ANT IN JEWISH LITERATURE, THE:
In Hebrew , so also in Arabic naml (etymology doubtful); in Aramaic (Targum, Peshito, and Talmud) , which has its equivalent in the Arabic sumsum, simsim, and is used especially of the small red Ant, distinguished from shumshemana gamla (camel-ant), the large Ant (see Fleischer, in Levy's "Chal. Wörterb" ii. 578). This became by syncope shumshana, and by transposition shushmana. Another designation for the Ant in the Talmud is (see Rashi on Ber. 54b; and Kohut, "Aruch Completum," vii. 125b); though, according to some, this means the locust.In the Old Testament.
The Ant is referred to twice in the Book of Proverbs as an example of provident and organized industry: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which, having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest" (vi. 6-8); and "There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer" (xxx. 24, 25). The passages refer to some species of harvesting-ant, probably either to Aphœnogaster (formerly called Atta) barbara, or to A. structor, or to Phreidode megacephala, which are to this day found in Syria and all around the Mediterranean basin. These species wherever they are found, as the latest investigations of naturalists have proved, lay up stores for the winter.In the Talmudic Literature.
In connection with the passage in Prov. vi. the Ant is treated from an ethico-pedagogical point of view in Ḥul. (57b), where it is related that Simon ben Ḥalafta made experiments to ascertain whether the ants really lived without a ruler; in 'Er. (100b), where the industry of the Ant in procuring food is mentioned; and in Deut. R. v. and Yalḳ. on Prov. 938. In Ḥul. (63a) it is pointed out that the wisdom of the Creator is manifested in the fitness of the body and the wonderful life of the Ant.
The therapeutic use of the Ant to avert or cureills is referred to in Yeb. 76a, Yer. Yeb. viii. 9b, and Shab. 66b. In connection with the last reference, it may be remarked that the Ant's juice is even to-day sometimes popularly recommended as a curative of jaundice.
As may be expected, the wise little animal is not absent from the folk-lore of the Talmudic literature. In Ber. (54b) it is related that when Og, king of Bashan, took up a mountain of three parasangs in extent in order to bury under it the entire camp of Israel, God caused white ants to bore a hole in the rock, so that it slipped over the head of Og and remained fastened upon his neck.
The Ant also comes in for a share of the legislation of the Talmud (Mak. 16b; compare Peah, ii. 7, iv. 11; Ma'as. v. 7; Men. 71b; M. Ḳ. 6b); it is forbidden as food. The passage in Peah (iv. 11) contains a quaint piece of legislation which would show that the seed-stores of the ants in Palestine were of considerable size and importance. It is said there that the granaries of ants found in the midst of a growing crop of corn should belong to the owner; but if these granaries are found after the reapers have passed, the upper part of each heap should go to the poor and the lower part to the owner. Rabbi Meir is of the opinion that the whole should go to the poor, because whenever there is doubt about a question of gleaning, the decision should be in favor of the gleaner. A description of the process of destroying ant-heaps is given in M. Ḳ. 6b.
The halakic aspects of the Ant are discussed in the "Halakot Gedolot" (ed. Warsaw, p. 262a) of Simon of Kayara, and in the "Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah," § 84, 12, 13; § 100, § 104).In Post-Talmudic Writings.
In the post-Talmudic writings Arabic influence (compare Koran, sura xxvii., surnamed the "Ant") is conspicuous. To this we owe the pretty story of the meeting of King Solomon with the ants, in which the wise king was outwitted by the cunning little animals (compare "Ma'aseh ha-Nemalah," in Jellinek's "B. H." vol. v., Vienna, 1873; German part, pp. 11 et seq.; Hebrew part, pp. 22 et seq.).
Samuel ibn Ḥisdai, in "Ben ha-Melek weha-Nazir" (xv.), a Hebrew rendering from the Arabic version of "Barlaam and Josafat," holds up the Ant as an example, in the sense of the passages of the Book of Proverbs. Ḳalonymus ben Ḳalonymus in his "Iggeret Ba'ale Ḥayyim" (iv.), which is likewise a Hebrew version from the Arabic, describes at some length the habits of the Ant in building its abode and in gathering and preserving its food.
An elaborate panegyric on the Ant is contained in the makama of the Ant and flea in Judah Alḥarizi's "Taḥkemoni." The fable of the Ant and the wasp in the "Mishle Shu'alim" of Berechiah ha-Naḳdan is practically identical with Lafontaine's well-known fable, "Le Fourmi et la Cigale."
In passing over to the religious aspects of the Ant in post-Talmudic writings, the religio-philosophical and legal phases become apparent. As regards the former, Baḥya ibn Paḳuda, in his "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot," xi. 2, in dealing with the passage in 'Er. 100b, already cited, points to the divine wisdom which is manifested in the ants. In book v. the conduct of the Ant, as in Prov. vi. 6, is recommended as an example in the treatment of our own affairs, insignificant when measured by the greatness of the Creator, but still more contemptible when marred by disorder.
Maimonides, in his introduction to Seder Zera'im, deduces from the fact that the ants are sometimes winged, sometimes without wings, that it is due to the limitations of our mind that we can not gage the purpose of many things in the universe.
Joseph Albo, in his "Iḳḳarim," iii. 1, like Baḥya, utilizes 'Er. 100b to recommend the moral example afforded by the animals. The Ant especially teaches us industry and honesty by the manner in which it gains its food.
Among the exegetes, Levi ben Gershon, in his commentary to Proverbs, dwells at some length on the sagacity and resourcefulness of the Ant, and derives from Prov. xxx. 25 an admonition to humility.
Joshua ben Shuoi, a disciple of Solomon ben Adret, in his "Derashot" to Deut. xvi. 8 to xxi. 9, points out the wisdom of the ants, and adds that this wisdom is not due to reason, but is derived from the sparks of the Supreme Soul (Neshamah ha-'Elyonah), of the active intellect (sekel ha-poel, νōὺς πōιητικός), which God bestows on them in order to instruct man.
Isaac 'Arama, in his "'Aḳedat Yiẓḥaḳ," xxviii., shows that according to the passage Prov. vi. 6, while everything is determined by God's providence, man must nevertheless gain his livelihood by industrious work. In section 71 he points out that some beings attain to perfection, though they may not be endowed with all the four Aristotelian principles (compare Aristotle, "Physics," ii. 7; "Metaphysics," i. 3); and gives as an instance the Ant, which has no εἶδōς or "form" in the technical sense. He thus derives the lesson that man, in whom all four principles are united, should strive by means of science to obtain mental perfection.Scientific Treatment.
From a purely scientific (biological) point of view the Ant is treated by Gershon ben Solomon, father of the exegete Levi ben Gershon, in his work "Sha'ar ha-Shamayim." The Ant, he says, gathers its wheat in the harvest, biting off the germs of the grains in order to prevent them from sprouting, and thus preserving them from rotting—a fact verified by recent observation. Each Ant gathers seven grains, although one would suffice it for life. One who gathers more treasures than he can use is therefore called an "Ant." The Ant, he says further, is proportionately the strongest of all creatures, being able to carry from two to four times its own weight. Moreover, it can move both ways, forward and backward.
The "Sefer ha-Berit" (ed. Brünn, 1799, 74a) distinguishes male, female, and neuter (sefeḳim) ants. The first two, on reaching maturity, acquire wings and fly, while upon the neuters devolve not only all the work, but also the hatching of the eggs, of which a single female lays no less than 8,000.