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What they served at the banquet for the wedding of Shim'on Nathan's daughter: considerations on the sense of tsvi, in sources from east and west.


"What did Gitl cook, and what did Cicikov eat?" is the title of a Hebrew article by Itamar Even-Zohar, published in the first few pages of the October 1976 issue of HaSifrut. Our present study uses a literary text as a springboard for an examination of the lexicon of wild ruminants from an anthropological perspective within Jewish studies.

In this article, we contrast how the Biblical Hebrew name for "gazelle" was understood by European and Middle Eastern Jews. Our concerns are lexicological and anthropological. While we will be broaching the issue by considering an episode from a novel by Agnon, we are not so much interested in the literary function of the details of the banquet as in the anthropological and lexical aspect, which is our more general thrust. Our discussion of this literary episode is focused on what it says about the "horns"--or rather the antlers--placed on the table as a trophy, befitting a particular sense of tsvi, the one current among Jews in Eastern Europe.

Tsvi as meat served at a Jewish wedding: Setting the scene

The Hebrew-language novelist and author of short stories, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, is known by the acronym of his Hebrew initials as Shai Agnon. He was born Samuel Josef Czaczkes in Buczacz, Galicia, in 1888, and died in Jerusalem in 1970. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. Agnon lived in Germany from 1913 to 1924, and in Palestine both before that (1907 to 1913) and afterwards. Agnon has an episode, in his Hebrew novel The Bridal Canopy ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: 1931), set in what can be reconstructed as the early 1820s. The Hebrew title of the novel, Hakhnasat Kallah, literally means "Making a bride enter", meaning "Welcoming a bride" or "Bringing about a marriage". Several critical essays on this novel are reprinted in Barshai (1992: 1-93). There exists an American annotated edition (Holz 1986) of the Hebrew text of The Bridal Canopy, an edition which not only deals with the work itself but also considers its historical, sociological and geographical background.

Agnon was already living in Palestine when this novel, set in Polish and then Hapsburg Galicia, was published. The fact that Eastern European Jewish culture--as well as Eastern European Hebrew usage--are reflected in the book, is central to our discussion here. The novel is organised as a frame story with embedded narratives, many of which are separate, distinct episodes, connected by their characters. The frame story device employed in Agnon is of pan-European derivation, even though thoroughly meandering texts in the Jewish tradition are already found in the Talmud. (1) In Hebrew, the device of the frame story proper was first applied in mediaeval Spain. Based on Arabic models, the device is ultimately of Indian origin. It was imported into Europe through "the overwhelmingly one-way traffic of seminal commodities, artefacts and ideas that flowed westward from the South Asian subcontinent between at least 3000 B.C.E. and 1400 C.E. Along this stream [...] were borne the Gypsies, the game of chess, the mathematical concept of zero and the notation with which to use it, the literary device of the Frame Story, and a flood of stories to stock it" (Perry 2003: 63).

In Agnon's novel which we are considering, the protagonist of a few of the embedded stories, related by characters of the frame story, is a notable who--even though he plots to sabotage a forthcoming wedding, and out of vindictiveness tries to trap the daughter of another character in an unsuitable marriage--is outwardly perceived to be scrupulous in his Jewish orthopraxy. He is a member of Poland and Lithuania's autonomous representation of the Jews (the Diet of the Four Lands, Va'ad Arba'Aratsot, .[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). In 1764, Poland's Sejm passed a resolution for the liquidation of the central and land organisation of the Jews. Therefore, the narrated time must be prior to that date.

Let us consider, in Book One, Chapter Eleven of the novel, Agnon's description of the wedding, during which the young man whom the protagonist assumed was completely lacking in education, gives a superb speech on Divrei Torah, religious matters, and therefore, by the norms prevailing in that society, turns out to be a brilliant prospect as a bridegroom. The protagonist, a childless notable, sponsored this orphan from out of town, whom he raised in his home while denying him an education. Nevertheless, unbeknown to the host, the youngster had been receiving free tuition from an excellent teacher, and the pupil had responded very well to his teaching, becoming in turn a luminary. This quality of his is only revealed during the learned speech he gives at his wedding banquet.

Thus, the glowing qualities that his host and apparent "benefactor" had mischievously ascribed to him while arranging for his marriage to the only daughter of a former opponent who now is pathetically eager to please him, turn out to be true and even exceeded. The bridegroom obtains a rabbinic chair right away, there at the banquet, as the right people were listening: invitees who, unknowingly, were intended to be the witnesses of his and his father-in-law's shame. Nobody is more surprised than the prominent "benefactor", but in these circumstances, he must hide his disappointment. He had expected to gloat once his "adoptee" would have been revealed to be an ignoramus by his inability to deliver the speech expected of a bridegroom with a rabbinic education. Yet once the brilliant speech has been made, his sponsor can do nothing but accept the congratulations of those present. And oh, the secret teacher is among the invitees, and he too receives a well-deserved position as a result.

In this story, the narrator is omniscient. What may surprise an attentive reader is that it is one of the characters in the novel's frame story who, at another banquet, relates this embedded narrative omnisciently. Omniscience, by literary convention, would have not been surprising, had the narrator been the author. We are not told how, in the universe of the novel's narrative(s), anybody other than the hypocritical and actually wicked notable had become aware of his motives and his full modus operandi. Still, in the frame story, the notable is only referred to with deference, as a remarkable communal leader of old.

The magnate's gift of a not-yet slaughtered tsvi for the wedding

The gentile magnate who is a business associate of Shim'on Nathan, the prominent member of the Jewish community who is about to marry off his only daughter, makes a gift of food: large fish which are carried inside a cart, and also a tsvi, arguably a roebuck (Capreolus capreolus) walking in front of the cart, with a wreath of red sweet peppers (i.e., paprika fruits, pimiento) on its horns. The gentile aristocrat also sends his cook, either because he is in charge of the nobleman's kitchen, or because he can advise as to how to prepare the exotic meat, the tsvi.

Later on, during the wedding banquet, while about to commence his derashah, the bridegroom is described, staring at the horns of the tsvi which are standing on the table, with various things hanging from them. This indicates that there was no problem in eating the tsvi.

One interesting aspect of this fictional narrative is that it appears that the tsvi is slaughtered at the same time as the other meat animals are, in preparation for the banquet. Yet, veal, lamb or chicken are more tender than the meat of game such as deer or gazelle, or for that matter pheasants as well. Game is kept until it is "high", that is to say, one waits until it starts to rot before using it; until that moment, the meat is hung. The meat of deer is "well-high" when it turns green, which is a few days after it has become "high". Some prefer deer meat only to be cooked when it has become green.

It is quite uncharacteristic for Jewish cuisines to be faced with the need to keep meat until it is "high", and it is quite possible that this aspect of the matter eluded Agnon when he was writing the relevant passage. Yet, bear in mind that actually, beef, unlike veal, is also typically left hanging for one week after slaughter in present-day Britain and elsewhere. (2)

Moreover, Agnon's authorial freedom need not have been fettered by such realistic considerations. The nobleman had sent the live tsvi as a gift and sent his cook as well, to advise how to prepare and cook its flesh. As the magnate's own cook was involved, it is unlikely that the live animal would have been sent too late, just shortly before the banquet. More plausibly, it would have been sent a few days earlier, early enough for the slaughtered meat to become "high".

