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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Insects

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Under this head are treated the species not described in separate articles under their individual names, as Ant Bee Beetle Fly Locust etc.

The words "marbeh raglayim" (Leviticus 11:42 ), rendered by the Revised Version "whatsoever hath many feet," are taken in Ḥ ul. 67b as the designation of an insect called "nadal," on which Rashi comments: "It is called the hundred-foot" ("me' ah raglayim"). In ' Er. 8b Rashi explains the same phrase as "a creeping thing that has many feet" (L. Lewysohn, "Z. T." p. 322).

This insect is mentioned in 1Samuel 24:15 and 26:20 in a comparison referring to its insignificance. The meaning of the Hebrew word is not only assured by the authority of the old versions— LXX. ψ Ύ λ λ ο ς Vulgate, "pulex"— but is also confirmed by the dialects: Arabic, "burghuth" Syriac, "purta' ana" (transposed from "pur' atana"). R. V. margin to Exodus 8:12 (A. 5:16) suggests "fleas" as rendering of the Hebrew "kinnim," which is more correctly translated "lice."

In the Talmud the par' osh is counted among the animals that propagate by copulation and are therefore not to be killed on the Sabbath-day (Shab. 107b). Tosef., Shab. 12a describes it as a "hopping louse" ("kinnah ḳ ofeẓ et"), in contrast to the "creeping louse" ("kinnah rolḥ eshet"). Al-Ḥ arizi's humorous "maḳ amah" on the flea need only be mentioned here (Tristram, "Nat. Hist." p. 305 L. Lewysohn, l.c. p. 327).

This word, in the plural form, is suggested by the R. V. margin to Isaiah 51:6 , reading "kinnim" for "ken" of the Masoretic text but in this case "lice" would be the more nearly correct rendering.

In the Talmud the "yattush," which is the most common term for the gnat, is called a "tiny creature" ("biryah ḳ allah") having a mouth wherewith to take in food, but no opening for evacuation (Giṭ . 56b). It is enumerated among the weak that cast terror on the strong, its victim being the elephant, whose trunk it enters (Shab. 77b). From Sanh. 77a it appears that gnats in mass could torture a fettered and therefore defenseless man to death and at times they would become such a plague, entering the eyes and nose of man, that public prayers were instituted for their extermination (Ta' an. 14a). Insignificant as the gnat is, it admonishes man to humility, having preceded him in being created (Sanh. 38a). For the legend of the gnat as tormentor of Titus see Giṭ . 56a (L. Lewysohn, l.c. p. 315).

See Locust .

Rendering in the English version of the Hebrew "ẓ ir' ah." The hornet is mentioned as an instrument in God's hand for the punishment and expulsion of the Canaanites (Exodus 23:29 Deuteronomy 7:20 Joshua 24:12 ). Some assume that the hornet in these passages is used, like the "æ strus," or gadfly, in Greek and Latin, figuratively for panic or terror. There are at present four species of hornet in Palestine, the most common being Vespa orientalis . The frequency of hornets in Palestine in former times is perhaps indicated by the local name "Zoreah" (Joshua 15:33 R.V. "Zorah").

In the Talmud the hornet ("ẓ ir' ah," "zibura," "' ar' ita") is usually referred to as a dangerous animal, with the scorpion, serpent, etc. The dread of its sting gave rise to the proverb: "Neither thy sting nor thy honey!" (Tan., Balak, 6). Public prayers for its destruction were sometimes ordered (Ta' an. 14a). Its sting brings death to an infant of one year, unless moss of a palm-tree pounded in water is administered (Ket. 50a) and even an adult has been known to die from a hornet's sting in the forehead (Shab. 80b). As the most atrocious act of cruelty perpetrated by the inhabitants of Sodom is related the treatment to which they subjected a girl who had given bread to a poor man she was besmeared with honey and exposed to the stings of hornets (Sanh. 109b). To cure the sting of the hornet bruised flies were laid on the wound (Shab. 77b) or the urine of a forty-day-old infant was applied (ib. 109b). The patient must be guarded against cold (' Ab. Zarah 28b). The swallowing of a hornet results in certain death and the drinking of very strong vinegar will keep the patient alive only long enough for him to make his will ( ib. 12b). The hornet of Nineveh was considered particularly dangerous (Shab. 121b, alluding to Isaiah 7:18 Tristram, l.c. P. 322 Lewysohn, l.c. p. 303).

