Some historical Islamic sources quote that early Jews who violated the Sabbath were transformed into apes :

O Jews! Remember that Allah sent His torment on the village that disobeyed Him and broke their pledge and their covenant to observe the sanctity of the Sabbath. They began using deceitful means to avoid honoring the Sabbath by placing nets, ropes and artificial pools of water for the purpose of fishing before the Sabbath. When the fish came in abundance on Saturday as usual, they were caught in the ropes and nets for the rest of Saturday. During the night, the Jews collected the fish after the Sabbath ended. When they did that, Allah changed them from humans into monkeys, the animals having the form closest to humans. Their evil deeds and deceit appeared lawful on the surface, but they were in reality wicked. This is why their punishment was compatible with their crime.


(And ask them (O Muhammad ) about the town that was by the sea; when they transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath (i.e. Saturday): when their fish came to them openly on the Sabbath day, and did not come to them on the day they had no Sabbath. Thus We made a trial of them, for they used to rebel (disobey Allah).)(7:163)

So I got the above Quran verse from the link, and the fishing net story is not recorded in Quran but some other secondary sources. So were some Jews transformed for actually fishing on sabbath on seeing large amounts of fish?

Do Jewish sources record this miracle?

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    Interesting. But I've never heard of such a story.
    – Daniel
    Nov 16, 2014 at 16:17
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    hebrewbooks.org/… Nov 16, 2014 at 17:30
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    Narnia, as an explanation to @ShmuelBrin 's link, he points to a page in the Talmud where there is a debate about whether it is permitted to lay out nets to catch fish and other animals before Shabbat in order to catch them on Shabbat. Beit Shammai says that it is forbidden and Beit Hillel says that it is permitted. When it comes to determining what the actual law is, when Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai argue, we follow the opinion of Beit Hillel in almost all cases. So in this case, the law is that it is actually permitted to lay traps for fish ahead of the Sabbath.
    – Daniel
    Nov 16, 2014 at 19:35
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    Definitely interesting and thought provoking, thanks to everybody's comments...It sounds/looks to me like the original Muslim who heard this story(not sure whether it's from the Koran or another early source..)was in contact with some anti-Rabbinic(proto-Karaite?) Jewish group that had this legend in their repertoire, and the early Muslims took their side, and committed it to writing.
    – Gary
    Nov 16, 2014 at 21:54
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    This question is in the close vote queue for being "off-topic -- comparative religion." I disagree, because even though the inspiration for this question is an Islamic story, it asks for Jewish sources so it is, in fact, on topic.
    – MTL
    Nov 17, 2014 at 22:39

1 Answer 1



Prof. Eliezer Segal, in an essay entitled "Monkey Business," discussing the unfortunate contemporary phenomenon of "Islamicist clerics" preaching that Jews, generally, are descended from apes and pigs, says that there is no Jewish source to be found for this story:

Unfortunately, in all the vast stores of ancient rabbinic literature, no text has yet been discovered that corresponds to the Qur'an's motifs of Jews who caught fish on Saturday, or of their being transformed into swine and monkeys.

He cites a suggestion that this story could somehow be a multiply-corrupted version of the story in Exodus 16:15-31, when God started providing manna to the Israelites in the dessert:

First, God commanded the people to collect one day's worth of manna each day, and not keep any leftovers for the next day. Some people violated this commandment by keeping some manna overnight, and it got wormy and rotten. Then, God commanded that on Friday, the people should collect two portions, keep the second one for the Sabbath, and not collect on the Sabbath. When Sabbath came, the extra portions did not get wormy or rot, but some people violated this commandment, too, by going out to collect manna on the Sabbath. God reprimanded Moses about this violation, but the text doesn't say anything about a punishment.

So, maybe, as the story got retold imperfectly, manna sprouting worms became people turning into worms, which became people turning into monkeys, which got moved to the second violation, which turned from collecting manna to pre-setting fish traps. It sounds pretty farfetched to me, but maybe that's where this story comes from.

In addition to Prof. Segal's inability to locate a Jewish source for this story, its incorrect allusion to Jewish law makes it very unlikely to be true (well, that and the part about people being turned into monkeys). As ShmuelBrin and Daniel pointed out in the comments, the Mishna (Shabbat 1:7) records the ruling of the Academy of Hillel that exactly the type of net-laying described in the story is permitted. With very limited exceptions (this not being one of them), the rulings of the Academy of Hillel have been accepted as final.


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