Kislev (1987) has discussed the identity of worms or insects found in vegetable crops, such as the zizin found in lentils, mentioned in early rabbinic sources, and how rabbinic authorities until the early modern period have dealt with the problem of worms or insects being found, for example in cheese. Kislev (1987: 90) also mentions that deer or gazelle meat is hung in the air for a few days until it is "high", or then for a few more days until it becomes green. Enzymes and microorganisms are active during that period, and these must be ascribed responsibility for making the meat "high".

Kislev mentions this because typically, while the meat is left hanging, flies leave their eggs in it, and these have time to develop. Those who then eat the meat, whether roasted or boiled, typically eat it along with the worms inside it. As generally the people eating such food are not Jewish, they are not faced with problems concerning the effects on the kosher status of the meat with such worms being inside it. These are worms that have developed in the meat after it was slaughtered as opposed to worms found inside the animal when it was still alive, and there are interesting halakhic considerations that Kislev addresses, although his main concern is with worms and insects found in crops, and to a lesser extent in cheese.

A close examination of Agnon's tsvi in relation to the banquet

As we shall see, to Eastern European Jews, tsvi was a name for the roe-deer, whereas in Biblical Hebrew, as well as for Middle Eastern Jews, the sense is "gazelle". The horns of these two species are shaped differently. In the description of the horns of the tsvi standing on the table, there appear to be things dangling down from them. In Israel, tsvi is what the gazelle is called, but the gazelle does not live in Europe, and its horns do not have branches: if you make them stand on a table, you would not have anywhere to hang things on, in the manner described in the passage quoted from Agnon.

 And still, the voices of beasts and fowl resounded from the
 abattoir. The wheel of a cart shrieks in a street in town, and
 the cart is laden with vegetables. A tsvi precedes it, its horns
 are covered with vegetables, and a crown of red peppers is
 on its head. The cook from the magnate's house follows the
 cart. Both things, the tsvi as well as the vegetables, are a
 present from the magnate, for the [wedding] banquet of the
 daughter of Shim'on Nathan. (3)

Moreover, children are described reciting biblical verses about the tsvi, which is not very realistic- whereas children running out to see the tsvi is realistic indeed. As for the wedding banquet:

 The bridegroom was still sitting in silence, staring at the horns
 of the tsvi, which were standing upright on the table, with
 various kinds of foodstuffs upon them.

A possible problem with this, yet one which can be overcome, is that the horns or antlers of the roebuck are rather small, although this depends on age. Each horn has from one bifurcation when the animal is younger, to three branches. According to Dor (1965), from the fifth year on, they no longer grow any further branches beyond the third one. The horns reach a length of 40 cm.

At the symbolic level: the gifts dangling down from the horns of the tsvi, the centrepiece on the table at the wedding banquet

"What is the significance of the pyramid of fruit which confronted Elizabeth Bennet at Pemberly?" asks Maggie Lane in Jane Austen and Food (Lane 1995); what is the role of alimentary symbolism in James Joyce's creative process, as displayed in Ulysses? This second question is addressed by Lindsay Tucker in Stephen and Bloom at Life's Feast (Tucker 1984).

In the episode we have been considering, from The Bridal Canopy, the father of the bride just cannot imagine what his former enemy, the sponsor of the bridegroom, has been planning in order to put him to shame. Friends and business associates of the father of the bride have been sending presents, and so too did the Polish magnate who had sent the tsvi, whose horns now stand on the table at the banquet, indeed its centrepiece.

Before the bridegroom gives his speech, he is sitting in silence, staring at the horns of the tsvi, from which all sorts of megadim, all sorts of good things, are dangling down. Whether or not he is going to deliver a masterly speech will determine his fate and the fate of the bride, and it will also determine whether the father of the bride might incur a total loss of face. This is something that the bride's father is not suspecting, as he was assured that the young man is a genius. The plan of his nemesis is that the bridegroom would fail the test miserably, and the bride's father would be socially destroyed. It is not out of the question that in such a situation, even though this is not said explicitly, the father of the bride could suffer a heart attack and leave this world for good.

Apparently, to the schemer, the gloating he is already savouring is an an added bonus to the pleasure to be derived from the disgrace of the bridegroom and the father-in-law. As for himself, he is childless and he has been raising an adolescent, who is not his son, in his home. Should this recipient of his "kindness" prove to be a disappointment, this would not be as damaging to him as if it were actually his own son.

An author so attentive as Agnon was to the treasures hidden in rabbinic Hebrew, and moreover, an author to whom symbolic meaning meant much, having inserted into the story the horns of the tsvi as the centrepiece on the table, he could not but have intended to fully evoke a Mishnaic expression that is very well known: qarnei ha tsvi, "the horns of the tsvi", which represents precariousness and utter jeopardy. Place your money on the horns of the tsvi, and you'll soon be parted from it. In the Mishnah, at Kethubboth 13:2, we find:


He has put (hinniah) his coins (ma'otav) on the horn of the tsvi.

Jastrow's dictionary (1903: 1258, s.v. tsvi) explains: "he has put his money on a deer's (4) horn, i.e. he cannot reclaim the unauthorised expense". In the episode from Agnon that we are analysing, the bride's father will incur an irretrievable loss, or, at any rate, this is what his nemesis expects to happen.

There is more to it. Another locus of the expression "the horn of a tsvi' is found in the Tosefta, at Gittin, 2:4, as well as in the Palestinian Talmud, at Gittin 2, 44b, bottom: a rather awkward medium for writing a letter of divorce is the horn of a tsv, though it is not ontologically impossible to write text on a horn. Consequently, the Sages have discussed such a possibility, writing: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--"if he wrote a letter of divorce on the horn of a deer, and cut it off and gave it to her ..." (Jastrow 1903: 1258).

This, crafting of symbolic elements in the narrative by Agnon befits the situation as envisaged by the schemer: this marriage is going to fail immediately at the wedding. The schemer, the narrator, and the reader are aware that this is what is supposed to happen. The schemer, unlike the narrator and the reader, is unaware that the bridegroom has received excellent tuition free of charge, from a teacher who had known his real father. Yet Agnon creates suspense: when everybody expects the bridegroom to stand up to give a speech, he is still sitting down, and staring at the horns of the tsvi, on which the megadim "depend" in the etymological sense--of being supported and dangling down from them--just as everything is going to revolve on how impressive the speech would be.

Agnon has us see, between the two covers of the same book, what a failed wedding is like, when a bridegroom fails to deliver a duly brilliant speech. In fact, in another embedded story, in the same novel, Agnon relates that a secular Jew who, when an adolescent, was a talented pupil of rabbinics and therefore was the intended son-in-law of an important personage. At the wedding, he had to pass the last test before the verba solemnia were pronounced, so he would become a married man. At the very moment when the rabbis present were assessing him, his mind was distracted with thoughts about the daughter of the woman in whose house he was lodging.

Another boy provides the right answers and marries the girl, whereas the boy who had failed went on to fail to marry even the socially less desirable daughter of his landlady. Having become secular (this is Galicia in the 1820s, unlike the much earlier narrated time of the story about the tsvi), he had his gentile maidservant laugh at the itinerant Reb Yudl, the devout and naive protagonist of the novel, who never even trims his beard. In the end, when the impecunious Reb Yudl is able, against the odds, to marry off his eldest daughter to a rich boy (a cock, running away, causes the girl to discover a treasure), we learn that the secularist we had met before received his just desserts, so to speak: his maidservant made false accusations against him, and her accomplices took off with his possessions.

