LOCUST (Heb. אַרְבֶּה, arbeh), one of the four insects which, having "jointed legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth," are permitted as food (Lev. 11:21–22). The locust was one of the ten plagues of Egypt (Ex. 10:4–19). The reference is to the Sudanese locust, Schistocerca gregaria, a pest that reached Ereẓ Israel in large numbers every few years causing havoc to agriculture. The Bible and talmudic literature describe the plague of locusts as one of the worst visitations to come upon the country. Its gravity and extent varied from time to time, one of the severest plagues having taken place in the days of the prophet Joel who devoted most of his prophecy to it. His precise descriptions of the locusts' development, sweep, and damage were confirmed in the extremely serious plague of locusts that visited Ereẓ Israel in 1915 when the crops were entirely destroyed in most parts of the country. During the plague the locust undergoes various metamorphoses from the larva to the fully-grown, the stages of its development being given in Joel (2:25) in the expressions אַרְבֶּה (arbeh), יֶלֶק (yelek), חָסִיל (ḥasil), and גָּזָם (gazam), the last of these being the fully grown male or female. After being fertilized, the female lays a cluster of eggs in a hole which it makes in the ground. From the eggs, dark wingless larvae, the size of tiny ants, are hatched, these being the yelek, a word apparently connected with לָקַק, "to lap," "lick up." Eating the tender vegetation of the field, the yelek grows rapidly, and since (as with all insects) its epidermis does not become bigger, it sheds it at various stages of its growth, during which it changes the color of its skin. The next stage, during which its skin is pink, is the ḥasil, which word, from the root חסל, refers to its total destruction of the vegetation of the field, for at this stage it consumes enormous quantities; hence ḥasil is used as a synonym for arbeh. Thus in Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple he declared that during a plague of arbeh ḥasil people would come there to pray for its riddance (I Kings 8:37; cf. Ps. 78:46). It now casts its skin twice, grows short wings, and becomes the gazam. At this juncture, when no more vegetation is left in the field, it "cuts off" (this being the meaning of גָּזָם) and chews the bark of trees with its powerful jaws; as Joel (1:7) says: "he hath made it (the fig-tree) clean bare… the branches thereof are made white"; and Amos (4:9): it devours "your gardens and your vineyards and your fig-trees and your olive-trees." Finally, after casting a further epidermis, it becomes the fully grown, long-winged arbeh, the yellow-colored female which is fit to lay its eggs. This cycle of the locust's development extends from spring until June when the swarms of locusts return to their place of origin or are blown by the wind to the Mediterranean or Dead Sea (Joel 2:20). Joel refers to the locust as "the northern one," which is seemingly strange since it comes from the south. But in contemporary times (especially in 1915) it was found that swarms of locusts reach Jerusalem from the north. The means of fighting an invading swarm of locusts were very limited. While attempts were made to drive them away by making a noise (Job 39:20), reliance was chiefly placed on the mercy of the Lord by praying and proclaiming a fast and a solemn assembly (Joel 2:15). In talmudic literature, locusts are included among the disasters for which the alarm of the ram's horn (shofar) was sounded and a public fast held (Ta'an. 3:5). A plague of locusts brought famine in its wake, sometimes even in the following years by reason of the damage done to fruit trees. Having no other source of food, the people collected the locusts, dried and preserved them as food. The Mishnah cites divergent views on whether the blessing "by whose word all things exist" is to be said when eating locusts (in the Mishnah גּוֹבַאי (govai), in the Bible גּוֹבָי (govai); Nah. 3:17), one view being that since it "is in the nature of a curse, no blessing is said over it" (Ber. 6:3). In ancient times however they were regarded as a frugal meal and especially associated with asceticism , as when John the Baptist ate only "locusts and wild honey" (Matt. 3:4; Mark 1:6). Some Yemenite Jews still eat fried locusts. In recent years swarms of locusts have at times visited countries neighboring on Israel, frequently originating in Africa and the Arabian peninsula, but modern methods have succeeded in destroying them in time by spraying from the air or by poison on the ground. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lewysohn, Zool, 285ff., 370; Whiting, in: National Geographic Magazine, 28 (1915), 511–50; F.S. Bodenheimer, Studien zur Epidemologie, Oekologie und Physiologie der afrikanischen Wanderheuschrecke (1930). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 209. (Jehuda Feliks)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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