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Jewish Lions: Roaring Through History.

Written by שי טחן, 13/3/2024


Jewish Lions: Roaring Through History.

Rabbi Shay Tahan


One of the more famous symbols of the Jewish army is that they are referred to as lions. There are drawings of lions in soldier uniforms and songs that liken the Jewish people to lions and lion cubs. Is this rooted anywhere in our sources, or is it merely a parable?

The Ramban deals with this idea and writes(במדבר ח, יח) : "It is known that Israel are valiant and courageous in battle, for they are likened to lions and wolves that seize prey, and they conquered the kings of Canaan in battle." Where did the Torah liken the Jewish people as such? There are a few places. One is within the last blessing of Yaakov before he passed away to Yehuda, saying(בראשית מט, ט) : "A lion cub is Yehudah; from the prey, my son, you elevated yourself. He crouches and lies down like a lion and like a lioness."

Jews are called Yehudim after the tribe of Yehudah because most of us are indeed from the tribe of Yehudah.

In the days of Rechovam, the son of Shlomo, the kingdom split into two: Israel and Yehudah.

Israel was exiled by Assyria about 150 years before Yehudah, and since most of the tribes of Israel served idolatry, they assimilated.

But there are deeper explanations as to why we are named this way. In Parshat Vayechi, when Yaakov blesses his children, he blesses Yehudah as follows: "Yehudah, you are the one whom your brothers will acknowledge". Yehudah received that name upon his admission to his failure with the Tamar episode;יהודה- הודאה  therefore, we received his name since we follow his courage in being able to stand up to very hard tasks.

Yonatan ben Uziel translates it as: "Yehudah, you are the one whom your brothers will acknowledge for the deed with Tamar; therefore, your brothers will call themselves Yehudim after your name,".

Indeed, when Pharaoh appointed midwives to assist in the births of Jewish women and take care of the babies, the verse calls them "Hebrew midwives," but the Targum Onkelos changes those words and translates it as "Jewish midwives." The reason seems to be, in accordance with the explanation before, that the Hebrews were called Jews right away, especially those who sacrificed themselves with courage, as Yehudah did, and for that, he received that name.

This explains well why Yehudah was referred to as a lion, as lions are courageous animals, and the resemblance to the Jewish people with the same bravery and courage.


Another source that the Jewish nation symbolizes lions is written in the prophecy of Bilam, who spoke about Am Israel(במדבר כד, ט) : "He crouched and lay down like a lion and like a lion cub."

Chazal(חגיגה יג, ב)  call the lion the king of the animals because the lion represents several traits of a king. For example, the lion embodies bravery. This is why the Shulchan Aruch(הלכה א, א)  opens with instructions to "wake up as a lion," meaning that one should have the courage to overcome the desire to keep sleeping(משנ״ב שם) . The lion also does not fear other animals. The Gemara(ב״ק טז, ב)  says that all animals kill their prey before eating it because they are afraid it might fight for its life, But the lion, being the king of the animals(רא״ש שם) , eats its prey before killing it because it isn't afraid. Everyone is afraid of the lion, as the pasuk says(עמוס ג, ח) : "When a lion roars, who isn't scared?"


This resemblance to the nation of Israel is striking, as they are known for their courage and lack of fear in the face of adversaries.

The wars of Israel are evidence of that courage which astounds all the nations. From the wars against the Babylonians during the first temple period to the Romans during the second temple period, we have seen breathless courage displayed. This legacy continues until this very day. We witnessed extreme courage and bravery during the War of Independence, and despite beliefs that our generation is weak and spoiled; we displayed even more bravery than ever before at the last war.



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