Tsvi, between the Lexicon and the Onomasticon: On the tsvi in Hebrew sources from Europe

What do other Hebrew sources of Eastern European writers tell us about the tsvi, in their own usage of Hebrew? Let us consider, first of all, a Hebrew zoology book from 1862, a copy of which was, it has been reported in recent scholarly literature, found in the possession of the famous and much revered Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad. This is the important Hebrew popular zoology work by Sholem Yankev Abramowitsch, the famous writer Mendele Mokher Sforim (ca. 1837-1917). An innovator in Hebrew zoonymy, he "spent more years on Natural History than on any of his novels" (Aberbach 1993: 79). Abramowitsch reworked a book by Harald Lenz. His three Hebrew volumes covered Mammals (1862), Birds (1866), and Reptiles (1872).

Mordechai Zalkin (2005: 267) says of Abramowitsch : "One of the key figures among these compilers of popular science was Shalom Jacob Abramowitsch, better known as Mendele Mokher Sefarim. [...] [I]n the early 1860s he began publishing his comprehensive Toledot ha teva' (History of nature), a Hebrew translation of various works on natural sciences by Harald Othmar Lenz, Alfred Edmund Brehm, Philip Jacob Beumer, and Christoph Gottfried Andres Giebel." Abramowitsch's work was to become an important and influential landmark on naming animals in Modern Hebrew.

In the volume on Mammals, Abramowitsch has an entry on hatsvi, and this clearly is about the roebuck (Abramowitsch 1866: 413-415). The scientific name is given there as "C. capreolus", namely the now obsolete Cervus capreolus, the name now in use being Capreolus capreolus. This is the roebuck.

The roebuck used to be the only member of the Cervidae, the deer family, to be found in the Land of Israel. It was localised on Mt Carmel. It became extinct in 1912, owing to hunting pressure: a butchery in a local town of Christian "Templars" from Germany had retained the services of Druze hunters to ensure a supply of roebuck meat. The current Hebrew name of the roebuck is ayyal ha Karmel ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "the deer of Mount Carmel").

It is now clear that the name tsvi in Biblical Hebrew denotes the gazelle rather than the deer. The gazelle belongs to the family Bovidae, along with goats, sheep, cattle, and antelopes. There are two species of the genus Gazella in Israel: the so-called "tzvi of the Negev" (G. dorcas), and the "common tzvi' (G. gazella), found also elsewhere in Israel, the horns of which are closer to each other. The twenty or so species of Gazella range from tropical and northern Africa to the Middle East, and from there to India and Siberia. None is found in the wild in Europe.

Linguistic usage in Hebrew from Europe varies. Presumably in mediaeval Spain, Arabic-speaking Hebrew poets may have been thinking of the gazelle from Arabic poems, as well as of biblical references, or of species found in Spain, such as, on the mountains, the chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), whose name in Spanish is gamuza or robezo. The chamois is not found south of Anatolia, and therefore it is not found in Israel, where it is called in Modern Hebrew the "ya el (ibex) of the Alps". The chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) is called chamois in French and English, but Wild Gams in German. In Italian, the male is called camoscio, but the female, camozza.

As in Europe there are no gazelles, in European Hebrew sources from recent centuries, especially from Eastern Europe, the name tzvi was applied to the roebuck, a slender member of the family Cervidae. As we have seen, when Agnon mentions the tsvi at the banquet, he is referring to a cervid, not to the gazelle. Importantly, this appears to be the roebuck, which is of slighter build than the deer more often referred to in European popular culture, namely the red deer (Cervus elaphus).

What Abramowitsch says about the horns of roe deer

In Abramowitsch's book on Mammals the entry concerning Cervus capreolus, which in Hebrew he was referring to as the tsvi, makes the following statement about the horns (1862: 413-414):


Before we offer an English translation, note that Abramowitsch has replaced the months indicated in Harald Lenz's German source with Hebrew months; that he refers to the autumn by the term for "vine harvest"; and that he provides literal Hebrew translations from German for the various stages of the growth of the male roe deer. Moreover, quite interestingly, once the earliest, separate antlers fall off, the subsequent ones always grow out of a "rose", which Abramowitsch renders as shoshannah. Therefore, he refers to both antlers in the singular, qeren (5), presumably because biblical references to horns that come in pairs are expressed in the singular. Either antler is referred to by the Hebrew noun bad ("branch"):
 The horns of the tsvi [roe deer] that rise on his head for the first
 time, would rise like daggers, from the first autumn following his
 birth to the beginning of the month of Nissan of the second year,
 the length being two to three inches, and they are covered from
 above with a protective covering, which he scratches extensively
 on wet conifers (6) . The colour of those little horns, at that time,
 is light brown, and then the tsvi is called ben haromah
 (Spiessbock). During the next month of Kislev, he throws the
 points, or his first horns, off his head, and by the month of
 Nissan, a large branched horn grows on his head, such that
 either one of its branches has two protrusions (hiddudim: pointed
 ends) resembling a fork, and then he is called by the name ba al
 haqilshon (Gabelbock). The next autumn, instead of this horn, a
 different horn grows, such that out of each branch, three
 branches (pointed ends) emerge, and thereafter, the number of
 the branches would not increase in subsequent years. Actually
 the base of the branches of the horn (called a "rose"), that earlier
 on, in the second year, ascended above the head half an inch,
 now comes closer and closer to the skull, and boils (ava bu ot
 [the initial ayin instead of aleph is a typographical error in the
 book]), and protuberances multiply on it, and at this time the tsvi
 is called just a tsafir (buck: Bock). The horns of the tsvi are
 sometimes ungainly.

As we have already noted, in the mountains of Europe there is also a species referred to in Hebrew as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Rupicapra rupicapra, which is known in Italian as camoscio, Spanish as gamuza from Arabic, and in French and English as chamois (in Israel the skin is called, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] zemesh whereas in English it is called chamois or shammy). The horns of the chamois do not have branches but are hooked backwards. Only with difficulty could anything be hung on them. And finally, there is the steinbock or ibex from Europe: its horns are large and curved backwards.

Consider, in the second last sentence from the quotation block where we translated from Abramowitsch's Hebrew, the word "boils". The Hebrew word employed is ava'bu'ot. The Hebrew pronunciation as given here, ava'bu'ot, while translating the quotation from Abramowitsch, is the pronunciation current in Israeli Hebrew, rather than Ashkenazic avabies. Abramowitsch was a Lithuanian Jew, who later in life settled in Odessa. While his terminology has had an enduring impact on the Hebrew language, it is as well to be aware that he would have pronounced the terms he introduced into the language somewhat differently from the way that they are sounded today.

