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OSTRICH, the largest of the birds. The ostrich, in its habits and bodily structure, has features similar to those of a camel (its Latin name is Strutio camelus). It was formerly commonly found in eastern Transjordan but by reason of being intensively hunted has disappeared almost entirely from the Middle East region; individual ostriches are only seldom found in eastern Transjordan, to which they apparently come from the Arabian deserts where the ostrich has also become rare. In the Bible the ostrich is called ya'en (יָעֵן) and kenaf-renanim (כְּנַף רְנָנִים; AV, JPS "the wing of the ostrich"). The former name occurs once, in Lamentations (4:3): "The daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness." Its description as cruel is apparently connected with the fact that when in danger it is liable in its flight to hurt its chicks and also to the fact that the female often hatches only some of the eggs, the rest being abandoned and used as food for the newly hatched chicks. Job (39:13–18) contains an extensive description of the ostrich, there called kenaf-renanim, that is, "the wing that delights the eye with its beauty." There an account is given of the way it hatches its eggs on the ground (ibid., 14–15); of the male who confuses the chicks of other females and is their leader (ibid., 16); of the ostrich's meager understanding; "Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath He imparted to her understanding" (ibid., 17; cf. the expression Vogelstrausspolitik); of its ability to escape from hunters mounted on horses (ibid., 18). The translations have identified the bat-ya'anah (בַּת יַעֲנָה), included among the unclean birds and mentioned several times as inhabiting desolate places (Isa. 13:21; Micah 1:8; et al.), with the ya'en. The bat-ya'anah was originally a species of *owl but the name is used for ostrich in modern Hebrew. In the Mishnah the ostrich is called na'amit (נַעֲמִית; in Ar.: na'ama); in mishnaic and talmudic times the ostrich was well known. Vessels were made from its eggshells (Kel. 17:14), while some people bred it as an ornamental bird (Shab. 128a). Its ability to swallow anything was exploited; fed pieces of gold covered with dough, it evacuated them after the action of its gastric juice had refined the gold (TJ, Yoma 4:4, 41d).


Lewysohn, Zool, 188f., no. 240; I. Aharoni, Zikhronot Zo'olog Ivri, 1 (1943), 20, 33; F.S. Bodenheimer, Animal and Man in Bible Lands (1960), 59f.; J. Feliks, Animal World of the Bible (1962), 91.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.