In parshat Sh'mini, there is a list of birds that are considered not to be eaten. The text lists (in 11:13) אֶת־הַנֶּ֙שֶׁר֙ וְאֶת־הַפֶּ֔רֶס וְאֵ֖ת הָעׇזְנִיָּֽה

In the Artscroll, the commentary reads

The ozniah -- Ibn Ezra understands R. Saadiah's translation as the mythological griffin, but rejects it because the Torah could not be speaking of a non-existent creature.

The Sefaria website's rendering of the Ibn Ezra is

the Gaon erred in rendering it al enka, for this term in the language of the Ishmaelites refers to something that never existed. It refers to something that was not created and never was. It is only employed metaphorically. The Arab grammarians admit this. This being the case, it is not possible that the Torah would prohibit something that never existed.

What would R. Saadiah's answer to this be (if it is even possible to intuit)? Would he say that the griffin actually did exist at some point, or that the Torah is speaking of what didn't exist in order to make a point about cultures, or something else?

  • 2
    Maybe he thought it existed?
    – Heshy
    Mar 27 at 13:17
  • But it does excists? he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A2%D7%96%D7%A0%D7%99%D7%99%D7%94
    – Shmuel
    Mar 27 at 13:22
  • @mvs I think he means that Rasag translated עזניה to refer to the griffin (in Arabic) so that people would know which bird the עזניה was to be identified with. Likewise, the Wiki article calls this bird עזניה because that's the modern interpretation of the word.
    – Harel13
    Mar 27 at 13:32
  • Ah okay, makes sense.
    – Shmuel
    Mar 27 at 13:39

1 Answer 1


Rav Kapach wrote in פירושי רבינו סעדיה גאון על התורה, p. קכה, n. 7:

"כתב ראב"ע טעה הגאון [...] ונראה כי הראב"ע הוא שטעה. והנכון כדברי הגאון, כי "ענקא" סתם הוא שם מציאותי ידוע, אבל "ענקא מגרב" שתרגומו "עזניה פלאית" הוא עוף אגדתי שאינו במציאות מעין בר יוכני באגדה התלמודית בבכורות נז ב. וכתב רמב"ם בפ"ח מאכלות אסורות שאינו מצוי אלא במדברות איי הים הרחוקות עד מאד שהן סוף הישוב. ע"כ. ובתימן יש עוף טורף גדול צבעו חום אפרפר, בעל ראש גדול ומקור כפוף רחב מעט בעיקרו, ונמצא בהרי בראע ויערות הריה העבותים, ונקרא אצל הכפריים "טיר" עוף סתם, אך הנודדים הערביים קוראים אותו "ענקא", ויראים ממנו מאד כי הוא חוטף בין רגליו גדיים וטלאים ואף תינוקות קטנים [...] ואלו ראהו ראב"ע לא דחה דברי רבינו. ובכלל תימה עליו שכתב כן, כי כבר כתב רבינו בפירושו שאינו מכיר את כל העופות האלה ותרגמם כפי המקובל באומה וז"ל: ואלו העשרים עופות אע"פ שתרגמנום כפי שקבלנו הרי כל פרט מהם אם יבוא לידינו לא נדע בבירור שזה הוא, ובפרט שיש עם אלו העשרים מה שכתוב בו למינהו."

Translation: "The Ibn Ezra wrote 'the Gaon was mistaken' [...] and it seems that the Ibn Ezra is the one who was mistaken. And what is correct is as the Gaon said, that the "anka" by itself is a realistic known name, but the "anka maghreb" which is translated "mythical ozniya" is a mythological bird that does not truly exist, similar to the Bar Yochnei in the Talmudic aggadah in Bechorot 57b. And Rambam wrote in chapter 8 of the laws of Forbidden Foods: "But these two birds do not live in inhabited areas, but only in deserts and faraway countries, distant from civilization." Until here. And in Yemen there is a large bird of prey which is brownish-grey, has a large head and a flat bent beak that is a bit wide in its main area, and can be found in the mountains of Bra'ah1 and its thick forests, and is called by the villagers "Tir" a regular bird, but the wandering Arabs call it "Anka", and they fear it greatly because it snatches between its legs kids and lambs and even small [human] babies [...] and if the Ibn Ezra had seen it, he wouldn't have rejected the words of our Rabbi [=Rasag]. In general, it is strange that he wrote on him so, for our Rabbi already wrote in his commentary that he does not [personally] know all of these birds and he translated them as was traditionally accepted in the nation, and these are his words: "And these twenty birds, though we have translated them as we have received, any detail of them that might come to us we would not know explicitly that this is that [bird], and especially considering that there is with these twenty the subspecies of all of these, as it says "to its kind"."

Prof. Zohar Amar discusses this subject in his book מסורת העוף (The Tradition of the Birds), pp. 264-270. He brings a number of sources, including Rav Kapach, that show that the Anka was considered a real bird and not mythological, and also presents a number of different identifications. His opinion is that the most plausible suggestion is the Gypaetus Barbatus or Bearded Vulture, which in modern Hebrew is called "פרס" (peres).

So yes, it's a real bird. Cool!

1 Thank you to @Deuteronomy for figuring out the reference.

  • 2
    Great answer! Though I may be wrong, I don't believe הריה refers to another proper noun but just means "its mountains". I believe that בראע refers to Jábal Buräah (R. Qafih describes it as being near Jábal Harâz in fn 210 on p. 280 here: ybz.org.il/_Uploads/dbsArticles/sefunotII_OCR.pdf The entire mountainous region is known for its lush botanics, biodiversity, as well as its coffee trade: medomed.org/featured_item/… Mar 28 at 0:30
  • 1
    @Deuteronomy Seems to make sense. According to Wikipedia, part of the mountain is covered in dense tropical vegetation. Thanks!
    – Harel13
    Mar 29 at 5:18

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