Also consider the young roebuck, "called ben haromah (Spiessbock)". The Hebrew compound is Abramowitsch's neologism, partly patterned after the German term he mentions. Let us say something more about the German name Spiessbock, that Abramowitsch transliterates into Hebrew characters (Yiddish spelling), in parenthesis after the Hebrew name he coined for it, ben haromah (literally: "the son of the dagger"). At present, in standard German, Spiessbock denotes the genus Oryx (English and French oryx and Italian orice), thus, a kind of animal (7) from Africa and the Middle East, but not occurring in the wild in Europe. This reflects the widened geographic horizon of our own generation: exotic animals have become no less familiar than European animals. Accordingly, the name Spiessbock is now specialised for the genus Oryx. Actually, the shape of its horns is such that it has been associated with the unicorn (see for example Godbey 1939). Not unlike the German name Spiessbock is the English name scimitar-horned oryx or scimitar oryx, of the North African species Oryx dammah.

Other examples of semantic shift for tsvi from Europe

Amar (2008) discusses the rabbinic tradition of identification of the tsvi. The older references clearly indicate that it is the gazelle, the evidence being in the Aramaic and Arabic terms used in translation, as against ayyal for "deer", that is, "any of the Cervidae". Spanish-born Abraham Ibn Ezra, even though he wandered through various European countries and apparently died in England, had knowledge concerning the identity of the tsvi that was shared with other Arabic-speaking Jews. This can apparently be gathered from his gloss to Deuteronomy 14:5, where he states: "Tsvi and ayyal are known, whereas the other ones [kinds of animals listed there] require a tradition (qabbalah)".

The absence of the gazelle from Europe caused a semantic shift in Europe, as can be seen from Rashi's gloss on tsvi at tractate Hullin, 59b, of the Babylonian Talmud:

 Yet for the tsvi, whose horns are not branched, I do not know
 why it says that, as they certainly have branches, and it
 appears to me to be the case that what we call tsvi is not what
 they call tsvi, but those [animals] that are called steinbock,
 whose horns do not have branches.

From this we see that Rashi realised that the tsvi was not the deer, contrary to the usual identification among Jews in Franco-Germany, who were used to identifying it with ruminants whose horns have branches (that is, cervids). Yet, as knowledge of the gazelle was not available to him, while looking for a wild ruminant whose horns have no branches, he had to settle for a European mountain goat, the steinbock. Its name is, in Modern French, bouquetin, which is from Provencal boc estain or boc estanc, whereas Rashi's own Old French term is closer to the forms of the term as found in Germanic languages. Importantly, the Provencal etymology yields a literal sense ("a he goat with a firm foothold", bouc au pied stable) different from that of German Steinbock (which has to do with the rocks, on which the steinbock lives).

In French, bouc means "he-goat", and the scapegoat is called bouc emissaire. In present-day France, there exists the family name Boutrolle d'Estaimbuc, and in Mont-Saint-Aignan, there is a Rue Boutrolles-Estaimbuc, but more precisely: Rue Jacques Boutrolle d'Estaimbuc. In fact, estaimbuc (Italian stambecco) is an ancient regional French name for "steinbock", which standard French calls bouquetin.

In French, the female of the bouquetin is called both bouquetin femelle, and etagne, the latter related to the Provencal name of the steinbock. In present-day French, the bouquetin is more specifically called bouquetin des Alpes. In English, Alpine ibex refers to steinbock, while in Italian it is known as stambecco, but more precisely stambecco delle Alpi, or stambecco alpino. This is in distinction from the names for the species Capra pyrenaica: French bouquetin d'Espagne, German Spanischer Steinbock, Italian Stambecco della Spagna.

In given contexts, namely, in materia medica, the name bocchettino, an adaptation from French, used to occur in Italian; here is an entry from Cevasco (1840 vol. 2: 514), a book about Genoan lore and data: "SANG DE BOUC et de Bouquetin. Sangue di Becco e di Bocchettino (Stambecco). C'est le sang de ces animaux qui a ete desseche au soleil. Il est sec, dur, et difficile a reduire en poudre. Employe en medecine. Le Bouquetin, Capra ibex, en italien Stambecco ou Capro selvatico, est un mammifere, du genre des chevres, rare aujourd'hui, qui ne se trouve que sur les sommites des Alpes". (8)

As we have mentioned, Rashi's interpretation of the Hebrew noun tsvi, an interpretation unrelated to the gazelle, considers that in Old French gentile culture (thus, in Rashi's places and times) there was awareness of the gazelle as being an exotic animal. Discussing how Old French epics represented antiquity, Guy Raynaud de Lage ([1961] 1976: 139) remarks that in some famous romances about Troy and even more about Alexander the Great, exotic details appear or are even prominent, "Dans le Roman de Troie, mais plus encore dans the Roman d'Alexandre, d'Alexandre de Bernai, l'exotisme se fair jour ou s'etale" (Raynaud de Lage [1961] 1976:139), such as when it comes to chariots or mounts. In the Roman d'Alexandre, III, 637-640, chariots have sickles rotating with their wheels, a sight unknown to the romance's original audience. In the Roman de Troie, v. 7905, the Chariot of King Fion is drawn by two camels. In the Roman d'Alexandre, III, we have "un prince Africain etrangement monte" :

Moab, uns rois d'Aufrique, sist sor une gazele

[Moab, a king from Africa, is mounted on a gazelle] (Raynaud de Lage [1961] 1976: 733).

Yet, we have seen, to Rashi the tsvi is not the gazelle, but the steinbock. The steinbock of Europe is a subordinate concept of "ibex", that also encompasses the ya'el (ibex) from the Land of Israel, and actually is from the same genus as the domestic goat, with which its cross-breeding gives fertile issue. (9)

Incidentally, the gazelle of sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa (now extinct in the latter) is the Dama Gazelle (Gazella dama), whereas the biblical tsvi, in the environmental context of the Land of Israel denotes the species Gazella gazella. In Maghrebine French, cornes de gazelles (literally, "horns of gazelles") denotes crescent-shaped biscuits coated in sesame seeds. It is unnecessary for the metaphor to be zoologically precise in this case, yet the genus Gazella is intended, albeit through the prism of connotations that ghzala takes in Arabic-speaking cultures.

Evidence from standard co-occurrence of Tsvi from European Jewish naming practice

There is an anecdote about Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, related by Agnon in the story The Birth of that Righteous Man, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (2001: 152) in his 1984 posthumous book Takhrikh shel Sippurim, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], in which Agnon relates that when the mother was pregnant with this baby, she was advised by her uncle, the famous Rabbi Elimelech of Lyzhansk, to name the child Elimelech like him, at which she broke into tears because she (wrongly) assumed he was hinting he would himself be dead by the time of the birth, as it is against Ashkenazi custom to name a child after a living relative.

As she found it difficult to name the baby after her still living uncle, upon her own initiative she decided to name him Tsvi Elimelech, but her husband rather called him Hersch Meilekh, "as in Ivri-Taitsch [here, for Yiddish] Tsvi is called Hersch, and Meilekh is how Elimelech is called". The mother takes her baby to see her uncle, who on learning that the first name she gave the boy is Tsvi, tells her: "The tsvi is not a Meilekh (king)". He blesses the boy with running like a tsvi to perform the wishes of Our Father in Heaven, using an image from the Nishmat kol chai prayer.

