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Behavior is defined as an animal's response to its environment. A basic understanding of sheep behavior will make
raising and handling sheep less stressful for both the sheep and shepherd. It will also dismiss the notion that sheep
are a stupid animal.

Flocking behavior
Sheep are best known for their strong flocking (herding) and following instinct. They will run from what frightens
them and band together in large groups for protection. This is the only protection they have from predators. There
is safety in numbers. It is harder for a predator to pick a sheep out of a group than to go after a few strays. Flocking
instinct varies by breed, with the fine wool breeds being the most gregarious.

Follow the leader
When one sheep moves, the rest will follow, even if it is not a good idea. The flocking and following instinct of
sheep is so strong that it caused the death of 400 sheep in 2006 in eastern Turkey. The sheep plunged to their death
after one of the sheep tried to cross a 15-meter deep ravine, and the rest of the flock followed.
Even from birth, lambs are taught to follow the older members of the flock. Ewes encourage their lambs to follow.
The dominant members of the flock usually lead, followed by the submissive ones. If there is a ram in the flock, he
usually leads.
Sheep are a very social animal. In a grazing situation, they need to see other sheep. In fact, ensuring that sheep
always have visual contact with other sheep will prevent excess stress when moving or handling them. According
to animal behaviourists, a group of five sheep is usually necessary for sheep to display their normal flocking
behavior. A sheep will become highly agitated if it is separated from the rest of the flock.
In addition to serving as a protection mechanism against predators, this flocking and following instinct enables
humans to care for large numbers of sheep. It makes sheep easier to move or drive and enables a guardian dog to
provide protection for a large flock. Domestication and thousands of generations of human contact has further
strengthened this trait in sheep.

Domestication has also favoured the non-aggressive, docile nature of sheep, making it easier for people, especially
women and children, to care for sheep. Sheep were one of the earliest animals to be domesticated, and they have
been thoroughly domesticated. It is doubtful they could survive in the wild, if a predator risk existed.
Sheep Senses

Senses are the tools that animals use to interact with their environment. Sheep and other animals share five basic
senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. As a prey animal, sheep must have excellent senses to ensure their

Sheep depend heavily upon their vision. Behavior scientists speculate that the placement and structure of the
sheep's eyes are due to nature's designation of sheep as a prey animal. Sheep have a very large pupil that is
somewhat rectangular in shape. The eyeball is placed more to the side of the head, which gives sheep a much wider
field of vision. With only slight head movement, sheep are able to scan their surroundings. Their field of vision
ranges from 191 to 306 degrees, depending upon the amount of wool on their face.
On the other hand, sheep have poor depth perception (three dimensional vision), especially if they are moving with
their heads up. This is why they will often stop to examine something more closely. Sheep have difficulty picking
out small details, such as an open space created by a partially opened gate. They tend to avoid shadows and sharp
contrasts between light and dark. They are reluctant to go where they can't see.
For many years, it was believed that sheep and other livestock could not perceive color. But, it has since been
proven that livestock possess the cones necessary for color vision. Research has shown that livestock can
differentiate between Colors, though their color perception is not equal to humans.
Sheep have excellent hearing. They can amplify and pinpoint sound with their ears. In fact, sound arrives at each
ear at a different time. Sheep are frightened by sudden loud noises, such as yelling or barking. In response to loud
noises and other unnatural sounds, sheep become nervous and more difficult to handle. This is due to the release of
stress-related hormones. To minimize stress, the handler should speak in a quiet, calm voice. Sheep should not be
worked in the presence of barking dogs.
Sheep have an excellent sense of smell. Their olfactory system is more highly developed than humans. Sheep know
what predators smell like. Smell helps rams locate ewes in heat. It helps ewes locate their lambs. Sheep use the
sense of smell to locate water and detect differences in feed and pasture plants. Sheep are more likely to move into
the wind than with the wind, so they can use their sense of smell.
Since most of their body is covered with wool or coarse hair, only the sheep's lips and mouth (and maybe ears) lend
themselves well to feeling behavior. This is why electric wires on a fence need to be placed at nose height of the
sheep. The sense of touch is important in the interaction between animals. Lambs seek bodily contact with their
mothers. Ewes respond to this touching behavior in many ways (e.g. milk let down). Groups of animals that have
body contact remain calmer.
Sheep have the ability to differentiate feedstuffs and taste may play a role in this behavior. There is no evidence to
suggest that sheep can balance their own ration when provided with a variety of feedstuffs; however, they may be
able to seek out plants that make them feel better.

