Day of the Bardelas
It's Bardelas Day!
Today, Daf Yomi reaches Bava Kama 16a, which discuss a mysterious creature called the bardelas. Many students of the Gemara have been perplexed by this animal, which appears in several places in Shas. Here is an extract from The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom which discusses its identity.
The Mishna discusses the laws regarding which animals are classified as dangerous, such that their owners have a higher degree of liability for damage that they cause:
The wolf, the lion, the bear, the leopard, the bardelas, and the snake are muadin (rated as expected to cause damage). (Mishna Bava Kama 1:4)
What is the bardelas? As discussed in the chapter on the cheetah, this is not a Hebrew or Aramaic term but rather a Greek term. In Greek, it refers primarily to the leopard but also to the “lesser leopard” i.e. the cheetah. The leopard is already mentioned prior to the bardelas in the Mishna’s list, under its usual name of namer, and thus the term bardelas must refer to the cheetah.
As we shall see, this is apparently the view of the Yerushalmi. The Babylonian Talmud, on the other hand, queries the meaning of the term bardelas, presumably due to the Sages of Babylonia being relatively isolated from Greek culture and language. It answers that the bardelas is the hyena:
What is the bardelas? Rav Yehuda said: The nafraza. What is the nafraza? Rav Yosef said: the afeh (אפא). (Bava Kama 16a)
Afeh is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew tzavua. Thus, according to the Babylonian Talmud the bardelas is to be identified with the tzavua, which is the hyena. But this leads the Talmud to raise a difficulty with this interpretation:
Let us raise a question: R. Meir said, also the tzavua, and R. Eleazar said, also the snake, and Rav Yosef said, the tzavua is the afeh! (Bava Kama 16a)
The question being posed by the Talmud is that since the tzavua is listed by R. Meir as a separate creature from the bardelas in the Mishna, then they must be different types of animals. The Talmud answers that this need not be the case:
This is no difficulty; one refers to a male tzavua, while the other refers to a female tzavua. (ibid.)
The Talmud considers that both male and female hyenas are dangerous. It takes the term bardelas as referring to one gender of hyena, and the term tzavua as referring to the other gender of hyena. But while this is the view of the Babylonian Talmud, the Yerushalmi is of a different view, for two reasons. First, it apparently understood the term bardelas as referring to the cheetah, and second, the Yerushalmi is of the view that only a male hyena is considered potentially dangerous:
It was taught: R. Meir said, also the tzavua. R. Yose, son of R. Avin, said, R. Meir was only talking about a male tzavua, which has its hour when it is as dangerous as a lion. (Y. Bava Kama 6b)
Later, we shall further explore the danger posed by the hyena, as well as other aspects of the views of the Talmud regarding male and female hyenas. For now, let us note that the Babylonian Talmud identifies the bardelas with the tzavua, which in turn refers to the hyena. This identification was accepted by Maimonides, who gave the Arabic name of the hyena:
Bardelas – an animal that is called al-tzaba in Arabic. (Maimonides, commentary to the Mishna, Bava Kama 1:4)
In 1338, Shlomo ben Shmuel of Gurgang published a Hebrew-Persian dictionary, in which he identified the bardelas as “an animal that lives in cemeteries, digs up the dead and eats them.” This undoubtedly refers to the hyena. A little over three hundred years later, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Chagiz (1620–1674), a resident of the Land of Israel, refers to Maimonides’ description of the bardelas, and writes about it at length. He describes it as somewhat similar to a donkey; presumably this is a reference to the hyena’s mane, longish neck and large ears.
Rabbi Moshe Reischer was a nineteenth-century resident of Palestine who was forced to emigrate and moved to Galicia. He wrote a popular work about the Land of Israel which includes a brief section on its fauna, in which he discusses the bardelas at length – presumably because his European readership was unfamiliar with this animal. He cites Maimonides’ Arabic translation of al-tzaba, and notes that the Arabs of his day refer to it as al-daba, which is synonymous due to the common transposition of “tz” with “d.” Rabbi Reischer says that he saw the hide of a hyena, but apparently did not see a living specimen. He gives a fairly accurate description of the hyena, describing its mane as extending down its back, though exaggerating its size somewhat in describing it as being as big as a donkey.
While in this passage the Talmud identifies the bardelas as the hyena, it seems that other references to the bardelas in the Talmud do not refer to this animal. Instead, they are apparently a corruption of the word mandris. This appears to refer to the mongoose or similar such creature, as we shall discuss in the chapter on the mongoose.
(The chapter continues to discuss the Gemara's description of how the hyena changes into different animals, and concludes with an inspirational concept, based on Perek Shirah, about how the hyena is an essential part of the circle of life. With thanks to Rav Moshe Shapiro, who told it to me a number of years ago. You can buy The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom at this link.)
 See Binyamin Mussafia, Mussaf HaArukh; Menachem Dor, HaChai BiYemei HaMikra, HaMishna VeHaTalmud, p. 64; Avraham Ofir-Shemesh, “The Bardelas.”
 See Targum and Radak to I Samuel 13:18 and Avraham Ofir-Shemesh, “The Bardelas.”
 Cited in Wilhelm Bacher, Ein hebräisch-persisches Wörterbuch aus dem vierzehnten Jahrhundert (Strassburg, 1900).
 Yaakov Yisrael Chagiz, Korban Mincha (Izmir 1675), Chapter 7; also cited by Rabbi Eliyahu HaKohen in Midrash Talpiyot (Izmir, 1736), anaf bardelas. Rabbi Chagiz also relates a belief that the hyena hypnotizes people by dancing and singing, after which it lures them to its lair and kills them.
 Rabbi Moshe Reischer, Shaarei Yerushalayim (Warsaw, 1868), pp. 18–19.
 Rabbi Reischer also relates a belief that the hyena hypnotizes a person. According to Rabbi Reischer, it does this by dancing in front of him on two legs while drumming on its belly, causing the onlooker to fall into hysterical laughter and lose his mind. The person then follows the hyena to its lair, whereupon it kills him, eating only his brain.
 Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Chagiz and Rabbi Moshe Reischer, loc cit. See Tosafot to Sanhedrin 15b s.v. Vehabardelas.
 Avraham Ofir-Shemesh, “The Bardelas in Ancient Rabbinic Literature.”