It is telling, concerning the confusion in Europe, that in recent centuries, the European Jewish naming conventions coupled the name Naftali--after one of Jacob's sons, a tribal eponym, whose biblical blessings and thus his emblem features a fleet-footed ayyalah "doe" (Genesis 49:21)--with the name Tsvi, and oftentimes the Yiddish personal name Hirsch, from the German and Yiddish common name Hirsch for "deer". Such confusion, Amar (2008) points out, is not to be detected in the naming practice of Ashkenazi Jews who called their son Naftali-Hirsch, by reference to the biblical blessing mentioning the ayyalah, and who omitted from the given names the component Tsvi. By contrast, presence of that component in the compound names Naftali-Tsvi-Hirsch or Tsvi-Hirsch, frequent until recent times in Ashkenazi names, is evidence that the tsvi was taken to be the deer.

Also consider that a well-known family from the elite of the Jewish community of Venice is called Basevi (from Bashevis), but two branches of that family are more fully named after their respective emblems:

Basevi Della Gondola, "the Basevis with the gondola". Query whether there is any connection with the fact that at Deuteronomy 33:23, Moses blesses Naftali with inheriting yam, the west (literally the sea), as well as the south.

Basevi del Cervetto, "the Basevis with the little deer": the head of a deer appears in their coat-of-arms. This is clearly based on the swiftness of the ayyalah from Jacob's blessing for Naftali at Genesis 49:21. Sometimes, the family name occurs even just as Cervetto--not only in present times, but also historically. In the first half of the 18th century, the Veronese cellist Giacomo Cervetto was a friend of the composer George Frederic Handel (Ringer 1961: 24).

Gentile Italian biographical sketches include a name that is currently well recognised, and that is transparently evocative of gazzella, "gazelle": Severino Gazzelloni (born in Roccasecca, 1919 and died in Cassino, 1992) was a famous flautist. He was from an area of south eastern Latium known as Ciociaria, having been born in a town (now of over 7,000 inhabitants) in the province of Frosinone. It is tantalising to wonder whether this name actually derives from gazzella. That gazelles are not found in Italy in the wild is not in itself an obstacle: lions and leopards are not either, yet Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837) was a prominent poet (incidentally, with some interest in Hebrew studies), and Giovanni Leone, from Naples, was president of the Republic in 1971-1978 (his villa used to be named La Tana del Leone, "The Lion's Lair"). Sergio Leone (1929-1989), a film director, was the most prominent in the genre of the spaghetti-western, and Leone Leoni (ca. 1509-1590) was a sculptor, goldsmith, and architect.

Reflexes of Jewish law

The koy or hircocervus: gazelle/goat crossbreed to the talmudic Sages, deer/goat crossbreed in the Western tradition

The following comparison is instructive. The Talmudic Sages of the Land of Israel (Yerushalmi, Bikkurim2, end, 65) and of Babylonia (Bavli, Hullin 80a) possessed lore about the beast kwy ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--traditionally pronounced koy, or kvi, or kavi, in different communities), with various opinions about what it was. By one ancient opinion, it was the offspring of a he goat (tayish, OTi) and a female gazelle ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]):


Contrasting with that quotation from Bavli, Hullin 80a, the Greeks and the Romans respectively called a wild ruminant (apparently, a bearded antelope or deer) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and hircocervus in that order, expressing the belief that it was a crossbreed of goat and deer, not gazelle. To (gentile) Europeans, indeed, it was the deer that was relevant, whereas the gazelle was not as focal an animal as the deer, as there were no gazelles in Greece or in Italy.

In the chapter on meat in an official Swiss report, Manuel suisse des denrees alimentaires (MSDA 1999: 214), under a table of kinds of game that are relevant for the European markets, it is stated: "Les croisements de Wapiti avec le cerf d'Europe sont consideres comme des cerfs"--"Crossbreeds of the American wapiti with the European deer are considered to be deer".

Jastrow (1903, s.v. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: 618-619) has this definition, not mentioning the gazelle: "Koy, (prob.) a kind of bearded deer or antelope ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). [The rabbis leave it undecided whether K. belongs to the genus of cattle ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])) or beasts of chase ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).]" (the brackets are Jastrow's own).

The German Rabbi Jacob ben Judah Weil, also known as Mahari Weil, died before 1456. He is an important authority on slaughtering and post-slaughtering examination. He considerd that the koywas an animal which he names by a cognate of "buffalo":

 One slaughtering the koy, that is called [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE
 IN ASCII], (bwpy"l bl"?) let him spread much sand before the
 slaughtering, because it may be a hayyah (that is, a wild as
 against a domestic species, a behemah), so it is necessary to
 cover its blood because of the doubt. And in order to avoid a
 controversial situation, let him slaughter some fowl over the
 blood of the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], so that he
 could say the blessing for the covering [of blood]. And if it is
 on Shabbat, and he is [nevertheless] slaughtering [because it is a
 necessity] for a person who is ill, let him not cover [the blood]
 until after Shabbat.

The noun that the text transcribes as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is German Buffel, French buffle. As to the water buffalo (what the Italians call bufalo, as in mozzarella dibufala), in Israeli Hebrew it is called by the rather unusually formed noun to (te'o, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), a biblical word; but in substandard communication (whether oral, or written), sometimes the Arabic noun jamus ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) [[d[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]a:'mu:s]).] is used in Israeli Hebrew, and the Hebrew plural jamusim ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) of that loanword is also heard, along with the original Hebrew word t'oyim ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). The standard Arabic form of the noun is jamus (but in the vernacular, among Iraqis, the pronunciation is jamus [d[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]'mu:s]). The Arabic plural is jamas.

Actually, the water buffalo appears to have only been introduced into the Land of Israel in the early postbiblical period, and neither in the Hebrew Bible, nor the early rabbinic literature is the water buffalo referred to by the name to ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) The water buffalo still existed in the marshes of Lake Huleh until the 1948 war, when it was destroyed. It was later reintroduced into a local nature reserve, after the small lake was drained and the marshes had been reclaimed.

Dor (1997: 38-39) proposes that Biblical Hebrew t'o ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) denoted the aurochs (Bos primigenius), the now extinct, wild cattle, the last individuals having perished in Europe in the early modern period. Dor also proposes that the water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is to be identified as being the animal signified in the Mishnaic Hebrew koy. The occurrence of the latter in the Mishnah, tractate Bekhorot, 1:5, "nor by a hybrid (kil'ayim), nor by a koy" ('[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) proves, according to Dor, that the koy was not considered to be a hybrid, as it is not subsumed by kil'ayim. It is the semi-domestic status of the water buffalo that gave rise to the question whether the koy is a hayyah or a behemah; but the claim that it is a behemah, was ascribed to Rabbi Shim'on ben Gamli'el in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Hullin, 80a.

Amar, Bouchnick and Bar-Oz (2010), in an article that pays much attention to the evidence of archaeological bone assemblages in trying to identify the ritually clean ungulates from the Hebrew Bible, identified the t'o as the aurochs (Bos primigenius).

The yahmur, a ruminant mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:5 and 1 Kings 5:3, has been variously identified. Amar and Serri (2005: 63-70) in an article titled "When Did the Water Buffalo Make Its Appearance in Israel?", and then Amar and Zivotofsky (2007: 379-387), proposed that the yahmur is the water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis). More recently, Amar, Bouchnick and Bar Oz (2010: 8) noted that the water buffalo was not found in any archaeozoological bone assemblage from the country, where the archaeological evidence considered covered a period up till the pre-Exilic biblical period. They therefore preferred to identify the yahmur "as the hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus), as is also suggested in the translation of the Septuagint and the Vulgate. Hartebeest remains are abundant in the archaeozoological record. In Arabic, a zoonym closely related to Biblical Hebrew yahmur denotes a kind of deer, whereas the hartebeest is an antelope species with long horns. The biblical texts list yahmur after ayyal ('deer') and tsvi ('gazelle'), and based on archaeozoological abundance, the hartebeest fits the bill.