Normal sheep behavior

Changes in normal behavior can be an early sign of illness in sheep. The most obvious example of this relates to the
sheep's most natural behavioural instinct, their flocking instinct. A sheep or lamb that is isolated from the rest of the
flock is likely showing early signs of illness (unless it is lost). Even the last sheep through the gate should be
suspected of not feeling well, especially if it is usually one of the first.
Appetite is another strong indicator of health. Healthy sheep display normal eating and cud-chewing behavior.
They will chew their cuds for several hours each day. Healthy sheep are eager to eat. They are almost always
hungry. They will overeat, if we let them. Sheep bleat in anticipation of being fed and will rapidly approach the
feeding area.

Lack of appetite is probably the most common symptom exhibited by a sick sheep. At the same time, food is an
excellent motivator. Next to a good herding dog, a bucket of grain is usually the best way to gather and move
sheep. Grain feeding tends to make sheep friendlier and less intimidated by people.
Sheep spend about fifteen percent of their time sleeping, but may lie down and rest at other times. Upon rising, they
often defecate and stretch. A sheep that is reluctant to get up is probably in pain. A sheep takes a long time to lay
down is probably in pain. A sheep that cannot relax is under stress. Teeth grinding is another common sign of pain
in sheep.
Playful lambs
Healthy lambs nurse frequently, one to two times per hour during the first few weeks. A lamb that bleats all the
time is probably hungry and not getting enough to eat. A healthy lamb usually stretches when it rises. Healthy
lambs sleep 8 to 12 hours per day. At nap time, they seek out their mothers and will sleep as close to her as

Healthy lambs are usually very active. Group play is very common. Lambs love to climb. They are naturally
curious of their surroundings. This curiosity can lead to barn yard accidents, if there are risks present. As lambs get
older, they spend less time with their mothers and more with their peers. They spend more time foraging for food.
Play wanes after about four months.

Watch out for rams

While sheep are generally a docile, non-aggressive animal, this is not usually the case with rams, especially during
the breeding season. Rams can be very aggressive and have been known to cause serious injuries, even death, to
people. A ram should never be trusted, even if it is friendly or was raised as a pet. It is important to always know
where the ram is and to never turn your back on him. Children should be restricted access to rams during the
breeding season.
Head butting is both a natural and learned behavior in sheep. Classic head butting among rams is highest during the
rutting season which precedes the onset of heat in ewes. It is a way for rams to get into physical shape for the
breeding season and to establish (or re-establish) the dominance hierarchy. To discourage butting, you should avoid
petting or scratching a ram on the head. Otherwise, the ram may see this as a challenge or aggressive behavior. In
general, the ram sees you as part of the flock and wants to dominate you.
The only time ewes may exhibit aggressive behavior is after lambing -- to protect their young.

