In honor of National Bird Day, Jewish Treats would like to introduce one of the great creatures of Jewish legend, the Ziz. Whereas the term Leviathan (the giant primordial fish) has entered the modern lexicon, the Ziz is a creature only vaguely mentioned in primary sources.
The Ziz is cited in the Talmud:
Rabbah ben Bar Hana further related: Once we traveled on board a ship and we saw a bird standing up to its ankles in the water while its head reached the sky. We thought the water was not deep and wished to go down to cool ourselves, but a Heavenly Voice called out: ‘Do not go down here, for a carpenter’s axe was dropped [into this water] seven years ago and it has not [yet] reached the bottom. And this, not [only] because the water is deep but [also] because it is rapid. Rabbi Ashi said: That [bird that Rabbah ben Bar Hana saw] was Ziz-Sadai (Baba Batra 73b).
While the original Leviathan was removed from the world before it procreated for fear that it would overrun the world, the same is not so with the Ziz. According to the tales recorded in Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews: Volume I:
Once an egg of the Ziz fell to the ground and broke. The fluid from it flooded sixty cities, and the shock crushed three hundred cedars. Fortunately, such accidents do not occur frequently. As a rule the bird lets her eggs slide gently into her nest. This one mishap was due to the fact that the egg was rotten, and the bird cast it away carelessly.
The Midrash Genesis Rabbah, (9:4) records two facts about the first Ziz: 1) it was a kosher fowl and 2) it was eaten by Adam.