Slaughtering in Hebrew literature

It may come as a surprise to some that rules of slaughtering found expression in Hebrew poetry. The rule about kissuy ha dam (covering blood with sand) is concisely referred to as


in Solomon Ibn Gabirol's Azharot (List of Precepts) traditionally recited on the Pentecost. The Azharot (literally: Warnings) are hymns about the 613 precepts in the Torah, specifically arranged for the Pentecost, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. Haberman (1958/9) comments that the Azharot
 belong to the genre of poems that are about ritual and legal norms
 ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). This genre also includes the
 poems [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ["O one eating meat, do not
 forget"] about the prohibition of dairy food [after eating meat],
 by Rabbi Benjamin Espinosa ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (no.
 1818 in Davidson's incipitarium), the book [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE
 IN ASCII] ["Slaughterers of Children", with an ambiguous genitive,
 for "Slaughterers' rules for children"!], about the rules of
 slaughtering, by Rabbi Israel Najjara (Amsterdam 5478 [1717/8]; the
 book was so titled because the norms of slaughtering in this poem
 are quite easy, to the extent that even children may study them),
 and so forth. (10)

Kissuy ha dam ("The Covering of Blood") is also the title of an important long novella by Agnon. The title is motivated, on the surface, by a central episode, about a rabbi who, having found employment in America as a slaughterer of poultry, stands all day in the basement and, having been denied a break on a fast day, needs to have a leg amputated because of a blood clot. It is a complex novella. Studies devoted to it included, in the 1970s, much of the doctoral dissertation of a prominent Agnon scholar, Hillel Weiss. (11)

On a tradition setting the distinction of tsvi vs. ayyal based on the horns

The main thrust in Amar (2008) is to make the distinction of the tsvi (gazelle) from the ayyal (deer) independent from considerations of lexical philology, but rather grounded in animal morphology, that is, in anatomy. He remarks that not only did the early rabbinical authorities point to the shape of the "horns" (branched in the ayyal, not branched in the tsvi) a distinctive trait (Hullin 59b); they also made much of the branching of the antlers of the ayyal in Midrash. We find indeed, again in the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 29a):

 "To the conductor [of the chorus], on the ' doe of dawn (shahar:
 dawn, literally blackness)' [i.e., the aurora]" (Psalms 21:1): Just
 as this ayyalah (deer) has horns branching out to this side and
 to that, so too this dawn [the red aurora] breaks (maftsia',
 literally wounds, bleeds) to this side and to that [...]. Just as
 this ayyalah (deer), as long as its horns grow, they keep
 branching out, so too the righteous ones, as long as they keep
 adding prayer to prayer, their prayer is heard [High Above].

Significantly, lifelong growth in the antlers of cervids had been observed in biblical times. And significantly, Rashi's gloss above understood that ayyalah is used here for "deer" as being semantically unmarked; it is not as if the feminine here refers to the female:

 "This ayyalah": it employs [the feminine] not necessarily [to
 denote the female], as [in point of fact], the female has no horns.

Maimonides made the feature of the horns in animals that have a cloven hoof and are ruminants, whether branching or not--yet shapely: hadurot [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] a distinctive trait of clean animals, traits archetypally associated with the deer (ayyal), and the tsvi (gazelle), in that order (Maimonides, Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Asurot, 1:10).

In the last quarter of the 13th century, a Hebrew encyclopaedia, Sha'ar ha-Shamayim, by the Provencal Rabbi Gershon ben Shelomo, (12) mentions "the tsvi and the ayyal" as a fixed relationship: it is of biblical derivation, yet in that encyclopaedia, it appears to be just one signifier, denoting any deer, and even if it were taken to stand for two distinct signifiers, at any rate they both denote members of Cervidae. In fact, the claim appears there that:

 There are some animals that change their horns, like the tsvi
 and the ayyal, when they are old [this must mean: in
 adulthood, when they are grown up].

It is only members of Cervidae that shed their horns, or rather antlers, and grow another pair of horns in their stead. This is not the case of the gazelle. We shall return to that encyclopaedia later in this article.

The gall-bladder as a distinctive trait, and R. Joseph Caro's (mis)ascription of its absence (a cervid feature) to the tsvi

The celebrated halakhic compendium, the Shulhan 'Arukh, has been fundamental for halakhic discussions since the early modern period. Rabbi Joseph Caro, its author, published it in 1565. He was a Sephardi, but it is well-known that he also relied on an Ashkenazi tradition. He was born in the Iberian Peninsula in 1488 (at a time when its Jews, except those of Granada, were steeped in Romance culture, no longer in Arabic culture). He left his native country, Spain, as a child in 1492, and then left Portugal in 1497, later living in the Balkans (at first in Nicopolis in the north-western part of present-day Greece, then from the early 1520s in Adrianople in present-day Turkish Thrace, then in Salonica and Constantinople), eventually moving to Safed in the Galilee, where he died in 1575. During the last thirty years of his life, his reputation was immense, both in Europe and the Levant. Even if his third and last wife had not been from an Ashkenazi family (the daughter of talmudist Zechariah Sechsel or Sachsel), it would be safe to say that whatever he knew of the tsvi owed much to European traditions.

The main original contribution in Amar (2008), is the clarification of why the Shulhan 'Arukh, while dealing with what makes a slaughtered animal non-kosher, identified the absence of a gallbladder in the liver of the tsvi (added emphasis):

 There are such fowl that they have no gall, like the turtledoves
 and pigeons, and these are not to be forbidden, the reason
 being that the entire species is that way, and the tsvi has no
 gall in its liver, but has [it] down, next to its tail.

This is quoted from Shulhan 'Arukh, Yoreh De'ah, 42:8. Caro appears to have been of the opinion that it is the gall-bladder of the tsvi that is found beside its tail, whereas presumably what he took to be gall, was an odorous secretion of a different gland. More significantly for our purposes, the gazelle does have a gall-bladder, whereas in all members of the Cervidae, the gall-bladder is indeed missing.

Therefore, Caro must have been confusing the identities, and taking, in European fashion, the tsvi to be a deer. Caro's dependence on some European source in this matter finds support, Amar (2008) remarks in a footnote, in other ruminant terminology. In the same textual corpus, the water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is called by the Italian term bufalo ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), in Shulhan 'Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 28:4.

Amar (2008) was able to trace Caro's source for his claim concerning the absence of the gall-bladder in the tsvi to a mediaeval Provencal rabbi, Aharon ha Cohen of Lunel. Other authors, mediaeval or early modern, had ascribed such absence to the ayyal. Such absence in the deer was already noted by Aristotle, but Amar, who recognises that lore from Aristotle was available in Jewish texts, considers that the recurrence of the information about the absence of the gall-bladder in texts by various rabbinic authorities stems from a centuries-long experience of deer slaughtering.