Answer they are of a gregarious nature...meaning they love to be with the herd, they are herbivores. Sheep must
have a leader (shepherd) and must be told what to do and where to go, otherwise they'll wander off and get lost.
Characteristics of Sheep
1. timid, fearful, easily panicked
2. dumb stupid, gullible
3. very vulnerable to fear, frustration, pests, hunger
4. easily influenced by a leader, by the shepherd
5. stampede easily, vulnerable to mob psychology
6. little or no means of self-defense; can only run
7. easily killed by enemies
8. the shepherd is most effective, calming influence
9. jealous, competitive for dominance
10. constantly need fresh water, fresh pasture
11. have very little discernment in choosing food or water
12. best water source is early morning dew
13. perverse, stubborn - will insist on their own way , even eating poisonous plants or drinking dirty water
14. easily "cast" - flipped over on their back, unable to right themselves will die of starvation if not turned over by
shepherd; helpless
15. frequently look for easy places to rest
16. don't like to be sheared, cleaned
17. too much wool can cause sheep to be easily "cast"
18. creatures of habit; get into "ruts"
19. need the most care of all livestock
20. need to be "on the move"; need a pre-determined plan, pattern of grazing
21. totally dependent of shepherd for every need
22. need "rod and staff" guidance
In the Bible
Primogeniture is a persistent and widespread institution whose legal, social, and religious features were reflected in
the norms of ancient Israelite society. Biblical legislation gave the firstborn male a special status with respect to
inheritance rights and certain cultic regulations, The latter, a part of a complex of cultic requirements, also applied
to the first issue of the herds and the flocks, which, in the popular consciousness, were considered particularly
desirable as sacrifices. Abel pleased God by offering Him firstlings of his flock (Gen. 4:4). The requirements of the
cultic codes were based on the notion that the God of Israel had a claim on the first offspring of man and beast,
which were to be devoted to Him in some manner. This notion also governed the prescriptions regarding the
offering of the first fruits (see *First Fruits).
In biblical Hebrew usage the term bekhor, "firstborn [male]," and its derivatives, are somewhat ambiguous. The
characterization of the human bekhor as reshit on, "the first fruit of vigor" (Gen. 49:3; Deut. 21:17; cf. Ps. 78:51;
105:36), stresses the relation to the father and adumbrates the first-born's status of principal heir and successor of
his father as head of the family. At the same time, the specification that the bekhor be "the first issue of the womb"
(peter reem; Ex. 13:2, 12, 15, etc.; cf. Num. 8:16), which reflects the religious significance of the first products of
the procreative process in human and animal life, stresses the biological link to the mother. Whereas it was usually
possible to ascertain the paternity of human beings, this clearly did not hold true of animals, and there was never
any attempt to base animal cultic regulations on considerations of specific paternity.
Two rather distinct conceptions can be made out: a socio-legal one, which assigned exceptional status to the first
male in the paternal line; and a cultic one which assigned special status to the first male issue of the maternal line.
The socio-legal conception was preserved in legislation governing inheritance. In cultic legislation, the bekhor of
the legal tradition was required in order for the cultic regulations to apply to be also the first issue of his
mother's womb.
According to Deuteronomy 21:1517, a father was obliged to acknowledge his firstborn son as his principal heir,
and to grant him a double portion of his estate as inheritance. (Pishenayim means "two-thirds" [see Zech. 13:8], but
the intention of the text is that the firstborn shall get whatever fraction a double portion may come to; in the case
posited in the text, where there are only two sons, it is two-thirds, but where there are three sons, it is one-half, and
so on; cf. the correct inference drawn in BB 123a from I Chron. 5:1ff., which expressly terms Joseph's status as
"firstborn" Joseph received twice the portion of any of his brothers [Gen. 48:5, 22; ef. Rashbam to BB 123a].)
This obligation was to apply irrespective of the status of the son's mother in a polygamous family. This inheritance
right is termed mishpat ha-bekhorah, "the rule of the birthright" (Deut. 21:17), and the legal process by which the
first-born son was so designated is expressed by the verb yakkir "he shall acknowledge." Undoubtedly the
acknowledgment involved certain formal, legal acts which are not indicated in biblical literature. In a different
context, God acknowledged Israel as his firstborn (Ex. 4:22; ef. Jer. 31:8). A son, addressing his father, might also
refer to his own status as firstborn son (Gen. 27:19, 32).
It is evident from the composition of biblical genealogies that the status of bekhor was a pervasive feature of
Israelite life. In many such lists there is a formula which specifies the status of the first-listed son. For example,
Numbers 1:20: "The sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel, were" (cf. e.g., Gen. 35:23; 36:15; Ex. 6:14, and
frequently in the genealogies of I Chron.). Even in genealogies which do not specifically indicate the status of the
first son listed, it is clear that he is the firstborn. There are suggestions in the Bible that primogeniture carried
certain duties and privileges in addition to the estate rights (see Gen. 27; 48:13; Judg. 8:20; I Chron. 26:10, etc.).
The second in line was termed ha-mishneh (I Sam. 17:13; II Sam. 3:3; I Chron. 5:12).
The status of the firstborn in royal succession is not clearly defined. The Israelite kings were often polygamous, and
the relative status of several royal wives figured in determining a succession, making the Deuteronomic law cited
