present day.

The people had a genuine fellow-feeling for birds as well as for the domestic quadrupeds (Deuteronomy 22:6 et seq.); and the many references to bird-life testify to the interest taken in it. The eagle that "stirreth up her nest . . . fluttereth over her young," becomes the prototype of Yhwh's protecting love of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:11; Exodus 19:4; compare Isaiah 31:5). In Proverbs 27:8 the homeless wanderer is compared to the "bird that wandereth from her nest" (compare Isaiah 16:2). In Hosea 11:11, people returning from Egypt and Assyria are compared to the doves returning to their dove-cotes. Jeremiah 8:7 contrasts the people that "know not the judgment of the Lord" with the birds that "observe the time of their coming." Proverbs 26:2 compares the unjust curse to the birds flying away. Israel's enemies are often compared to the birds pouncing upon their prey with lightning-like rapidity (Deuteronomy 28:49; Isaiah 46:11; Hosea 8:1; compare Jeremiah 12:9). The complete annihilation of man is often metaphorically expressed by the idea of giving his flesh up to the birds; compare Gen. 19; Deuteronomy 28:26; 1 Samuel 17:44,46; 1 Kings 14:11, 16:4, 21:24; Jeremiah 7:33, 16:4, etc. These and similar references show how numerous and manifest the birds must have been; in fact, passages like Job 41:5 and Bar. 3:17 display their intimate connection with the life of the people.

J. Jr.
W. N.

—In Rabbinical Literature:

The general name for birds in rabbinical literature is . They are said to have been created from water mixed with sand, being thus intermediate between mammalia (), created from earth, and fishes, created from water (Ḥul. 27b). The eagle (Ḥag. 13b) is the king of birds, while the rooster is the most obstinate (Beẓah 25b).

The numerous species are divided into the clean and the unclean, both minutely described by the Talmud (compare Clean and Unclean); but it should be noticed that while there are only twenty-nine classes of unclean birds, the number of the clean is unlimited (Ḥul. 63a, b). It happens, however, that the unclean birds sometimes hatch the eggs of the clean, and vice versa. Among partridges the male sometimes sets on the nest (Ḥul. 12:2,138b). Some of the eggs are not fertile; such are those produced by the hen when she sits in the warm sun, these being, however, better for food (Beẓah 7a). The formation of the chick begins at the broad, flat end of the egg (Ḥul. 64b; compare Rashi on the passage). In addition to their production of eggs (referring only to those of the clean species, Ḥul. c.), birds are useful for other purposes. The meat, though less desirable than beef (Me'1:20b), is esteemed as a delicacy among the rich, while the poor seldom eat it (Bek. 10a; Ket. 5a), the flesh of poultry being considered particularly good for old people (Yer. Peah 8:21a).

The wings (Kelim 16:19), claws (Ḥul. 25b; compare Rashi on the passage), and eggs of birds are put to various uses, the last being sometimes covered with a glaze (Kelim c.). Blown egg-shells are used to hold oil for lamps (Shab. 2:11,29b); and even as early as Talmudic times the strength of an egg-shell placed on end was recognized, for sometimes an egg is placed under the foot of a bedstead to make the latter stand even (Beẓah 4a). The use of quills for writing was unknown in Talmudic times, and in the twelfth century the casuists questioned whether it was lawful to use them for the writing of Torah scrolls (Löw, "Ha-Mafteah," p. 349; Lewysohn, "Die Zoologie des Talmuds," p. 161).

Classes of Birds.

The Talmud names about one hundred classes and varieties of birds, but it is extremely difficult to identify them. For example, it mentions two varieties of the bird (probably a Persian term; Kohut, "Aruch Completum," s., suggests "darpash" = finch), one of which bears the royal by-name "Shapur" and was clean, while the other, also called after a Persian king, the "Firuz," is unclean (Ḥul. 62b). Mention is also made of a bird (= χρῶμα, color), found in the neighborhood of Babylonia, which becomes iridescent at sunrise (Ber. 6b; Lewysohn [ib. p. 183] refers to the pajaro del sol, "sun-bird"). A similar many-colored bird is the ("many-colored"), which shows not less than three hundred and sixty-five hues (Gen. R. 7:4), "ẓabua'" being the Hebrew name for peacock, which in rabbinical literature is usually designated by its Greek name , Tάως, as shown from a parallel passage in the Midrash cited (Tan., Tazria', ed. Buber, 3:33).

