By: Joseph Jacobs
Pursuit of wild game; the common means of obtaining food before the pastoral or agricultural stage of development. The Hebrews of the Biblical age, however, seem to have passed this stage, as the heroes of Biblical story (Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David) are invariably regarded as shepherds. Hunting was at that time regarded as something foreign. Nimrod was "a mighty hunter before the Lord" (Gen. x. 9), and Esau, as a cunning hunter, is contrasted with Jacob (Gen. xxxv.). Yet the pursuit of wild game was frequent even after the Israelites had settled in Canaan (comp. Lev. xvii. 13). Provision was made for the undisturbed use of the timber-lands by the beasts of the field in Sabbatical years (Ex. xxiii. 11; Lev. xxv. 7). Many wild animals, like the hart, roebuck, chamois, and antelope, were used for food and regarded as clean. A few dangerous beasts of prey, like the bear and the lion, had their habitats in Palestine, and means were taken to destroy them, as shown in the well-known instances of Samson and David. Pitfalls as well as nets were employed to entrap the lion (Ezek. xix. 4, 8); bows and arrows (Gen. xxvii. 3) as well as the snare (Ps. xci. 3) were used against game. Nets were employed also to capture the gazel (Isa. xxxi. 1). Other traps were also utilized (Ps. xcii. 3; II Sam. xxiii. 15). It is doubtful whether Prov. xii. 27 refers to hunting as a sport or as a means of livelihood, though the term "ẓedo" seems to imply that part of the food of the Hebrews was derived from the chase.
Hunting is not often mentioned after Bible times, and Herod's proficiency in this direction (Josephus, "B. J." i. 20, § 13) may have been a result of his Hellenistic tendencies. Horses were used regularly for the chase (idem, "Ant." xv. 7, § 7; xvi. 10, § 3). Few references to hunting occur in the Talmud (B. B. 75a; Ḥul. 60b; Ab. Zarah 18b). Objection to hunting seems to have arisen on the ground that it was cruel, and therefore un-Jewish. "He who hunts game with dogs as Gentiles do will not enjoy the life to come," said Meïr of Rothenberg (Responsa, No. 27). Instances occur of Jews enjoying the chase in medieval times (comp. Zunz, "Z. G." p. 173). In Provence they were even skilled in falconry, and followed the game on horseback (Berliner, "Aus dem Innern Leben," p. 17). An instance is on record in which the Jews of Colchester, in 1267, joined some Gentile neighbors in the pursuit of a doe (Jacobs, "Jewish Ideals," p. 226). One objection to hunting on the part of Jews was due to the fact that, owing to the requirements of the dietary laws, they could rarely enjoy the results of the hunt (S. Morpurgo, Responsa, 66b).
- Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, pp. 375-376.