above appear more like an ideal than a reality so far as the king was concerned. A king might, for a variety of
reasons, also be disposed to officially reject one of his sons, Accordingly, there were instances where the first in the
royal line of succession did not, in fact, succeed his father. It is not known whether the firstborn in families of the
high priests had a special status. From the exception noted in I Chronicles 26:10 it is inferable that the firstborn of a
levitical clan was normally placed in charge of his brothers. There is some evidence that the first-born daughter
(bekhirah) was customarily married off before her younger sisters (Gen. 29:16ff.; I Sam. 18:17ff.).
In the Genesis narrative one sees how primogeniture was disregarded in the clan of Abraham. The son most suited
to carry on the line of Abraham with its attendant responsibility for transmitting the clan's unique religious belief
was acknowledged as the head of the family even if it meant passing by the firstborn; indeed even if it entailed
banishing him from the household (Isaac was preferred to Ishmael, ch. 21: Jacob to Esau, ch. 27).
The terminology employed in Genesis, when compared to that of Deuteronomy 21:17, is problematic, and
allowance for a degree of inconsistency in technical usage must be made. In Genesis, Jacob contends with Esau
over two matters: first, the bekhorah, which Jacob secured from Esau, who despised it, in exchange for a cooked
meal (Gen. 25:2934); and second, the berakhah ("blessing") which Jacob secured by deceiving his elderly father
into thinking that he was blessing Esau (Gen. 27). Of the two terms, the berakhah counted for more, probably
because pronouncing the blessing was considered to be the act formally acknowledging the firstborn as the
principal heir. Berakhah connotes both the blessing which is to be pronounced and the effects of the blessing, i.e.,
the wealth transmitted as inheritance. In Deuteronomy 21:17 the term bekhorah refers specifically to the estate
Owing to his favoured status, the firstborn was considered the most desirable sacrifice to a deity where human
sacrifice was practiced. On the verge of a defeat, Mesha, king of Moab, sacrificed his eldest son and acknowledged
successor (II Kings 3:27). In a prophetic passage, the sacrifice of the first-born is singled out as that offering which
might be supposed the most efficacious for expiation (Micah 6:7). The importance of the bekhor is dramatized in
the saga of the ten plagues God inflicted upon the Egyptians, the last of which struck down their firstborn (e.g., Ex.
11:5; 12:12). This serves as the etiology of the legal-cultic requirement that the male firstborn of man and beast in
Israel were to be devoted to God. The Lord acquired title to Israel's firstborn, human and animal, by having spared
them when he struck the firstborn of the Egyptians (Num. 3:13).
The priestly tradition goes on to explain that the Levites, as a group, were devoted to cultic service in substitution
for all the firstborn Israelites (Num. 3:12). This would seem to be the historicization of a situation that in fact
obtained independently of the particular events surrounding the Exodus. The laws governing the redemption of the
firstborn (Ex. 13:15; 34:19, Deut, 15:19) presumably derived from a cultic matrix. At one time firstborn sons were
actually devoted to cultic service as temple slaves, Nazirites, and the like; subsequently other arrangements were
made for supplying cultic personnel while the erstwhile sanctity of the firstborn was lifted through redemption (cf.
Lev. 27:18, and see below). This underlies the priestly traditions of the history of the Levites and their selection
for cultic service.
In the case of animals, male firstlings unfit for sacrificial use because they bore *blemishes or were of types
considered impure could be redeemed by paying the assessed value of the animal, plus one-fifth (Lev, 27:2627; cf.
verses 913; Ex. 34:20; Deut. 15:19). The restriction of the requirement to male firstlings may reflect on economic
consideration: very few males were needed for breeding purposes. This consideration may also figure in the
predominance of male animals as sacrificial victims generally. Devoting firstlings to the cultic establishment served
as a means of providing it with revenue (Num, 18:1518; compare Deut. 15:1923).
[Baruch A. Levine]
Redemption of the Firstborn
Rabbinic sources discuss at length methods of exchange and redemption (Mishnah, Bekhorot and Temurah).
Neither kohanim nor Levites need redeem their firstborn (Bek. 2:1). However, the firstborn son of a marriage
between a kohen and a woman forbidden to him (e.g., a divorcee) does not have priestly rank and must be
redeemed (Sh. Ar., YD 305:19), although the father may, in this case, keep the redemption money himself (R.
Asher to Bek. 47b). In all cases the criterion is primogeniture from the mother's womb. A child is not regarded as a
firstborn if his mother previously miscarried a fetus more than 40 days old (Sh. Ar., YD 305:23). Ordinary Jews
whose wives are the daughters of kohanim or Levites need not redeem their firstborn, but the son of a kohen's
daughter and a non-Jew must be redeemed because his mother has forfeited her status. The firstborn son of a
Levites daughter born under the same circumstances does not need to be redeemed (Bek. 47a). If there is a doubt
regarding the primogeniture of a child, the child need not be redeemed (Sh. Ar., YD 305:2225). The duty of
redeeming the firstborn falls in the first instance upon the father. If he neglects to do so or if the child is an orphan,
the son redeems himself when he reaches maturity (Kid. 29a). At one time a small medallion bearing the inscription
ben bekhor was hung around the neck of such a child (Isserles to Sh. Ar., YD 305:15). It later became customary,
however, for either the rabbinical court (bet din) or one of the child's male relatives to redeem him.
