A. חלזון Hillazon

  • חלזון Hillazon.

חלזון hillazon of the Talmudim, the Midrashim, and Targum Yonatan is the Syriac Helzünä1 and the Arabic Halazün. In these languages the word denotes: (1) the land shell-snail, French limaçon (as distinct from limace, naked snail); (2) the sea shell-snail (limaçon de mer). It doubtless has the same meaning in the Jewish sources. The shell of the hillazon is called נרתיק nartik, case; מלבוש garment, cloak.2 The verb פצע (pasa) employed of the crushing of the hillazon3 has reference in Tanaitic to some hard crustaceous substance. An allusion to the shell seems to be contained in Megillah 7a:

.השפוני טמוני חול תני רב יוסף שפוני זה חלזון שמוני זו טרית חול זו זכוכית לבנה Rashi annotates: שפוני הוא דבר חשוב דלשו׳ ברייתא. More probably, I think,שפוני is interpreted in its Biblical significance of something hidden from view, concealed4 treasured; the shell-snail or rather the particular species yielding the precious purple dye.

חלזונא in Targum Yerushalmi for צלצל5 should be read with Kohut on Ms. authority חלזונא helonas, corn-worm (Completum s.v. כחלזון הזה .(חלזון in Yalkut Shimoni6, cannot be correct. Kohut amends כפיליקון – Peleku after Tanhuma b. As an alternative solution he suggests to connect the word with Halaza-hailstone. Whatever the correct reading may be חלזון in this passage cannot, I feel sure, stand for: הזה היה יורד כקצץ את האלנות שנאמר יהרג בברד גפנם

Would it not be sheer nonsense to say “How did the hailstone fall? Like yon hailstone it fell hewing down the trees?”

חלזון in the Mishna7 is explained by Maimonides:

שיצא עין בשר מותר וימשך עד שחופה קצת משחור העין ושמו מפורסם אצל הרופאים

בלשון ערבי טפרה (פרוש המשנה).

It is hard to see the connection of this with חלזון. Perhaps that sight obstructing formation was so named from its crusty nail-like matter (זפרה. Cf. שחלת = Onyx= צפורן).

It is at least doubtful whether Halaz (Arabic, to peel skin, to remove a shell) has any relationship with חלזון. May not חלזון be a derivative from חלזון, חלז, זחל ?זחל. Cf.חפז, פחז ׳צרפ ) רצפ, טרם, etc. Cf. also שחל, שחלת. Snails would thus be divided into two great classes: ,זחלים, naked snails, and חלזנות, shell snails: the transposition of the consonants merely serving to mark the distinction. (Cf. French limaçe for naked snails and limaçon for shell snails).

The following passage in the Yerushalmi has given commentators an untold amount of trouble:

 חזקיה אמר ההורג כינה בשבת כהורג גמל ובו׳ אמר ר׳ שמעון בן חלפתא ולא מחילזון שמענו וחלזון יש.לו גידין עצמות ולא כן תני כל דבר שאין גידין ועצמות אינו חי יותר מששה חדשים 8

וחלזון מ׳ וכו׳ is construed by the commentators as a negative interrogation. The passage thus asserts that the hillazon belongs to those lower forms of life which being deprived of bones and gidim (veins, sinews, blood-vessels) cannot, according to the Talmud, live longer than six months.9

Kohut, while rightly expressing dissatisfaction with the explanations given by the commentators, advances his own view that חלזון in this passage stands for the Arabic Halaz, a species of louse, thus agreeing with the context which begins with the halakhah ‘ההורג כינה וב. I cannot accept this all too easy solution of the difficulty. That one and the same word should have served to designate both the molluscs and the louse is as much an insult to the former as to the intelligence of the people who could thus think of the two so indiscriminately.

Again, as hillazon at all events also denotes shell-snail, the interrogator on the Yerushalmi should have added some qualifying epithet to חלזון in declaring that having neither asamot nor gidim it cannot live longer than 6 months. Some such emendation as חלז for חלזון would be indispensable upon Kohut’s hypothesis. Besides, Kohut’s solution really fails on being applied to the interpretation of the sugya as a whole.

Sanhedrin 91a (Caption עלה להר) applies, according to Lewysohn.10



  1. Smith, Payne, Lexicon Syriacum.
  2.  דברים פ״ח ,מדרש תהלים פסיקתא רויהי בשלח
  3.  שבת דף ע״ה מעוד א
  4.  כ׳ שם חלקת מחוקק ספון cf.צפון
  5.  Deuteronomy ch. 24, v.42.
  6.  Yalkut Shimoni, section ,185 וארא.
  7.  Bekhorot II, 8.
  8.  Yerushalmi, Shabat I, 3.
  9. Or 12 months, Hullin 58a.
  10.  Lewysohn, Ludwig, Zoologie des Talmuds, Frankfurt (1858), p. 364 to Helix pomatia.