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ONAGER (Heb. פֶּרֶא, Wild Ass; Job 39:5, also עָרוֹד). Two sub-species of the wild ass, the Equus hemionus hemihippus, the Syrian onager, and the Equus hemionus onager, the Arabian onager, existed in the Syrian desert up to the present century. The onager is described as loving freedom (Jer. 2:24) and fearless (Job 39:5–8). Its habitat is in waste places (Isa. 32:44 and Job 39:6), and Ishmael who was to dwell in the desert is called a wild ass of a man (Gen. 16:12). It appears that from time to time efforts were made to domesticate the wild ass. An ancient Sumerian picture shows it harnessed to a wagon, and the Tosefta (Kil. 5:5) forbids the yoking of an ass with an onager. It was sometimes employed for turning millstones (Av. Zar. 16b). It would appear that the wild ass flourished in the talmudic period, and its flesh was used to feed animals in the arena (Men. 103b). In Babylon fields were fenced in to prevent the onagers from doing damage (BB 36a).


Y. Aharoni, Torat ha-Ḥai, 1 (1923), 99–101; Lewysohn, Zool, 143; J. Feliks, Animal World of the Bible (1962), 29–30. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 264.

[Jehuda Feliks]

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