The Bible fixes the redemption fee at five silver shekels (Num. 18:16), and the father may choose any kohen to
perform the ceremony by paying him this sum (in medieval times two Reichsthaler, today five U.S. dollars). It must
be given in coins, but not money equivalents, such as securities, shares, etc. (Sh. Ar., YD 305:4). Special
"redemption coins" are now minted in Israel for this purpose by the Bank of Israel and distributed by the Israel
Government Coins and Medals Corporation. The kohen may return the money to the child's father (as did some
rabbis in talmudic times, Bek. 51b), although the practice is condoned only when the father is very poor (Sh. Ar.,
TD, 305:8). On the other hand, the choice of a poor kohen (so as simultaneously to fulfill the mitzvah of charity) is
The redemption ceremony (pidyon ha-ben) is held in the presence of the kohen and invited guests, and takes place
on the 31
day after the birth. This is due to the fact that the child is not considered as fully viable until he survives
the first 30 days of his life. Even if circumcision has not yet been performed (e.g., for health reasons), there should
be no delay. Only if the 31
day is a Sabbath or festival is the ceremony postponed to the following weekday (ibid.,
305:11). During the ceremony, the father presents his son, often on a specially embellished tray, to the kohen who
asks him, in an ancient Aramaic formula, whether he wishes to redeem the child or to leave him to the kohen. In
some sources the formula is given in Hebrew. The father, in reply, expresses the desire to keep his son, hands the
redemption money to the kohen, and recites one benediction for the fulfillment of the commandment of
redemption, and another of thanksgiving (She-Heeyanu). The kohen, three times pronouncing "your son is
redeemed," returns the child to the father, This dialogue is purely symbolic. A declaration by the father that he
prefers the money to the child would have no legal validity. Finally, the kohen recites a benediction over a cup of
wine, pronounces the priestly blessing on the child, and joins the invited guests at a festive banquet (ibid. 305:10
and Isserles ad loc.).
According to halakhah the biblical laws commanding the sacrifice of firstborn "clean" animals and the redemption
of firstborn he-asses (Ex. 13:2,1215; 34:1920) should also be observed today. However, because of the
suspension of the sacrificial system after the destruction of the Temple, the first-born clean animals have to be
given to a kohen after they have attained the age of 30 days (for sheep or goats) or 50 days (forlarge cattle). He
keeps them, without deriving any benefit from them, either until they die a natural death when the carcass may be
used or until they suffer a blemish which would have made them unfit as a sacrifice when they may be eaten or
used for any other purpose (Tur and Sh. Ar., YD 313:20). It is, however, forbidden to inflict a blemish deliberately
(Sh. Ar., YD 313. 1). A firstborn he-ass should be redeemed from the kohen by giving him a sheep or its equivalent
value in money (Tur and Sh. Ar., YD 321).
Fast of the Firstborn
Fast of the Firstborn (Heb. , ta'anit bekhorim), fast observed by primogenital males on the 14
of Nisan
i.e., the day before *Passover. This traditional custom seems to stem from the desire to express gratitude for the
saving of the firstborn Israelites during the tenth plague in Egypt (Ex. 13:1ff.). According to talmudic sources
(Soferim, ed. by M. Higger (1937), 21:1) the custom was already observed in mishnaic times. Another source
mentions that R. Judah ha-Nasi fasted on this day; his fasting, however, is explained by some as a wish to stimulate
his appetite for the maah (unleavened bread) at the seder meal (TJ, Pes. 10:1,37b and compare Soferim, loc. cit.).
The fast became an accepted traditional custom obliging all males whether firstborn to their father or only to their
mother, and in some opinions even firstborn women, to fast (Sh. Ar., O 470:1). If a child is too young to fast
(under the age of 13), his father fasts instead of him; if the father is firstborn, the child's mother fasts in lieu of the
child (Isserles to O 470:2). Should the first day of Passover be on a Sabbath, the fast is observed on the preceding
Thursday; according to amore lenient ruling, it is suspended (ibid.). However, since one is permitted to break this
fast in order to partake of a se'udat mitzvah (a meal accompanying a religious celebration, such as a circumcision) it
was laid down that the celebration of the hadran constituted such a meal. The custom thus evolved to finish the
study of a Talmud tractate on the morning before Passover, at which occasion a festive banquet is arranged in the
synagogue, at which firstborns participate, and they need not therefore fast. Through this device, the Fast of the
Firstborn is practically in desuetude (see *Fasting and Fast days).
Legal Aspects Concerning the Firstborn
The sole difference in the status of the firstborn son as compared with that of his brothers is his right to a greater
share in their father's inheritance. This status is known as bekhor le-naalah (firstborn or primogeniture as to
inheritance) and derives from the verse "he must acknowledge the firstborn the son of the unloved one, and allot to
him a double portion of all he possesses; since he is the first fruit of his vigor, the birthright is his due" (Deut.
21:1517). The firstborn in this context is the first son born to the father, even if not so to the mother, since it is
written, "the first fruits of his vigor" (Bek. 8:1 and see commentators). Even if such a son is born of a prohibited
union, e.g., the son of a priest and a divorced woman, or a mamzer born as first son to his father he is included, on
the strength of the words "he must acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved one" (Deut., loc. cit.), the term
a "loved" or an "unloved" wife being interpreted as relating only to the question whether the wife's marriage was
