- ASS (Heb. חֲמוֹר, ḥamor), in the Talmud the feminine form ḥamorah occurs, or aton whose colt is called ayir. The ass belongs to the genus Equus to which belong the horse and the wild ass. Various strains exist in Ereẓ Israel. The most common is small, usually brown in color (ḥamor is connected with Ar. ḥamar, "to be red"). However, other kinds exist such as the Damascus ass, which is tall, strong, and usually white or pale brown. This species is probably referred to in Judges 5:10 as ridden by the upper classes. Among other peoples the ass is regarded as a foolish animal; in ancient Jewish sources, however, it is the symbol of patience and understanding. Issachar, who chose the life of the modest farmer, is likened to a "strong-boned ass" who bowed his shoulder to bear (Gen. 49:14–15). One of the best-known incidents associated with the animal is the story of balaam (Num. 22:22–30) whose ass sees an angel unperceived by his master and is given the power to speak in order to reprove Balaam for his obstinacy and quick temper. Unlike the horse which was regarded as a luxury or for war, the ass exemplifies the life of work and peace. The prophet Zechariah describes the savior of the people as "lowly and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass (aton)." It is possible that the statement in the Talmud that "he who sees an ass in a dream should hope for salvation" (Ber. 56b) is connected with this passage. Today the ass is still employed in Israel as a beast of burden. (Jehuda Feliks) -In Folklore According to medieval bestiaries, the ass "has no sense at all" and this was the general attitude toward the domesticated ass in folkloric beliefs and tales, especially in Mediterranean countries. It played an essential role in the European medieval Feast of Fools; and in oral animal tales current among Jewish storytellers, it is the most foolish of all animals. The view of the ass in Jewish tradition stems from the aggadic fable of the lion, the fox, and the ass (Yal. 1:182; cf. Aesop-Chamdry, no. 199, ed. Span, no. 22), which ends with the statement of the ass "having no heart (brains)." The derogatory notion that the ass is the most stupid of all animals gave rise to the aggadic comparison of the Gentile to an ass (based on Gen. 22:3). The concept is relatively late, as the old aggadic attitude toward the ass was positive (see above). In Hebrew proverbial lore, the ass ascending a ladder denotes an incredible and impossible feat, such as the elephant "passing through the eye of a needle" mentioned in the Talmud (Ber. 55b; BM 38b), and the similar camel in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 19:24) and the Koran (7:40). It serves as a metaphor for the wisdom attributed to fools in medieval and later literature. (Dov Noy) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Aharoni, Torat ha-Ḥai (1923); S. Feigin, Studies in Memory of Moses Schorr (1944), 227; J. Feliks, Animal World of the Bible. IN FOLKLORE: Ginzberg, Legends, 7 (1936), 116; J.L. Zlotnik, Midrash ha-Meliẓah (1938), 62–64; Scheiber, in: Folia Ethnographica, 1 (Budapest, 1949), 1–3. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 232.
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.