Today the Hebrew word "leviathan" is translated as a whale. But the leviathan of the Tanach seems to be some kind of sea creature. See Job 41:1-34. Tehillim 74 there is an implication that G-d served the meat of the leviathan to the Jews in the Midbar. Isaiah 27:1 describes it as a "tortuous serpent" that G-d will "punish." The Gemara in Bava Basra 74b says that G-d will serve the meat of the leviathan to the righteous. What is the prevailing opinion that best describes the leviathan, taking in these and other treatments of the creature in our texts?

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    Can it be assumed to be kosher? Then we'd know it has scales and fins?
    – הראל
    Oct 10, 2013 at 19:23
  • A question is perhaps the leviathan is hyperbole or symbolic of something else. But what? Oct 10, 2013 at 21:15
  • Leviathan in modern culture is sometimes depicted as a giant squid. @KinnardHockenhull kosher remark is interesting.
    – Anthony
    Oct 11, 2013 at 4:29

1 Answer 1


Rashi brings the description of the Leviathan as unique sea creature that was not allowed to reproduce. There are many opinions that the meal served to the righteous will be a physical meal, so we are talking about a unique kind of fish that would not normally be seen.

The Baal HaTanya describes the idea of the Leviathan (and the Shor HaBar) metaphorically. The Leviathan represents the righteous, like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and the Arizal (those are the two examples that he brings) that serve G-d primarily in their intentions and connection to the underlying spirituality, and thus with less emphasis on accomplishing physical Mitzvos. So Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai didn't fulfill many physical Mitzvos 13 years in the cave, but was still accomplishing his purpose - kind of like an angel but actually in the world instead of above it - so a "fish out of water" so to speak.

The other type of service of the righteous is the Shor HaBar [that has an English term for it, but I don't remember what it is]. There the emphasis in actual fulfillment of Mitzvos in the world. He goes on to explain the relationship between the two types, and how the idea that in the future the Leviathan will Shecht the Shor HaBar is related to this.

  • Is the English term you're looking for "Behemoth"? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behemoth
    – MTL
    Oct 8, 2015 at 14:00
  • @Shokhet, could be, but they Hebrew term associated in that Wikipedia article is different. I guess if the intention is to express a "large mythical creature" of any kind, then yes, but otherwise ... Then again, it could the English term either way, even if it isn't a good one.
    – Yishai
    Oct 8, 2015 at 14:05
  • I don't have it with me, but I do recall that the Artscroll siddur described a fight between one "Leviathan" and one "Behemoth."
    – MTL
    Oct 8, 2015 at 14:07

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