"loved" or "unloved," i.e., permitted or prohibited (Yev. 23a and see Rashi and Posekim ad loc.). The prerogative of
the firstborn never extends to a daughter, not even in a case where she has a right of inheritance (Sif. Deut. 215; see
*Inheritance). A son born to a proselyte to Judaism, who had sons before he became a proselyte, does not enjoy the
prerogative of a bekhor le-naalah, since he is not "the first fruits of his vigor" (Yev. 62a; Bek. 47a; Posekim ad
loc.); on the other hand, if an Israelite had a son by a non-Jewish woman and thereafter has a son by a Jewish
woman, the latter son does enjoy the prerogative, since the former is called her, and not his, son (Maim. Yad,
Naalot 2:12). A first son who is born after his father's death, viz., if the mother gives birth to twins, is not
considered a bekhor le-naalah since it is written "he must acknowledge" (Deut. 21:17) and the father is no longer
alive to do so (BB 142b; Rashbam and Posekim ad loc.).
In determining the fact of primogeniture reliance is placed upon the statements of three persons the midwife, the
mother, and the father. That the midwife is relied upon immediately after the son's birth (where twins are born) is
derived from Genesis 38:28 (see TJ, Kid. 4:2,65d); the mother is relied on during the first seven days after
childbirth, since the father has not yet succeeded in "accepting" or recognizing the child, as he does not pass out of
his mother's hands until the circumcision; thereafter the father's determination is accepted at all times, since he
"must acknowledge his son" i.e., recognize the child as his firstborn son personally and before others. The father's
determination is relied upon even if he thereby assails the status of his other sons, as may happen if he
acknowledges as his firstborn the youngest of several sons borne by his wife after they married each other thus
characterizing the other sons as mamzerim (Yev. 47a; Kid. 74a and Posekim ad Lec.; see also Mamzer). However,
the father is not believed in this last-mentioned case if the disqualified son already has children of his own, as the
disqualification would also affect their status for which purpose the law does not authorize reliance on his words
(Yev. 47a and Posekim; Ozar ha-Posekim, EH, 1 (1955), 192, sec. 4:137).
The firstborn is entitled to a "double portion," that is, he takes twice the portion due to each of his brothers from
their father's inheritance. Thus if the father has left a firstborn and two other sons, the former takes one-half and the
latter one-quarter each of the estate (BB 122b123a and Posekim). The prerogative does not extend to the mother's
estate (BB 111b, 122b and Codes).
The firstborn takes a double portion only of the present and not of the contingent assets, i.e., only of the assets in
the father's possession at the time of his death and not such as were due to come into his possession thereafter.
Thus, if the father predeceased any of his own legators, the father's share in their estate passes through him to his
own heirs, the firstborn taking only the share of an ordinary heir. This rule embraces debt still owing to the father at
his death, even if under deed or bond, since the debt is considered an asset still to fall due and not yet in possession.
If, however, the loan was secured by a pledge, or mortgage, the firstborn takes a double portion since in Jewish law
the creditor acquires a right over the pledged property (Git. 37a) and a loan thus secured is therefore considered as
an asset in possession (see generally Bek. 51b52a; BB 125b; commentators and Posekim ad loc.). For the same
reasons the firstborn does not take a double portion of improvements or increments from which the father's estate
has benefited after his death, except with regard to natural increments as for instance in the case of a sapling
which has become full-grown (ibid.).
The above-mentioned underlying biblical injunction precludes the father from depriving the firstborn of his
particular right of inheritance. Consequently, any form of testamentary disposition (see *Wills) by a father
purporting to bequeath to the firstborn less than his prescribed double portion of the inheritance is null and void.
This rule only applies, however, where the father has clearly adopted the language of a testator, since a father
cannot change the laws of inheritance as such (Maim., Yad, Naalot 6:1). Consequently, if the father has expressed
himself in terms of making a gift, his disposition will stand (although "the spirit of the sages takes no delight
therein," BB 133b and see Posekim), since he may freely dispose of his assets by way of gift. Since the exercise of
the birthright involves a corresponding greater liability for the debts of the estate, the firstborn may escape such
additional liability by way of renouncing his prerogative before the division of the estate (BB 124a; Sh. Ar., M
The Law of Inheritance 5725 1965 of the State of Israel does not include any prerogative of the firstborn.
[Ben-Zion (Benno) Schereschewsky]
A.S. Hartom, in: EM, 2 (1954), 1236 (incl. bibl.); I. Mendelsohn, in: BASOR, 156 (1959), 3840; Redemption of
the Firstborn: Eisenstein, Dinim, 434, 3334; H. Schauss, The Lifetime of a Jew (1950), 18, 29, 4850; N.
Gottlieb, A Jewish Child Is Born (1960); Fast:, Das mosaisch-talmudische Erbrecht (1890), 1214, nos. 1620; R.
Kirsch, Der Erstgeborene nach mosaisch-talmudischem Recht, 1 (1901); Gulak, Yesodei, 3 (1922), 10, 7476, 78,
84f., 102, 131; Herzog, Instit, 1 (1936), 50; ET, 1 (1951
), 4f.; 3 (1951), 27683; 11 (1965), 3739; B.-Z.
Schereschewsky, Dinei Mishpahah (1967
), 3538. ADD BIBLIOGRAPHY: Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), I,
110, 112, 279, 770, III, 1413; Idem., Jewish Law (1994), I, 124, 126, 329, II, 948, IV, 1683.
In what ways does the Bible refer to a double portion?
The concept of a double portion is mentioned six times in the Bible.