The English translation of the Hebrew. "' aluḳ ah" in Proverbs 30:15 , where it is symbolically used for insatiable greed. This traditional rendering of the word is not only supported by the old versions— LXX. β δ έ λ λ η Vulgate, "sanguisuga"— but also by the Arabic "' alaḳ " (comp. Targ. to Ps.xii.8). The bloodthirstiness of the leech and the tenacity of its hold are proverbial in all languages. Both the horse-leech, Hsæ mopsis sanguisuga , and the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis , are common in Palestine. Some take "' aluḳ ah" to be intended for some vampire-like demon, comparing the Arabic "' aluḳ ," which is explained in "Ḳ amus" by "ghul," a female blood-sucking monster.

The Talmud, besides "' aluḳ ah," "' alḳ a," or "' arḳ a" (Bek. 44b), has "beni de-maya" (="caterpillar of the water" Giṭ . 69b) and "nima shel mayim" (= "thread of the water" ' Ab. Zarah 12b) for "leech." The swallowing of a leech is very dangerous, and it is therefore permitted in such a case to prepare a warm potion on the Sabbath-day (ib. 12b). Yer. Ber. 13c mentions the bedbug as a cure i.e. , the inhaling by the patient of the smell of burned bedbugs causes the swallowed leech to come out through the mouth (comp. Harduin, Not. et Emendat, to Pliny, "Hist. Nat." 29:17). On the other hand, roasted leeches taken in wine are a cure for enlargement of the spleen (Giṭ . 69b). In ' Ab. Zarah 17a "' aluḳ ah" in the passage from Proverbs 30:15 is interpreted to mean "Gehenna" its "two daughters," the secular government ("reshut") and heresy ("minut"). In this sense also "' alaḳ " is used in the piyyuṭ of the Ḥ anukkah Sabbath. Rabbenu Tam considers it as the name of one of the wise men, like "Ithiel," etc. (comp. Tosef., ' Ab. Zarah, 17a, and ' Er. 19a Tristram, l.c. p. 299 Lewysohn, l.c. p. 336).

Lice are mentioned as the third plague inflicted on the Egyptians ( Exodus 8:12 [A. 5:16] Psalm 105:31 [R. V. margin suggests "flea" or "sand-fly" and to Isaiah 51:6 , "gnats"]). The Greek equivalent for "lice" is also found in Josephus ("Ant." 2:14, § 3).

The Talmud distinguishes between lice of the head and those of the body, i.e. , of the garments: the former have red blood the latter, white (Niddah 19b). Both are produced not by copulation, but by uncleanliness and cleanliness is therefore the best means of getting rid of them (Shab. 107b Ber. 51b comp. Beẓ ah 32b). The Medes were especially afflicted with them (Ḳ id. 49b). It is sinful to kill a louse in the presence of other people on account of the disgust thus caused (Ḥ ag. 5a). For the medicinal use of lice see Giṭ . 69b) (Tristram, l.c. p. 314 Lewysohn, l.c. p. 324).

The moth is mentioned in the Old Testament as being destructive to clothes and as illustrating in its own great frailty the perishableness of earthly things ( Isaiah 51:8 Job 4:19 , 13:28, 27:18 the passages evidently refer to some species of the Tineidæ , or clothes-moths).

The Talmud distinguishes, according to the material attacked by the insect, silk-, fur-, clothes-, and tapestry-moths (Shab. 75a, 90a Ber. 56a B. M. 78b Ḥ ul. 28a, 85b). They are driven away by sprinkling the blood of animals or birds on the material (Ḥ ul. 28a Tristram, l.c. p. 326 Lewysohn, l.c. p. 321).

The spider's web ("threads," or "house of the spider") is twice referred to in the Old Testament as an emblem of useless doings and vain hopes ( Isaiah 59:5 Job 8:14 ). "Semamit" (Proverbs 30:28 ) is more correctly rendered by "gecko" (see Lizard ). The species of spiders in Palestine number hundreds.

The Talmud likewise uses the cobweb in a comparison: "Passion is at first like the web ["thread"] of the spider ["kubya"], but afterward it grows as strong as the ropes of a wagon" (Suk. 52a and parallels). Baḥ ya ibn Paḳ uda, in his "Ḥ obot ha-Lebabot" (ed. Fü rstenthal, p. 240,2), gives this compari son another turn: "As the cobweb obstructs the light of the sun, so does passion the light of reason."The spider is the creature most hated of man (Yalḳ ut Shim' oni, 2:140c Tristram, l.c. p. 303 Lewysohn, l.c. p. 299). E. G. H. I. M. C.


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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Insects'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tje/i/insects.html. 1901.

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