The word tola'at or tole'ah is employed in the Bible and the Talmud both for destructive caterpillars and for the rainworm; sometimes the combination rimmah ve-tole'ah (= maggots and worms) occurs. One of the curses in the commination of the Bible is that "the worm" shall eat the vines (Deut. 28:39). The Talmud (Ḥul. 67b) speaks of "the worm in the roots of the vines," referring to the beetle Schistocerus. The worm which smote Jonah's kikayon (Jonah 4:7) was presumably the caterpillar of a beetle of the genus Capnodis or Cerambyx. The Midrash states that "this worm makes the tree barren" (Mid. to Ps. 22:7). The worms that caused the manna to rot (Ex. 16:20) were fruit-fly maggots. In the Bible rimmah ve-tole'ah symbolizes the decomposition of the body after death (Isa. 14:11; Job 21:26), since these feed upon the decaying corpse. Man is compared to them because of his end and his frailty (Isa. 41:14; Job 25:6). They are the maggots of the carrion flies Lucilia and apparently also the rainworm Lumbricus, found in large quantities in soil rich in rotting organic material. This last is called shilshul in rabbinic literature (RH 24b) and in modern Israel.


J. Feliks, Animal World of the Bible (1962), 129, 139. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 283.

[Jehuda Feliks]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.