Deuteronomy 21:17 says, "he shall acknowledge the firstborn by giving him a double portion of all that he has,
for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his." The firstborn son was to receive twice as
much of an inheritance as any other son in the family.

The rights of the firstborn were extremely important in antiquity. The influence of the firstborn is seen as early as
the animal sacrifice given by Abel in Genesis 4:4: "Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat
portions." The final judgment upon Egypt was the death of the firstborn (Exodus 11:5). Israel was called God's
firstborn: "Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son" (Exodus 4:22). Genesis 27 also demonstrates the
importance of the firstborn. Despite the fact that Jacob and Esau were twins, Esau had been delivered first and
expected a special blessing. Jacob instead deceitfully took it, pretending to be Esau to his aged father, causing
tremendous family problems. Colossians 1:15 refers to Jesus as the firstborn over all creation. This is not a
reference to Jesus being born, but rather a reference to His position of importance over all created things.

A double portion is the right of a firstborn in terms of inheritance, but can also be a sign of love. In 1 Samuel 1:5
we read that Hannah's husband gave her a double portion: "But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he
loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb." This double portion was not required, but was a way Hannah's
husband could show her preference and was considered a great gift.

In 2 Kings 2, Elijah was about to leave the earth and asked Elisha what gift he would desire. Elisha asked for a
double portion of the Spirit God had given to Elijah: "Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me" (2
Kings 2:9). Elisha wanted to be Elijah's successor; in some senses he was requesting both to be considered as a
firstborn and to be shown love.

Isaiah 61:7 mentions the double portion twice in the same verse: "Instead of your shame there shall be a double
portion; instead of dishonour they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double
portion; they shall have everlasting joy." In contrast with shame, there would be a double blessing. This double
portion was associated with joy and gladness. In some ways this is similar to the restoration of Job, in which he
received twice what he had prior to his tribulations (Job 42:10).

However, the double portion is not always positive. In Revelation 18:6 we read, "Pay her back as she herself has
paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed." In this
context, the double portion refers to a heavy judgment upon a future city of Babylon due to its evil.

Read more:
Deuteronomy 21:17
Verse Concepts
"But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has,
for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.
Ezekiel 47:13
Thus says the Lord GOD, "This shall be the boundary by which you shall divide the land for an inheritance among
the twelve tribes of Israel; Joseph shall have two portions.
1 Samuel 1:5
Verse Concepts
but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, but the LORD had closed her womb.
2 Kings 2:9
Verse Concepts
When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you." And
Elisha said, "Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me."
Job 42:10
Verse Concepts
The LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD increased all that Job had
Exodus 16:5
Verse Concepts
"On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily."
Exodus 16:22
Verse Concepts
Now on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one When all the leaders of the
congregation came and told Moses,
Exodus 16:29
Verse Concepts
"See, the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain
every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day."
Isaiah 61:7
Verse Concepts
Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their
portion Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, Everlasting joy will be theirs.
Zechariah 9:12
Verse Concepts
Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; This very day I am declaring that I will restore double to
- See more at:
The double portion is Biblical fact. It part of Gods promise to give beyond the normal amount to a select few. In
Luke 6:38 He says: Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measurepressed
down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return
(Luke 6:38). The double portion was given to certain men in the scriptures according to Gods promise to His

Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their
portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, Everlasting joy will be theirs (Isaiah 61:7). This
is Gods portion to His people in this day. They wont just have a portion but will have a double of a portion; twice
as much, This seems impossible since most Christians have not even received a portion of what God has for them.
But He plans to give double even of what He has promised.

