Called in the Talmud "the king of the beasts" (Ḥag. 13b), the lion has many Hebrew names: (אַרְיֵה (aryeh) or אֲרִי (ari), and לָבִיא (lavi) fem. לְבִיאָה (levi'ah), both of which are used for the lion in general, כְּפִיר (kefir), usually a young lion, לַיִשׁ (layish), mostly poetical, and according to some, "an old lion," שַׁחַל (shaḥal), general name for the lion in poetry, though like שַׁחַץ (shaḥaẓ) perhaps the intention is any fierce animal, and גּוּר (gur) almost always meaning "a lion's whelp." The first five are all mentioned together by Eliphaz the Temanite (Job 4:10–11), on which Rashi comments that ari is the large lion, shaḥal the medium-sized one, and kefir the small lion, while the first six are cited in Sanhedrin 95a. (Note, however, that
From the Bible it is clear that lions did not permanently inhabit populated areas; their haunts were the mountains of Lebanon (Song 4:8), Bashan (Deut. 33:22), the thickets of the Jordan (Jer. 49:19), and the desert regions of the Negev (Isa. 30:6). From there they invaded populated areas, penetrating deeply and regularly, in particular at times of drought when wild animals, their usual prey, had decreased in number. Lions also multiplied when the country lay destroyed and derelict. In the neighborhood of Ereẓ Israel long- and short-maned lions were to be found. There are evidences that there were lions in the country in mishnaic and talmudic and even in crusader times (in the Negev). The last lions in the Middle East were destroyed in the 19th century.
[Jehuda Feliks /
S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]
In Folklore and Art
The lion figures prominently in folklore as a result of two main references to it in the Bible: the appellation of Judah as "a lion's whelp" (Gen. 49:9; Dan is also so called in Deut. 33:22, but the lion is always associated with Judah) and as one of the figures in the divine chariot of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:10). A secondary motif is connected with the statement of Judah b. Tema (Avot 5:20) "Be as strong as a leopard, light as an eagle, fleet as a hart, and brave as a lion to perform the will of thy Father who is in heaven."
Based on the image of the Lion of Judah in Genesis, the name Aryeh ("lion") became a common Jewish personal name mostly in all combinations with Judah and with Leib (Loeb), its German or Yiddish translation, thus giving the composite names Judah Aryeh, Judah Leib, and Aryeh Leib. The Judah mentioned in the verse, however, is associated not only with the son of Jacob of that name, but with the tribe, and particularly with the House of David (cf. Rashi ad loc.), and as a result the Lion of Judah became one of the most common of Jewish symbols. It is also one of the appellatives of the king of Ethiopia, who according to Ethiopian tradition is descended from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The rampant Lion of Judah is a favorite embellishment of the synagogue ark, the mantle covering the scroll of the Torah, etc. The Lion of the Divine Chariot is one of the four figures of Ezekiel's merkavah (divine chariot) which consisted of a human being, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Different opinions are expressed in the Talmud as to the permissibility of reproducing these figures, but the general consensus is that the only reproductions wholly forbidden are either the four together or the complete human form (see *Art). On the other hand, almost complete freedom was accorded in the reproduction of the lion, possibly both because of its national association as described above and because of the figures of lions upon the laver in Solomon's Temple (I Kings 7:29) and especially in the steps leading to his throne and on its sides (ibid. 10:20).
*Jacob b. Asher opens his Tur Oraḥ Ḥayyim with the above-quoted passage of Judah b. Tema, and the four animals mentioned in it have often been made the subject of paintings. The word lion is often employed figuratively in a laudatory sense, mostly referring to an outstanding scholar. Thus Joshua b. Hananiah refused to controvert the ruling of Eliezer b. Hyrcanus after the latter's death because "one does not answer a lion after its death" (Git. 83a). Ḥiyya is called "the lion of the brotherhood" (Shab. 111a); a scholar, the son of a scholar, is called "a lion, son of a lion," while one of no such distinguished parentage is called "the lion the son of a jackal" (BM 84b); and Simeon b. Lakish expressed his admiration for the learning of Kahana, who had come to Ereẓ Israel from Babylon, in the words "a lion has come up from Babylon" (BK 117a). In one
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]
Lewysohn, Zool, 68–70, no. 114; Y. Aharoni, Zikhronot Zo'olog Ivri, 2 (1946), 222; F.S. Bodenheimer, Animal and Man in Bible Lands (1960), passim. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. McCullough and F. Bodenheimer, in: IDB 3, 136–37; S. Ahituv, Handbook of Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions (1992).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.