In the last quarter of the 13th century, Gershon ben Shelomo's Hebrew encyclopaedia, Sha'ar ha-Shamayim, had stated concerning "the tsvi and the ayyal' that they both shed their horns (thus, they must both be members of the Cervidae), and moreover, that

 And there are a few animals that have no gall/bile (and
 therefore no gall bladder either) at all, and this is because they
 have it in their intestines, like the dove, and the quail, and the
 sparrow [...]. As to the tsvi and the ayyal, it is claimed
 concerning them that the gall is inside their tail [alyah is a
 sheep's fat tail].

Amar (2008) also remarks that the gall-bladder is missing as well from the giraffe. The dissection, in Israel, of a stillborn giraffe was described by him and his co investigators in Zivotofsky et al. (2002/3).

The absence of the gall-bladder in a member species of the Cervidae is also noted, in a kosher slaughtering context, by Rabbi Y.P. Adler (2004/5), concerning an American cervid, the elk. Using Yiddish spelling rules, he refers to that animal as "the animal called elk", writing the e of elk with the letter 'ayin ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). The spelling [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] while naming this animal is already to be found in Abramowitsch's (1862) zoology of Mammals.

A 19th-Century Eastern contradictor of R. Joseph Caro concerning the tsvi's having or not having a gall-bladder

Importantly, by referring to Rabbi Joseph Caro's statement concerning there being no gall-bladder in the liver of the tsvi, Rabbi 'Abdallah Somekh (1813-1889) of Baghdad contradicted him (added emphasis):

 Here in our city of Baghdad--let the Higher One maintain
 her, amen--the sebi [i.e., gazelle] species does have bile,
 like domestic ruminants.

This is quoted from his book Zibhei Sedeq (I, on Yoreh De'ah, [section] 42, 8). There is written as well as oral evidence in support of the claim concerning the availability of gazelle meat among Baghdadi Jews. Again the book Zibhei Sedeq (I, on Yoreh De'ah, [section] 80, 2), Rabbi 'Abdallah Somekh (13) also claimed:


And here in Baghdad--let the Higher One maintain her, amen --we possess an authoritative tradition concerning three animal kinds, namely, the sebi [gazelle], and the ayyal [deer], and the yahmur (Somekh 1899).

More documentary evidence can be found in a widespread work by a pupil of the same rabbi. The next section is concerned with that other passage.

A passage from Ben Ish Hay about the raising of gazelles

In Amar and Nissan (2009), we discussed the use made, among modern Iraqi Jews, of the meat of gazelles, as well as of gazelle skins in the manufacturing of Torah scrolls. As hunting pressure would not have been sustainable, supply did not rely just on gazelles captured in the wild. There were Iraqi Jews raising gazelles on farms, as well as some Baghdadi Jews raising them in their urban homes. A passage in Rabbi Yosef Hayyim's (1834-1909) Ben Ish Hay (1911/12) points out:

 And here, in our city of Baghdad, there are many people who
 are used to raising gazelles at home, but their custom is to so
 raise them as to make them used to always stand above, on the
 roof, or in the akhsadrah (colonnaded corridor) and not come
 down into the courtyard, because they fear lest [the gazelles]
 would go out into public space and would escape outside.

What he meant by haser was the courtyard or patio (called hosh in the vernacular), in the middle of the house. What he meant by the rabbinical term akhsadrah clearly was the tarma. There were two kinds of corridors in Baghdadi "courtyard houses":
 The tarar, a colonnaded covered corridor on the same level
 as the central patio (courtyard) of the house. It used to be a
 multi-functional space. It may or may not have flanked the cool
 cellars, but at any rate in summer it was cooler than upstairs.
 Guests were received there, sometimes, and also some
 banquets were held there, as the corridor was broad enough
 for that.

 The tarma, any of the corridors, one floor up, from whose
 parapet one could look down on the courtyard, and which in
 fact surrounded the courtyard. The tarma, too, could host a
 banquet. In the house inhabited by Nissan's mother in her
 childhood and adolescence, at one end of the first-floor tarma
 into which the rooms on the house facade opened, there was
 a cupboard with Passover ware.

That kind of architecture in Jewish households is described by Nissan (in press, a).

The structure of Ben Ish Hay is as a collection of sermons for the Shabbat weekly Torah readings of two consecutive years. Unusually, these sermons do not deal (other than at the beginning of the sermon) with the subject of the corresponding Parashah, but are each devoted to ritualistic popularisation. This was based on how this rabbi was actually preaching on Shabbat. The passage we have quoted earlier, is from Year Two, Parshath Va'era.

Having read a draft of Amar and Nissan (2009), a literary studies scholar, the Baghdadi-born Professor Shmuel Moreh in Jerusalem, commented "Now I understand what is the significance of the story [by] Mr. Eliahu Agasi, the son of the Chief Rabbi Shim'on Agasi, who in [...] his memoirs or short stories spoke of the gazelle which they kept at their house. He said that when the moon was full, the gazelle was dancing as usual on the second floor, and in one of her jumps, she fell to the courtyard and died". (14) This testimony, along with the interviews and other evidence presented here, is important in as much as it is indicative of the limits to which captive gazelles became adapted to their domestic environment. Moreover, if Mr Agasi (Aghasi) was writing about this in a short story (however autobiographical), rather than in mundane prose with no literary pretence, we can see that a powerful image made its way into the belles lettres, from a little-known fact which was part of the material culture of modern Iraqi Jews.

Concluding remarks

In this article, we have discussed cultural, anthropological, and lexicological aspects of the Hebrew zoonym tsvi. This is a contribution to clarifying an issue in the shifting sands of denotation of Hebrew names for animals. We first considered its occurrence in an episode from a novel by Agnon, set in Eastern Europe. (15) "Animals in human culture" has been a popular theme among anthropologists in the past several years.

Our discussion has taken us through Sholem Abramowisch/Mendele Mokher Sforim, not in his capacity as a major Hebrew writer, but in his role as an innovator of Hebrew zoology/zoonymy. Even more enlightening is the realisation that of those Jews who understood tsvi as denoting the gazelle (the original sense intended by the Bible and the talmudic Sages) rather than the roe-deer, some were raising gazelles at home in recent generations. Literary studies concerned with East European Jewry accustomed us to Jews raising geese in the loft, for meat, fat, and feathers--but gazelles?--that is another matter.

While Reb Yudl, the protagonist of The Bridal Canopy, travels around in order to put together the dowry for his three daughters--often forgetting or disregarding the purpose of his peregrinations as soon as he can put his hands on a traditional book--what are his long-suffering wife and daughters doing? They spend their lives plucking geese. When, against the expected workings of human society, a treasure found by Reb Yudl's daughter enables her to marry into the moneyed elite, among the varieties of fish served at the wedding feast, some are costly, but others are species affordable to the impecunious--so that they would not be shamed into only finding at the banquet foodstuffs that they could not afford in their normal diet.

When the tsvi, which in Agnon, as we have seen, is a roebuck, comes into the picture, at another wedding from perhaps eighty years earlier, it is only there because a Polish magnate had sent it as a present to the wedding of the daughter of his Jewish business associate. Yet, if we were to cave in with undue haste to assumptions about Jewish societies, roe-deer would have appeared to be a "foreign" presence in Jewish society, as Jews normally did not have access to game, which turns up during the preparations for the wedding for the very reason that it is kosher.

