I saw in the book, "The midrash says" by Rabbi Moshe Weissman that the Midrash Socher Tov 22 explains that a creature called R'aim that David mistook as a hill, lifted David up into the sky and only after seeing the lion did it crouch down and David managed to jump off and escape (see here for details).

What is this animal R'aim?


4 Answers 4


Rav Slifkin, though not cited here as such, says it is most likely to be the aurochs.

It is treated fully in the aforelinked encyclopedia (volume 1), but he also addressed it incidentally in this essay.

From all the references in Scripture, we know the following about the re’em: It is similar to domestic cattle, but it is a powerful, dangerous animal, and it possesses two magnificent, upwards-pointing horns. There is an animal that perfectly matches this description, and is even called rimu in Akkadian: the aurochs, Bos primigenius.

The aurochs (pronounced “oar-ox,” plural aurochses or aurochsen, and also known as the urus) was a huge wild ox that is familiar to few people today, because it became extinct in 1627.

  • -1 This is not the re'em of the midrash. The re'em of the midrash is a giant mythical creature. (Perhaps even an aurochs of giant proportions) Mar 19, 2019 at 16:29
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    @רבותמחשבות That is an interesting way to look at it. Is it a viable possibility that the ראם of the midrash was anything other than a very large ראם? If not then doesn't identifying what the type of thing is suffice to identify it in any context and at any scale that doesn't vitiate its identity?
    – WAF
    Mar 19, 2019 at 18:44

The reem (plural: r'aimim) has been described differently in various sources. Bottom line, it is most likely an aurochs.

Wikipedia has a good short summary

A re'em, [has been] variously translated as a unicorn or a wild ox. It was first identified in modern times with the aurochs by Johann Ulrich Duerst [...] This has been generally accepted, as it is today even among religious scholars. It has been translated in some Christian Bible translations as "oryx" (which was accepted as the referent in Modern Hebrew) and as "unicorn" in the King James Version, possibly referring to a one-horned rhinoceros such as Rhinoceros unicornis.

Writing on his Talmudology blog, Dr Jeremy Brown goes through various theories: wild ox, unicorn and rhinoceros. He then concludes it is an aurochs.

The most complete treatment comes from Dr. R Nathan Slifkin in his Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom, vol. 1 pp. 278-286. He goes through various proposed translations and explains

  • that it cannot be a rhinoceros since it didn't exist in biblical lands, has only one horn and is not kosher
  • that it cannot be an oryx (reem in Modern Hebrew) as the reem is a dangerous animal while the oryx is shy and elusive - although after the autoch became extinct the name reem became transferred to the oryx
  • that it cannot be a buffalo as they didn't live in biblical lands
  • that it has to be the aurochs, a powerful and huge wild ox that became extinct in 1627. It matches the description in various verses of being huge, having massive horns pointed forwards and upwards, being aggressive and happening to live in the relevant area

See also Theresa Bane in her book Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore.

  • Baruch shekivanti to many of the same facts! And good to see them without the cynicism that crept into mine. I think "aurochs" is singular, with the final "s" like in "ox". And I think "r'aimim" would be plural, as in "קרני ראמים עד ביצי כנים".
    – WAF
    Mar 19, 2019 at 8:50
  • -1 This is not the re'em of the midrash. The re'em of the midrash is a giant mythical creature. (Perhaps even an aurochs of giant proportions) Mar 19, 2019 at 16:30
  • @רבותמחשבות if it is an auroch of giant proportion then we are saying the same. In any case, the question was on the Midrash on Tehilim 22:22 which is identified by R Slifkin as an aurochs. There are figure of speech in midrashim as well as Bava Batra 73b and Zevachim 113b but they are based on an exagerated physical description compatible with an aurochs (possibly as it was the largest physical animal in the region)
    – mbloch
    Mar 19, 2019 at 16:41
  • @mbloch I don't agree. Your answer gives the impression that a regular aurochs, the same as is found in Chumash, is the Re'em of the Midrash. If you include that it was a mythical creature, that changes your answer entirely. Mar 19, 2019 at 17:14
  • In my eyes, the proper answer, as suggested in your comment, would try to identify the Re'em as the mythical giant aurochs, and provide evidence from those other midrashic sources, such as the two gemaros Mar 19, 2019 at 17:15