The Talmud describes many birds, giving details of their natures and uses. The falcon () is used in the chase. The hunter, seated on his horse, has the falcon at his side, releasing it at sight of another bird (Shab. 94a; Sanh. 95a). The keen sight of the vulture () is indicated in the following passage: "It can be in Babylon and see a corpse in Palestine" (Ḥul. 63b). The strong, piercing cry of the crane () originated the saying: "Cry like a crane" (Ḳid. 49a). The heron (, "quarreler") in the Bible is a cruel bird that quarrels () constantly with its companions, as its name suggests. It belongs to the family of vultures, its real namebeing ("angry dayah"). Another member of this family is the stork, or white dayah, called also "the pious one" ("ḥasidah"), because it shares its food with its mates (Ḥul. 63a, b). The stork's gall is an antidote for the sting of the scorpion (Ket. 50a). In addition to the dayah family, of which there are said to be no less than one hundred varieties (Ḥul. c.), the Talmud mentions the numerous varieties of the raven family (see Raven in Rabbinical Literature). Hens, geese, and doves are considered domestic poultry, and the wild varieties are also named. Some birds, particularly song-birds, and those of beautiful plumage, are kept as pets by the wealthy, and there is an allegory about a free bird which envies a friend in a cage its rich food, forgetting that the friend has paid for the food with its freedom (Pesiḳ., ed. Buber, 25:164a, b). The social life of birds originated the proverb: "Every bird dwelleth according to his kind, and so doth man according to his like" (B. B. 92b; the passage quotes verses from Ecclus. [Sirach] 13:16, 27:9, as if they were from the Scripture).

In Jewish Folk-Lore.

Among Jews, as among most nations (Gubernatis, "Zoological Mythology," on Birds), birds were thought to possess supernatural knowledge, because they soared in the air. Thus in rabbinical literature, both Babylonian and Palestinian, there are numerous references to the folk-lore on birds (AUGURY; Zohar, "Balak," 3:148b et seq.). In Noah's Ark only the clean ones dwelt in the part with Noah and his family; the others dwelt elsewhere (Sanh. 108b). King Solomon knew the bird language (see Solomon in Rabbincal Literature and Legend).

Parts of the body of some birds were used as remedies (Joel Heilprin, "Mifa'lut Elohim"; David Tevel Ashkenazi, "Bet David"). Compare Bar Yokni, COCK, DOVE, EAGLE, GOOSE, PIGEON, RAVEN.

  • Lewysohn, Die Zoologie des Talmuds, pp. 15-16, 159-218.

L. G.

Birds as Souls:

In Psalm 11:1 the soul is compared to a bird: "Flee as a bird to your mountain." As living beings which move and fly through the air, birds have suggested themselves at all times and in all lands to primitive man as images of the soul, the name for which in most languages is taken from breathing ("nefesh," "neshamah,"="anima," or "psyche"); the soul was represented in the form of a butterfly, as illustrated by the tombs of the early Christians (Aringhi, "Roma Subterranea Novissima," 2:324). The soul of the king of Egypt was pictured on the monuments as a bird; and the genius ("frawashi") of the kings of Assyria and Persia retained the wings of the bird (Rawlinson, "Herodotus," 2:105, note 1; idem, "Ancient Monarchies," 2:28, 3:353; compare also Simrock, "Handbuch der Deutschen Mythologie," p. 461).

The Arabs also regarded the soul as a bird, and believed that after death it hovered at times around the body, screeching like an owl (Mas'udi, "Les Prairies d'Or," 3:310, Paris, 1864; Sprenger, "Das Leben Mohammeds," 1:358, note; Kremer, "Gesch. der Herrschenden Ideen des Islams," 1868, pp. 166 et seq.). This view was shared by the Jews. They believed that all souls are gathered in a great cage or treasure-house in heaven, a columbarium, called "Guf"; and so Rabbi Assi teaches that the Messiah, the son of David, can not come until all the souls have been taken out of the Guf, and have gone through human bodies (Yeb. 62a, 63b; Niddah 13b; and elsewhere). In the Greek Baruch Apocalypse (ch. ), Baruch sees in the fourth heaven a lake full of birds, and is told that these are the souls of the righteous, who continually sing the praise of God. These stories are repeated by Christian saints who affirm having seen the souls of the righteous in the shape of doves in paradise (M. R. James, in "Texts and Studies," ,; idem, in "Anecdota Græco-Byzantina," p. 181, quoted in Kautzsch, "Die Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments," p. 455).

The souls of the righteous which dwell in the Acherusian lake were consulted as God's counselors at the creation of man, according to Gen. R. 8, having their parallel in the Zendavesta ("Bundahish," 2:10; Mihir Yast in "Sacred Books of the East," 23:145).

In the Zohar the sparrow and the swallow, spoken of in Psalms 84:3, are compared to the souls of the righteous which dwell in paradise, exactly as are those mentioned in the Baruch Apocalypse. Three times a year, in Nisan and Tishri, they rise upon the walls of paradise and sing the praise of the Master of the universe; whereupon they are ushered into the palace where the Messiah is hidden, called the great "Souls' Nest." They are adorned with crowns in his honor when he appears to them, and from beneath the altar of heaven, where dwell the souls of the righteous, they prepare the erection of the Temple of the future (Zohar 2:7b, 3:196b). Grätz ("Gesch. der Juden," 7:9) failed to see that this rests on an old tradition.

It is customary among German Jews, when a death occurs, to open a window in order that the soul may fly away like a bird (compare Liebrecht, "Zur Volkskunde," 1879 p. 371). On birds around God's throne MERKABAH.


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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Birds'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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