Lion of Judah

The lion is a traditional symbol of King David and, by extension, of the city he founded as his capital, Jerusalem. This association has its roots in the patriarchal period. The Torah tells us that when Jacob lay on his deathbed, he gathered his sons to his side for a final blessing. "Judah is a lion's whelp; on prey, my son, have you grown. He crouches, lies down like a lion, like the king of the beasts; who dare rouse him? The scepter shall never depart from Judah nor the ruler's staff from between his feet; so that tribute shall come to him and the homage of peoples be his." (Genesis 49:9-10) The prophet Balaam, whom the Moabite king Balak called upon to curse Israel, blessed Israel, saying, "Lo, a people that rises like a lion, leaps up like the king of beasts, rests not until it has feasted on prey and drunk the blood of the slain." (Numbers 23:24) David, descended from the Tribe of Judah, fulfilled the words of Jacob's blessing for Judah. He founded the Davidic dynasty, and he himself was known as the "Lion of Judah." It was said that David's "heart is the heart of a lion." (II Samuel 17:10) The image of the lion is one of the four animals mentioned in Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 1:10 and 10:14).

The lion of Judah is often portrayed with a partner, the two lions rampant, standing on their hind haunches, their front paws perched on the top of the tablets of the Covenants, guarding it. There were carvings of lions, as well as oxen and cherubim, in Solomon's Temple (I Kings 7:29). Today, the image adorns many Jewish ritual objects, including the curtains of Arks housing Torah scrolls in synagogues, embroidered on the mantle covers of Torah scrolls, carved in silver on Torah breastplates, on the top of Torah finials, on candlesticks and Chanukah menorahs, and as engraved decorations in holy books.

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