See Gittin 68b where Shlomo Hamelech is talking to Athmedius King of Sheidim:

כתיב (במדבר כד, ח) כתועפות ראם לו ואמרינן כתועפות אלו מלאכי השרת ראם אלו השדים מאי רבותייכו מינן א"ל שקול שושילתא מינאי והב לי עיזקתך ואחוי לך רבותאי שקליה לשושילתא מיניה ויהיב ליה עיזקתיה בלעיה אותביה לחד גפיה ברקיעא ולחד גפיה בארעא פתקיה ארבע מאה פרסי על ההיא שעתא אמר שלמה (קהלת א, ג) מה יתרון לאדם בכל עמלו שיעמול תחת השמש (קהלת ב, י) וזה היה חלקי מכל עמלי

[Loose translation:] Shlomo Hamelech said to Athmedius: "It is written that "to [God], they are like Toafos R'eim". Toafos are the ministering angels. R'eim is the Sheidim (loosely translated as demons). Shlomo asked: "[I understand that angels are great. But] Sheidim, in what way are you greater than us [humans]?"
Athmedius resonded: "let me free from my chains and give me your ring and I will show you my greatness [of the R'eim]".
So Shlomo let him free from his chains and handed him his ring. Athmedius swallowed Shlomo [alive], stretched one wing out to heaven and one down to Earth (astronomical proportions) and spat him out 400 pharsangs (about 1600km) away
. And then Shlomo [was ousted from his throne and was left with just the clothes on his back and] proclaimed: "What does one gain in all his labour under the sun?" "And this was my portion from all my hard work."

  • Sheidim have massive proportions as the Gemora mentions earlier 68a מטא דיקלא חף ביה שדייה מטא לביתא שדייה - that any palm tree or house that Athmedius brushed collapsed due to his large proportions
  • Sheidim could disguise themselves as a hill after all did Athmedius not disguise himself as Shlomo haMelech himself (Gittin 68a). They can also fly as indicated aboveAthmedius had wings.
  • Sheidim also have horns as the Gemora in Sotah 48a says about the Sheid that destroys deserted homes: (ישעיהו כד, יב) ושאיה יוכת שער אמר מר בר רב אשי לדידי חזי ליה ומנגח כי תורא - Mar Bar Rav Ashi said "I saw that Sheid (see rashi) and it gores like an ox" i.e it has horns which it gores with.
  • And if you're wondering: Why did the Sheid crouch down in fear when he saw the lion if even a human can kill a lion? This was asked by Caesar to Rabbi Yehoshua in Chullin 59b and Rabbi Yehoshua responded that there is a certain אריא דבי עילאי - Lion of upper realms that when it roared 400 pharsangs (1600km) distance away from Rome, all the pregnant women miscarried and the walls of Rome collapsed even a sheid would be afraid as Amos 3,8 states: “The lion has roared, who will not fear?”.

R' Ahron Marcus, the Hebrew linguist, wrote in his book Barzilai1 on the origins and identification of several of the Tanachic animals, among them the Re'em. He rejects the various identifications of his time - the unicorn, leucoryx, rhinoceros and the aurochs. Instead, he writes:

מן הרשימה בדברים (י"ד, ה') מסתבר, ששור הבר לא כונה מקודם "ראם", אלא "תאו". לוא התכוונו שם באמת לראם - לא היה מקומו חסר בין חיות הבר. קרוב לוודאי, שהמלה "ראם" היא צירוף של המלים: "ראם" ו"רם", כלומר - משהו בולט בגובהו. לכן מסתבר שהפיל כונה "ראם". וזאת על סמך הנימוקים הבאים: ראשית, קשה להניח, שבאוצר העשיר של השפה העברית, בה נקבעו שמות לבעלי חיים נדירים ביותר מאפריקה, ממרכז אסיה ומצפונה, יעדר דווקא שמו של הפיל, חיה מפורסמת מאד מאז הימים הקדומים ביותר. ושנית, הנימוק הקודם מתחזק על ידי התגלית, שהפיל חי בארם נהריים, כפי שמוכיחה כתובת התבליט של תגלת פילאסר הראשון (כ-2500 שנה לבריאת העולם), המתארת ציד פילים. זאת היא הארץ, שהיתה מולדתם הקדומה של אבות העברים, ולא יתכן שלא הכירו את הפיל. ועוד נימוק שלישי מתהילים (כ"ט, ו'). משורר המזמור משווה את "לבנון ושריון כמו בן ראמים". מן ההשוואה הזאת מתקבל כי הכוונה לחיה ענקית שגודלה כ"הר". ו"הר" גם קורא לפיל מטפלו ההודי, מתוך חיבה וכעס גם יחד. הקבלתן של קרני הראמים למלתעות אריה בפסוק: "הושיעני מפי אריה, ומקרני רמים עניתני" (תהילים כ"ב, כ"ב), מצביעה על שנהבי הפיל. השערה זו מסתייעת בדברי רבי מנחם די פאנו, שקרן היא בעצם שן, מפני שקרני הבהמה ממלאות את מקום הניבים במלתעותיה של חית הטרף, החסרים אצל אוכלי העשב.

Translation: From the list in Devarim (14:5) it seems, that the wild ox (Aurochs) wasn't called prior "Re'em", but "Teo". Were it meant to refer there to the Re'em - his place would not have been missing from among the wild animals. It is almost certain, that the word "Re'em" is a combination of the words: "Ra'am" and "Ram", meaning - something that stands out in its height. Therefore, it seems that the elephant was known as "Re'em". And this is based on the following reasons: First, it is hard to imagine, that in the rich treasury of the Hebrew language, in it were chosen names for the rarest of animals from Africa, Central Asia and north of it, would be missing of all things the name of the elephant, a very famous animal from the most ancient of days. And secondly, the previous reason is made stronger by the discovery, that the elephant lived in Aram Naharaim, as is proven by the embossed legend of Tiglat Pilasser I (about 2500 years to the creation of the world), that describes the hunting of elephants. That is the land, that was the ancient birthplace of the ancestors of the Hebrews, and it cannot be that they didn't know of the elephant. And another, third reason, from Tehillim (29:6). The poet of the song compares "Lebanon and Sirion like a child of Re'ems". From this comparison it is understood that it is refering to a giant animal whose size is like that of a "mountain". And "mountain" is how the elephant is called by Matphalo the Indian, from affection and anger alike. The parallelization of the horns of the Re'ems to the jaws of the lion in the verse: "Deliver me from a lion’s mouth; from the horns of Remim rescue me." (Tehillim 22:22), points to the ivory tusks of the elephant. This hypothesis is assisted from the words of Rabbi Menachem Di Fano, that a horn is essentially a tooth, because the horns of the cattle fill the place of the fangs in the jaws of the predator animal, that are missing by the herbivores.

tl;dr Re'em=elephant.

1 Originally published and available online in German under the title ""Barsilai" Sprache als Schrift der Psyche: Ebräisches Wurzel-wörterbuch", later translated into Hebrew by, among other people, one of his grandchildren, and published in 1983 by Mossad Harav Kook under the title "ברזילי: מסה בתולדות הלשון העברית", which is from where I brought the Hebrew quote from.

Update: I emailed Rabbi Slifkin with this info to ask his opinion on the matter. He wrote back to say that he thinks it's interesting, but he still leans toward the aurochs, because of how the verses always seem to compare the aurochs with the ox, especially for example Yesha'ayahu 34:7.

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