Accordingly, the magnate had sent along his likewise gentile cook to instruct the Jews as to how to prepare its meat. But as we now see, wild ruminant species, far from merely being kosher but unobtainable, actually had a Sitz im Leben in Jewish material culture in a different geographical setting, modern Mesopotamia, just as they had a place in theoretical discussions among the mediaeval and early modern rabbinical authorities in Europe, let alone in poetic metaphors as early as the Hebrew Bible, and as famously as in the Spanish Golden Age of Hebrew poetry.

One of the outstanding poets of that era was Yehudah Halevi, and Arabic was the spoken language in Spain at the time. In Arabic ghazala "gazelle" is the paragon of beauty. Interestingly, as observed by one of the reviewers of this article, Yehudah Halevi and other Mediaeval Spanish poets used the terms [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] tsvi and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] tsviyyah to refer to "a youth, a young boy" and "a young girl" respectively. In Arabic, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] which is identical in sound to the traditional Sephardi pronunciation of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (sebi), though etymologically distinct, means "a young boy, a youth". (16) These poets, in effect, have "domesticated" an Arabic word into Hebrew poetic language, combining the grace and beauty of the gazelle with the concept of youth. (17)

From Scheindlin (1991), one can see that the doe and the gazelle were roughly interchangeable in mediaeval poetic metaphor. In translations from modern Hebrew literature, sometimes "doe" is still used to translate tsviyyah--even when the setting is in Israel, and the reference is to an animal in the wild. This is the case of Yitzhak Orpaz's "Tseid Ha-Tsviyyah"--Hunting of the Gazelle (Orpaz 1973), a work analysed by Giulia Miller (2008). In an earlier edition of this work, the title had been translated as Hunting of the Doe. (18)

Our present article can be read on a number of levels and by a number of audiences. It is perhaps most successful (or at any rate, one of the referees--whose wording we are adopting here--kindly stated as much) for those interested in the precise trajectory of Hebrew terminology for specific types of deer and other ruminants. It highlights the presence or absence of such terms in Hebrew writing, whether biblical and rabbinic literature, mediaeval poetry, or 19th-20th century literature and scientific writing in Hebrew, relative familiarity with certain species of animals, and consequently which animals they were referring to when Hebrew terms were used.

We have been less concerned with demonstrating exactly how the findings reported in great detail are relevant to understanding Agnon, or more exactly, why the amount of detail provided here is needed to explicate the passage in Agnon and just what it shows. Indeed, readers who turn to this article in order to understand Agnon's reference--the starting point of the article--may well wish we had discussed the literary ramifications of our zoological (or rather, "animals in culture" anthropological) findings at greater length. Admittedly, Agnon has been for us a springboard to looking at the way the term tsvi was used by Jewish communities in different cultural settings.

Hopefully, the article suggests important issues about Jewish awareness of certain animals, and the extent to which Jews kept them, and even about the extent to which non-Jews, real or literary, might be aware of game animals allowed or disallowed by the strictures of Kashrut. We therefore trust the reader will find this article useful and interesting. We do not deny that our presentation choice may come through, to some, as an appendix on literary zoological references suggested by Agnon. In a sense, the anthropological discussion of the varieties of animals concerned was as important to us here as discussing Agnon from a literary studies perspective.

Still, prodding readers to think about what Agnon was doing in his text we see as a bonus, providing insight to the background of his writing--the Israeli reader today, used to understanding the term tsvi to mean gazelle might well be puzzled in reading Agnon without knowledge of the historical circumstances. As one of the referees wondered: can "novelistic time" actually match "historic time"? In this case, the referee remarks, Agnon may have been well aware that some details were anachronistic if his novel were placed in one century as opposed to another, or that the symbolism of tsvi in Hebrew and Aramaic sources may have been more important to his novel than the actual animal.


Aberbach, David. 1993. Realism, Caricature and Bias: The Fiction of Mendele Mokher Sefarim. London: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.

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(1.) The Babylonian Talmud was largely completed in the middle of the sixth century CE. It covers discussions from rabbinical academies from the previous three centuries on biblical themes, Jewish law and folklore.

(2.) In Japan meat is not hung, for as an alternative to hanging, live cattle are prepared by repeated massaging, in order to make the costly meat more tender.

(3.) This is an ad hoc translation, simply for the purposes of this article.

(4.) Significantly, Jastrow, an outstanding Talmudic scholar, born in Rogozno, a Polish town, then under Prussian rule in 1829, like Agnon and Abramowitsch understood "tsvi" to be a deer, rather than a gazelle.

(5.) The principal meaning of Hebrew word qeren which Abramowitsch uses for antlers is a horn, reflecting the confusion concerning the use of the word tsvi.

(6.) The term which Abramowitsch uses for conifers literally means "needle trees", a term which has been retained in Israeli Hebrew.

(7.) These terms refer to kinds of animals rather than to "species" in Linnaean taxonomy. They are popular names (folk-taxons) rather than corresponding to the scientific Linnaean system of classification.

(8.) This translates as: "Blood of Bouc and of Bouquetin. [In Italian, Sangue di Becco e di Bocchettino (Stambecco)]. This is animal blood which has been dried in the sun. It is hard, dry, and difficult to reduce to a powder. Used in medicine. The Bouquetin, Capra ibex, in Italian Stambecco or Capro selvatico, is a mammal, one of a variety of goats, rare today, which can only be found on mountain tops in the Alps."

(9.) In the 1970s in Israel, a breeder called such hybrids ya'ez, from 'ez "goat" and ya'el "ibex". For such portmanteau lexical formations, in American English cattalo and beefalo have been created, denoting cross-breeds of domestic cattle and the American buffalo, the name being a merger of cattle and buffalo. See Nissan (in press, b).

(10.) This passage has been translated by the authors of this article.

(11.) For a discussion of that particular episode, see Ben-Dov (2006), Weiss (1976, 1978, 1980) and Shaked (1989).

(12.) For a discussion of this work, see Zonta (1996).

(13.) The traditional Iraqi Jewish pronunciation of this family name is Sumekh.

(14.) Emailed communication, 30 May 2008, from Moreh to Nissan.

(15.) The banquet episode is interesting also in respect of the theme of "food in literature", now fashionable in literary criticism. See Nissan (2009).

(16.) On the comparative etymology of the Hebrew and Arabic terms, see Kopf (1976) and Klein (1986). The Arabic cognate of Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], while Arabic [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], youth, is apparently related to Hebrew [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(17.) The connection of tsvi with beauty is also found in the Talmud. Jastrow quotes a passage from Yalqut Shim'oni at Song of Songs 988 concerning the mother of Moses and Aaron, questioning "Why is Yochebed likened to a hind (tsviyyah)?"--again interpreting the tsvi to be a deer rather than a gazelle. "Because she reared the (two) beauties (tsviyyotheyhen) of Israel, Moses and Aaron". The term for "beauty" which is here applied to Moses and Aaron, curiously is tsviyyah, the feminine form of tsvi.

(18.) Dona (2007) discusses the appearance of a deer or doe in mediaeval Christian hagiography. For example, St Hubert encounters a deer with a cross between its antlers. Here, the deer represents the Christian Saviour. This symbolism may explain why the Nazis did not discard a photograph of Hitler exiting from a church, with a cross seen on top of his head, appropriating to himself symbols of the Saviour.
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Author:Nissan, Ephraim; Amar, Zohar
Publication:The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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