The premiere example of a double portion occurred between Elijah and his servant Elisha. Elijah was going to be
taken to heaven without dying and all the prophets knew it. Yet when He was at the place where the translation
would occur, only Elisha was there with him, all the other prophets content to observe from a distance. The
translation of Elijah occurred as follows:
And it came about when the LORD was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with
Elisha from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, Stay here please, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel. But Elisha
said, As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you. Elijah was trying to discourage Elisha
from following him just as God tries to hide from us.

So they went down to Bethel. Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to
him, Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today? And he said, Yes, I know;
be still. Elijah said to him, Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho. Again he tried to
prevent Elisha from following him.

But he said, As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you. So they came to Jericho. The
sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, Do you know that the LORD will
take away your master from over you today? And he answered, Yes, I know; be still. Again Elijah tried to make
Elisha stay at Jericho but Elisha wouldnt.

Then Elijah said to him, Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan. And he said, As the LORD
lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you. So the two of them went on. Now fifty men of the sons of the
prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Elijah took his
mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them
crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, Ask what I shall do for you before
I am taken from you. And Elisha said, Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.

He said, You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for
you; but if not, it shall not be so. As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire
and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha saw it and
cried out, My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen! And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took
hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and
returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and struck the waters
and said, Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah? And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here
and there; and Elisha crossed over (2 Kings 2:1-14).

All the prophets knew Elijah was going to be translated to heaven that day but only Elisha followed Elijah to the
Jordon and watched it happen. 50 prophets watched from a safe distance and two even ventured to the edge of the
Jordon River. But Elijah went all the way and received from Elijah a double portion of his ministry. All of the other
prophets of God knew that Elijah was going to be translated but they did not follow to the end so did not receive
the double portion. Notice that Elisha let no time lapse until he exercised the double portion but immediately tool
Elijahs mantle and parted the Jordon.

` Elisha went on to walk in the double portion as we see further in 2 Kings. He purified bad waters, killed some
young lads mocking him, deceived the Moabites into thinking water in trenches was blood, gave a woman an
unlimited supply of oil to pay her debts, resurrected a boy, purified a poison pot of stew, cured Naaman of leprosy,
floated an axe head that had fallen into the water, deceived the entire Aramean army, leading them into a fatal trap,
stopped a cannibalistic famine in Israel and many other act too numerous to mention. It is said that after Elisha died
and was buried a man who was killed fell on Elishas grave and was resurrected. This was all because of the double
portion given him by his spiritual Father Elijah.

Hannah was also given a double portion. When the day came that Elkanah, her husband, sacrificed, he would give
portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and her daughters;
but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, but the LORD had closed her womb. Hannah
was barren and cried out to the Lord and the Lord heard her cry and she gave birth. However the Lord heard her
cries and she gave birth to Samuel who was to be a great prophet in the land of Israel (1 Samuel 1:4-5).

Job, after his long ordeal with the Lord was given a double portion. In Job 42:10 it says: And the Lord turned the
captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before

The first born of the children of Israel also received a double portion of their Fathers inheritance. Deuteronomy
21:17 Says: But he [the Father] shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double
portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.

The children of Israel I the wilderness also received a double portion of manna on the day before the Sabbath so
they did not have to gather it on the Sabbath. Normally the manna did not last until the nest day but on the day
before the Sabbath the manna lasted 2 days including the Sabbath.

The enemies of the Lord also receive a double portion of His wrath and judgment. After these things I saw another
angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory. And he cried
out with a mighty voice, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons
and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. For all the nations have drunk
of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her,
and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality. I heard another voice from
heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues;
for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back even as she has
paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for
her (Revelation 18:1-6). .

Babylon of course was the religious system that dominated the world before Christ and through the middle ages
mixing pagan idol worship with religious worship of Christ. God likened the church as a whore riding on the back
of the beast nations and condemned Babylon as the Mother of harlots.

Today we too can have a double portion of Gods blessings. The opportunity has never been so great to obtain the
double portion and it has never been as necessary as it is in this time of the changing of ages. We must cry for this
double portion and more to get accomplished what we must as this age draws to a close. We are those preparing the
way for the coming of the Lord and, although the harvest is plentiful, the harvesters are few.